Art, Art History and Design, School of


First Advisor

Alison Stewart

Date of this Version



Kilgore, Claire W. 2017 "Viewing Heaven: Rock Crystal, Reliquaries, and Transparency in Fourteenth-Century Aachen." Master's Thesis, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Art History, Under the Supervision of Professor Alison Stewart, Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2017

Copyright (c) 2017 Claire Kilgore


This thesis examines reliquaries and objects associated with medieval Christian practice in fourteenth-century Aachen. The city's cathedral and treasury contain prestigious relics, reliquaries, and liturgical items, aided by its status as the Holy Roman Empire's coronation church. During the reign of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV (r. 1349-1378), reliquaries, pilgrimage, and architecture reflect late medieval interests in vision, optics, and transparency. Two mid-fourteenth century reliquaries from the Aachen Cathedral Treasury, the Reliquary of Charlemagne and the Three-Steepled Reliquary, display relics through rock crystal windows, in contrast to the obscuring characteristics of earlier reliquaries. Not only do the two reliquaries visually present relics in rock crystal, but they also use Gothic architectural structures, creating an open and transparent atmosphere.

Several other reliquaries in the Aachen Cathedral Treasury include miniaturized Gothic architecture and rock crystal. Other objects associated with Aachen, including pilgrimage badges, choir robe brooches, and crosses, also exhibit the three-dimensional transparency of Gothic architecture. Rock crystal and Gothic architecture in Aachen's reliquaries and religious objects showcase an emphasis on the effects of light, space, and visibility. Transparent elements, both architectural and material, communicate changes in medieval thought emphasizing vision and sight, while continuing to represent the Heavenly Jerusalem using Gothic characteristics.

I consider the materials and structures of objects from fourteenth-century Aachen, as well as medieval writings on gems and how their characteristics contribute to medieval visions of heaven. Rock crystal's transparency and clarity describes the Heavenly Jerusalem literally and metaphorically. Light and immaterial space also appear in the inexpensive metalwork of pilgrim badges that incorporate Gothic details and ideas about optics and reflection. Charles IV's spirituality and patronage appear not only in church renovations imitating Sainte Chapelle, but also in the reliquaries donated during his reign featuring rock crystal and miniature Gothic architecture. Rock crystal and open Gothic architecture communicate a new, different vision of the medieval religious ideal of the Heavenly Jerusalem, while revealing interests in perception and optical theory, and their application into medieval religious objects.

Advisor: Alison Stewart