Votive crown

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Detail of a suspended votive crown from Visigothic Spain, before 672 AD. Part of the Treasure of Guarrazar offered by Reccesuinth. Out of view are chains for suspension above, and a Byzantine pendant cross below. Alternate view. CoronaRecesvinto01.JPG
Detail of a suspended votive crown from Visigothic Spain, before 672 AD. Part of the Treasure of Guarrazar offered by Reccesuinth. Out of view are chains for suspension above, and a Byzantine pendant cross below. Alternate view.

A votive crown is a votive offering in the form of a crown, normally in precious metals and often adorned with jewels. Especially in the Early Middle Ages, they are of a special form, designed to be suspended by chains at an altar, shrine or image. Later examples are more often typical crowns in the style of the period, either designed to be placed on the head of a statue, or re-used in this way after donation.

Votive offering Type of religious offering

A votive offering or votive deposit is one or more objects displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for broadly religious purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favor with supernatural forces.

Crown (headgear) precious item of headwear, symbolizing the power of a ruler

A crown is a traditional symbolic form of headwear, not hat, worn by a monarch or by a deity, for whom the crown traditionally represents power, legitimacy, victory, triumph, honor, and glory, as well as immortality, righteousness, and resurrection. In art, the crown may be shown being offered to those on Earth by angels. Apart from the traditional form, crowns also may be in the form of a wreath and be made of flowers, oak leaves, or thorns and be worn by others, representing what the coronation part aims to symbolize with the specific crown. In religious art, a crown of stars is used similarly to a halo. Crowns worn by rulers often contain jewels.

Early Middle Ages Period of European history between the 5th and 10th centuries CE

Historians typically regard the Early Middle Ages or Early Medieval Period, sometimes referred to as the Dark Ages, as lasting from the 5th or 6th century to the 10th century CE. They marked the start of the Middle Ages of European history. The alternative term "Late Antiquity" emphasizes elements of continuity with the Roman Empire, while "Early Middle Ages" is used to emphasize developments characteristic of the earlier medieval period. As such the concept overlaps with Late Antiquity, following the decline of the Western Roman Empire, and precedes the High Middle Ages.


Pre-Christian examples

There were pagan votive crowns in the ancient world, although these are essentially known only from literary references. Vitruvius records that when Hiero II of Syracuse (died 215 BC) suspected his goldsmith of cheating him over the making of a votive crown for a statue in a temple, for which he had supplied the gold to be used, he asked Archimedes to devise a test. This led Archimedes to his famous eureka moment, after he realized he could test the crown by comparing its displacement of water to that of the same weight of pure gold; in fact the goldsmith had taken some gold and added silver instead. [2] From other references, it seems that in classical times not just statues of the gods, but also living rulers were presented with crowns in the hope of a favourable response to a request.

Vitruvius Roman writer, architect and engineer

Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, commonly known as Vitruvius, was a Roman author, architect, civil engineer and military engineer during the 1st century BC, known for his multi-volume work entitled De architectura. His discussion of perfect proportion in architecture and the human body led to the famous Renaissance drawing by Leonardo da Vinci of Vitruvian Man.

Hiero II of Syracuse 3rd-century BC Sicilian Greek ruler

Hiero II was the Greek Sicilian Tyrant of Syracuse from 270 to 215 BC, and the illegitimate son of a Syracusan noble, Hierocles, who claimed descent from Gelon. He was a former general of Pyrrhus of Epirus and an important figure of the First Punic War.

Archimedes Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer

Archimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Generally considered the greatest mathematician of antiquity and one of the greatest of all time, Archimedes anticipated modern calculus and analysis by applying concepts of infinitesimals and the method of exhaustion to derive and rigorously prove a range of geometrical theorems, including the area of a circle, the surface area and volume of a sphere, and the area under a parabola.

Suspended votive crowns

The largest number of surviving examples of the Christian Early Medieval suspended type come from 7th century Visigothic Hispania, especially the Treasure of Guarrazar, from near Toledo, which includes no fewer than twenty-six examples in gold, probably hidden as the Muslim invasion drew near. These were excavated in 1859, and are now divided between the National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid and the Musée de Cluny in Paris. [3] However the type was originally Roman or Byzantine, and adopted widely across Europe; [4] nearly all these have been lost, as the objects were naturally extremely vulnerable to theft or looting. These could not be worn, as they were too small and also very often had pendilia, or dangling ornaments on chains hanging from the main crown, often with jewels and perhaps formed into letters which spelled a word or phrase. In the example above, the letters on the pendilia spell "RECCESVINTHVS REX OFFERET", or "King Recceswinth offered this". [4] These royal donations signified the submission of the monarchy to God. [3] Such objects were probably influenced by the thirty suspended gold crowns placed round the main altar of Hagia Sophia by Justinian, now lost, [5] although the Christian practice is at least as old as the 4th century. [6]

Hispania Roman province

Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula and its provinces. Under the Republic, Hispania was divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. During the Principate, Hispania Ulterior was divided into two new provinces, Baetica and Lusitania, while Hispania Citerior was renamed Hispania Tarraconensis. Subsequently, the western part of Tarraconensis was split off, first as Hispania Nova, later renamed "Callaecia". From Diocletian's Tetrarchy onwards, the south of remaining Tarraconensis was again split off as Carthaginensis, and probably then too the Balearic Islands and all the resulting provinces formed one civil diocese under the vicarius for the Hispaniae. The name, Hispania, was also used in the period of Visigothic rule.

Treasure of Guarrazar Archeological find composed of twenty-six votive crowns and gold crosses from a site in Guadamur, prov. of Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain

The Treasure of Guarrazar, Guadamur, Province of Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain, is an archeological find composed of twenty-six votive crowns and gold crosses that had originally been offered to the Roman Catholic Church by the Kings of the Visigoths in the seventh century in Hispania, as a gesture of the orthodoxy of their faith and their submission to the ecclesiastical hierarchy. The most valuable of all is the votive crown of king Reccesuinth with its blue sapphires from Sri Lanka and pendilia. Though the treasure is now divided and much has disappeared, it represents the best surviving group of Early Medieval Christian votive offerings.

Toledo, Spain City in Castile–La Mancha, Spain

Toledo is a city and municipality located in central Spain; it is the capital of the province of Toledo and the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha. Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage.

The main body of suspended crowns is usually flat around the top as well as the bottom rim; some are merely an open framework of flexibly linked metal pieces. Such crowns were probably found widely across Christian Europe in this period; the will of 572 of Aredius, a wealthy friend of Gregory of Tours in Gaul, describes a crown that sounds very similar in form to the Spanish examples. [7] The Iron Crown of Lombardy was perhaps originally made as a votive crown, although it was later used for the coronation of monarchs including Napoleon I. Another gold crown was a source of contention in Constantinople; it was given to the Emperor Maurice (r. 582-602) by his wife Constantina and the dowager Empress Sophia for Easter 601, intended to be worn by him. Instead, he had it suspended by chains over the main altar of Hagia Sophia, upsetting the two ladies. [8] It hung there for nearly two centuries, until Emperor Leo IV coveted it and took it for his own use. In a suspiciously neat story, the crown was richly decorated with carbuncles (jewels), and Leo, who was an iconoclast, soon after died of an outbreak of carbuncles (abscesses), allowing the church to draw the obvious conclusion; other stories said his wife had poisoned him. [9] Another Byzantine votive crown, given by Leo VI (r. 886-912) is now in the Treasury of San Marco, Venice, and is decorated with cloisonné enamels. [10]

Gregory of Tours Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours

Gregory of Tours was a Gallo-Roman historian and Bishop of Tours, which made him a leading prelate of the area that had been previously referred to as Gaul by the Romans. He was born Georgius Florentius and later added the name Gregorius in honour of his maternal great-grandfather. He is the primary contemporary source for Merovingian history. His most notable work was his Decem Libri Historiarum, better known as the Historia Francorum, a title that later chroniclers gave to it, but he is also known for his accounts of the miracles of saints, especially four books of the miracles of Martin of Tours. St. Martin's tomb was a major pilgrimage destination in the 6th century, and St. Gregory's writings had the practical effect of promoting this highly organized devotion.

Gaul region of ancient Europe

Gaul was a historical region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine. It covered an area of 494,000 km2 (191,000 sq mi). According to the testimony of Julius Caesar, Gaul was divided into three parts: Gallia Celtica, Belgica, and Aquitania. Archaeologically, the Gauls were bearers of the La Tène culture, which extended across all of Gaul, as well as east to Raetia, Noricum, Pannonia, and southwestern Germania during the 5th to 1st centuries BC. During the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, Gaul fell under Roman rule: Gallia Cisalpina was conquered in 203 BC and Gallia Narbonensis in 123 BC. Gaul was invaded after 120 BC by the Cimbri and the Teutons, who were in turn defeated by the Romans by 103 BC. Julius Caesar finally subdued the remaining parts of Gaul in his campaigns of 58 to 51 BC.

Iron Crown of Lombardy reliquary and royal insignia

The Iron Crown of Lombardy is both a reliquary and one of the oldest royal insignias of Christendom. It was made in the Early Middle Ages, consisting of a circlet of gold and jewels fitted around a central silver band, which tradition holds to be made of iron beaten out of a nail of the True Cross. The crown became one of the symbols of the Kingdom of the Lombards and later of the medieval Kingdom of Italy. It is kept in the Cathedral of Monza, outside Milan.

Statue votive crowns

One of many crowned statues of the Virgin Mary carried in the processions of Holy Week in Seville. Maria de las angustias 1.JPG
One of many crowned statues of the Virgin Mary carried in the processions of Holy Week in Seville.

In England, a later medieval source says that King Canute gave a, or "his", crown to be placed on or over ("super caput") the head of the rood, or large crucifix, in Winchester Cathedral (other notables decorated statues with their jewellery or a sword). [11] The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Hereward the Wake's men looted a solid gold crown from the head of the rood on the main altar of Peterborough Cathedral in 1070. [12] The Romanesque period saw the height of crowned images of Christ, who is often shown wearing a crown on the cross in wood and metal figures, and manuscript illuminations, and also the introduction of crowned images of the Virgin Mary in the West, as the concept of Mary as Queen of Heaven became increasingly prominent.


A rood or rood cross, sometimes known as a triumphal cross, is a cross or crucifix, especially the large Crucifixion set above the entrance to the chancel of a medieval church. Alternatively, it is a large sculpture or painting of the crucifixion of Jesus.

Crucifix cross with an image or artwork of Jesus on it

A crucifix is an image of Jesus on the cross, as distinct from a bare cross. The representation of Jesus himself on the cross is referred to in English as the corpus.

Winchester Cathedral Church in Hampshire, United Kingdom

Winchester Cathedral is a cathedral of the Church of England in Winchester, Hampshire, England. It is one of the largest cathedrals in Europe, with the greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral.

A very small late medieval crown now in the Treasury of Aachen Cathedral was made for the famously lavish wedding celebrations in 1468 of Margaret of York, Duchess of Burgundy, sister of Edward IV of England, and later placed on a statue of the Virgin Mary as a votive offering. It was designed to be worn on top of an elaborate headress and hairstyle, or perhaps on a hennin, and is much smaller than a conventional crown for wearing directly on the head. [13] This is now a rare example of a medieval votive crown that has survived above ground. A few years later, in 1487, the crown that had been used by the pretender Lambert Simnel was given to a statue of the Virgin in Dublin. [14]

Aachen Cathedral Roman-Catholic cathedral in Aachen, Germany

Aachen Cathedral, traditionally called in English the Cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelle, is a Roman Catholic church in Aachen, western Germany, and the see of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Aachen.

Margaret of York English countess

Margaret of York —also by marriage known as Margaret of Burgundy—was Duchess of Burgundy as the third wife of Charles the Bold and acted as a protector of the duchy after his death. She was a daughter of Richard, 3rd Duke of York, and Cecily Neville, and the sister of two kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. She was born at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire, in the Kingdom of England, and she died at Mechelen in the Low Countries.

Edward IV of England 15th-century King of England

Edward IV was the King of England from 4 March 1461 to 3 October 1470, and again from 11 April 1471 until his death. He was the first Yorkist King of England. The first half of his rule was marred by the violence associated with the Wars of the Roses, but he overcame the Lancastrian challenge to the throne at Tewkesbury in 1471 to reign in peace until his sudden death. Before becoming king, he was Duke of York, Earl of March, Earl of Cambridge and Earl of Ulster.

Crowns designed solely for statues became increasingly elaborate, especially in the Baroque period, and in the Spanish world; they often have a flat radiating "sunburst" around them, in the style used for monstrances, as in the example illustrated. Statues of the Virgin Mary and the Infant Jesus, of the Infant Jesus of Prague type, are among those most commonly crowned. The Crown of the Andes is a votive crown from Colombia in gold with 450 emeralds, apparently made between the late 16th and 18th centuries, perhaps originally as an offering in thanks for the city of Popayán being spared from a plague. It is now in private hands in the US. [15]

Contemporary examples

Votive crowns have continued to be produced in Catholic countries in modern times. Often such crowns were kept in the church treasury except for special occasions such as relevant feast-days, when they are worn by the statue. Christ and the Virgin Mary are frequently conventionally shown wearing crowns in Christian art, in subjects such as the Coronation of the Virgin, and are the most common figures to be crowned, but other saints may also be given crowns, especially if the saint was royal, or a martyr, as martyrs are promised crowns in heaven by many texts.

In Greece a tama or votive offering of, or depicting, two small wedding crowns, as used locally, indicates a request for a good marriage. Actual crowns used in ceremonies were normally retained by the couple. [16]

See also

Commons-logo.svg Media related to Votive crowns at Wikimedia Commons


  1. Another view
  2. Rossi & Russo, 11-12. Vitruvius text, see sections 9-12.
  3. 1 2 Musée de Cluny, webpage with another crown Archived 2010-03-17 at the Wayback Machine ., accessed May 20, 2010 (in French).
  4. 1 2 Stokstad, 84
  5. Stokstad, 84; Beckwith, 345
  6. Chopin, Danielle Gaborit.Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages "Crown, art", edited by André Vauchez, Richard Barrie Dobson, Michael Lapidge, Volume 1, page 390.
  7. Fletcher, 62
  8. Garland, Linda Online biography of Constantina
  9. Treadgold, 370, though he says the crown was a different one, given by Heraclius
  10. "Image of Leo VI's crown".
  11. Dodwell, 212,
  12. Dodwell, 213,
  13. Image of Margaret's crown Schitker, 105-111 explores the donation in detail.
  14. Schnitker, 110
  15. Norman, Geraldine, ‘Crowning Glory of the Andes’: The Independent on Sunday, 18 June 1995. The crown was not in fact sold.
  16. Marriage Customs of the World.

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