The reliquary of Celles

Since the autumn of 2017, a "box" has been the centre of the MPMM’s concerns. It is a wooden box kept inside the collégiale romane Saint-Hadelin de Celles, in one of the niches overhanging the sacristy door, out of sight ...

The collégiale romane Saint-Hadelin de Celles (Houyet) houses a reliquary, whose discreet presence attracted little attention until recently. This modest wooden box located in a niche at the height of the sacristy is "part of the furniture".  An inscription in box suggests it was made at the end of the 16th century. The Maison du patrimoine médiéval mosan discovered this piece when research about reliquaries from the Dinant region was carried out for an exhibition organised by CROMIOSS (Archaeological Society of Namur). The research is ongoing and requires the contribution of several specialists, more specifically for the dendrochronological examination of the reliquary and for the anthropological study and the radiocarbon dating of the bones it contains.

Recognition of Walhères's "helmet" at the MPMM

Many treasures of our regions remain unknown. One of these is the head-reliquary, or "helmet," of Saint Walhère, a priest of Onhaye who is thought to have been assassinated at the end of the 12th century. This head-shaped case once housed the saint's skull, the most precious of his relics.

The traveling exhibition CROMIOSS (Cross-studies in History and Exact Sciences re the mitres of the Treasury of Oignies and the bones of Bishop Jacques de Vitry) was housed at the MPMM from 9 December 2017 to 25 February 2018. This exhibition, designed by the Société archéologique de Namur, invited the general public to discover research on bones said to be from Bishop Jacques de Vitry. Several scientific institutions participated in this research, since 2015. The art of Brother Hugo d'Oignies developed thanks to this Bishop, who died in 1240, and who sent many relics from the East to the priory of Oignies, where Brother Hugo’s talent was used to add value to the relics.

The MPMM wanted to offer an additional exhibition dedicated to relics and reliquaries and present certain pieces kept in local churches. The head-reliquary of Saint Walhère is one of them. This local saint is part of the medieval history of the region. His cult continues to this day and this tradition forged a strong connection with Bouvignes, where Walhère was born. The Saint-Lambert parish still keeps precious bones of the saint. According to local legend, the spring located in the cellar of Walhère's house in Bouvignes bubbled when the saint died, and does so every year on 23 June. The reliquary is a little-known gem. It could be seen each year on the last weekend of June. For the rest of the year the reliquary was kept in a cloth, in the sacristy of the church of St. Martin, out of sight, safe from eventual unscrupulous individuals.

At the end of the temporary exhibition CROMIOSS and its complement “Around relics and reliquaries”, the MPMM offered the Church Factory of Saint-Martin and the municipality of Onhaye, legal owner of church property from the Ancien Régime like any municipal institution, to house the reliquary in its permanent collections.  "Permanent" not in the sense of indefinite ownership by the museum, but to give the reliquary a place in the museum on the basis of a yearly renewable loan agreement. The laudable partnership between the Maison du patrimoine médiéval mosan, the Fabrique de l’église Saint-Martin, the municipality of Onhaye and the Bishopric of Namur brings together very different actors who all aim to protect and highlight the religious heritage of our regions.

Today, the reliquary can be admired, while being preserved in an optimal and secure environment. It can be accessed six days a week, during museum opening hours. It is placed with other reliquaries in the room “Entre ciel & terre”. after the completion of the museum’s expansion works, by 2020/2021, the contents of the permanent exhibition will slightly change. The room in question will then focus entirely on relics from the middle ages. More information about the head reliquary of Saint Walhère will also be provided.