The Sigtuna Reliquary Bust – a Local Heroine and a Virgin of Cologne?

Sofia Lahti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


A crowned, wooden bust of a female saint in the medieval St Mary’s church in Sigtuna is the only remaining example of medieval bust reliquaries in the Nordic churches. Her hollow head has housed relics, which no longer exist. Without attributes, the bust has been tentatively identified as various saints and even a heroine of local folklore. No written documents have been found that could shed light on her background. Only the two last centuries of her existence have been documented, illustrating recent shifts in the bust’s location, physical condition and perceived identity. The majority of medieval reliquary busts in Europe represented St Ursula and her companions, the Eleven Thousand Virgins; hundreds of examples of these busts are still preserved in Central and Southern Europe. The holy virgins of Cologne were popular in the North, too: they were represented in reliquary busts, but also in other reliquaries, as well as in wall paintings and altarpieces. Although the identity of the Sigtuna bust remains uncertain, it is viewed here in the context of the reliquaries of the Eleven Thousand Virgins in the Nordic churches.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)188–203
JournalKonsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • relics
  • polychrome sculpture
  • Mediaeval sculpture
  • reliquaries

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