A handful of personal reliquaries of St. Demetrios have survived, each incorporating small interior shuttered compartments for relics and depictions of the saint. The relics of Demetrios were not his bones, but oil or myron collected from his tomb and blood-soaked earth taken from the site of his martyrdom. The owners of the reliquaries would have had to move through several layers, opening first the lid of the reliquary and then the shutters covering the interior compartments, before finally seeing the relics and the innermost depiction of the saint[…]
From the eleventh century onwards Demetrios became increasingly popular among the military classes in the Byzantine Empire, and he was often depicted as a soldier and paired with other military saints. St. George, another popular soldier saint, is depicted on the back of the London reliquary. André Grabar, following O.M. Dalton, suggested that the lamp suspended over the tomb of the saint in this reliquary was a reflection of Crusader influence. Similar iconography was used in certain Crusader contexts, but such lamps had long been associated with the tombs of a number of Byzantine saints, including, significantly, St. Theodora, another myron-producing saint of Thessalonike with whom Demetrios was often associated.
Text by Katherine B. Gerry, photo courtesy The British Museum (via Treasures of Heaven collection)