Modern-day Undergraduate Students Make Medieval Art

March 18, 2024 by Department of Art History

During the Fall Term (2023) students had the chance to take FAH420: Studies in Western Medieval Art and Architecture, taught by Dr. Stephanie Azzarello, with a specific focus on 'Saints, Miracles, and Relics.' One of the course assignments was to create a reliquary box, which was a container used throughout history to hold the relics of saints and could include body parts (bones, teeth, etc), textiles and pieces of garments, or other objects connected to the saint. In the context of this course, students created their own unique boxes containing objects that held significant meaning for them.

These are some examples of the amazing boxes created by a few of the students who took the course.


Anastasia Dumitru

Anastasia is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto, minoring in Art History and specializing in Architectural Studies with a focus on History & Theory. Her academic interests include critical theory and heritage conservation. In her spare time, Anastasia enjoys reading, drawing, and spending quality time with friends and family.

FAH 420 Reliquary Project - Anastasia Dumitru reliquary box

This reliquary box was produced as a physical representation of the author's life, imbued with various symbols and motifs that reference personal interests, religious upbringing, and cultural background. Created entirely using a black marker and coloured gemstones, this decorated box primarily alludes to reliquaries traditionally found in the Eastern Orthodox Church, usually carved out of wood and covered in intricate detailing. While the arches on the sides of the box point to an interest in architectural studies, the border motif wrapping around the lid serves as a symbol of Romanian heritage. Similarly, the predominant colours of the gems, namely red, yellow, and blue, make reference to the Romanian flag, while the red gems specifically represent garnet, the official birthstone for the month of January. The inside of the box, which includes objects such as the end piece of a flute, a perfume bottle, and a piece of chocolate once again point to the author’s interests. More importantly, however, every element contained (and concealed) within the box is devoted to at least one of the human senses. This aspect plays a crucial role in the performativity of the reliquary box, a concept which is especially notable within an Eastern Church setting.


Emma Belhadfa

FAH 420 Reliquary Project - Emma reliquary box

My box was made in honour of my grandmother, Mimi Morcos. Having fled Egypt after decades of religious persecution, Mimi took her young family to Canada, where she laid roots. Now, more than 50 years later, I made this box to remember her life and sacrifice. The box includes some of her favourite jewelry, her beloved cookie recipes, and other pieces that remind me of her.


Sabrina Montemarano

FAH 420 Reliquary Project - Sabrina M reliquary box

I thoroughly enjoyed making my personal reliquary box. This reliquary box was a meaningful embodiment of the key course concepts, while allowing us the freedom to personalize it in a way that it would have been in antiquity. It exemplifies the medieval thought pattern that was intrinsic to the evolution of various forms the reliquary boxes took. While it was important to ensure that our objects aligned with the course material, I realized that this box spoke to my past, while remaining modern in a present day sense. Having been raised in a very Catholic environment, this project spoke to the spiritual and religious learnings that were ingrained in me as a child. I will forever cherish my box as it serves as a personal altar that connects me with my spirituality. 


Rebecca Zifarelli

Rebecca Zifarellie reliquary box

My reliquary box is about memories through time. The box is pasted with rose patterned paper and gold leaf is rubbed onto the corners and other areas of the box. The gold rubbing imitates the decoration of medieval reliquary and the tactile rubbing over time from prayer. The box when open has a floral scent when opened to imitate the floral theme of the paper (scent is Dolce from Dolce & Gabbana). Inside the box hold memories of my life, past, present, and thoughts of the future. Some of these items hold thoughts and memories from beyond my lifetime, an ash rock from Pompeii, a Roman Sesterces from 80 BC. 

Some are personal items, like my photo when I was six-year-old, my earrings that I have worn since I was a toddler, my high school graduation ring with mother of pearl inlayed, to a brass and mother of pearl inlaid urn with my mother’s ashes. There is also a voice recorder with music from my life that have a certain meaning overtime, which the listener might not know, a photograph of Buckingham Palace from June 3, 2023 (a personal memory hidden on the tip of my lips), and my British Passport.

These items represent fragments of my memory, moments in time, and places beyond time. Including things and people that only exist within time and memory.