A reliquary is a container in which one or more relics are stored. Given the level of status accorded to relics by the sort of people that collect them, a reliquary can be quite highly decorated - to those without any particular interest in the relics, the container is prone to be worth more than the contents.
Exact design will depend on the nature of the relic - whole saints may be preserved in an ornate coffin or sarcophagus1, whilst smaller parts may be placed in smaller containers. Traditionally, there were even swords said to have relics built into their hilts. Usage will also play a part - if a relic needs to be touched to the petitioner to have an effect, the container will likely be portable, if it requires to be viewed, expect windows - possibly even a reliquary chapel, serving essentially as a display case in the form of a small building. Where the mere presence of the thing is enough, more effort can be spent on decoration. Occasionally, functional relics may survive more or less unembellished (where decoration might interfere with function), but still should be expected to be stored in highly decorated containers between uses.
Game and Story Use
- So far, all relic venerating sects have also been ones given to elaborate decoration. What an ascetic faith would do with relics that it happened to venerate but needed to store safely is an interesting question.
- Consider also the conflation of decoration and sanctity - a traditional vision would be of the Holy Grail, an extremely unremarkable wooden or pottery cup, hidden inside a huge, ornate chalice that serves both as a reliquary and "an appropriate visual guide" to its status.
- The quantity of valuable materials used in traditional reliquaries may lead to non-venerating cultures simply stealing the packaging and dumping the relic - as various viking raiders did in Romanist Christian shrines, Romanist Spaniards did in Mesoamerican shrines and, ultimately, many Protestant Christians did in Romanist shrines as well.
- Plotwise, have PCs need to move a relic, but one that is enclosed in an impracticably large, heavy and badly balanced reliquary.
- There's also the fun of opening a reliquary and finding the relic gone… if this is an annual opening, the investigation may be … tricky.
- Settings where donatist theology applies, may find that having a highly embellished case gives a bonus to function - more fundamentalist theologians might consider that the implied idolatry provides a malus instead (assuming that they grant relics any power at all).