Phial or orcel

13th century. Glass. Inv.: 7 632

Dated to the 13th century, this glass phial, called "orcel" in the Bordeaux region, was discovered in 1791 in a grave in the necropolis of Saint-Seurin.

During the Middle Ages it was common to place these phials in tombs, close to the head of the deceased. Filled with holy water, they were thought to protect the dead person from evil spirits and demons. The relatively large number of these discoveries, given the fragility of these objects, may indicate the existence of glass-making centres in our region, unless these phials were brought back from pilgrimages, to Rome, for example, as their form seems to be descended from that of Roman balsamaria. The long neck and the twisted shape are decorative and also slow the evaporation of the holy water.

Phial or orcel (c) mairie de Bordeaux photo L. Gauthier