The Head of Blessed Oliver Plunkett, Ireland

Accession Number

The Head of Blessed Oliver Plunkett, Ireland

Alen MacWeeney

Object Creation Date
1965-1966, printed 1979

Medium & Support
gelatin silver print on paper

19 13/16 in x 15 15/16 in (50.4 cm x 40.5 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Carl W. Melcher

Subject matter
This photograph shows a view of a Catholic reliquary in a church’s shrine. Encased in an ornate glass box, a gaunt, mummified head sits, its mouth slightly open, eyes closed and sunken in their sockets. While obviously inanimate—its emaciated flesh dried and leathery—it also appears to be resting in repose, its expression lending it an uncannily life-like aura. The case in which it sits is ornamented with gilded columns and trim, its top angled upwards like a church’s roof, an ornate curcifix adorning its peak. At the base of the case, engraved on a gilt banner in elegant script reads the latin words, “Beato Olivero Sacrum.” The photograph’s composition is highly symmetrical, and composed of multiple rectangular, concentrically framing shapes which encase one another, stopping at the saint’s head in the lower center of the image. The head belongs to that of an Irish Catholic Archbishop named Oliver Plunkett who was executed by the English in 1681 by being hanged, drawn and quartered. Plunkett’s remains were exhumed two years later, they were moved to Germany and his head was brought to Rome. Two hundred and forty years after his death, his head was returned to Ireland, where it has rested in it’s reliquary in St. Peter’s Church in the city of Drogheda. Plunkett was canonized as a Catholic saint in 1975.

Physical Description
This photograph shows a view of an ornate Catholic reliquary. The reliquary houses a mummified head.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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Roman Catholicism
body-part reliquaries
chapels (rooms or structures)
executions (personal life events)
heads (animal components)
modern and contemporary art
shrines (structures)

6 Related Resources

Death and Dying
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
Grief and Mourning Rituals
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)
(Part of: Land and People)
Curriculum Collection
(Part of: Curriculum/Collection)

& Author Notes

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