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November 30, 2019

The Sandal of the Apostle Andrew in Trier

By Anatoly Kholodiuk

When you ascend the winding stone staircase leading to the sanctuary containing the robe of Jesus Christ in the Cathedral of Saint Peter in the German city of Trier, you’ll definitely stop to catch your breath on the spacious landing half way up. Here, to the left of the little table where they sell books and Catholic souvenirs, is a door with a turnstile to the vestry (built in 1450 and rebuilt in 1900). Here they explain that one can enter for a small fee. A special key sets in motion a metal “spinner” and the pilgrims are allowed in to look at the remarkable treasures of the vestry, and venerate the relics safeguarded there.

The square shape of the room itself, like the quantity of relics contained in it, is not at all large; but here in the ancient reliquaries behind the glass you can see several great Christian shrines. One of them is the small portable altar of the Apostle Andrew, known as the precious “Trier Sandal of the Apostle”.

According to tradition, the veneration of the Apostle Andrew in Trier goes back to the early fourth century. Then, in 320, the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great began the construction of a cathedral in Trier. His mother, Helen, brought among other rare relics from the Holy Land to the “Northern Rome” the sandal of Saint Andrew the First-Called and gifted it to a local Christian community.

In the late ninth century reliquaries appear that speak by their form about the relics they contain: a piece of a skull would be found in a reliquary shaped like a head, and a piece of an arm would be in a case shaped like an arm. This is how relics were presented for veneration.

The upper portion of the portable altar of the Apostle Andrew is made in this style. It is a gold-guilt right foot, crossed in several places by thin, elegant straps, decorated with precious stones. From a distance it creates the impression of a foot wearing a sandal, but looking closer we see that only the straps are present, while the sole is not. In fact, a consultant from the the cathedral confirmed that the reliquary in the form of a gold foot on the portable altar of the Apostle Andrew, which was made by craftsmen under the direction of Archbishop Egbert between 977 and 933, does not contain the sandal itself, as some tourist brochures and websites of Western parishes say, but only a part of the strap of Saint Andrew’s sandal. Furthermore, to the portable altar belongs the covering from the Apostle Peter’s staff and a nail reliquary (made in 933), where one of the nails that nailed Christ to the Cross was kept.

According to tradition, Empress Helen brought to Trier the sandal worn on the right foot of the Apostle Andrew the First-Called. But because it was kept (like other relics in the Trier Cathedral) for a very long time covered over in a stone wall, only a part of the strap remained.

Saint Andrew’s portable altar was intended for use in the services in Trier and other cities. It was made by local masters out of fine and durable materials in accordance with traditions of the late 900s.

During services, depending upon the location of the portable altar in the church, the area around it would be adorned with candle stands. All churchly attributes taken together were supposed to combine harmoniously, so that the faithful could easily see what was happening in the altar, what was on it, and what relics were placed nearby.

In the Trier museums can be seen several examples of shoes from the first centuries of Christianity, including sandals. Inasmuch as we were talking about the latter, it deserves recalling that sandals in apostolic times were the most popular kind of foot covering. They were of a very simple construction. A piece of thick leather was cut to the size of the sole of the foot, and fastened to the foot by straps. A long, thin leather strap was passed between the big and the second toes and tied around the ankle. Or one strap wrapped around the heel and met with the other end, was passed between the big and the second toes and tied to them. Only women had decorations on the straps. When a man sold his property, in the Eastern tradition he would take off his shoe and hand it to the buyer to show that he was giving him ownership rights, as did Boaz’s relative (cf. Ruth 4:7).

The feet were comfortable and cool in sandals, but this sort of shoe left a large part of the foot exposed, and thus the foot was usually covered with dust. Before entering the sanctuary (cf. Joshua 5:16) or someone else’s home the shoes were usually removed; in fact, the right sandal would be removed before the left. As a rule, untying the sandals, removing them, and taking them away was the duty of slaves (cf. Mt. 3:11; Jn. 1:27; Acts 13:25). From this probably comes the expression, “they sold the poor for a pair of sandals” (Amos 2:6). Because sandals were open and did not protect the feet from dust, washing the feet was the first service shown to a visitor (cf. 1 Kings 25:41). Servants were supposed to wash the feet of guests. For the first Christians, the washing of a guest’s feet was considered a Christian act of love (cf. 1 Tim. 5:10). The Lord Jesus Christ Himself gave this example by washing the feet of His disciples (cf. Jn. 13.3-16).