November 17, 2020

The Skull of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker


The sacred skull of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker is currently located in the Museum São Roque in Lisbon, Portugal and is considered its most important relic.

A “document of authentication” written in Castillian and signed by the Empress Maria, Mother of Rudolf II of Prague, was included with this important relic, when it was dispatched from the Escorial in 1587 together with all the relics donated by D. Juan de Borja (1533-1606).  This document is a rich parchment illuminated and provided with the royal seal. It declares that Maria decided at the request of Juan de Borja to offer him the sacred skull of Saint Gregory of Neocaesarea, in reward for his important services during her stay in Prague. The document is conserved at the Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa Historical Archives.

This relic is placed inside a cubic base together with a sculpture on top of Our Lady with the Christ Child. These two pieces were put together, a long time ago, and have been considered the most significant pieces donated by D. Juan de Borja to the Society of Jesus in late 16th century. 

In September 2007, this reliquary was opened showing the skull of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker. A paper label placed on the surface has the following inscription in Latin: Calauaria Gregorii Thaumaturgi. I.[id est] mirifici. Galienia temporib[us] ep[iscop]us Neoceaesariensis od res. Miras in eccle[si]a gestas sic appelatu [Translation: Skull of Gregory Thaumaturgus, in other words, the Wonderworker, at the time of Galieno, Bishop of Neocaesarea, he was so called for his wonderworking actions in the Church]. 

It is quite possible that this silver sculpture of Our Lady with the Child, from Regensburg, was acquired there by D. Juan de Borja. This is one of the few known sculptural examples of this important center in Germany. The oval-shaped silver radiance, in the shape of a radiant sun, did not originally belong to the sculpture. It would have been added in the 17th century, as well as the cubic base in golden copper, inside which the skull of São Gregório Thaumaturgo is kept.

Whether this is the authentic skull of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker can be disputed. Another alleged skull of Saint Gregory the Wonderworker is located at the Patriarchal and Stavropegic Monastery of Saint Dionysios of Olympus in Litochoro of Pieria, at the base of Mount Olympus in Greece.