This reliquary portraying Our Lady and Child is exceptional in collections of Portuguese medieval metalwork where large figurative sculptures are rarely to be found. In this representation, the feminine fashion is portrayed, and some tenderness in the facial expression is already revealed. By addressing the human condition this image conveys a greater empathy with the faithful. As medieval jewellery is extremely rare, this sculpture also serves as an important document.

Isabel of Aragão, Queen of Portugal, founded the first centres for private assistance in the country. Under her initiative these centres assisted the sick, the old, orphans, the abandoned and prostitutes. She financed hospitals, convents, shelters, colonies for lepers, orphanages and reform homes, always making sure to participate in tasks to help the needy. Thus, it was this queen who created the concept of the charitable institution, although it was only at the end of the 15th century that the Queen, D. Leonor institutionalized these centres.

Queen Isabel left to her Coimbra convent a number of her personal valuables that constitute one of the most important groups belonging to the Museum collection. In accordance with common practice of the period, the coat of arms of Portugal and Aragon is displayed on every piece, apart from the necklace (see p. 88), identifying her as the owner. This small treasure of sacred medieval precious metalwork (figs 4 – 6) comprises a personal jewel – a necklace – which, due to its symbolic value alone, was soon regarded as an authentic relic. According to legend, the Clarissa nuns would lend the necklace to the sick to help in a cure, being favoured particularly by women in childbirth. As a sign of appreciation and gratitude to the Holy Queen, those who had benefited from its powers would keep fragments of the necklace as protective relics. This is a possible explanation as to why the piece is now incomplete.