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Recorded since circa 1380, Middle English, philaterie, either from Old French filatiere (12c.), or via Medieval Latin philaterium, an alteration of Late Latin phylacterium (reliquary), from Ancient Greek φυλακτήριον (phulaktḗrion, safeguard, amulet), via adjective φυλακτήριος (phulaktḗrios, serving as a protection), from φυλακτήρ (phulaktḗr, watcher, guard), itself from φυλάσσω (phulássō, guard or ward off), from φύλαξ (phúlax, a guard).[1]



A phylactery in a painting.

phylactery (plural phylacteries)

  1. (Judaism) Either of the two small leather cases, containing biblical scrolls, worn by Jewish men at morning prayer; the tefilla.
    • 1526, William Tyndale, trans. Bible, Matthew XXIII:
      They sett abroade there philateris, and make large borders on there garmenttes, and love to sytt uppermooste at feastes []
    • 2005, Edward Mack, Phylactery, Nextbible.[1]
      "Every male, who at the age of 13 becomes a "son of the Law" (bar mitswah), must wear the phylactery and perform the accompanying ceremonial."
  2. Among the early Christians, a case in which relics were preserved.
  3. Any small object worn for its magical or supernatural power; an amulet or charm.
    • 2006, Don Skemer, Binding Words Textual Amulets in the Middle Ages. Penn State Press, 2006. p. 136n:[2]
      "According to the decreta issued by the archbishop of Utrecht in 1372-75, the word phylactery pertained either to amulets on separate sheets or to entire books."




  1. ^ Archbishop of Utrecht, Arnold II van Hoorn, 1372-1375.