Portable Christianity: Relics in the Medieval West (<i>c</i>.700–1200)

Julia M. H. Smith

in Proceedings of the British Academy Volume 181, 2010-2011 Lectures

Published by British Academy

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780197265277
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754203 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Portable Christianity: Relics in the Medieval West (c.700–1200)

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This paper uses the proxy evidence of relic inventories and labels to explore the role of relics in medieval Christianity. By means of an examination of their material nature, it argues that their primary characteristics were their fragmentary and often amorphous nature; their lack of intrinsic identification; and their easy portability. By emphasising that relic collecting was a habit that contributed to establishing religious identities and affiliations, the paper clarifies relics' role in relocating knowledge of Christian history into the homes and churches of medieval Europe. Finally, having noted that their dissemination followed established networks of travel and communication, it emphasises that relics rendered the essentials of Christianity tangible and portable.

Keywords: relics; Christianity; material culture; Middle Ages; Rome; Holy Land; miracles; reliquaries; pilgrimage

Chapter.  9368 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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