Circulating saints: a study of the movement of corporeal relics in three regions of Western Europe, c. 800-1200

Wiedenheft, Elizabeth Anne (2018) Circulating saints: a study of the movement of corporeal relics in three regions of Western Europe, c. 800-1200. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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This thesis is concerned with the movement of corporeal relics in France, England and the Low Countries during the central Middle Ages. There were two types of relic movements in medieval Europe. The first of these forms a broad category termed translationes, and includes the theft of relics (furta sacra) as well as intra-site translations (the movement of relics within a specific site) and regional translations (the movement of relics from one site to another). The second type of relic movement was the delatio, or the tour of relics. Communities were motivated to move their relics by numerous factors, including protection from harm or theft, to claim land, to provide protection to a specific area (including from war or pestilence), or to build wealth or focus a community around a specific secular or religious identity. The latter often meant that the movement of relics was performed as part of a deliberate relic policy of the leaders of that community, and helped to promote a common identity, thus binding the people of that area together as a social group. They also could be used to build boundaries around lands that were either desired by or owned by a particular monastic community, thereby allowing the monastery to acquire new lands and endowments.

This thesis is contextually wide-ranging but topically specific. It explores one facet of medieval Christian devotional practices (the movement of relics and the erection of shrines to Christian saints) in great detail, while also investigating the economic, social, and political framework of western Europe between 800 and 1200. The dual nature of this structure emphasises the contributions made throughout this thesis to the historiography. I have developed a new interpretation of the valuation processes for relics, understanding them not as commodities or inalienable possessions, but as ‘inalienable commodities’, or goods that functioned both as moveable, tradeable commodities with use-value and exchange-value, and as inalienable possessions, above the normal means of economic exchange. I also argue for a new understanding of sacred space, noting that physical shrines could be temporarily erected, not just permanent sites of the sacred. This is a spatial category that has remained unstudied in the fields of history and anthropology.

This thesis argues that the movement of relics as represented in hagiographical accounts manifested miracles as a necessary economic and social product. This product was a result of the labour of the monastic or ecclesiastical cult, the laity who gave devotion to the saint, and the work of the saint themselves through the medium of their relics. The hagiographical accounts of medieval Europe used specific literary topoi to illustrate how these thaumaturgic productions manifested the value and socio-economic status of relics. Once the value of the relics had been established, the relics were then used to further the political, economic, and social aims of the monastic and lay communities that surrounded them through the implementation of relic policies. It is therefore argued that the movement of medieval corporeal saints’ relics in western Europe demonstrates that relics circulated within the medieval economy in myriad ways. Research into the status of relics, how they were exchanged, and the socio-economic benefits accrued through their acquisition can therefore have some bearing on the historian’s understanding of the worth of the human body, as well as the tension between creating capital and promoting the sacred in medieval Christianity.

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Taylor, Claire
Lutton, Rob
Keywords: medieval history, cult of the saints, relics, material culture, economic theory
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BV Practical theology
Faculties/Schools: UK Campuses > Faculty of Arts > School of History
Item ID: 49743
Depositing User: Wiedenheft, Elizabeth
Date Deposited: 16 Jul 2018 04:40
Last Modified: 08 Feb 2019 08:15

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