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Furta Sacra: Medieval Trafficking In Saintly Relics

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17th-century icon of the Translation of the Relics of Saint. Nicholas of Myra. Historic Museum in Sanok, Poland. (Public Domain)

It is hard to imagine that the gruesome topic of bodysnatching and the ghastly, gory and gorgeous world of relics would be a main focus of religious veneration throughout the Middle Ages. Through time it has been a human instinct to revere physical objects that have been infused with the character or persona of the person who previously owned or touched them. Within family histories valued heirlooms or mementos are passed down many generations; a prince’s crown, a scientist’s microscope, a baseball star’s bat. If someone paid $16,000 for a jar of Elvis’ hair or $4.6 million for Marilynn Monroe’s dress, imagine what a saintly relic, capable of performing miracles was worth to medieval worshippers. 

Reliquary and skull of Saint Yves of Kermartin (1253–1303) in Tréguier, Brittany, France (Derepus/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Reliquary and skull of Saint Yves of Kermartin (1253–1303) in Tréguier, Brittany, France (Derepus/ CC BY-SA 3.0)

Section: – Reconstructing the story of humanity’s past


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