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The University of Southampton
Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Culture

Reuter Lecture 2018 Event

Bodies and bones
22 May 2018
Lecture Theatre C, Avenue Campus, SO17 1BF. Tea served at 5.30pm, Lecture at 6pm.

Event details

'Bodies and bones: Rethinking the origins of relic cults in medieval Latin Christianity'


Previous scholarship on the emergence of the Christian cult of saints’ corporeal relics has relied on three points of departure: assumptions about the polluting effect of contact with the dead in the ancient world, late Roman legislation declaring it sacrilege to interfere with tombs, and papal pronouncements.  By contrast, I shall start from the ground up. Emphasising the heterogeneity of burial practices in the fourth- and fifth-century Roman world, I shall argue that the use of human body parts as relics is first attested in Syria-Palestine where local burial practices enabled easy access to corporeal remains, in striking contrast with western mortuary conventions.  The gradual evolution of attitudes to corporeal relics in the early medieval West will be traced using hitherto neglected evidence from ecclesiastical treasuries and the contents of reliquaries.

Speaker information

Julia M H Smith ,University of Oxford,Chichele Professor of Medieval History

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