The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics

ISBN : 9780199675562

Robert Wisniewski
272 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Dec 2018
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Christians have often admired and venerated martyrs who died for their faith, but for long time thought that the bodies of martyrs should remain undisturbed in their graves. Initially, Christian attitude toward the bones of the dead, saint or not, was that of respectful distance. The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics examines how this changed in the mid-fourth century. Robert Wisniewski investigates how Christians began to believe in power of relics, first, over demons, then over physical diseases and enemies. He considers how they sought to reveal hidden knowledge at the tombs of saints and why they buried the death close to them. An essential element of this new belief was a string conviction that the power of relics was transferred in a physical way and so the following chapters study relics as material objects. Wisniewski analyses what the contact with relics looked like and how close it was. Did people touch, kiss, or look at the very bones, or just at reliquaries which contained them? When did the custom of dividing relics appear? Finally, the book the book deals with discussions and polemics concerning relics and tries to find out how strong was the opposition which this new phenomenon had to face, both within and outside Christianity on its way relics to become an essential element of the medieval religiosity.


1 Prehistory and Early Chronology of the Cult of Relics
2 The First Miracles
3 Defenders of Cities
4 Relics and Divination
5 Burials ad Sanctos
6 Finding Relics
7 Touching Relics
8 Displaying and Seeing Relics
9 Dividing Relics
10 Discussions and Theology
11 Eastern, Western, and Local Habits in the Cult of Relics

About the author: 

Robert Wisniewski is Associate Professor of Ancient History at the University of Warsaw. His research focuses on religious changes in Late Antiquity, with particular attention to the cult of saints, divination, clergy, and demons.

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