Relics take many forms, from dust to stones, cloth, bodies and body parts. They are usually of little apparent intrinsic worth but are nonetheless invested with great spiritual and memorial value. Reliquaries are the means by which the cultural value of relics is asserted. Once established as a sacred object through the act of enshrinement, the relic is empowered to commemorate religious and historical ideas, produce veneration and awe, and inspire faith and even ‘miracles’.
The Reliquary Effect is the first full survey in English to investigate the societal value of reliquaries. It focuses on relics and reliquaries of the Christian tradition, from the earliest moments of the cult of saints, to the post-Reformation response, to Protestant scepticism about and rejection of relic veneration. Relic footprints, incorrupt bodies, the Crown of Thorns, the Turin Shroud and many other renowned Christian relics are examined. Strategies such as the architectural creation of sacred space and the evocation of the biblical tradition of the Temple are revealed as central to the power of reliquaries. Hahn also discusses relics from other faith traditions, including Buddhism and Islam, and considers how the ‘reliquary effect’ finds its place as a powerful force in more secular times, as well as reliquaries’ transformations in contemporary art.
Featuring a fascinating mixture of inexplicably obscure objects and older artworks that demand our attention, The Reliquary Effect is a must-read for students of art history, as well as all those interested in the enduring power of sacred objects.
‘As Cynthia Hahn convincingly shows in her detailed and richly illustrated new book, relics themselves are the predominant objects of interest over the years for scholars and worshippers alike, but the reliquaries are important and informative art and religious objects in their own right.’ – Anthropology Review
‘Cynthia Hahn has filled an important gap in scholarship. This book is the first to understand and analyse reliquaries as creations for the stimulation of attention and the capturing of desire. Hahn’s supreme knowledge and comprehensive approach enable her to look behind the surface of the reliquary, following its developments over time and drawing some sometimes surprising conclusions. As a contribution to the cross-cultural study of art, The Reliquary Effect shows how we can strengthen our understanding of the origins and foundations of our culture and those of others.’ – Gerhard Lutz, Curator, Dommuseum Hildesheim
Cynthia Hahn is Professor of Art History at Hunter College and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her previous books include Portrayed on the Heart: Narrative Effect in Pictorial Lives of the Saints from the Tenth through the Thirteenth Century (2001) and Strange Beauty: Origins and Issues in the Making of Medieval Reliquaries, 400–c. 1204 (2012).