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220 × 171 × 28 mm
256 pages
100 illustrations, 65 in colour
01 Nov 2016

The Reliquary Effect Enshrining the Sacred Object Cynthia Hahn

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.

‘[A] splendid book . . . The Reliquary Effect sparkles with gorgeous pictures, and the text is deservedly full of epithets such as “sumptious and spectacular”, “rich and lavish”, “lavish and extensive”. The objects under discussion were in most cases the most precious possessions of some of Europe’s most powerful individuals and institutions over more than a thousand years . . . Hahn elegantly elides her discussion of Christian relics into an investigation of their secular equivalents . . . a page-turner.’ — Art Newspaper

‘A compelling examination of relics but mainly reliquaries and their cultural as well as spiritual impact from dust and ashes, to gilded splendours and the contemporary vitrines of Anselm Keifer and even the Vietnam monument by Maya Lin, as well as the hitherto un-probed religious aspects of Joseph Beuys and Paul Thek . . . a pioneering book, originally argued, excellent in scope and beautifully produced; a book about containment that is perfectly contained’ — ACE/Mercers Book Awards, Runner-Up 2017

‘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

‘In this stunningly beautiful book, with 85 colour plates, The Reliquary Effect: Enshrining the Sacred Object, Cynthia Hahn takes us on a journey that begins with the footprint of Christ from the Mount of Olives, a 2nd century footprint of the Buddha, a tracing of the Muhammad’s sandal, and a tenth century silver, gold and enamel portable altar containing the sandal of St Andrew . . . This is a book that hovers between the prayer desk and the coffee table!’ — Methodist Recorder

‘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

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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).

Introduction: The Eternal Relic

1 Relics and Reliquaries: Matter, Meaning, Multiplication

2 Objects of Infinite Power: Relics in Early Middle Ages

3 Reliquaries of the Late Medieval and Renaissance

4 The Reliquary After Trent: The Affective, the Collective

5 Relics Destroyed, Relics Returned, Relics Reinvented: The French Revolution, Napoleon, Celebrity, the Photograph

6 The Reliquary Effect: Contemporary Artists and Strategies of the Relic




Photo Acknowledgements