To obtain sacred relics, medieval monks plundered tombs, avaricious merchants raided churches, and relic-mongers scoured the Roman catacombs. In a revised edition of Furta Sacra, Patrick Geary considers the social and cultural context for these acts, asking how the relics were perceived and why the thefts met with the approval…
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In the US, when we think about Christianity, we tend not to think much about saints and when we do, they are at best a sort of role model for piety, an antiquated cast of characters in the history of religion. But to early Christians, saints were powerful patrons. The earliest saints were the martyrs put to death by the pagan Roman state: thrown to the lions, massacred by gladiators, executed at the orders of Roman officials. These saints’ bodies and tombs became objects of veneration, purported to produce miracles. In the middle ages, as Christianity became the dominant force…
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