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Female Religious as Collectors of Relics: Finding Sacrality and Power in the “Ordinary”

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores a number of aspects related to women's agency and power in the acquisition and use of specifically associative relics from the sixth through eleventh centuries. Beginning in the early Christian period, women seemed to have been especially drawn to the "pious" activity of acquiring relics, from reliquae (Latin) literally "things left behind". Sources describe women's enthusiastic acquisition of major corporeal relics, i.e. full bodies of saints, or portions of bodies; as well as the more accessible, associative relics, i.e. personal belongings of saints, contact, or second or third class relics, or brandea. Cloth coverings of saints' tombs were recognized as efficacious relics. The popularity of textile relics can also be seen in various miracle stories where the irreverent were punished by the saint for attempting to steal part of their garments or other pieces of cloth associated with the saint for their own use.

Keywords: cloth coverings; corporeal relics; early Christian period; female religious; saints



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