medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
There seems to be some confusion about the concept "Relics".
There are "symbolic" relics - in the inventories are they described as "DE
sancto ..." (FROM de saint, i.e. a small microscopic thing of
indeterminable origin and substance, mostly sealed in a small glass tube).
Then are there "real" relics, so large that they take a separate shrine to
contain them, like bodies and large parts of bodies (skeletons).
For obvious reasons is the authenticity of everything older than the 7th
century dubious. What counts to a medievalist is what the people believed
Influential people with plenty of money could easily return from Palestine
with a relic. Like king Louis who brought the crown of thorns to Paris. If
anybody had a doubt about its origin did they not publish it in writing. It
WAS the Corona Domini!
In principle and in practise was the pope capable of deliveries of relics
of any kind, on request. The Lateran had obviously a kind of shop where
relics were taken from the shelves in a store on demand. Many churches
received ready-made packages containing all the relics it would take to
make up a full calendar according to the Gregorian Sacramentary. Relics of
local saints were provided by the bishop when needed. When the church in
Lund was raised to be the new archdiocese of Denmark in the beginning of
the 12th century, did they receive such a complete set of relics from the
pope in Rome. The list has survived and is of course published. I do not
have a copy at hand, but I remember that it immediately struck me that it
in fact is a complete liturgical calendar (and the corresponding litany),
if arranged according to the ecclesiastical year, including "Apostolic
Many other churches in the missionary field north of the Rhine did probably
also receive a similar starting-kit, but it is rare to have the original
list preserved in the archives.
The list of relics contained in the famous shrine of St.Ursula (by Hans
Memling) in the Hospital of St.John in Bruges, is included in a document
made in connection with the official translation into the new shrine in
The list is very curious, and tells us a lot about the phenomenon "Relics",
as it was seen in the later M.A.:
"...sacrosancte reliquie inferius sigillatim et particulariter designate et
descripte, nuper ex quadam vetusta capsa, sive feretro, in qua diu ab antea
reverenter recondite, honorifice recluse, et collocate extiterant, et in
hoc presenti novo feretro, sive nova capsa, Undecim Mille Virginum
attitulato per eundem dominum [Egidium] episcopum Sarreptanum oleo sancto
more solito, consecrato, benedicto, et confirmato, ac reliquiis
infrascriptis preparato ...etc." (The bishop of Tournai could not be
present, because he was in Rome).
The complete list of the contents of the shrine:
Ossa plurima XI M. Virginum.
Reliquie Sancti Georgii.
De monte Calvarie.
De porta aurea.
De sepulchro Domini.
Reliquie Sancti Iohannis Baptiste.
De monte in quo Christus ieiunavit 40 diebus et 40 noctibus.
De monte Synay.
De lacte Beate Marie Virginis. (sic!)
Reliquie Sancti Iacobi apostoli.
Reliquie Sancte Agnetis.
De monte Thabor.
Reliquie Sancti Lupi.
De columpna ubi Christus fuit flagellatus in domo Pilati.
De terra de qua Adam factus fuit.
De loco in quo Christus confecit Sacramentum.
De capillis Beate Marie Virginis.
Reliquie Sancti Ieronimi.
De ossibus Sancti Brixii.
De ossibus Sanctorum Cosme et Damiani.
Reliquie Sancti Mauri.
De costa Sancti Dyonisii.
De sancto Fiacro.
De crinibus Virginis Gloriose.
De presepe Domini.
Reliquie Sancte Barbare.
De sepulchro sancti Lazari.
Una spina Corone Spinee Domini nostri.
De monte Oliveti.
De loco ubi Christus ter oravit Patrem.
De loco ubi obitus Beate Marie Virginis nunciatus fuit.
De loco Nativitatis Domini.
De loco ubi Apostoli dormierunt.
De loco in quo Spiritus Sanctus super Apostolos descendit.
De cenaculo ubi Christus confecit Sacramentum.
De sepulchro Sancti Ieronimi.
De loco ubi Abraham Tres vidit et Unum adoravit.
De loco ubi Christus fuit captus.
De loco ubi Moyses recepit legem de manu Domini.
De sepulchro Beate Marie Virginis.
De uno lapide cum quo Beatus Stephanus fuit lapidatus.
De monte Syon.
De ossibus Sancte Helene.
De ossibus Sancte Lucie.
The document (Acta) is signed by Rumoldus de Doppere, secretary to the
bishop of Tournai. (From the complete publication by W.H.James Weale in:
Hans Memlinc, zijn Leven en zijne Schilderwerken, Brugge 1871, p.65-70).
The document will hopefully give some members of this list some realistic
insight, and a more relaxed relation to the concept "reliquium".
Mag.art. Erik Drigsdahl CHD Center for Haandskriftstudier i Danmark
Kapelvej 25B 3.tv Phone: +45 +35 37 20 47
DK-2200 Copenhagen N Email: <[log in to unmask]>
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