Migrating Materiality and the (De)Construction of Hagioscapes: Transregional Relic Translations in Late Antiquity

Recently, I had once again an excellent excuse for a trip to Rome: a had a talk at Hagio-Scape! How mobility and materiality shaped pre-modern geographies of devotion (400-1700) an international conference at the Norwegian Institute in Rome 25 May 2023. I re-examined some rather intriguing elements of long-distance relic translations in a period, when this was far from customary. I really enjoyed this conference which was the perfect amalgam of ‘Nordic’ informality and Italian hospitality. And the view from the roof garden of the Norwegian Institute is simply breathtaking. Thanks Marianne and Kaja for the organisation!

If you want to know more, here goes the abstract:

The rapid rise of the relics’ cult in the fourth century radically challenged and over time also changed classical reservations towards human’s mortal remains. After a short period of hesitation, Christians begun to exhume and relocate martyrs’ bodies. The relocations took usually place in close(er) geographic vicinity to the tomb, often simply from necropolis to the polis. Such translations seriously influenced the local community in many ways: it facilitated access to miracle working powers, ensured (ecclesial) control, or replaced old deities. In short, regional translations not only reconfigured the local sacred topography, which was now dominated by the saint, but also reinforced Christian identity making and marking.

Notably, however, bodies or body parts crossed regional borders, and sometimes even the Roman Empire. Some of them travelled thousands of miles before integrated into the fabric of the local sacred topography. Given the enormous (symbolic) value of relics for local communities, such transregional translations are puzzling to say the least. This contribution aims to explore the enormous impact of ‘migrating bones’ by selected hagiographical texts originating from the Eastern Roman Empire and asks why martyrs’ bodies have been moved across the Empire in the first place? How did transregional mobility of sacred bodies shape religious and social life, economy, and sacred landscape at both ends of the migration process? Which narratives, customs and traditions moved together with the mortal remains and which did not? Finally, to what extent if any fostered this ‘mortal mobility’ transregional interconnections?

One thought on “Migrating Materiality and the (De)Construction of Hagioscapes: Transregional Relic Translations in Late Antiquity

Comments are closed.