The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics
Author: Robert Wisniewski
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Christians have often admired and venerated the martyrs who died for their faith, but for a long time thought that the bodies of martyrs should remain undisturbed in their graves. Initially, the Christian attitude towards the bones of the dead, saint or not, was that of respectful distance. The Beginnings of the Cult of Relics examines how this attitude changed in the mid-fourth century. Robert Wisniewski investigates how Christians began to believe in the power of relics, first over demons, then over physical diseases and enemies. He considers how the faithful sought to reveal hidden knowledge at the tombs of saints and why they buried the dead close to them. An essential element of this new belief was a strong conviction that the power of relics was transferred in a physical way and so the following chapters study relics as material objects.
Wisniewski analyses how contact with relics operated and how close it was. Did people touch, kiss, or look at the very bones, or just at tombs and reliquaries which contained them? When did the custom of dividing relics begin? Finally, the book deals with discussions and polemics concerning relics, and attempts to find out the strength of the opposition which this new phenomenon had to face, both within and outside Christianity, on its way to become an essential element of medieval religiosity.
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