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The Reliquary Effect

Enshrining the Sacred Object

From skeletons to strips of cloth to little pieces of dust, reliquaries can be found in many forms, and while sometimes they may seem grotesque on their surface, they are nonetheless invested with great spiritual and memorial value. In this book, Cynthia Hahn offers the first full survey in English of the societal value of reliquaries, showing how they commemorate religious and historical events and, more important, inspire awe, faith, and, for many, the miraculous.
            Hahn looks deeply into the Christian tradition, examining relics and reliquaries throughout history and around the world, going from the earliest years of the cult of saints through to the post-Reformation response. She looks at relic footprints, incorrupt bodies, the Crown of Thorns, the Shroud of Turin, and many other renowned relics, and she shows how the architectural creation of sacred space and the evocation of the biblical tradition of the temple is central to the reliquary’s numinous power. She also discusses relics from other traditions—especially from Buddhism and Islam—and she even looks at how reliquaries figure in contemporary art. Fascinatingly illustrated throughout, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the enduring power of sacred objects.

304 pages | 65 color plates, 35 halftones | 7 1/2 x 9 3/4 | © 2017

Art: Art--General Studies

Religion: Religion and Society

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"[A] splendid book. . . . The Reliquary Effect sparkles with gorgeous pictures, and the text is deservedly full of epithets such as 'sumptious and spectacular,' 'rich and lavish,' 'lavish and extensive.' The objects under discussion were in most cases the most precious possessions of some of Europe’s most powerful individuals and institutions over more than a thousand years. . . . Hahn elegantly elides her discussion of Christian relics into an investigation of their secular equivalents. . . . A page-turner."

Art Newspaper

"A compelling examination of relics but mainly reliquaries and their cultural as well as spiritual impact from dust and ashes, to gilded splendors and the contemporary vitrines of Anselm Keifer and even the Vietnam monument by Maya Lin, as well as the hitherto un-probed religious aspects of Joseph Beuys and Paul Thek. . . . A pioneering book, originally argued, excellent in scope and beautifully produced; a book about containment that is perfectly contained."

ACE/Mercers Book Awards, Runner-Up 2017

"In this stunningly beautiful book, with eighty five color plates, Hahn takes us on a journey that begins with the footprint of Christ from the Mount of Olives, a second-century footprint of the Buddha, a tracing of the Muhammad’s sandal, and a tenth-century silver, gold, and enamel portable altar containing the sandal of St Andrew . . . This is a book that hovers between the prayer desk and the coffee table!"

Methodist Recorder

“As Hahn convincingly shows in her detailed and richly illustrated new book, the relics themselves have the predominant objects of interest over the years for scholars and worshippers alike, but the reliquaries are important and informative art and religious objects in their own right. . . . Beyond the details of medieval Christian art, Hahn’s book proves that the reliquary effect is a thriving force in social life, in the past, present, and future.”

Anthropology Review Database

"Hahn has filled an important gap in scholarship. This book is the first to understand and analyze reliquaries as creations for the stimulation of attention and the capturing of desire. Hahn’s supreme knowledge and comprehensive approach enable her to look behind the surface of the reliquary, following its developments over time and drawing some sometimes surprising conclusions. As a contribution to the cross-cultural study of art, The Reliquary Effect shows how we can strengthen our understanding of the origins and foundations of our culture and those of others."

Gerhard Lutz, curator of the Dommuseum Hildesheim

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Eternal Relic
1 Relics and Reliquaries: Matter, Meaning, Multiplication
2 Objects of Infinite Power: Relics in Early Middle Ages
3 Reliquaries of the Late Medieval and Renaissance
4 The Reliquary After Trent: The Affective, the Collective
5 Relics Destroyed, Relics Returned, Relics Reinvented: The French Revolution, Napoleon, Celebrity, the Photograph
6 The Reliquary Effect: Contemporary Artists and Strategies of the Relic
Photo Acknowledgements

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