Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe by Charles Freeman - review by Jonathan Sumption

Jonathan Sumption

Fingering the Evidence

Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe

By

Yale University Press 306pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

The veneration of relics is one of the most ancient and enduring practices of the Christian Church. It is attested by unimpeachable evidence as early as the second century and is almost certainly older than that. It persists, albeit in a more moderate and controlled form, to the modern day, as the occasional exhibitions of the Turin shroud and the blood of St Januarius in Naples attest.

In the first centuries, when Christianity drew most of its adherents from the educated aristocracy and urban middle class of the late Roman Empire, the veneration of relics drew its main impulse from the desire of Christians to commemorate the lives of Christian heroes, generally local victims of

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