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Saints and Sacred Matter

Saints and Sacred Matter

The Cult of Relics in Byzantium and Beyond

Edited by Cynthia Hahn and Holger A. Klein

ISBN 9780884024064

Publication date: 11/23/2015

Enshrined in sumptuous metal, ivory, or stone containers, relics formed an important physical and spiritual bond between heaven and earth, linking humankind to their saintly advocates in heaven. As they were carried in liturgical processions, used in imperial ceremonies, and called upon in legal disputes and crises, relics—and, by extension, their precious containers and built shrines—provided a visible link between the living and the venerated dead. Saints and Sacred Matter explores the embodied aspects of the divine—physical remains of holy men and women and objects associated with them. Contributors explore how those remains, or relics, linked the past and present with an imagined future. Many of the chapters focus on the Christian context, both East and West, where relics testified to Christ’s presence and ministry on earth and established a powerful connection between God and humans after his resurrection. Other religious traditions from the ancient world such as Judaism and Islam are frequently thought to have had no relics, but contributions to this volume show that Muslims and Jews too had a veneration for the corporeal that is comparable to that of their Christian counterparts.


  • At their best, the yearly symposia of the Dumbarton Oaks center for Byzantine studies delineate the high-water mark of scholarship in the particular field to which they are devoted. The collection Saints and Sacred Matter (which emerged from the symposium of 2011) lives up magnificently to this expectation. Most notably, Cynthia Hahn and Holger Klein have gone well beyond Byzantium. They have included remarkable new studies of the cult of relics in medieval Western Europe, and also in Islam and Judaism. This generous outreach enables us, at last, to compare the function of relics in two major Christian regions—Byzantium and the Catholic West—as well as in the Jewish and Islamic worlds.

    —Peter Brown, New York Review of Books


  • Cynthia Hahn is Professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York.
  • Holger A. Klein is a Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University.

Book Details

  • 376 pages
  • 9 x 11 inches
  • Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection