Episode 12- Stealing Relics in the Early Modern Mediterranean

Episode 12 with A. Katie Harris

In this episode, guest A. Katie Harris delves into the elite but also secretive world of relic collecting in the in the early modern Mediterranean.  She describes the at-times nefarious practices of relic dealers and thieves and grave robbers, and considers to what extent relics can be viewed as commodities in a market even though the Church prohibited their sale.  We then turn to the bizarre story of the theft of the remains of San Juan de Mata in 1655 by Trinitarian monks and discuss what the complicated saga of these bones reveals about the changing way in which sacred material objects were understood in the early modern world.

The Episode

The Guest

A. Katie Harris is an associate professor of history at the University of California Davis. Her research centers on cultural and religious history in Spain and the larger early modern Spanish world, from the Mediterranean to the Americas and beyond. She is currently at work on a book on the 1655 theft of the bones of San Juan de Mata, founder of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity for the Redemption of Captives, and the problem of relic identity and authentication in early modern Catholicism. Her previous book, From Muslim to Christian Granada: Inventing a City’s Past in Early Modern Spain (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), examined the crafting of civic identity in connection with the lead books of the Sacromonte, a collection of bogus relics and accompanying forged documents that were discovered in Granada, Spain, in the late sixteenth century.

Suggested Reading

  • Boutry, Philipe, Fabre, Pierre Antoine and Julia, Dominique, eds. Reliques modernes. Cultes et usages chrétiens des corps saints des Réformes aux révolutions, 2 vols. Paris: Éditions de l’École des hautes études en sciences sociales, 2009.
  • Geary, Patrick J. Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990.
  • Ghilardi, Massimiliano. “Dall’ inventio del corpo santo alla costruzione della reliquia: Giovanni Angelo Santini, detto il Toccafondi, pittore romano,” Studi romani 53 (2005): 94-121.
  • Ghilardi, Massimiliano “Il pittore e le reliquie. Giovanni Angelo Santini e la Roma sotterranea nel primo Seicento,”Storia dell’arte 133, no. 33 (2012): 5-23.
  • Giordani, Roberto. “La scoperta della catacomba sotto la vigna Sanchez e la nascita degli studi d’antichità christiane,” Rivista di archaologia cristiana 83 (2007): 277-315
  • Harris, A. Katie. “Gift, Sale, and Theft: Juan de Ribera and the Sacred Economy of Relics in the Early Modern Mediterranean,” Journal of Early Modern History 18 (2014): 1-34.
  • Herrmann-Mascard, Nicole. Les reliques des saints. Formation coutumière d’un droit. Paris: Éditions Klinksieck, 1975.
  • Rossi, Giovanni Battista de and Ferrua, Antonio. Sulla questione del vaso di sangue. Memoria inedita con introduzione storica e appendici di documenti. Vatican City: Pontificio Istituto di Archeologia Cristiana, 1944.
  • Tausiet, Maria. El dedo robado. Reliquias imaginarias en la España moderna. Madrid: Abada, 2013.

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