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Week 1 : The relic and the image Lecture notes

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Materiality and the Religious Impulse Week 1 : The relic and the image Lecture notes Some reminders: Books in seminar Pace yourself throughout the week Seminar passages The locality of pilgrimage The relic introduces all sorts of problems of value, but these problems are also quintessentially Christian: Christianity, as Peter Stallybrass argues, actually celebrates the remnant, the thing that would ordinarily be wasted. Not only that, but these inconsequential objects serve as the foundation for modern trade routes and some of the greatest medieval architecture: “As a religion, and even more as a state religion, Christianity would transvalue those waste parts: the comb of Mary Magdalene, the fingernails of St. Sebastian, the girdle of the Virgin Mary, fragments of the cross, the bloody and lice-infested hair shirt of Thomas Beckett. But as a state religion, Christianity developed its own powerful economics, not only through the modernizing work regimes of the monasteries but also through the cult of relics. That is, around a priceless/valueless fingernail a reliquary of gold and precious stones would be made; around the reliquary, a cathedral would be built; around the cathedral, an urban economy would develop; around that economy, new road systems would emerge that would pull large numbers of people and large amounts of money and goods along the pilgrimage routes of Europe. The priceless/valueless fingernail, provided it was not stolen or proved a forgery (and even if it was), produced economic value. With this paradox—between the seemingly worthless and the enormous economic engine that was the medieval church—in mind, let’s talk about the specifics of a few pilgrimage sites. Regensburg: the founding of a pilgrimage site 1519: synagogue destroyed; a workman is badly injured but survives. The miracle inspires the residents to set up a chapel dedicated to the image of the Virgin at the site. A statue of the Virgin is placed on a column outside the chapel. (Freedberg 100ff.) What Freedberg doesn’t tell you is that the workman later died in his bed and that his medical expenses were paid for from proceeds of the pilgrimage. 1519: 50,000 pilgrims arrive; the image works further miracles. 1519-22: Albrecht Altdorfer is commissioned to make additional copies of the image which were later sold to wealthier pilgrims, along with the cheaper pilgrim badges. He also makes commemorative etchings of the synagogue interior to sell to the Jews before the demolition.What’s unusual about this story? 1) The miracle is used as an excuse to celebrate the image, establishing Regensburg as a pilgrimage site (rather than the image specifically working miracles) – it provides a very specific answer to the question of how exactly miraculous images come to be miraculous images. 2) The act of copying the image is somehow central to the whole process of establishing the site (and, intriguingly, not copying of relics, but copying of images—note that the popularity of Regensburg is predicated in part on the widespread mass production of images like Ostendorfer’s and Altdorfer’s). 3) The forging of the pilgrimage site is premised on the expulsion of the Jews of Regensburg (which was itself inspired by economic pressures that exposed existing racial and religious tensions). The city’s radical preacher had long been looking for an excuse to replace the synagogue with a chapel to the Virgin, and these socio-economic forces provided him with an excuse. It’s unclear to me from Freedberg or from the other sources I’ve read whether the image was in Regensburg before 1519 or not. The point seems to be that it gained part of its power, and all of its influence as a pilgrimage destination, from its association with the expulsion of the Jews. And, as Freedberg reminds us, it was not the original icon that generated the interest in the site, but the work of “art” the obvious reproduction by Altdorfer (141 - READ). If it makes any of you feel any better, interest in the site eventually waned in the 1520s under the cloud of controversy over the over-exuberant behavior of the pilgrims. Saint Foy: the theft of relics and the process of adaptation [BIO MATERIAL: Saint Faith (Latin Sancta Fides, French Sainte Foy, Spanish Santa Fe) is a saint whose center of cult was transferred to the Abbey of Sainte-Foy, Conques, where her relics arrived in the ninth century, stolen from Agen by a monk from the Abbey nearby at Conques. Her fully developed historicised narrative placed the young girl in Agen in Aquitaine; her legend recounts how she was arrested during persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire and refused to make pagan sacrifices even under torture. Saint Faith was tortured to death with a red-hot brazier. Her death is sometimes said to have occurred in the year 287 or 290, sometimes in the large-scale persecution under Diocletian beginning in 303.] In the same year the abbey was founded, the relics of St. James were discovered at Compostela in Spain. Streams of pilgrims soon began to make their way to the shrine. The pilgrimage routes passed through smaller shrines along the way, which soon became rich from pilgrim gifts and religious tourism. For the monks at Conques, the lure of fame and riches soon proved too much to bear, and they conspired to steal some relics to attract pilgrims. In 866, a Conques monk was dispatched to join a monastery in Agen, which had the relics of St. Foy, a virgin martyred in 303 AD under Diocletian. The saint was known for her ability to cure blindness and free captives, and her statue-reliquary attracted many pilgrims. TheConques brother acted as a faithful monk for 10 years at Agen until he was able to steal the relics, which he brought back to Conques. Just as they had hoped, the pilgrim road shifted from Agen to Conques. The Conques monastery soon prospered. Pilgrims left jewels to be added to the saint's statue and the best goldsmiths competed to create ornaments and containers for the relics. Pepin and Charlemagne both sent golden treasures. By the 11th century, it became necessary to build a larger church to accommodate the hundreds of pilgrims that flowed through the town. Construction of the new Church of St. Foy was directed by Abbot Odolric (1031-1065) and completed around the year 1120. The pilgrimage route that passed through Conques began in Le Puy in eastern France and proceeded west through difficult,


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