Publication details

Relictual Relics. Reflections on Nature, Placedness, and Ecologies of Holy Sites in Late Antiquity (4th–8th c.)

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Year of publication 2023
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description The subject of “natural” relics, that is remains from natural places – or “not man-made” – is of particular interest for understanding conceptions of the sacred shared by the great religions – Abrahamic but not only. Natural elements such as trees, springs, mountains, caves or elevated stones, in their vertical prominence towards the sky or, on the contrary, their penetration into the earth, mark divine presence and served as liminal zones between the earthly world and that of the divine, of the living and the dead. Likewise, fragments of these places – stone, dirt, sand, dust, water, clay, etc. – could become imbued portable pars pro toto, parts representative of the whole of these same places. Natural objects, to a certain extent, were thus transformed into cultural artifacts. In this paper, I offer thoughts on two specific aspects of natural objects in sacred spaces, specifically relating older objects – in terms of geological or historical time – and their capacity of evoking memories or creating images. These objects have functioned like relics of places or relics of figures who have left a mark onto the earthly surface. The first modality I speak about are natural objects which present direct imprint of holy figures and the possibility of pareidolia – that is the human capacity or rather their need of perceiving, or creating, images in traces and in nature. The second modality concerns what Bruno Reudenbach has eloquently called “Ortsreliquien,” or “relics of space”, a specific development of the cult of sacred spaces during Late Antiquity and their ambiguous relationship with images, especially around one famous painted casket of the Vatican.
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