Thesis ID: CBB728845713

Reframing Relics: Visible and Material Sanctity in Monstrance Reliquaries (2021)


Summers, Mark H. (Author)
Dale, Thomas E. A. (Advisor)

University of Wisconsin at Madison
Dale, Thomas E. A.
Publication date: 2021
Language: English

Publication Date: 2021
Physical Details: 196

This dissertation examines how changing understandings of materiality and the transmission of Islamic rock crystal objects to Western Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries led to the creation of a new type of Christian liturgical instrument. Unlike earlier reliquary types, monstrance reliquaries reveal the relics contained inside by setting them within rock crystal or glass windows. In previous scholarship, monstrances have often been connected to optics and theories of vision that developed in the thirteenth century. My dissertation builds on this work by considering the broader changes in understanding of natural philosophy, properties of matter, and sensory perception that also occurred in this period. Chapter One engages with the history of science to outline the intellectual context of the twelfth to thirteenth centuries, when the first monstrance reliquaries were made. I examine texts by philosophers such as al-Kindi, Roger Bacon, and Albert the Great to demonstrate that these objects were created within a system of natural philosophy that provided an explanation for the special powers of materials from around the globe, including rock crystal imported from the Eastern Mediterranean. In Chapter Two, I examine the case study of the San Marco Reliquary of the Miraculous Blood to argue that the rock crystal vessel establishes the material nature of the divine, revealing the blood relic but also taking on one of its physical qualities as the crystal appears red. Chapter Three considers a case study from the Guelph Treasure of Brunswick, in which a carved Fatimid crystal that refracts light and prevents clear sight of the relic contained within. I argue that the materiality of this vessel signals the foreign origins of the relic and participates in the creation of institutional memory, tying the object to the power and prestige of past Guelph patrons. My dissertation demonstrates that the use of monstrance reliquaries in religious ceremonies drew attention to their materiality by engaging the senses. In turn, the material nature of the rock crystal containers activated these objects for medieval viewers, building shared communal identity and providing tangible access to the divine.

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Authors & Contributors
Ankarloo, Bengt
Bruce, Scott G
Cameron, Euan
Clark, Stuart
DeVun, Leah
Glick, Thomas F.
Micrologus: Nature, Sciences and Medieval Societies
American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly
Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies
Journal of the History of Ideas
Metascience: An International Review Journal for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Science
Micrologus: Natura, Scienze e Società Medievali
Cornell University Press
Icon Books
Oxford University Press
Princeton University Press
Science and religion
Natural philosophy
Material culture
Occult sciences
Eckhart, Meister
Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich
Jesus Christ
Ruskin, John
Thomas Aquinas, Saint
Time Periods
Early modern
14th century
16th century

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