Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Furta Sacra

Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages. (Revised Edition)

Patrick J. Geary
Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rzns
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Furta Sacra
    Book Description:

    To obtain sacred relics, medieval monks plundered tombs, avaricious merchants raided churches, and relic-mongers scoured the Roman catacombs. In a revised edition ofFurta Sacra, Patrick Geary considers the social and cultural context for these acts, asking how the relics were perceived and why the thefts met with the approval of medieval Christians.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2020-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface to the 1990 Edition
    (pp. ix-x)
    Patrick J. Geary
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Relics and Saints in the Central Middle Ages
    (pp. 3-27)

    The subject of this study is not, as one might expect from the tide, relics, but rather people. As such, it will not attempt to discriminate between genuine and false relics, to provide a criticism of this peculiar manifestation of religious devotion, or even to trace the developing forms of reliquaries. The relics themselves, physical remains of saints, are essentially passive and neutral, and hence not of primary importance to historians. It is the individuals who came into contact with these objects, giving them value and assimilating them into their history, who are the proper subject of historical inquiry. As...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Cult of Relics in Carolingian Europe
    (pp. 28-43)

    Around the middle of the ninth century, Bishop Amolo of Lyons, the successor of the famous Agobard, received a request for advice from his fellow bishop Theodboldus of Langees. Theodboldus was perplexed by a new popular devotion that had taken root in the church of Saint Benignus in Dijon and from there had spread throughout his diocese. The forms of devotion that characterized the phenomenon did not appear altogether healthy to the bishop: in the church, women fell and writhed as though buffeted by some outside force although no visible signs of injuries appeared. But what was most irregular about...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Professionals
    (pp. 44-55)

    Professional relic thieves were by no means unique to the Carolingian period. They appear in hagiography and literature throughout the Middle Ages. The relic-mongers of the ninth and tenth centuries resemble nothing so much as the suppliers of objects of art in the twentieth. At best the thieves were high-class fences, at worst grave robbers. In either case, they emerge from contemporary hagiography as marginal characters, often attached in some capacity to the Church, and looking for the opportunity to make a profit in stealing and smuggling relics.

    Perhaps because of the limitations of extant historical sources, relic thieves of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Monastic Thefts
    (pp. 56-86)

    Kings, emperors, and powerful ecclesiastics were the most common customers of professional relic thieves, but they were hardly typical of the Christians who needed relics during the centuries that followed the collapse of the fragile Carolingian Empire. With the exception of a few precocious Italian cities, Europe was predominandy rural during the tenth and eleventh centuries, and the centers of religious and cultural life were not cathedrals or palaces but rather rural monasteries. The vast majority of accounts of relic thefts describe monastic communities' efforts to acquire the remains of powerful patrons.

    Across Europe hundreds of monasteries faced the same...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Urban Thefts
    (pp. 87-107)

    Just as the emerging character of feudal Europe produced a special, localizedfurta sacratradition, the Italian cities—preoccupied as they were with the East during the central Middle Ages—produced their own type. Most of the translations beyond the Alps were effected by monks in behalf of their monasteries; in Italy, the agents were usually laymen bent on acquiring patrons for their towns. The victims of these thefts were eastern Christians, particularly Greeks, for whom the Italians displayed a mixture of envy and distrust.¹ But since this disdain for Greek customs, dress, and liturgical practice was accompanied by a...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Justifications
    (pp. 108-128)

    Some uncertainty is inescapable when trying to determine how or even if a thief carried off a saint's remains. As we have seen in the above chapters, Electus, the English relic merchant, may never have existed; the alleged thief of Mary Magdalene's remains certainly never did. Limited as we are by our sources, we are never quite sure whether or not a particular theft took place, much less how the thief, if he existed, might have viewed or justified his actions. But if we cannot evaluate the justifications and rationalizations of the thieves, we can analyze those of the hagiographers...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusions
    (pp. 129-134)

    Investigation of the complexity offurta sacrahas led us into an examination of two interrelated facets of the phenomenon. First, we have examined the specific historical contexts that gave rise tofurtanarratives within particular communities. Second, we have examined the manner in which hagiographers reflecting on the communal memory of these historical events, attempted to assimilate them into the ongoing functional history of their community in spite of evident moral hesitations. The product of these reflections was a specific literary tradition that continued to meet the needs of medieval communities.

    Thefts of relics, genuine or fictitious, were occasioned...

  13. APPENDIX A Critique of Texts
    (pp. 135-148)
  14. APPENDIX B Handlist of Relic Thefts
    (pp. 149-156)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 157-184)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 185-210)
  17. Index
    (pp. 211-220)