Sacred Things and Holy Bodies: Collecting Relics from Late Antiquity to the Early Renaissance

Sacred Things and Holy Bodies: Collecting Relics from Late Antiquity to the Early Renaissance

Klein, Holger A.

TREASURES OF HEAVEN: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe (2011)


The bodies of the martyrs, after having been exposed and insulted in every way for six days, and afterwards burned and turned to ashes, were swept by the wicked into the river Rhône which flows near by, so that not even a relic of them might still appear upon the earth. And this they did as though they could conquer God and take away their rebirth in order, as they said, “that they might not even have any hope of resurrection.”

As this passage from an early account of the martyrdom of a group of Christians at Lyon in Roman Gaul around 177 suggests, one of the ways in which Roman authorities tried to discourage Christians from spreading their faith and from seeking martyrdom was to shatter their hopes for resurrection and salvation by burning their bodies and scattering all that was left of their earthly remains. Similar stories of the scattering of holy bodies are known from a number of early saints’ Lives and passiones, or martyrdom accounts, most famously perhaps from the second-century Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, whose body was burned in the stadium at Smyrna in 155/56 to prevent his fellow Christians from venerating his earthly remains and worshiping him like Christ.


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