Session 47 – Thursday, May 12, 2011: The Sacred and the Secular in Medieval Healing I: Images and Objects
Sponsor: AVISTA: The Association Villard de Honnecourt for the Interdisciplinary Study of Medieval Technology, Science, and Art and Medica: The Society for the Study of Healing in the Middle Ages
Organizer: Barbara S. Bowers, (Ohio State University), and Linda Migl Keyser, (University of Maryland)
Presider: Carol Neuman de Vegvar, (Ohio Wesleyan University)
Cure for the Common Common: Images and Objects Used by the Lower Classes for Healing,Protecting, and Worship
Blick, Sarah (Kenyon College)
Summary: This paper examined the images and objects used by the lower classes for daily worship.
Was the reliquary box containing a sacred relic a repository of spiritual strength? Who was allowed to handle these objects? Were the objects only made for the wealthy? Blick argues that this was not the case.
There are thousands of objects available to allow us to study the devotional practices of the poor. What was common, was common throughout all classes. An example of an object used in daily worship was a board with pilgrim badges attached to it; these were homemade pieces made by the poor. This enabled the poor to purchase mass produced devotional pieces, however, the abject poor still couldn’t afford to buy them. Outside of the home, people took advantage of public images; crosses, and wax votives by churches.Prayers recited at churches were recited at home and priests recommended the daily veneration of images. By the 13th century, the poor begin to acquire devotional images of their own through mass production.No matter how crude, any image was an archytype, private and public images were the same, they could both be worshipped with the same result. In the home, nailed to a wall, the pieces created a domestic altar.
During this period, clerics were buried with their articles for Mass so they could perform it in heaven.The heart was considered the gateway to the soul, so amulets were worn over the heart to protect it from the Devil.
The poor found their relics in stones, woods, trees or fountains but many clerics criticised such veneration.
Holy names and initials were popular. They were used for safety in childbirth, healing animals as well as being used as spiritual medicine. The ability to read was of little consequence as the words in these prayers were magical. Clerics were concerned about amulets as being misused for pagan rites causing some clerics to control the production of amulets and only permit approved ones, or prevent touch access by the poor to these badges.
Artisans created multi-layered badges and triptychs to be placed on tables. The lower classes delighted in the clever as well. Pilgrim souvenirs were pinned or sown to clothes, but could also be placed on tankards or in fields to ward against illness.
Triptychs, despite their small size could be used to display entire cycles. Outter panels folded together and attached in the corner. Spectacular diptychs were produced in the 13th century in Aachen.
“Do-It-Yourself” reliquaries were also popular. A hollow cage of soft metal could be pulled open then the pilgrim chose and placed their own relic inside. Lockets, chains, and brooches were increasingly popular as portable and personal reliquary.
There were also rattles, whistles, horns and bells sold at Churches and these were often used in processions. Some were inscribed with inscriptions to Mary and others said simply “Blow me” ;) 3D sculpture was also used to bring about healing. People kissed and licked images and then touched their faces. Statuettes were also popular as they could be placed in the home and prayed to in private.