Conference paper

Smith, Julia:

Reliability and Authenticity: Accumulating relics in the early Middle Ages

This paper will exploit neglected sources for the history of early medieval relics to argue that authenticity was rooted in relationships between object, donor, and institution not in notions of ‘real’ as opposed to ‘spurious’. In order to provide a benchmark for the nature of relic collections around the time of the foundation of Hildesheim in 815, it will draw heavily on eighth- and ninth-century evidence of surviving early medieval relic bundles, labels, wills, and narrative references to seals accompanying relics. Drawing on recent discussions of ‘authenticity’ in Museum Studies in the digital era, the paper will argue that context-dependent notions of ‘reliability’ are a more appropriate framework for working with early medieval relics than the juridical language of ‘authenticity’ which has hitherto been employed.

Julia Smith is the Edwards Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow, and is working on a project entitled Christianity in Fragments: Relics in Medieval Perspective. This examines the instrumental use of small material objects in late antique and early medieval Christian practice from a variety of perspectives, and offers a new analysis of the origin and growth of relic cults. She collaborates with archaeologists, heritage scientists and textile specialists to realise the historical potential of surviving early medieval relic deposits. Recent publications include an edition of all the relic labels surviving at Saint-Maurice d’Agaune from the 7th to the 17th century, and a historical analysis of the relic labels preserved in the Sancta Sanctorum. She also published on politics, gender, hagiography and saints’ cults in late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, c300-1100, including The Cambridge History of Christianity III: Early Medieval Christianities, 600-1100 (with Thomas F X Noble, 2008); Europe after Rome: A New Cultural History 500-1000 (2005); Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West 300-900 (with Leslie Brubaker, 2004), Early Medieval Rome and the Christian West (2000) and Province and Empire: Brittany and the Carolingians (1992).