Seminar: Displaying and perceiving dead bodies in the Middle Ages I: Saints' bodies

May 3, 2013 - 10:00 - 14:00
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Edina Bozóky: The Glorified Corpse of Dead Saints in Hagiographic Legends

Ana Munk: Reliquaries and Anthropomorphic Imagination

Ottó Gecser: Presence and Integrity: Attempts to Keep Saintly Corpses together in the Later Middle Ages

Gábor Klaniczay:  The Tortured Bodies of Living Saints as New Kinds of Relics

The cult of the saints and their relics generated, from late antiquity onwards, a very special way of treating and displaying dead bodies -- in sharp contrast with the attitudes of the classical world and other religions such as Islam and Judaism.

The bodies of saints can be seen as multifaceted artefacts: as sources of positive and salvific power; as tokens of authority and prestige; as repositories of memory, which can be constantly revised and modified in various ways. Because of all these proprieties they are perceived as treasures that can be looted, exchanged, traded, sold and purchased becoming “sacred commodities”, as Patrick Geary put it. In addition, the cult of relics also contributed to the emergence of new patterns in the perception and manipulation of the bodies of living saints. 

The papers will explore different ways in which saints’ bodies were perceived, handled and displayed in the medieval West.


Edina Bozóky is Maître de conférences in medieval history at the University of Poitiers (CESCM). Her main topics of research are: medieval religion, the cult of relics, hagiographical literature. She is responsible of the series «Culture et société médiévales», edited by Brepols. Among her more recent books: Le Moyen Âge miraculeux. Etudes sur les croyances et légendes médiévales, Paris, 2010 ; La politique des reliques de Constantin à Saint Louis. Protection collective et légitimation du pouvoir, Paris, 2006 ; Charmes et prières apotropaïques, Turnhout, 2003.

Ana Munk is the Assistant Professor at the Art History Department at the University of Zagreb. Prior to coming to University of Zagreb she taught courses in medieval art and iconography at the University of Saint Thomas in Houston (2004-2008). Most recent publications include: Somatic Treasures: Function and Reception of Effigies on Holy Tombs in Fourteenth Century Venice, IKON-Journal of Iconographic Studies, 4, 2011, 193-192; Visions of Beatitude in Santa Maria Novella’s Paradise: The Ultimate Goal of Human Endeavor in Monastic Tradition and Dominican Thought, IKON--Journal of Iconographic Studies, 6, 2013, forthcoming.

Ottó Gecser is senior assistant professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) and research fellow at the Department of Medieval Studies of Central European University (CEU) in Budapest. His most recent publications include The Feast and the Pulpit: Preachers, Sermons and the Cult of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, 1235–ca. 1500, Spoleto, 2012, and “Sermons on St. Sebastian after the Black Death (1348-ca. 1500).” In Promoting the Saints: Cults and Their Contexts from Late Antiquity until the Early Modern Period; Essays in Honor of Gábor Klaniczay for his 60th Birthday, ed. Ottó Gecser et al., Budapest and New York, 2011.

Gábor Klaniczay is professor of medieval studies at the Central European University, Department of medieval Studies. His research focuses on the historical anthropology of medieval and early modern European popular religion (sainthood, miracle beliefs, healing, magic, witchcraft). Among his most recent publications: Saints of the Christianization Age of Central Europe (Tenth-Eleventh Centuries), Budapest, 2012; Multiple Antiquities - Multiple Modernities. Ancient Histories in Nineteenth Century European Cultures, ed by. G. Klaniczay, m. Werner and O. Gecser, Budapest, 2011; Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses. Dynastic Cults in Medieval Central Europe, Cambridge 2002.

Related project: CEU 20th Anniversary Postdoctoral Fellowship: To Make Dead Bodies Talk