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Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe [Hardcover]

Charles Freeman
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: 25.00
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Book Description

22 Mar 2011
Relics were everywhere in medieval society. Saintly morsels such as bones, blood, milk, hair, teeth, and clothes, and items like the Crown of Thorns, coveted by Louis IX of France, were thought to bring the believer closer to the saint who might intercede with God on his or her behalf. In the first comprehensive history in English of the rise of relic cults, Charles Freeman takes readers on a vivid, fast-paced journey from Constantinople to the northern Isles of Scotland over the course of a millennium. In 'Holy Bones, Holy Dust', Freeman illustrates that the pervasiveness and variety of relics answered very specific needs of ordinary people across a darkened Europe under threat of political upheavals, disease, and hellfire. But relics were not only venerated - they were traded, collected, lost, stolen, duplicated and destroyed. They were bargaining chips, good business and good propaganda, politically appropriated across Europe, and even used to wield military power. Freeman examines an expansive array of relics, showing how the mania for these objects deepens our understanding of the medieval world and why these relics continue to capture our imagination.

Frequently Bought Together

Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe + Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics + Finer than Gold: Saints and Relics in the Middle Ages
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (22 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300125712
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300125719
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 16.5 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 483,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'In 'Holy Bones, Holy Dust', Charles Freeman presents the massive history of relic veneration in a way that is at the same time comprehensive, compulsive and accessible. This is no mean achievement.' --Paul Fouracre, author of 'Frankland: The Franks and the World of Medieval Europe'

From the Back Cover

"Superbly put together and elegantly written book, the first proper history of the cult of relics...a marvellous study." -- Catholic Herald.

"[A] fascinating book...the cult of relics was the motive force of the great medieval passion for pilgrimages. -- Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph.

"...a nuanced, scholarly and richly entertaining introduction to the subject of medieval Christian relics. It is a treat.' - Jonathan Wright, The Tablet.

"In this work he examines the medieval enthusiasm for miracles...of crucial importance in trying to understand the medieval mind." -- Church of England Newspaper.

"...this remarkable, in many ways shocking, study places them at the very heart of medieval life." -- Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman.

"Charles Freeman covers a huge sweep of history con brio in this book on the significance of Catholic relics." -- Simon Scott Plummer, Standpoint.

"Charles Freeman's new book is absorbing, wide-ranging and rigorous, while remaining constantly accessible.'" - John Cornwell, author of Newman's Unquiet Grave: the Reluctant Saint.

"Wonderfully written and inviting...[Holy Bones, Holy Dust is] a model for how history is to be written." -- Thomas McGonigle, ABC of Reading.

"Recommended to scholars who will appreciate this comprehensive history, as well as to buffs of medieval history." -- David Keymer, Library Journal.

"It's no easy feat to encapsulate these subjects [of medieval history], and yet Freeman...pulls it off with great authority and insight." -- Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times.

"Freeman's book is a timely reminder of the extent to which relics were once central to mankind's sense of identity." -- Nick Vincent, BBC History Magazine.

"Holy Bones, Holy Dust offers a readable and ambitious panoramic history of medieval society, politics and religion," -- E.L Levin, History Today.



Customer Reviews

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4.7 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Relics are an endless source of fascination, both to the faithful who revere them as holy objects and to those of no religious persuasion who are either drawn to them or repelled by them. Indeed this timely tome, published to coincide with the British Museum's exhibition of religious relics, demonstrates our continued fascination with the numinous, in this secular age.

Freeman offers us an overview of the history of relics from the early Christian period through to the European Reformation, charting both the cults with surround them and the way in which they were used for political purposes by rulers and invaders. However, this is, in many respects, its downfall. Rather than offering an analysis of the cult of relics, Freeman offers a narrative and political history of early and medieval Europe, placing relics at the heart of the medieval religious and political worlds. Often we are treated to stories of particular relics, their movements and how they were used by rulers and Popes in their quest for power. However, what we do not get is an analysis of what this means, both for the cult of relics or how their meaning (and use) changes over the 1,500 years between the death of Christ and the Reformation.

That is not to say, however, that the common man is ignored by Freeman. As with Eamon Duffy's bottom-up approach to the history of the Reformation (`The Stripping of the Altars' and `Voices of Meribath') which counters the magisterial, top down approach (e.g. MacCulloch's biography of Cranmer or Owen Chadwick's book on the Reformation), Freeman explores what relics mean for both the common man as for the ruler. Relics, are not after all simply a history of the powerful, but of how the common man interacts with relics (and as such, the numinous).
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The history of relics and their import to understanding the religious beliefs and faiths cannot be understated, not least as demonstrated by the recent exhibition "Treasures of Heaven" held at the British museum which shows the extraordinary reverence and belief that was instilled in these objects, be they supposed fragments of the True Cross, thorns from the Crown of Thorns, or the bones of various saints, some of who's high standing and veneration have been lost to us through the centuries. It might seem odd in the modern era to consider the enormous sums that were paid out in the Mediaeval age by important noble families, kings and dignitaries to own such objects, and upon ownership, the immense cost to house them, be it in a comparatively simple reliquary to the construction of buildings and shrines across Europe. Contemporary readers might not fully understand the appreciation and veneration that was afforded to these relics, however one just has to look at the furore that is caused by some contemporary Christians whenever suggestions are made that the Shroud of Turin might well not be what it pertains to be, and this might well provide some insight into the mindset of our ancestors five or more centuries ago.

Monarchs and princes were to amass enormous collections of these sacred relics, as testimony to their devotion and faith, as protection for their state and subjects, as demonstration to others of their personal wealth and prestige, but also as an important part of forging alliances and trading with other countries or city states.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although not primarily based on original research I found this book a stimulating account of the role of saints' relics in medieval Europe.
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