Fachbereich Geschichtswissenschaft
Relics, mobility, and the mobility of relics in the Carolingian world

My research focuses on relics, their displacements, and the hagiographical texts concerning them in Carolingian times, when saints’ remains experienced an unprecedented degree of mobility. From the second half of the 8th century they were increasingly sought after and moved throughout the large domain built by the Carolingians – and further beyond. Translations involved high-ranking figures willing to provide their religious foundations with the protection of divine intercessors. Their churches and monasteries thus became the focal points of new cults – often attributed to old saints – and places where the identity, memory and wealth of founders and their families found celebration. So relics and their movements were key in the definition of social networks at the highest levels of Carolingian society. This was a result of the wider laws on the cult of saints established by Carolingian rulers. Control over sanctity was claimed by public authorities. The astoundingly new principle introduced by the Carolingians was that no new saints were to be made. Experience of sanctity was thus denied in the present and pushed back into the past. It was precisely to the past that Carolingian aristocracies turned their eyes, looking for the relics of well-known saints. Public control was equally extended to relics transfers, for which preemptive authorization by rulers or bishops was imposed. This had very clear consequences on the ways in which Carolingian sources talk about relics and their movements. Hagiographical narratives (translationes) were developed. They were generally conceived around a twofold template. On the one hand accounts of authorized movements were produced in order to prove that everything had been done in the respect of the laws. On the other hand narratives consciously contrasting those same laws, and presenting transfers as holy thefts, were developed. In both cases the “Carolingian attempt to regulate the cult of saints”, in Paul Fouracre’s words, deeply affected the possibilities and choices of their authors.

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