BODIES AS COMMODITIES: The medieval trade in Christian saints’ relics
- 29 Mar 2017
The human remains of Christian saints held a special position in the medieval economy. The value of these relics was based in part on their connection to the spirit that had once inhabited the body, or the personality of the saint. But because they were objects (and often highly mobile objects too), relics were commoditised by medieval society – traded, bought and sold for profit by the communities that held them.
A new study by Elizabeth Wiedenheft, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2017 annual conference, explores the exchange of relics as social tools in return for land and social power to illustrate their value to the Church. She concludes that research into the status of relics, how they were exchanged and the economic benefits accrued through their acquisition can have some bearing on modern conceptions of the worth of the human body, as well as the tension between creating capital and promoting the sacred in modern Christianity.