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The Voices of the Saints: Speaking Reliquaries

Cynthia Hahn
Gesta
Vol. 36, No. 1 (1997), pp. 20-31
DOI: 10.2307/767276
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/767276
Page Count: 12
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The Voices of the Saints: Speaking Reliquaries
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Abstract

Although they have often been considered as mere representational labels identifying the relic contained, body-part reliquaries, or what I would prefer to call shaped reliquaries, participate in a fluid exchange of signs, "speaking" much more than their contents. First, they often do not contain what they seem to say they contain. Second, their speech is complexly metaphorical. Third, in that both function primarily as metaphor, there is a peculiar slippage of meaning and importance between contained and container. Fourth and finally, shaped reliquaries of body parts signify specifically through the implied fragmentation of the relic-body, in this way insisting upon a larger whole. Such fragmentation was a problematic but powerful new discourse in the central Middle Ages.

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