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  • Mobile Saints: Relic Circulation, Devotion, and Conflict in the Central Middle Ages by Kate M. Craig
  • Scott G. Bruce
Mobile Saints: Relic Circulation, Devotion, and Conflict in the Central Middle Ages. By Kate M. Craig. Studies in Medieval History and Culture. Routledge: London and New York, 2021.

This modest monograph offers a study of the movement of relics in northern Europe in the central Middle Ages (c. 950–1150 CE). Unlike accounts of the "holy theft" of the remains of saints and their translation from one monastic community to another, a characteristic of medieval devotion studied by Patrick J. Geary in his classic book Furta Sacra (1979), Kate M. Craig's Mobile Relics treats specifically those documented cases during which religious houses removed the relics in their care from the safety of their sanctuaries and circulated them on a temporary basis in neighboring towns and the surrounding countryside. These narratives almost always end with the return of these holy objects to their original homes—a contrast to accounts of relic translations. Craig's source material consists primarily of eight relic journey stories written for rural Benedictine monasteries in northern France and the Low Countries between the mid-eleventh and mid-twelfth centuries. While these stories have no connection to each other in terms of textual influence, they nonetheless share narrative affinities that make it worthwhile to treat them as a group. Craig states at the outset that she is not particularly interested in the motivations of the monks who took these relics on the road, a topic already treated in French scholarship. Rather, she is concerned with the consequences of this kind of travel. Once set in motion, mobile relics and their handlers evoked a variety of responses, positive and negative, in the communities through which they traveled. Mobile Relics examines these responses to reveal "a diversity of perspectives" about relics and their efficacy "that may not be as visible when things (and people) stay put" (18).

The book comprises six chapters. Chapter 1 ("The Effects of Forced Relic Movement") treats the displacement of relics from northern abbeys in the ninth century due to the violent incursion of the Vikings and other groups. This kind of coerced movement raised a host of questions about the power of the saint in question. What did it mean that a saint fled his home rather than stay to protect it from harm? Were the scope and efficacy of a saint's miracles limited in any way by their exile? A close reading of Ermentarius' ninth-century account of the forced peregrinations [End Page 218] of Saint Philibert, whose relics were relocated five times over the course of four decades in response to pagan invasions, shows an author making the best of a poor situation. Philibert's removal from his home in Noirmoutier required the transport of his reliquary on a wooden bier, which became an important contact relic in the communities that welcomed him but also posed dangers to those who did not treat them with due respect. Uncomfortable with the fact that his "refugee saint" seemed unable to protect his island home against contemporary threats, Ermentarius confected stories set in the distant past about Philibert's successful defense of Noirmoutier from invading Britons, Saracens, and Vikings. Likewise, in his account of the displacement of the relics of Germanus from Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Aimon assured his readers that some of the saint's power remained in his abandoned monastery, where he performed miracles of vengeance to harm its pagan despoilers despite the relocation of his body to a church outside of Paris. These and other ninth-century examples of the forced displacements of relics set the stage for the deliberate movement of holy remains that became popular in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Chapter 2 ("Liturgical Frameworks for Relic Circulation") turns our attention to monastic legislation as a source for the ceremonies of sending relics from a monastery and welcoming them back again. Focusing on four customaries written before 1100 in the orbit of Cluny, the chapter demonstrates the prevalence of relic movement in this period and allows us to see it as "a flexible and versatile form of...


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pp. 218-220
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