Mind over matter. Debates about relics as sacred objects, c. 350-c. 1150


With the cult of relics, Christians explored the use of the material world to reach their god and achieve salvation. Contrary to what is often maintained, however, the role of relics in Christian religious life was not self-evident and unchallenged. From their earliest history on, the boundaries of interaction between the material and the divine provoked debate and dissent. Could the remains of saints embody the divine or were they references to the divine? Should they be venerated or was this idolatry?

This project is the first attempt to systematically map out these discussions and disagreements in the West from Late Antiquity until c. 1150. It investigates the learned debates on the role of matter in Christian devotion (project 1) and analyses their relation to the practices of the saints? cults themselves (projects 2 and 3). Instead of focusing solely on normative texts and text editions, as is usually done, this project foregrounds neglected material: inscriptions engraved at cult sites and marginal annotations in manuscripts that expressed new ideas and controversial thoughts. Additionally, the project explores the material objects themselves: relics, the reliquaries in which they were kept and the physical setting of the cult.

Within the broader context of recent interest in the relationship of materiality to religion, this project advances scholarship by increasing our understanding of the role matter played in Christian devotion in the medieval West, the discussions it raised and their historical developments. By combining the study of material culture and traditional historical and philological methods, this project will bring into focus dissent and diversity rather than orthodoxy and unity.


Scientific article

  • J. W. Visser(2014): Sidonius Apollinaris Ep. II.2. Journal of Late Antique Religion and Culture pp. 26 - 45
  • V. Debiais, E. Pallottini(2015): Epigraphie et Liturgie Quaestiones Medii Aevi Novi pp. 285 - 305

Chapter in book

  • B. van den Hoven van Genderen, J. E. Raaijmakers, R. M. J. Meens, D. van Espelo, J. E. Raaijmakers, I. van Renswoude, I. van Renswoude, A. C. van Rhijn(2016): Religious Franks. pp. 50 - 70

Professional publication

  • J. E. Raaijmakers(2015): Een tijd van bijgeloof en superstitie? pp. 92 - 108

Publical information

  • J. E. Raaijmakers, I. van Renswoude, M.J. Teeuwen(2013): Karolingische Klöster
  • J. E. Raaijmakers(2014): Bookreview: Debating the Saints’ Cults in the Age of Gregory the Great. Author: Matthew Dal Santo
  • J. W. Visser(2015): Herzog Ernst Stipendium
  • E. Pallottini, V. Debiais, J. E. Raaijmakers(2016): EPINAME.
  • A. C. van Rhijn, J. E. Raaijmakers, I. van Renswoude, D. van Espelo, R.M.J. Meens, B. van den Hoven van Genderen(2016): Religious Franks


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. J.E. Raaijmakers

Affiliated with

Universiteit Utrecht, Faculteit Geesteswetenschappen, Departement Geschiedenis en Kunstgeschiedenis

Team members

Dr. E. Pallottini, Dr. J.E. Raaijmakers, J.W. Visser MA


01/12/2013 to 30/11/2018