The Reimagining of the Saints and their Relics

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The modern Catholic Church, from about the 1400s to the present, has been fashioned by its ability to adapt and respond to outside forces and pressures.[1] During the 16th and 17th centuries there occurred a dynamic change within the Catholic church, specifically in the dialogue with which the Cult of Saints was approached, as their doctrine was challenged by burgeoning Protestant denominations.


These Christian heroes became ideological weapons, tools used to reinforce Catholic doctrine and theology throughout Europe and to show direct opposition to the new Protestant dogma being expounded by individuals such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. The physical manifestation of this change can best be seen in the rejuvenation of saintly relics, objects and body parts related to saintly figures that acted to tie the post-Reformation church with the church since Jesus, thereby reaffirming Catholic doctrine.[2] A flurry of activity surrounding relics began in Rome and spread outward, reaching the entirety of the Catholic world. Each canonization was a theological, sociological, and political statement.[3]



[1] Bireley, Robert. The Refashioning of Catholicism, 1450-1700: A Reassessment of the Counter-Reformation. Houndmills: MacMillan, 1999. Print.

[2] Koudounaris, Paul. Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures & Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs. NY, NY: Thames & Hudson, 2013.

[3] Cunningham, Lawrence. A Brief History of Saints. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005.