This book is dedicated to the dead and their memory. The origin of the word “relic” is the Latin verb relinquo, that is, “I leave”. Relics are what is left of the human body after death. Veneration of relics goes back to the ancient cult of ancestors, which was based on the conviction of further life and continuity of the presence of the dead. Therefore, relics can be considered as the most ancient objects expressing anthropological relevance, even before images, words and scriptures.
Already in classical antiquity, the cult of the dead was of great importance by means of sumptuous tombs, rich trappings, funeral ceremonies and banquets, but it was thanks to Christian thought that a cultural revolution took place with the prospect of eternity, not only of the soul but also of the body. In particular, the relics of the bodies of saints and martyrs have been the object of special cult as they followed the example of Christ. As such, they possess an extraordinary power to infuse salvation, health, grace and miracles to those who honour them.
This explains the need to keep alive the memory of their burial, to erect churches over their tombs and preserve their holy remains within precious containers, named reliquaries. Since the very early spreading of Christianity, especially in the Middle Ages, this cult flourished greatly and became a liturgical, political, juridical and public impulse, capable of uniting Europe and the Middle East. Exceptional hand crafted articles were therefore created using the most precious materials. They became the treasures owned by churches, abbeys and cathedrals in praise of God. Their display showed a trace of divine beauty to the faithful during religious services.
This can be witnessed also in the Cathedral of Modena and Abbey of Nonantola, which have preserved holy remains within precious reliquaries since the time of their foundation. These relics are a fundamental part of their history and identity.
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