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Relicarios: Devotional Miniatures from the Americas Paperback – January, 1996
From Library Journal
There is a timeless pan-human belief that an object that once belonged to another holds power and influence. Protective medallions, amulets, rings, and tefillin fall into this category, and so do relicarios. These encased bits of cloth or bone, theoretically obtained from a religious saint, were small, precious reminders of faith. Imported from Spain to Latin America, relicarios have been largely ignored as sacred tools rather than art objects. After centuries of development in the New World, they have emerged as a unique tradition worthy of study. Egan (Milagros: Votive Offerings from the Americas, LJ 8/91) has given us an intelligent, much-needed history of relicarios and other related items such as detentes. Fascinating to read and full of color illustrations detailing its little-known subject, this book will prove useful to those in the social sciences as well as art and religious studies.
Susan M. Olcott, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Publisher
The relicario is the Latin American version of the reliquary locket, a small, finely wrought devotional pendant used to contain relics and mementos of the saints. Martha Egan, renowned authority on Latin American folk art, spent more than five years of travel and investigation finding and documenting the finest examples of Iberian and Latin American reliquary art worldwide. Relicarios: Devotional Miniatures from the Americas presents 125 refined examples of a religious art that rivals the illuminated books and gilded altars of the Medieval and Renaissance periods.
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Top customer reviews
On 13 Feb 2000, I attended her lecture at the San Antonio Museum of Art where Martha has her private collection of relicarios on loan for exhibit. I encourage you to see this exhibit while it is at SAMOA.
Relicarios are devotional miniature pendants or lockets. They sometimes contain bits of bone, tooth, or cloth, reputedly from a saint. Many have survived from the conquest because they were treasured by families or the church. They are often elaborate and finely crafted. Materials used to make relicarios include wood, metal, bone, ivory, and shell.
Relicarios were worn suspended around the neck from a chain or cord. Some are displayed on walls or hung onto church sculptures of saints to honor an answered prayer. Relicarios are still used today as a talisman to "inspire, comfort, and protect the bearer from harm."
A miniature painting or sculpture of a saint is sometimes protected by glass on a relicario. Some relicarios are two-sided works of art. For this reason, SAMOA displays some relicarios so thay can be viewed from both sides.
In her book, Martha describes the ancient origins of relicarios from Greek and Roman times in which "the physical remains of gods or heroes were thought to have magical properties, and possession of such treasures conferred religious and political status upon the owner." Encolpium contained a bit of cloth dipped in the oil from lamps burned in front of saints' sarcophagi. The cloth could also have been dipped in a martyr's blood, or could have come from clothing worn by a saint.
As with anything of value, authenticity of relics is questionable. Martha cites "no fewer than a dozen heads and sixty fingers of Saint John the Baptist (this is spite of the alleged burning of his corpse by Emperor Julian in the fourth century); seven foreskins from the infant Jesus; fifteen arms of Saint James; thirty bodies of Saint George; and six breasts of Saint Agatha." When Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia was buried, her body was quickly torn apart by devotees. John Calvin asked for an end to all this relic madness in 1543.
Martha's book is an interesting read.