Noria LiTaker

  • Fellowship year:2016-2017
  • University: University of Pennsylvania
  • Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
  • Dissertation Title: Embodied Faith: Whole-Body Catacomb Saints in the Duchy of Bavaria, 1578-1803
  • My dissertation examines the transfer and visual presentation of over 400 of these holy bodies, known as catacomb saints, exported from Rome to the duchy of Bavaria between 1578 and 1803. Beginning in the 1660s, their relics were displayed, not in fragments, as was traditional during the medieval period, but as lavishly decorated whole bodies in glass shrines- an innovative presentation, unique to the early modern period. Interestingly, the development of the whole-body presentation did not occur until after the most active period of religious warfare and doctrinal disputes between Catholics and Protestants (1517-1648) had ended. Thus, my dissertation argues that the whole-body display of catacomb saints in the early modern period is a material manifestation of a collaborative and creative Catholic Baroque (1648-1803) piety, not a top-down Counter-Reformation phenomenon. By presenting these relics as whole bodies, early modern Bavarians were able to integrate their understanding of universal Catholic doctrines with local artistic practices and the need for an immediate and embodied patron in an uncertain world.
    While scholars have studied relics and reliquaries extensively in the medieval period, they have not considered them as closely in the early modern period, especially their function within a radically altered, post-Reformation, religious landscape. Though certain aspects of early modern sainthood have recieved attention, largely lost from view in these discussions is how the relics of saints as religious material objects were presented to believers in reliquaries and in ritual and how this evolved in an environment in which their' validity and efficacy had been directly challenged by all Protestant confessions. My research on whole-body catacomb saints expands the historical and art historical study of both relics and reliquaries into the early modern era.