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'Translatio.' [Re]moving bodies in the early modern world.

Posted By Ruth S. Noyes, Monday, May 30, 2016
Updated: Monday, May 30, 2016

[the Church] began to celebrate these same things with supreme glory, and to venerate the martyrs in basilicas which had been built in their memory, and to which their bodies had been translated and placed in silver chests, and silver-covered chapels furnished with vases glittering with gold and jewels.[1]

Writing in the final decades of the sixteenth century, Roman Cardinal Cesare Baronio composed the above paean in his multivolume account of sacred history, the Annales Ecclesiastici, exalting the early fourth-century Church’s praxis of translatio, the physical transfer of the dead bodies of saintly persons in whole or in part(s). But Baronio may as well have composed his laudatory account to describe efforts in his own time: starting in the last quarter of the Cinquecento, rituals of relic translation proliferated within and between urban centers in Europe and the Catholic colonial world. The post-Reformation Catholic world c. 1600 confronted a perceived unprecedented global conservation crisis concerning supernatural environmental resources. Catholics faced European Protestant rejection of and violent antagonism towards the cults of relics and saints, and extra-European colonial contacts with alien traditions, praxes, and attitudes towards holy matter. The numinous in material form—relic-objects that evinced palpable traces of the holy—constituted a precious, newly-threatened natural and cultural resource in urgent need of preservation, conservation, and careful management.

The proposed session(s) undertakes to plot the juncture of textual, visual, material, spatial and ritual cultural production that attended acts of translatio against early modern urban sites, political and spiritual communities, and their constitutive networks on a global scale, to explore how early modern global conservation efforts to preserve and harness the supernatural power of numinous environmental resources—in the form of bodily relics of sacred persons—contributed to the Anthropocene’s premodern manifestations, and engendered new ideas about the biological realm, nascent medico-scientific methodologies and praxes, and emergent performative spaces, urban environs, visual and material cultures, with a focus on Europe and the colonial Catholic world c. 1400-1700.

Papers are invited from a range of disciplines—art and architectural history, history of science and medicine, environmental humanities and urban studies, to name a few—to take up the question of issues of early modern translatio from an interdisciplinary, transregional and –-cultural comparative perspective. Possible topics might include:

  • How early modern translatio distinguished itself from earlier traditions

  • How human activities involving the discovery, excavation, safeguarding and management of numinous bio-networks of relic-bodies globally impacted supernatural ecosystems

  • How such praxes might be inextricably linked with concurrent colonial encounters with and exploitations of bodies and natural resources

  • What sorts of enduring traces ephemeral acts of translatio left behind, and how these performative praxes helped shape individual and communal identities

  • How translatio contributed to negotiating political power

  • In what ways translatio essentially shaped emerging scientific and medical practices and theories

  • How translatio related to magic and occult practices


Please submit proposals as soon as possible and at the latest by Sunday 5 June 2016 at 12noon pm EST, to:

Submissions should include: paper title (15-word maximum); abstract (150-word maximum, see RSA abstract guidelines); up to 5 keywords; brief curriculum vitae (300-word maximum, prose bios will not be accepted, see RSA CV guidelines; first and last name; affiliation (or “Independent Scholar”); email address

[1] Cesare Baronio, Annales Ecclesiastici auctore Caesare Baronio Sorano, ex congregatione oratorii S. R. E. presbytero cardinali Tit. SS. Nerei & Achillei…. Venice: apud Stephanum Monti, 1738, III:321.

Tags:  anthropocene  autopsy  body  colonialism  death  environmental humanities  festival studies  global history  medicine  natural  relic  sanctity  science  supernatural  translation  urban studies 

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