Gift, Sale, and Theft: Juan de Ribera and the Sacred Economy of Relics in the Early Modern Mediterranean

in Journal of Early Modern History
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In 1599 Valencia celebrated the arrival of an ancient Christian martyr whose remains were the latest addition to the collection of the city’s archbishop, Juan de Ribera (1532-1611). Through an examination of some of Archbishop Ribera’s relic acquisitions, I explore the inner workings of the early modern sacred economy of relics. Ribera’s collection strategies blended distinct modes of exchange and linked him to a clandestine economy of relic theft. These transactions reflected the relic’s own uncertain ontological status as both person and object. This ambivalence became a factor that fostered an atmosphere of anxiety around the early modern relic economy, as did Protestant reformers’ critiques and their upending of the traditional Christian symbolic order. The reaffirmations of the cult of relics by the Tridentine Church stabilized the value of the sacred commodities. The economy of relics illustrates how the sacred constitutes a heretofore underexamined area of inquiry for commodity studies.

Gift, Sale, and Theft: Juan de Ribera and the Sacred Economy of Relics in the Early Modern Mediterranean

in Journal of Early Modern History




Patrick J. Geary“Sacred Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics,” in The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspectiveed. Arjun Appadurai (Cambridge 1986) 169-191.


Bohumil Badura“La casa de Dietrichstein y España,” Ibero-Americana pragensia 33 (1999): 46-67; Juan Carrillo Relación histórica de la real fundación del Monasterio de las Descalças de S. Clara de la villa de Madrid (Madrid 1616) fol. 48r-52v.


Juan Manuel del Estal“Felipe II y el culto a los santos,” in Felipe II y su época. Actas del Simposium (II) 1/5-IX-1998ed. Francisco Javier Campos y Fernández de Sevilla (San Lorenzo del Escorial 1998) 499; Mediavilla Martín and Rodríguez Díez Las reliquias del Real Monasterio del Escorial 2 603-604 665-668. Cardona was also instrumental in Philip II’s acquisition of the famous Host of Gorcum a consecrated host that miraculously bled when profaned by Protestants in 1572. See W. H. Vroom “In tumultu gosico. De reliquias y herejes en tiempos tumultuosos” in Felipe II (1527-1598) Europa y la Monarquía católica ed. José Martínez Millán (Madrid 1998) 425-435; Mediavilla Martín and Rodríguez Díez Las reliquias del Real Monasterio del Escorial 2 574-577. For her 1597 donation of relics to Dr. Luis Mercado (1525-1611) personal physician to Philip II and Philip III see Archivo Histórico Nacional (ahn) Códices 1261-B 141-142.


Benjamin Ehlers“Negotiating Reform: Archbishop Juan de Ribera (1532-1611) and the Colegio de Corpus Christi, Valencia,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 95 (2004): 186-209.


Stéphane Boiron“Définition et statut juridique des reliques dans le droit canonique classique,” in Reliques et sainteté dans l’espace médiévaled. Jean-Luc Deuffic and André Vauchez (Saint-Denis 2006): 19-31. See also Eugene A. Dooley Church Law on Sacred Relics (Washington d.c. 1931).


Boiron“Définition et statut juridique des reliques” 27-28. “Sanctorum corpora spectant ad congregationem fidelium: sunt enim Ecclesiae membra. Ideo fideles omnes habent partem adiutorii eorum sicut unum quodque; membrum habet partem in opere alterius membri ut pes in opere manus: quia manus operatur pro pede & pes ambulat pro manu & pro aliis membris; & stomacus digerit pro singulis. Hoc igitur modo corpora sanctorum pertinent ad fideles quo etiam ipsa membra spectant ad totum corpus.” Giovanni Battista Segni Reliquiarum sive de reliquiis et veneratione sanctorum . . . (Bologna 1610) 179-180 234.


Bill Brown“Reification, Reanimation, and the American Uncanny,” Critical Inquiry 32 (2006): 199.


GearyFurta Sacra136-43. The parallels between relics and slaves become especially apparent in probate inventories where slaves and relics—or more frequently reliquaries—are often listed alongside furniture linens pots and pans and other household goods. Some examples: Archivo Histórico Protocolos de Granada (AHPrGr) G-440 (July 5 1610): inventory of Cristóbal Fernández de Córdoba alderman of Granada; AHPrGr G-300 (May 22 1593): inventory of Fernando Martínez inquisitor.


Boiron“Définition et statut juridique des reliques” 27-28. Maurice Godelier The Enigma of the Gift trans. Nora Scott (Chicago 1999) esp. 121-125.


Geary“Sacred Commodities” 181.


On reliquaries see Cynthia Hahn“What Do Reliquaries Do for Relics?,” Numen 57 (2010): 284-316; Alain Dierkens “Du bon (et du mauvais) usage des reliquaires au Moyen Âge” in Les reliques. Objets cultes symboles. Actes du colloque international de l’Université du Littorial-Côte d’Opale (Boulogne-sur-Mer) 4-6 septembre 1997 ed. Edina Bozóky and Anne-Marie Helvétius (Turnhout 1999) 239-252. See also the comments of Julia M. H. Smith who argues that the reliquary transforms the relic into earthly treasure giving it economic value with the quality of “costliness.” Julia M. H. Smith “Rulers and Relics c. 750-c. 950: Treasure on Earth Treasure in Heaven” Past and Present Supplement 5 (2010): 73-96.




Krzysztof Pomian“Collezione,” in Enciclopedia Einaudi (Torino 1978) 346.




Michael W. Maher“How the Jesuits Used Their Congregations to Promote Frequent Communion,” in Confraternities and Catholic Reform in Italy France and Spained. John Patrick Donnelly and Michael W. Maher (Kirksville 1999) 83-84. In 1621 Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte (d. 1626) named “padre Carretonio mio carissimo” as the executor of his will. Zygmunt Wazbisnki Il Cardinale Francesco Maria del Monte: 1549-1626 2 (Florence 1994) 637.


GearyFurta Sacra44-48.


Marika Keblusek“Profiling the Early Modern Agent,” in Your Humble Servant: Agents in Early Modern Europeed. Hans Cools Marika Keblusek and Badeloch Noldus (Hilversum 2006) 11. On artisans as antiquarians see Barbara Furlotti “Connecting People Connecting Places: Antiquarians as Mediators in Sixteenth-Century Rome” Urban History 37 no. 3 (2010): 386-398. While Santini’s testimony in bav Vat. Lat 11904 highlights his specialized knowledge and his connections to the rich and powerful other evidence suggests he may have travelled mainly in artisanal circles. In 1606 Santini got caught up in a lawsuit brought by a painter named Marco Antonio Magno against Allesandro a bookbinder. “Trovandosi il querelante in conversazione nella propria casa con Gio. Angelo Santini pittore romano e Pietro Pelagallo librajo palermitano fu battuto alla porta. Aperto trovò l’Alessandro e lo rimproverò. Se ne corrucciò questi e diedegli un colpo di spada in faccia ed altro al Santini che era venuto en ajuto del maestro suo.” Antonio Bertolotti Artisti modenesi parmensi e della Lungiana in Roma nei secoli XV XVI e XVII. Ricerche e studi negli archivi romani (Modena 1882) 84.


Guibert of Nogent“On Saints and their Relics,” in Medieval Hagiography: An Anthologyed. Thomas Head (New York 2000) 399-427. On medieval critiques in general see Klaus Schreiner “‘Discrimen veri ac falsi’. Ansätze und Formen der Kritik in der Heiligen und Reliquienverehrung des Mittelalters” Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 48 (1966): 1-53. On the Pardoner and Fra’ Cipolla see Robyn Malo “The Pardoner’s Relics (and Why They Matter the Most)” The Chaucer Review 43 no. 1 (2008): 82-102.


Marshall“Forgery and Miracles” 65-67.


Peter Burke“How to Become a Counter-Reformation Saint,” in The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy: Essays on Perception and Communication (Cambridge 1987) 48-62; Simon Ditchfield “Tridentine Worship and the Cult of Saints” in The Cambridge History of Christianity 6 Reform and Expansion 1500-1660 ed. R. Po-Chia Hsia (Cambridge 2008) 201-224.


Keith P. Luria“ ‘Popular Catholicism’ and the Catholic Reformation,” in Early Modern Catholicism: Essays in Honor of John W. O’Malley S.J.ed. Kathleen M. Comerford and Hilmar M. Pabel (Toronto 2001) 114-130.


Richard E. Spear“Scrambling for Scudi: Notes on Painters’ Earnings in Early Baroque Rome,” The Art Bulletin 85 no. 3 (2003): 310-320. For more on prices in early modern Rome see the classic study by Jean Delumeau Vie économique et social de Rome dans la second moitié du XVIe siècle 2 (Paris 1959) 521-750.


Gaetano Moroni“Sagristà del Papa,” in Dizionario di erudizione storico-eclesiastica (Venice 1852) 189.


Katrina Olds“The Ambiguities of the Holy: Authenticating Relics in Seventeenth-Century Spain,” Renaissance Quarterly 65 no. 1 (2012): 135-184; A. Katie Harris “‘A known holy body with an inscription and a name’.”


E.g. FerrandDisquisitio63-96.


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