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Durham University

Department of Archaeology

All Research Projects

Publication details

Gerrard, C.M. & Borowski, T. (2017). Constructing identity in the Middle Ages: relics, religiosity and the Military Orders. Speculum 92(4): 1056-1100.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper examines the materiality and use of religious relics by the Military Orders. Examples taken from the Knights Templar, the Hospitallers and the Teutonic Order and across Europe and the Holy Land from the 12th to 16th centuries are explored using historical and archaeological evidence; particular attention is paid to Baltic and Spanish case studies. A persistent desire for relics is identified and their means of accumulation explained within the wider context of Crusader memorabilia. In particular, the Military Orders acquired Passion and Life of Christ relics, as well as those of popular saints and patron saints who echoed their geographical and cultural associations. Female martyrs, especially St Catherine, were more popular with the knights than military saints amongst whom only St George was favoured. However, the Orders also promoted new cults around the relics of venerable individuals with whom they were closely associated. These artefacts were generally displayed in conventual chapels whose architecture, symbolism and setting are also discussed here. Overall, relics were central to the religiosity and identity of the Military Orders but the authors question just how distinctive their practices were.


Published on behalf of The Medieval Academy of America.

Department of Archaeology

Scottish Soldiers Project

Cooperating with the Palace Museum in China