Color photo of a light skinned man wearing a tan blazer looking at the camera with hands on hips or in pockets

Holger A. Klein

Michael I. Sovern/Columbia University Affiliated Fellow
March 25–May 17, 2024
Lisa and Bernard Selz Professor of Medieval Art History, Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University
Project title
Cities, Saints, and Sacred Matter: An Urban History of the Christian Veneration of Relics, ca. 350–1350
Project description

My research project at the American Academy focuses on sacred things, holy bodies, and their place in the lives of ordinary and elite actors in Rome during the late antique and medieval periods. It forms part of a larger book project that examines the rise and development of the Christian veneration of relics as a decidedly urban phenomenon across the late antique and medieval world over a thousand years from ca. 350 to 1350 CE. Each chapter is devoted to one particular city—namely Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, Venice, and Paris—and its development during a specific period that proved instrumental in shaping its profile as a center for the veneration of relics. What binds these cities together is a shared history of martyrdom, conquest, and relic translations, and the idea that each city functioned as a “Holy of Holies” and guardian of the most sacred relics of Christendom. 

My research aims to contribute to a growing body of scholarship that uses the late antique and medieval city as a lens for the study of art, architecture, and liturgy and treats urban space as an epistemological framework for the exploration of political, religious, and cultural activities in a given community. The questions at the heart of my project are: how did ritual, ceremonial, and devotional practices involving Christian relics shape the character of urban communities? And how did the spiritual and economic needs of these communities shape the sacred and secular topographies of their cities and the cultural geographies beyond them?