79. Relics

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

‘Feeling myself as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me’ (Mary Wollstonecraft, 14 May, 1824). Welcome to Histories of the Unexpected where you will discover the history of things you did not know even had a history, like the history of leaning or the history of sweat. For this episode let us join the saviour of historical prime-time, Dr Sam Willis, and the Leonardo da Vinci of the historical helicopter, Professor James Daybell, as they dust off the family heirlooms and open up the curio closet to bring you the unexpected history of relics.

Our two pilgrims will take you on a holy journey of discovery from modern day Wiccan belief to the list of relics once housed at Reading Abbey, from the 7,200 steps to the peak of Mount Tai in Beijing to the Hall of Clocks and Watches in the Forbidden City, from the Terracotta Army and modern day vandalism to seventeenth-century Jesuits and astronomy, and from the jewel encrusted skeletons of the early Christians to the destruction wrought by the Red Guard in modern China and iconoclasts in early modern Europe.

Sam and James discover that this unexpected history is actually all about: preservation and destruction, cultural difference and cultural appropriation, tourism and trade, politics and authority proliferation and dissemination, manipulation and salvation, and devotion and veneration.

3 teeth from St. Simeon, 1 tooth belonging to St. Luke, robe of Moses, rock from Bethlehem, the bones, teeth and hair of many – and all in Reading Abbey’s attic!

“He has given us a sign! He has given us … His shoe! The shoe is the sign. Let us follow His example”    (Monty Python, Life of Brian, Scene 18: The Holy Gourd of Jerusalem)


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