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The Relics Cluster is a multi-disciplinary group of researchers interested in applying studies of text, art and science to improve our understanding of relics: objects of cultural, historical and religious significance.
Traditionally, relics have been seen as an important part of religious history, though they can also be viewed as valuable objects of wider significance, acting as pieces of cultural heritage and repositories of political and social history, which merit further study. Today, the renewed study of relics of historical figures and events presents opportunities for re-visiting the past, allowing us to re-evaluate our understanding of history and cultural identity.
Relics have been studied for centuries. Until recently, texts, oral traditions and works of art provided the only material available for the study of these objects, their distribution through time, and their significance to past communities. Now, however, new forms of evidence exist. In particular, advances in cutting-edge scientific techniques are not only providing access to information within relics themselves, but also reducing the physical impact of testing. This means that science can now be integrated into the study of priceless relics alongside traditional forms of research, opening up new avenues for interdisciplinary investigation whilst preserving these objects for future generations. For example, recent applications of scientific investigation to the remains of Richard III, including osteology, CT scanning, isotope studies and ancient DNA analyses (King et al., 2014; Lamb et al., 2014; Appleby et al., 2015), have provided a wealth of new information on the life of England’s last Plantagenet king, which can be compared with textual and artistic evidence to construct a fuller picture of our history.
Since the late 1980s, the University of Oxford has played a major role in the application of modern scientific techniques to the study of relics, through the radiocarbon (
C) dating of objects such as the Shroud of Turin (Damon et al., 1989) and two fragments of the True Cross (Higham et al., in prep.), in addition to human remains attributed to various saints, including St Chad (Boyle et al., 1998), St Luke (Leonardi et al., 2002) and St David (Higham et al., 2007). Now, new research is being undertaken at Oxford into the origins and spread of relics ascribed to St John the Baptist, utilizing a range of scientific and text-based sources of evidence.
The study of the human past offers great opportunities for inter-disciplinary collaboration. By working together, researchers from traditionally distinct subjects, including history, archaeology, classics, and the natural, computer and medical sciences, can explore innovative ways to improve our understanding of the human story. In the case of religious relics, there is even potential for productive communication between the traditionally separate worlds of ‘science’ and ‘faith’, by focusing on an area of simultaneous archaeological, historical and theological interest.
Could ancient bones dated be Saint Nicholas?
New Oxford University research has revealed that bones long venerated as relics of the saint, do in fact date from the right historical period.
Wednesday 06 December, 2017
The Search for Alfred the Great
Report on the Relics Cluster talk by Dr Katie Tucker (Winchester) on King Alfred the Great.
Wednesday 08 November, 2017
Relics –the Theological Perspective
A Relics Cluster talk by + Metropolitan Bishop Kallistos Ware and curator Jan Graffius. All are welcome.
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