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The Middle Ages in the Modern WorldTwenty-first century perspectives$
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Bettina Bildhauer and Chris Jones

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780197266144

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197266144.001.0001

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Saints’ Cults and Celebrity: The Medieval Legacy

Saints’ Cults and Celebrity: The Medieval Legacy

(p.119) 6 Saints’ Cults and Celebrity: The Medieval Legacy
The Middle Ages in the Modern World

James Robinson

British Academy

This chapter is based on Robinson’s experience as a curator of medieval material culture. It relates especially to his interest in relic veneration that culminated in the 2011 Treasures of Heaven exhibition at the British Museum. In order to make saints' cults accessible to modern audiences, he draws on the parallels between medieval devotion to saints and modern devotion to celebrities, chiefly through: crucifixion iconography (James Dean, Jim Morrison), pilgrimage to a shrine and annual commemoration (Elvis Presley/Graceland), perverse satisfaction at the death of a saint/celebrity, importance of clothes as reliquaries that enshrined a living form and are therefore imbued with the quality of the previous owner (Marilyn Monroe's gowns, Michael Jackson’s diamante glove), and fame for charitable works (Princess Diana, Audrey Hepburn). Princess Diana emerges as particularly close to a medieval saint with her healing touch, her glowing presence as a groomed but emotionally damaged figure, a virgin princess both detrimental and beneficial to the monarchy. The chapter highlights the importance of significant objects to medievalist practice, and Robinson draws on his experiences in sourcing modern as well as medieval devotional objects for exhibition, including issues of ownership, accessibility and value of such objects at auctions.

Keywords:   Treasures of Heaven, relics, saints, cults, celebrity, Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, curating, exhibition

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