The Power of Material Narratives: Constructing Shrines Across the Pyrenees Over the Long Twelfth Century

Kris Racaniello, MPhil

This dissertation centers the “history making” that took place in Latin Christian shrines along the Atlantic periphery. As consciously constructed sites, material narratives were mobilized to (re)new cultic foci by a group of special, competing shrine concepteurs. Objecthood, thingness, and materiality studies have all attempted to connect material “reality” with signified narratives – this project takes the opposite perspective. It disarticulates physical “happenings” from their material narratives by focusing on the intentional overwriting of events by individual concepteurs. Imaginative elaborations on old and new cult figures in this period ran in tandem with history making, authenticity, forgery, authority, and truth. New material methods developed in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries to reconstruct histories playing on the martyrial “vocal void” through the employ of legenda as an invitation to elaboration.
Each case study examines clashing material narratives and the actuality of their happenings at three key sites across the Pyrenees: Conques, Oviedo, and Santiago de Compostela. These narratives were conveyed to audiences of varying literacy through epigraphic inscriptions, paleographic texts, iconographic imagery, and with materials and objects. Written testimonies, medieval ‘forgeries,’ relics, cult materials, iconographies and ritual repertoires combined in a kaleidoscopic alteration of the texture of devotion at each site.

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