Dr. Siobhain Bly Calkin, who teaches medieval literature in the department, has a new article coming out in March in the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. “Passion Relic Devotion, an Implanted Relic, and a Prostheticized Body” considers the interactions of relic and human matter in a late medieval text that has not received much study.  “A grete myracle of a knyghte good callyd Syr Roger Wallysborow” is a short tale of a Cornish knight who goes on pilgrimage to the Holy Land to venerate a relic of the Cross on which Christ was crucified. There, he is so overcome by devotion that he prays to carry a piece of it off with him and immediately his thigh miraculously opens so that he can cut off a piece of the relic and implant it therein to smuggle it off to Cornwall, and so his adventures begin. The text raises important questions about what implantation means for the relic and human matters so conjoined and their respective agencies, and the article explores these questions using ideas about prostheticized bodies developed in disability studies. Bly Calkin contends that ideas of prostheticized bodies help scholars better understand the questions about thingly and human bodies raised by this melding of matters, the profound vulnerability such melding with a devotional object entails for the human subject, and the ways in which this fusion of relic and human matter is socially transformative for the broader community. The article thus outlines some of the complex negotiations of matter and agency that could be imagined as part of the affective world of late medieval and early modern Passion relic veneration.

This article is drawn from material in Professor Bly Calkin’s book manuscript, Narratives of Impassioned Things: How Medieval Christians Envisioned Their Passion Relics Acting in Muslim-Christian Contexts and makes use of research completed at the British Library before the Covid pandemic, when she edited the text from its original manuscript (London, British Library, Harley 2252; pictured above). If you’re interested in reading this quirky narrative, you can find the edited version online in Dr. Calkin’s digital catalogue of medieval narratives involving Passion relics, Christians and Muslims, Relic Tales here. The article itself will be available in March!

London, British Library, MS Harley 2252, fol. 50v[96]