Finger of a saint, thumb of a priest: medieval relics in the Diocese of Turku, and the archaeology of lived bodies

  • Visa Immonen University of Turku
  • Jussi-Pekka Taavitsainen University of Turku
Keywords: Christianity, Archaeology, Turku (Finland), Turun Tuomiokirkko, Suomen evankelis-luterilainen kirkko, Body, Human, Relics and reliquaries, Middle Ages, Finland -- Church history, Lutheran churches -- Europe, Christian saints, Catholic Church, Death


The relics of Turku Cathedral are remains belonging to the bodies of holy persons, different from ours, even today, although the cathedral is the see for the archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and relics are not on public display. Among the relics of the cathedral, there is a fragment of a radius, which according to its authentica, belongs to St Henry. Relics and reliquaries were in the core of medieval piety, and the cult of saints had infused throughout the society. Due to their central position in culture, relics offer glimpses at a range of material, social and cultural phenomena related to medieval embodiment.The Department of Archaeology at the University of Turku began to study the finger relic of St Eric and other items in the assemblage of Turku Cathedral in 2007. Relics and reliquaries are being opened and documented and organic as well as inorganic samples are being taken for a range of scientific analyses. So far the project has concentrated on building a chronological chart of individual artefacts. The majority of the relics date to the fourteenth century, although much more recent datings have also been obtained. The challenge of the project is not to stop when a better understanding of materials, their origins and age has been accomplished, but to use the results as a steppingstone into a study of the practices of medieval relic veneration. Medieval bodies and those material processes which authenticate relics, or distinguish saints’ bodies from other human remains, are thus at the heart of this article discussing embodiment.
Jan 1, 2011
How to Cite
Immonen, V., & Taavitsainen, J.-P. (2011). Finger of a saint, thumb of a priest: medieval relics in the Diocese of Turku, and the archaeology of lived bodies. Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 23, 141-173.