HS3T86-Bones, body-parts and belief: Italian city states and the cult of relics 1250-1500

Module Provider: History
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2018/9

Module Convenor: Prof Paul Davies

Email: p.davies@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

Part 3 Options involve the study of specific periods, subjects or types of history. This topic aims to examine the role played by relics of saints in the northern Italian city states between c. 1250 and c. 1500. It will explore the symbiotic relationship between the relics and their devotees, with the relic protecting the state from ills and the state protecting and honouring its relics. 


This topic aims to explore types of relics, their functions in society, and modes of exalting them (from tomb to portable reliquary). It will provide students with the skills to employ the objects themselves - relics and reliquaries - as primary sources, introducing a mode of analysis that can significantly inform our understanding of this aspect of history.

Assessable learning outcomes:

By the end of the module it is expected that the student will be able to:

  • identify and explain the main issues and events studied

  • Identify and explain through visual analysis particular objects

  • acquire a detailed knowledge of the events through extensive reading in specialised literature

  • locate and assemble information on the subject by independent research

  • appraise critically the primary sources and historical interpretations of the subject

  • organise material and articulate arguments effectively in writing, both under timed conditions and in assessed essays.

Additional outcomes:

The module also aims to encourage the development of oral communication skills and the student's effectiveness in group situations. Students will also develop their IT skills by use of relevant web resources.

Outline content:

Wars, plagues, famines and droughts were a constant worry for late medieval and Renaissance societies. But help was at hand. Every city had its patron saint, who was expected to intervene miraculously on its town’s behalf. In return for this protection, the town honoured the bones of its protector or protectors by staging elaborate events on their feast days, and by creating fabulous containers (reliquaries) of gold, silver and jewels to house their remains. In the hope of gaining more heavenly protection than rival towns, cities went to great lengths to increase the scope of this heavenly assistance, by acquiring the relics of new protectors, either through purchase or theft, thus adding to their pantheon of patron saints, upon whom they could call in times of dire need.

Focusing on Italy in the period between 1250 and 1500, this module will explore what relics were, how they functioned in society, and how they were honoured and exalted. In doing so, it will consider issues associated with notions of power and protection, holiness and its maintenance, cult-promotion and advertising, rivalry between city states, and battles for the control of cults between the civic and ecclesiastical authorities.

The module will explore these issues through the material culture of reliquaries, looking at major examples from Northern Italy, especially: Florence, Siena, Pistoia, Arezzo, Pavia and Padua.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

Seminars for which students must carry out full preparatory reading and research. Seminars rely on structured group discussion and may also include: seminar papers by students; discussion of evidence; team-based exercises and debates; study visit to a relevant location. Students are expected to carry out self-directed revision in the Summer term. Staff will be available for consultation as necessary.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 30
Project Supervision 1
Guided independent study 169
Total hours by term 200.00
Total hours for module 200.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written exam 50
Written assignment including essay 50

Summative assessment- Examinations:

One two-hour paper requiring two answers to be taken at the time of the Part 3 examinations.

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Students will write one essay of not more than 2,500 words, to be submitted electronically via Turnitin by 12 noon on the Monday of week 9 of the term. Five marks will be deducted if the coursework essay exceeds 2,625 words (ie 5% over the word limit).

Formative assessment methods:

1,000 words or 2 pages of A4 maximum to include, at the module convenor's discretion, an essay plan, bibliography, book review or other preparatory work towards the summative essay.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Re-assessment will be by the same method as the module’s original requirement, subject to variation by the Examination Board where appropriate.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Purchase of textbooks is not compulsory, but students should consider setting aside £25 to cover the purchase of useful books

    Last updated: 20 April 2018


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