Coin relics in medieval and modern Europe
Drawing from a wide range of historical sources, from hagiography to numismatics, this book will appeal to students and academics researching Late Antique, Medieval, and Early Modern History, Theology, as well as all those interested in the function of relics throughout Christendom. The Thirty Pieces of Silver is a study that invites meditation on the highly symbolic and powerful role of money through coins, which were the price, value, and measure of Christ and which, despite being the most abject objects, managed to become relics.
Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon – New York, 2022 (Religion and Money in the Middle Ages)
Original Italian edition: Lucia Travaini, I Trenta denari di Giuda. Storia di reliquie impreviste nell’Europa medievale e moderna, Viella: Rome, 2020. Translated by Andrew D.R. Colvin.
December 2021: 360pp
Hb: 978-0-367-68802-8 | $160.00 | £120.00
The Thirty pieces of silver – Routledge 2022 review
“The title of this book refers to the payment made for Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Jesus, a figure of fundamental importance to attitudes towards Jews in medieval Europe. Travaini uses these ‘30 Pieces’ to explore relics and devotional objects, and their place in medieval religious thought and practice, alongside debates on theology and economy.
The opening two chapters are excellent, considering coins as ritual objects, discussing the connections between coin production and the sacred, the ‘moral value’ of money’, and the role of coinage in miraculous healing; they make a strong potential resource for teaching on medieval material culture more generally.
Travaini then explores the ‘30 Pieces’ within the prism of medieval and early-modern society (chapters 3–9). Detailed and well-written, she includes discussion of theology, art and social history. She links developments in the portrayal of Judas to the increasingly poor treatment of Jewish communities in Europe, alongside the growing interest in objects related to The Passion, of which the ‘30 Pieces’ is just one. Although broadly chronological, the chapters follow a clear framework in which the ‘30 Pieces’ can be understood, including legends surrounding the coins and the role of money in medieval society to pilgrimage, the importance of
meditations on The Passion and the need for appropriate relics. Clearly presented and persuasively argued, Travaini here deftly brings together broad bodies of evidence. The central role of the Knights of St John on Rhodes is fascinating, forming the blueprint for relics of the ‘30 Pieces’ using an ancient Rhodian tetradrachm, with many wax impressions, ritually produced on Good Friday, dispersed across Europe. It was only with the emergence of numismatic scholarship in the 16th century, combined with Protestantism’s radically different view of relics, that the authenticity of the ‘30 Pieces’ could be questioned.
This is an impressive work which benefits from careful reading. It has much to contribute to studies on medieval religion, the use and interpretation of relics, as well as approaches to studies of material culture. The publication is somewhat marred by the poor quality of some photographs or their reproduction, making details difficult to pick out – unfortunate given the high cover-price. I also found the layout of the text frustrating, the publisher opting for endnotes to each chapter rather than footnotes, resulting in unavoidable flicking back and forth while reading. Nevertheless, this is an excellent, original and interesting book, which deserves broad readership;there is much within to recommend it to those working in, or studying, the medieval period in general.”
JOHN NAYLOR (University of Oxford)