What Remains: Women, Relics and Remembrance in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade

What Remains: Women, Relics and Remembrance in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade

What Remains: Women, Relics and Remembrance in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade

Anne E. Lester (Department of History, University of Colorado at Boulder)

Journal of Medieval History: 40:3, 311- 328 (2014)


After the fall of Constantinople to the Latin Crusaders in 1204 hundreds of relics were carried into the West as diplomatic gifts, memorabilia and tokens of victory. Yet many relics were alsosent privately between male crusaders and their spouses and female kin. As recipients of relicswomen were often called upon to initiate new relic cults and practices of commemoration inhonour of the men who sent these objects and who often never returned from the East. By considering the material quality of Fourth Crusade relics, this article argues that they were objects that exercised a profound effect on the lives of those receiving them, in influencing their perceptions and actions, focusing practices of commemoration and ultimately shapingthe memory of the crusade. Relics formed the scaffolding that recursively evoked avenerated martyr, a kinsman dead in the East, a family’s crusading lineage, and broader ideas of religious sacrifice.

In the early spring of 1205 less than a year after contingents of French, Flemish and Venetian crusaders captured the city of Constantinople and established a new Latin empire in the East the same men began to send relics from the Byzantine capital to churches, chapels and individuals in the West. It was during that spring that Count Louis of Blois, one of the leaders of the Fourth Crusade, sent his wife Catherine of Clermont, countess of Blois andChartres, several prize relics, including the head of St Anne and relics of Sts Peter and Andrew, wrapped in silks. He must have set these objects in motion during the months he resided in Constantinople and before he departed for Adrianople, where he died in thecompany of the newly elected Emperor Baldwin I, on 14 April 1205. Unlike other relicsthat travelled publicly or surreptitiously out of the imperial city in the years following itsconquest, Louis sent these relics first to his wife, who ruled his lands as regent during hisabsence. It was Catherine who presented them to the cathedrals of Chartres and Beauvais andwho init iated the commemoration of the objects, the crusade and her husband’s deeds in Greece.

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