Book Series Studies in the Visual Cultures of the Middle Ages, vol. 2

Sacral Geographies: Saints, Shrines and Territory in Medieval Ireland

Karen Overbey

  • Pages: 258 p.
  • Size:210 x 275 mm
  • Illustrations:126 b/w, 27 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2012

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52767-3
  • Hardback
  • Available


"Karen Overbey's monograph is undoubtedly a welcome addition to the weighty collection of (predominantly antiquarian) archaeo- / art-historical studies focusing on medieval Irish relics and reliquaries, a healthy proportion of which is judiciously consolidated and summarised throughout the book." (Sarah Erskine, in: Reviews in History, URL: )

"On the whole this is a marvelous book and adds much to earlier studies of Irish relics. (...) The volume provides a clear and informative discussion of Irish relics and reliquaries, while raising many new and interesting ideas." (Louise Nugent, in: Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture, Volume IV, Number 2 (Autumn 2013), p. 242-248)

"(...) the book, in offering important and original insight into relationships between sacral objects and the wider socio-political landscape, is a very welcome addition to the study of the early medieval Irish Church." (Simon Roffey, in: Medieval Archaeology, Vol. 57, December 2013, p. 369-370)

"C’est une synthèse originale, qui déconstruit une vision traditionnelle de l’Histoire médiévale irlandaise créée pour servir les besoins d’un nationalisme naissant, et fait un usage intelligent des récents travaux de recherche en études médiévales irlandaises, non seulement pour corriger les datations et les localisations des objets étudiés, mais aussi pour offrir une nouvelle réflexion sur la spacialisation du sacré. Au niveau visuel, le lecteur appréciera les reproductions couleur des reliquaires moins connus du public érudit (...). À la fois synthèse et développement original, cet ouvrage est une contribution importante à la connaissance des reliquaires irlandais médiévaux." (Jean-Michel Picard, dans: Cahiers de Civilisation Médiévale, 58.230, 2015, p. 200-201)


More than merely containers for holy bodies and objects, reliquaries powerfully mediated the experience of holy objects for their medieval audiences, creating socially charged spaces. Sacral Geographies: Saints, Shrines and Territory in Medieval Ireland demonstrates how the sacred space of reliquaries intersected with the territorial spaces of secular kingship, with the hierarchical spaces of monastic enclosures, and with the devotional spaces of cultic communities. The patrons of reliquaries, usually prominent secular rulers or Church leaders, employed performance, ritual and narrative (both visual and textual) to reinforce the efficacy of relics and, consequently, to authorize political relationships. The space of the ‘holy body’ therefore functioned as a foundation for the social geographies of early Ireland.
Sacral Geographies explores the role of reliquaries such as the Domnach Airgid book shrine, the Shrine of St Brigid’s Shoe, and St Manchan’s Shrine in the construction of spatial identity in early Ireland. While chapters on tomb-shaped shrines and crozier-relics appraise connections between Continental and Irish forms, and the effect of localized political agendas on material traditions, this book locates Irish spatial practices in an insular context, positing an Irish 'topographical consciousness.'