Encountering and Collecting the Sacred Body Through Relics in Early American Protestant Culture, 1750-1870
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Allison, Christopher Mark Brady
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CitationAllison, Christopher Mark Brady. 2017. Encountering and Collecting the Sacred Body Through Relics in Early American Protestant Culture, 1750-1870. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation is about the emergence of relics in early American Protestant culture from the middle of the eighteenth century to after the American Civil War. It demonstrates that early Americans immersed in a thoroughly Protestant culture unexpectedly developed relic cultures around vaunted Protestant figures of their collective past. I argue that these Protestant people were acting on a desire to access the embodied presence of individuals who were somehow absent or elusive. Their cultural commitment to the real drove them to the veneration of people’s bodies and, in turn, their relics. They were seeking two things in their efforts at capturing the body, first, knowledge, and second, reanimation. The dissertation points to the endurance of relic culture in human, especially religious, life, even in Protestant cultures, who had famously resisted relics. The form of the dissertation is three case studies. The first looks at George Whitefield, the famous English itinerant preacher of the eighteenth century, at the ways people sought his embodied presence before and after death, and the body cult that emerged around his crypt in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The second case study looks at Jane McCrea, a young Presbyterian woman who was killed in July of 1777 by Indians working for British forces during the Revolutionary War. This case study looks at the ways her death was set apart, how she was fashioned into a martyr through poetry and art, and then to the ways the cult around her memory escalated through pilgrimage to the places of her death around Fort Edward, New York, culminating in relic taking of the tree associated with her death and her actual corpse. The third case study analyzes Elias Hicks, the early nineteenth century schismatic Quaker minister. In the first section, I look at the ways people tried to capture his iconic presence despite Hicks’ resistance, worried that recording his ministry or body might invite idolatry. I look at an extreme case where Hicks’ admirers cooperated with an eccentric sculptor to exhume Hicks after his funeral in Jericho, Long Island, New York, to take a death mask. All of these case studies follow a similar trajectory, from valuing the body of an iconic historical figure that is somehow elusive to seeking relics of that person as a way of instantiating the real, in order to seek knowledge about these people and to reanimate the memories of those devoted to them.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140250
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