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Response to Review of Sacral Geographies: Saints, Shrines, and Territory in Medieval Ireland

I am pleased to accept Dr Erskine’s generous and thorough review, and to know that she finds the notion of ‘sacral geographies’ so productive. I am grateful for her deep engagement with the major currents of the book, and for her thoughtful criticisms. She is certainly right in pointing out that there remains much to explore in Ireland’s hagiographic and cultic histories, especially as they transformed over centuries. That is what I hoped to get at in arguing that the sacred landscape is not a ‘fixed map of sites’ to which we as historians advance; we must not take ‘original’ narratives (whether medieval or modern) for granted.

The issue of corporeal relics in Ireland has been a tricky one, no doubt ever since Gerald of Wales (Geraldus Cambrensis, Geral de Barry) in the 12th century pointed out the peculiar Irish devotion to bells and staffs associated with the saints. As recent scholarship on continental cults has suggested, relics were likely inserted in all sorts of objects that are not ‘reliquaries’, including belt buckles, liturgical furniture, and sculpture. Dr Erskine’s review prompts me to wonder whether similar practices were taken up in Ireland. To what degree might they have involved corporeal relic veneration? Perhaps collaborations between historians of texts and historians of artifacts could be fruitful for such questions. In this vein, I look forward to reading Dr Erskine’s dissertation on the relic cult of St Patrick.

As a final note, I am pleased to mention that two sections of the book that Dr Erskine found provocative but too brief are subjects of my ongoing research: bells and the ‘monastic voice’, and belt shrines. My work on Irish belt shrines situates them in Western medieval discourses of clothing relics and sacred textiles, and I will present a paper on this topic at the 2013 conference of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists in Dublin.