What has that to do with the Middle Ages? Well, they were collectors of celebrity memorabilia too, except that their celebs were superstars in the church. Going back to A Distant Mirror, I was struck by Duc de Berry's (Charles V's uncle and he of the Tres Riches Heures) collection of relics which included "one of Charlemagne's teeth, a piece of Elijah's mantle, Christ's cup from the Last Supper, drops of the Virgin's milk, enough of her hairs and teeth to distribute as gifts, soil from various Biblical sites, a narwhal's teeth, porcupine's quills, the molar tooth of a giant."
In another book, Glastonbury Abbey by James P. Carley, the author has a small chapter on relics in which he writes "Chaucer's description of the unscrupulous and corrupt Pardoner who makes unsuspecting simple folk gulls by selling them his false and valueless relics has a particularly strong resonance for modern readers, who find the medieval cult of relics naively superstitious and almost impossible to respect." I don't know. $75,000 for a kidney stone seems strange to me. It seems to me that I recall a peanut butter sandwich, half eaten by Elvis being sold once for a fair amount of money. If one considers those auctions of Princess Diana's dresses that fetched huge amounts of money, modern people can understand relics well enough if they stop and think about it. The author does concede that modern people have their own cult of the preserved bodies of political leaders like Lenin, Mao Tse-Tung, and Eva Peron.
He goes on to list the collection of relics held at Glastonbury: "a part of Moses's and Aaron's rods, manna, a fragment of Isaiah's tomb, and parts of Daniel's body...; items related to the Virgin Mary, including a small portion of her milk, bones from St. John the Baptist; bones, teeth and clothing from the Apostles; numerous remains from the Holy Martyrs and Confessors" There were also King Arthur's bones and his queen, Guinevere, as well as Joseph of Arimathia's as yet undiscovered grave somewhere nearby.
The one relic that stands out for me is the Virgin's breast milk. Now, she only had one child so someone had been stealing milk from baby Jesus. If Mary was not milking herself, someone was milking the Holy Virgin. Someone was squeezing the sacred 'dumplings' to later sell the contents of the 'dumplings'. Something seems wrong about that. As well, when Mary had Jesus, nobody but her knew that Jesus was going to be that special so who would have known to think ahead to save some breast milk for later selling? You have to wonder why people did not consider those things before they purchased this stuff.
Carley goes on to relate how Erasmus visited Canterbury with John Colet and Colet was horrified to be presented with a 'reputed arm of St. George with dry blood and flesh still on it". Mmmmmm, yummy. "He also refused to accept a fragment of dirty linen which had reportedly been used by Becket 'to wipe the perspiration from his face or his neck, the runnings from his nose, or such other superfluities from which the human frame is not free." When you consider that people like Elvis Presley or Engelbert Humperdinck, among others, handed out sweat soaked handkerchiefs to their audiences to be treasured, the tradition goes on and includes post mortem Elvis sightings and healing the sick.
Carley went on to write that most of the relics of Glastonbury were destroyed with the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, being called pagan images. He wrote, "Much superstition was no doubt overcome at the Reformation but it was done at a great psychological cost. Protestant man become considerably more alone in the world than were his Catholic predecessors, who had their tangible links with eternity." Don't worry James we still have Elvis.