Translating “Holy Bodies” (Corpi Santi) in Malta, 1667–1795

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Frans Ciappara University of Malta

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This article discusses the corpi santi, or whole skeletons of saints, which were brought to Malta from the catacombs of Rome in the eighteenth century. Here they had a diff erent meaning than they had in northern Europe. Malta was not aff ected by the Thirty Years’ War and therefore did not have to replace relics destroyed by the Protestants. The Maltese church also had no need to emphasize its connection with Rome. These saints were honored in Malta because they were heroes, having died for Christ as martyrs. Parishioners also perceived corpi santi as patrons, explaining why they were fully integrated within the parish. They rendered the churches in which they were exhibited centers of local devotion, thereby according prestige to the parish and intensifying rivalry between parishes. The saints also gave identity to the parish, so that parents even named children after them.

Contributor Notes

Frans Ciappara is Associate Professor of history at the International Institute for Baroque Studies, University of Malta, and editor of The Journal of Baroque Studies. Focusing on the religious and social history of eighteenth-century Europe, his most recent book is The Religious and Social History of a Maltese Parish: St. Mary’s Qrendi in the Eighteenth Century (Malta: Malta University Press, 2014).

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