AbstractAcross the eastern Mediterranean, the personnel of late antique pilgrimage sites distributed terracotta tokens stamped with depictions of saints, scenes from the life of Christ, and related imagery. Using primarily hagiographical sources, scholars associate tokens with healing practices, the veneration of icons, and the worship of relics. Certainly, hagiographies offer valuable representations of ritual processes, but they also make claims on the proper distribution, meaning, and use of tokens amidst a diversity of intercessory activities. How, in practice, was a token produced and distributed? How did pilgrims use tokens at and away from pilgrimage complexes beyond the assertions made by hagiographers? This article answers these questions by tracing the “cultural biography” of a token. It analyzes the archaeological contexts of tokens in order to clarify select statuses that a token might occupy during its lifetime, including commodity, gift, domestic object, funerary object, relic, rubbish, and art object. This approach lays the foundation for examining hagiographical claims regarding the use of tokens as one among many assertions in the contested process of harnessing the power of saints. It illustrates the capacity of devotees to exhibit diverse practices as well as the efforts of personnel at pilgrimage sites to shape those practices.
Archiv für Religionsgeschichte – de Gruyter
Published: Dec 2, 2020