Those of us who lived through the 1980s remember well the phenomenon of the Members Only jacket. Whether you’ve found one in the back of your closet or not, you can’t help but look back and wonder what we “members” were thinking. A similar phenomenon surrounds the modern perception of the medieval cult of relics and the precious reliquaries that once housed them. In the exhibition Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe, currently at the Walters Art Museum through May 15, 2011, modern pilgrims can see that the cult venerated not just members (such as the arm bones once inside the arm-shaped reliquary shown), but any souvenir of the sacred from items related to the life of Christ to even stones or water taken from the Holy Land. Gaining an appreciation of the allure of such objects opens a window onto a medieval world at once very different than our own and yet somehow a precursor of our own cults and memberships. Please come over to at Picture This at Big Think to read more of "Members Only."
[Image: Arm Reliquary of the Apostles. German (Lower Saxony), ca. 1190. Silver gilt over wood (oak), enamel (champlevé). 51 x 14 x 9.2 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, gift of the John Huntington Art and Polytechnic Trust, 1930.739.][Many thanks to the Walters Art Museum for the image above and to Yale University Press for providing me with a review copy of the catalog to the exhibition Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe, which runs at the Walters Art Museum through May 15, 2011.]