Since the early Middle Ages, relics of Catholic saints played an important role in popular religion in Europe. The shrines containing the human remains of the saints, however, are rarely studied, typically only when restoration becomes necessary. Formerly, such study was mostly restricted to the art-historical aspects of the artifacts, sometimes including the counting and rough identification of the bones. In this study, for the first time, and for a number of case studies, a more systematic approach was taken, including detailed physico-anthropological observations, 13C and 15N stable isotope measurements, and 14C analysis of the bones.
The importance of this project lies not only in a critical evaluation of the authenticity of the relics. Fruitful insights could also be gained about the origin, history, and treatment of these parts of our religious heritage. Finally, it has been proven that shrines are an important source of early medieval human skeletal material, which is only rarely found in archaeological contexts in Belgium.