Relicarios: Devotional Miniatures from the Americas

Publisher: Museum of New Mexico Press
Pub Date: September 1, 1994
Hardcover: ISBN: 978-0890132531
Pages: 130 pages

Please note: Relicarios is currently out of print, though used copies can be found online or through op.cit. in Santa Fe (505) 428-0321.

We are working on a completely new book, Relicarios: Latin America’s Forgotten Jewels. Click the Contact Us link and supply your email address. We will notify you of our pub date. Stay tuned.

Cover Photo: A. Richardson
Book Design: Linda Seals


The relicario is the Latin American version of the reliquary locket, a small, finely wrought devotional pendant used to contain relics and mementos of the saints. Martha Egan, renowned authority on Latin American folk art, spent more than five years of travel and investigation finding and documenting the finest examples of Iberian and Latin American reliquary art worldwide. Relicarios: Devotional Miniatures from the Americas presents 125 refined examples of a religious art that rivals the illuminated books and gilded altars of the Medieval and Renaissance periods.


From Library Journal:

There is a timeless pan-human belief that an object that once belonged to another holds power and influence. Protective medallions, amulets, rings, and tefillin fall into this category, and so do relicarios. These encased bits of cloth or bone, theoretically obtained from a religious saint, were small, precious reminders of faith. Imported from Spain to Latin America, relicarios have been largely ignored as sacred tools rather than art objects. After centuries of development in the New World, they have emerged as a unique tradition worthy of study. Egan (Milagros: Votive Offerings from the Americas, LJ 8/91) has given us an intelligent, much-needed history of relicarios and other related items such as detentes. Fascinating to read and full of color illustrations detailing its little-known subject, this book will prove useful to those in the social sciences as well as art and religious studies.
—Susan M. Olcott, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Ohio, Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

As with anything of value, authenticity of relics is questionable. Martha (Egan) cites “no fewer than a dozen heads and sixty fingers of Saint John the Baptist (this is spite of the alleged burning of his corpse by Emperor Julian in the fourth century); seven foreskins from the infant Jesus; fifteen arms of Saint James; thirty bodies of Saint George; and six breasts of Saint Agatha.” When Saint Elisabeth of Thuringia was buried, her body was quickly torn apart by devotees. John Calvin asked for an end to all this relic madness in 1543.
Martha’s book is an interesting read.
—Christine Saalbach