Reliquary Altar

Glass, blood, mucus, metal, donated jewels and beads, 2019

These twelve reliquaries come together as a spiritual altar to my chronically ill body. A reliquary is a container for relics. Traditionally, relics are the alleged or actual physical remains of Catholic Saints, such as bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with the Saint. In this case, the relics are my physical blood and mucus: viscous liquids produced by chronic infection and inflammation, and expelled from my lungs on five different occasions. Using donated jewels from friends and family and found glass bottles throughout New Orleans, I have painstakingly decorated each individual container in order to sanctify and canonize my body and the illness that renders her sick.

Since the 4th century, Catholics have considered relics worth more than gold, and as such, have adorned them with the most valuable donated stones and precious metals. Most reliquaries, such as these before you, were designed to be portable and often exhibited in public or carried in procession on the saint’s feast day or other holy days. They are usually presented in shrines, churches, or temples to which the faithful make pilgrimages in order to receive blessings or obtaining healing miracles (much like artworks in a museum).

In opposition to those who believe illness causes a poor quality of life, these reliquaries venerate and celebrate my sick body to the pinnacle of saint-hood. Instead of conserving a “healthy” piece of myself, such as my hair, “diseased” remnants of my body are preserved, protected, and glorified for eternity.

image documentation courtesy of Erynn McConnell and Mary Grace Bernard

Press

NOLA.com

Back                                                                            Next