American saints and relics, revisited

Several years ago, I passed on a post from Peter Leithart about the American use of relics from the Revolutionary era.

I was reminded of it when thinking about this passage from James Byrd’s analysis of patriotic sermons during the American Revolution, Sacred Scripture, Sacred War:

Whitefield’s patriotic reputation did not rest completely on political preaching. His sermons certainly had political ramifications, but he rarely addressed politics directly. Typically, he preached on the spiritual “New Birth” of salvation. Still, Whitefield became a source of patriotic authority. In September of 1775, five months into the Revolutionary War and five years after Whitefield’s death, a group of Continental Army officers visited Whitefield’s tomb in Newburyport, Massachusetts. They were looking for inspiration for battle, but in an unusual way. They asked that Whitefield’s coffin be opened. When the sexton complied, the officers removed the famous evangelist’s collar and his wristbands and took the relics with them. The army officers may not have known much about Whitefield’s political preaching, or the relative lack thereof, but they knew Whitefield as an evangelist who appealed to the people and resisted traditional authority. (17)

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3 thoughts on “American saints and relics, revisited

      1. Yes, and I wish –wish– I could recall the other instances of veneration. One, if I recall, was as simple as “this was so-and-so’s Bible”, but even the details of that one are hazy. At the time, I was looking into the historical origins of the veneration of the saints, and people would often volunteer some very funny stories. One of these volunteered stories was this one about Whitfield, which I’d never heard, and though it wasn’t within the scope of my then-research, it certainly wasn’t far _outside_ of it. 😀

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