Devout people in many religious traditions often denigrate material goods, suggesting that the object of devotion is beyond what can be seen, felt, and heard. Yet a look at religious history, including Christian history, reveals a deep-seated, perennial love for things. Objects large and small, valuable and worthless, are part of the tradition from the beginning, creating memories and meanings for the Christians who pray and worship, love and share, make pilgrimage and make music. An account of Christian history is incomplete if it ignores material things.
My aim here is to tell a story of Christian life in five objects, with frequent reference to the human body that connects and corresponds with these objects. This history does not pretend to be comprehensive, nor is it a “greatest hits” of Christian material history. It does aim to reorient our gaze and to help us understand faith as derived from rudimentary experiences and lived, embodied practices.