What’s a ‘reliquary’?

Reading time: About 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: reliquary…

The remarkable writer Meredith Hall became a published author relatively late in life. I haven’t yet read her memoir (about having become a mother at the age of 16) but her first novel, Beneficence is a work of great power and beauty. The book tells the  story of a farm family in Maine, in the 1940s and 50s, dealing with an unspeakable tragedy.

It also has given me my word of the week, reliquary. Here is how Hall used it.

I cleaned out my [dead] brother’s room myself, ashamed that I had agreed to allow it to sit ignored for all this time, sad for my father that he had been consigned to this reliquary

I was raised as a Catholic, so I immediately guessed the word reliquary was related to the word relics — bones, pieces of clothing, or some object associated with saints or other religious figures.

The etymology of the word is French, dating back to the 14th century, from reliquaire, which means “a  receptacle for keeping relics.”

And, the word relics comes from the early 13th century, from the Old French term relique, meaning, “body part or other object from a holy person,” This, in turn, comes from Late Latin reliquiæ (plural) meaning  “remains of a martyr.”

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