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The November Tuesday talks of the StARTers series at the Siena Art Institute open with an encounter with Nina Burleigh. The American writer and journalist will present her book Unholy Business- A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land

Siena - as the rest of Italy - is a fabulous place if you have a soft spot for relics. Gruesome bones - most famously Saint Catherine's skull at the San Domenico church - are admired daily by pilgrims and tourists alike. And strange mystique objects like the treasure of the Santa Maria della Scala museum - precious medieval objects designed around a collection of relics from Constantinople  - testify to centuries of catholic worship. 

Objects of the treasure of the SMS museum
The treasure of the Santa Maria della Scala museum was acquired via a Florentine merchant,  who had bought the relics
 from the empress in Constantinople in 1359. The treasure may have been sold to remedy financial problems of the imperial court. 

But it isn't just the Catholics who are obsessed with material 'testimony' of the life of prophets and saints. The zealous search for historic artifacts supposed to prove the accuracy of bible stories by Protestant pilgrims and Jewish collectors has fed the looting of archaeological sites in the Holy Land as much as the relic craving mania of the Roman Catholic church.

Burleigh's book gives eye-opening and entertaining insight into the dynamics of a market dominated by dollars not bible values. It would be interesting to know what Saint Catherine would have had to say on the matter. Her own bones (or whoever's they are) have been frequently argued over and are now scattered all through Italy - not quite the behavior the sage woman of Siena would have advocated. 

Proof for Faith: Relic Forgery, the Limits of Science and the Borders of Belief
Tuesday 5th November 2013, 6pm. Siena, via Tommaso Pendola, 37.
Talk in English. Free entrance. 

Nina Burleigh is writer in residence at the Siena Art Institute for the month of November. She works for The New York Observer, Time, People and the New York Times. She has published five books, the latest one The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox about the controversial prosecution of Amanda Knox in the Meredith Kercher murder case. 

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