This article explores the polemic directed against relics and other objects of Catholic devotion in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England. It analyses the rhetorical techniques by which their appeal was defused and the language used to discredit them in religious controversy. The origin and evolution of Protestant attitudes towards relics and sacred artefacts is investigated against the backdrop of the antagonism and conflict by the Reformation. In particular, the article draws attention to the emergence of an enduring and distinctive nexus between the relic and the economic commodity and to a tendency to link the category of holy matter inextricably with the idea of ephemerality. It argues that these features of contemporary Protestant discourse have left a lasting legacy, contributing to the denigration, suspicion and distrust of material culture that has been a feature of scholarship until very recently.