Search This Blog

Tuesday, 25 July 2017


A relic is a part of some divine or saintly person, or something closely associated with them, which has been carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a memorial. Relics are an important aspect of Buddhism, some denominations of Christianity, Hinduism, shamanism, and many other personal belief systems. In medieval times they were fiercely fought over.

Reliquaries in the Church of San Pedro, in Ayerbe, Spain. By Pepe Bescós 


The veneration of Saints started growing in significance within three hundred of years of Christ walking this earth. For instance at the beginning of the fourth century, a cathedral was built around the relics of St Emeterius and St Celedonius who died in Diocletian's persecution, at Calahorra in Spain.

Saint Andrew was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus and the patron saint of Scotland. However, St Andrew never set foot in Scotland. His Scottish link comes from a legend that the 4th century monk or bishop of Patras, St Rule, was ordered to take the apostle’s relics to “the ends of the earth”, so he took them to Scotland. The relics are said to have been a kneecap, an upper arm bone, three fingers and a tooth.

At Nicaea in 787, a council insisted that relics were to be used in the consecration of every church despite the fact there weren't not enough saints' bodies to go round.

Saint Thomas Aquinas defended the practice of veneration of saint's relics during a time when some regarded it as mere superstition. Aquinas argued that the bodies of the saints are vessels of the Holy Spirit.
Relic from the shrine of S Boniface in the hermit-church of Warfhuizen By Broederhugo 

In 1247 Henry III of England prepared to receive a relic of the Holy Blood of Jesus sent from Jerusalem, by keeping vigil the night before its reception in London, fasting on bread and wine with many candles and solemn prayers.

Robert the Bruce attributed his victory at the Battle of Bannockburn to the relic of the Scottish Saint, St. Fillan, which he took into battle. He declared it was the Saint's intercession that gave him victory.

The inventor of modern printing Johannes Gutenberg was also an entrepreneur. One of his schemes in the late 1430s was to mass produce "pilgrim mirrors" to sell to the thousands of people walking to Aachen every seven years to see the town's holy relics . The purpose of these mirrors, which many pilgrims pinned to their hats, was to catch the benign rays that were assumed to radiate from the relics and to take them home where they would benefit relatives as well.

There are also many relics attributed to Jesus, perhaps most famously the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial shroud of our Savior.

The cult of relics was condemned by Protestant reformers. Martin Luther satirized the countless dubious relics in the Middle Ages, making a list of ones he expected the Catholic Church to trot out next: “Three flames from the burning bush on Mount Sinai . . . A whole pound of wind that roared by Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb . . . Two feathers and an egg from the Holy Spirit.”

Reliquary and skull of St Ivo of Kermartin. By Derepus - Foto zal gemaakt in de kerk,

Martin Luther's patron, the Saxony ruler Frederick the Wise, had a collection of 19, 013 relics in the church of his castle at Wittenburg. They ranged from a saint's little finger to the complete mortal remains of one of the Holy Innocents martyred by King Herod.

The Council of Trent of 1563 upheld the veneration of relics. They enjoined Roman Catholics. bishops to instruct their flocks that "the holy bodies of holy martyrs ... are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men".The council further instructed that within such veneration, "every superstition shall be removed and all filthy lucre abolished."

A 1980 worldwide survey of religious relics commissioned by the Italian newspaper Republica found that there were ten St John the Baptist skulls in churches dotted around the globe. The remarkable English Patron Saint George topped the list with enough bones to make up 30 complete skeletons.

The Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts contains relics of St. James, St. Matthew, St. Philip, St. Simon, St. Thomas, St. Stephen and other saints.

Reliquary at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary By John Stephen Dwyer,


In Buddhism, relics of the Buddha and various sages are venerated. After the Buddha's death, his remains were divided into eight portions. Afterward, these relics were enshrined in stupas wherever Buddhism was spread.

Buddha relics from Kanishka's stupa in Peshawar, Pakistan, By Teresa Merrigan 

The most important collection of Muslim relics are The Sacred Trusts, which are a collection of over 600 pieces treasured in the Privy Chamber of the Topkapı Palace Museum in Istanbul. Muslims believe that these treasures include: Hair from Prophet Muhammad's beard and footprint, Pot of Abraham, Staff of Moses, Turban of Joseph and the Sword of David.

One example of a non-religious relic is the preserved body of Lenin in Moscow. In 1933 a permanent Mausoleum was built in Red Square to contain his body encased in glass.

When President Chester A. Arthur redecorated the White House, he needed money to pay for all the new furniture. His solution was to sell off 24 wagon loads of historical relics, including a pair of Lincoln’s pants and one of John Quincy Adams’ hats.


No comments:

Post a Comment