Religious Artifacts found alongside Bones in Attic may be Relics of a Saint

Religious Artifacts found alongside Bones in Attic may be Relics of a Saint

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

A resident of St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, has found what may be religious relics hundreds of years old in his attic. The man's daughter contacted a museum, an archaeologist, some nuns, a jeweler and a Catholic priest to help determine what they are.

The archaeologist Williston called, Chelsea Colwell-Pasch, contacted the Vatican and Interpol to identify the decorated objects, called reliquaries, that contain bones. The bones themselves are called relics.

When the nuns looked at the objects they told Kelly Williston, “Nuns made this,” Williston told the CBC . “So that was nice to hear,” Williston added. "I knew right away that there was something there. They don't look like Made in China ornaments.”

St. Felix's remains are in an elaborate reliquary coffin in Our Lady's Cathedral in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic. (Photo by HoremWeb/ Wikimedia Commons )

Her father found them when he looked in the attic of his childhood home, which he had repurchased from a German family. The Willistons are trying to contact the Germany family to tell them about the relics but so far have had no luck.

A screenshot from a CBC video of the relics

“He went looking in the attic, just to see what was up there," Williston said. "There were lots of neat things and these were in a garbage bag, wrapped in Saran Wrap each and stuffed into one garbage bag."

Colwell-Pasch said a concern is that the relics may be war loot. She said the objects may be 200 to 500 years old.

Christians have a long history of collecting body parts and objects associated with the saints and even Jesus Christ and his apostles. The Shroud of Turin may be the most famous. Legend says the shroud was used to wrap Jesus after he died and had an imprint of his tormented face and body, though his is hotly debated. Other relics include purported pieces of the cross upon which Jesus hung, his baby teeth, his mother's milk or pieces of her veil.

Head of St. Catherine of Siena (Photo by Cerrigno/ Wikimedia Commons )

Many relics may be spurious and not truly as old as their legends say or may not really be connected with religious figures from antiquity. But Christians believed relics have power to heal, in accord with the New Testament story about relics touched by Jesus or his apostles, says an article at the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Relics were important to the Christian religion from its onset, but by the time of the Middle Ages and Charlemagne, every altar in every church was required to have a reliquary. Veneration of relics became so important they rivaled even the sacraments in the medieval church, the museum website says. Saints had the power to advocate or intercede for mankind in heaven, so objects associated with them became very important.

The most sacred relics were those associated with Jesus or his mother, Mary.

The website Crux: Covering All Things Catholic reported in September 2014 about a dispute over what to do with the body of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. The popular 20 th century orator is interred at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, but a bishop in another diocese wants to remove the body and re-inter it in Iowa.

The article at Crux included some background about what some may see as the distasteful practice of divvying up a dead saint's body parts and shipping them around for public display—and the money that pilgrims bring.

When a person is sainted, the church used to collect body parts and put them in reliquaries and underneath altars.

A screenshot from a CBC video of a reliquary and objects inside, found in an attic in Canada

“It is highly unlikely in this day and age that Bishop Sheen’s body would actually be dismembered if he were to be canonized. Most likely, hair, pieces of fingernails, or skin, would be collected instead,” the article at Crux says. The Catholic Church, however, used to dismember deceased saints' bodies a lot.

For example, when Thomas Aquinas died in 1274, monks removed his head, and his skull is now on display in Fossovo Abbey near Rome. His bones are in Toulouse, France, and his thumb is in Milan, Italy.

You may take a peek at the famous theologian and saint's thumb for 6 euros, Crux says.

Featured image: Rediscovery of the Relics of St Mark, a 14 th century painting by Paolo Veneziano ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller


In religion, a relic usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint or venerated person preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial. Relics are an important aspect of some forms of Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Shamanism, and many other religions. Relic derives from the Latin reliquiae, meaning "remains", and a form of the Latin verb relinquere, to "leave behind, or abandon". A reliquary is a shrine that houses one or more religious relics.

9 The Fairy Flag Of Dunvegan

The MacLeod clan in Scotland has a relic that&rsquos been passed down from generation to generation. According to one legend, the flag was carried into battle by King Harald Hardrada of Norway, when he moved to conquer Britain in 1066. When the king was killed, the square of silk passed to his descendants&rsquo clan.

According to another story&mdashoften retold as family lore&mdashthe fourth chief of the clan fell in love with a fairy princess who was forbidden to marry a mortal man. Her father eventually relented and let her spend a year and a day with her love. During that time, she gave birth to a boy. When it came time to leave, she made her beloved promise that he would never let the baby cry because she would be able to hear it even in the fairy realm. Babies will be babies, though, and eventually he did begin to cry. She came back from the fairy realm briefly to visit her son. While she was with him, she gave him a blanket to comfort him. That blanket is said to be the legendary flag.

The tradition also holds that the flag contains magic that will protect the members of the clan in times of need, but that it&rsquoll only work three times. In 1490, the flag was carried during a battle between the McDonalds and the MacLeods, who were, of course, victorious. In 1520, the flag was once again used in a battle against the McDonalds, leaving enough magic for one more victory. During World War II, soldiers belonging to the family were said to have carried a picture of the flag with them as they went to war, and the chief of the clan during wartime volunteered to take the flag to Dover should the Axis troops attempt to invade Britain.

Saint Rosalia

Saint Rosalia is one of a smaller group of saints who were not also martyrs. Born in the early 12 th century of royal lineage, Rosalia was known as one of the most beautiful women in Palermo. One day a visiting nobleman asked the king for her hand in marriage and the next day Rosalia appeared in the royal court as a new woman. She had cut off of all of her hair and announced that she was going to become a nun.

Rosalia stayed in the convent for a few months but found that even there her family and suitors distracted her. She moved to a remote cave in a mountain, where she spent the rest of her life in prayer, devoted to God. She died at the age of 30 of natural causes and her bones remained in the cave for three centuries.

The grotto where Rosalia died and where her bones remain today.

In the 1600’s, the plague reached Palermo. Thousands died in only a few months, and the self-imposed quarantine meant that those trapped in Palermo were resigned to death. The people of Palermo desperately prayed, looking for some sign that they might survive the plague. That sign came when a local man, Vincenzo Bonelli, had a vision from Rosalia that led him to her cave. She told him that he had to bury her bones in order for Palermo to be delivered from the plague. The continued devastation of the plague convinced the cardinal and other church leaders to process the bones through the streets and then bury them properly. As soon as Rosalia’s remains were put to rest the plague stopped. Since then, Palermo has dedicated Rosalia as their patron saint, and she is celebrated every year for her rescuing the city from the plague (Zannoni 2014). Her remains are in the grotto on the mountain where she died, within an ornate sarcophagus.

In 1825, a British geologist named William Buckland went to Sicily on his honeymoon. He and his wife visited Palermo and stopped by the grotto where the holy remains of Saint Rosalia were. Buckland observed that the bones did not look human but looked more like they belonged to a goat (Gordon 1894). When Buckland shared this information with the priests, they quickly kicked him and his wife out of the grotto. After Buckland’s announcement, the bones were placed within a casket so that outsiders could no longer view the bones too closely (Switek 2009).

In late November of 2013, Pope Francis carried a small box containing nine bone fragments of Saint Peter out beyond the Vatican to present them during a Mass. His presentation of a relic, especially one of such an important saint, caused many historians around the world to question the relics authenticity (Raushenbush 2013). Like the remains of Saint Rosalia, the relics of Saint Peter are not accessible to scientists who could test the authenticity of the artifact. Although most scholars debated whether the remains truly belonged to Saint Peter, some questioned whether “authenticity” even mattered. Peter Manseau, a writer who focuses on relics, said that they are authentic in their spiritual and religious power.

“I think that in the end, the authenticity may be beyond the point. Their relevance doesn’t really depend on their being what they say they are. They are more important as symbols of faith rather than as some kind of forensic evidence.”

-Peter Manseau (Raushenbush 2013)

Forensic evidence is required for all other artifacts. Questions of forgeries and authenticity greatly effect how museums, historians, and the public view artifacts. If something is a fake, then that artifact loses its importance and its power, except maybe as an example of desperation. The “Mask of Agamemnon” is an example of an artifact that has lost its influence and meaning in scholarly circles because its origins are questionable (Calder 1999). If Heinrich Schliemann made the mask so that he would have something fantastic to uncover in Mycenae, then its relevance to Ancient Greece, the archaeological site, and world history is negated. The religious importance of these artifacts removes some of the authenticity that is so often craved for by historians and museums regarding other kinds of artifacts.

Procession of Saint Rosalia’s remains in modern-day Palermo.

After all, even if what Palermo call relics of Saint Rosalia really did only belong to a goat, they still managed to save the city from the plague.

Are these the bones of John the Baptist?

(CNN) -- In a region already rich with archaeological artifacts, the excavation of a small alabaster box containing a few pieces of bone amid the ruins of a medieval monastery might easily have passed unnoticed.

But when Bulgarian archaeologists declared they had found relics of John the Baptist, one of the most significant early Christian saints, their discovery became the subject of rather more interest -- prompting angry exchanges in the local media and even calls for a government minister's resignation.

The claim is based on a reliquary -- a container for holy relics -- found on July 28 under the altar of a fifth century basilica on Sveti Ivan, a Black Sea island off Sozopol on Bulgaria's southern coast. Inside, archaeologists found eight pieces of bone, including fragments of skull and face bone and a tooth.

A later monastery on the island was dedicated to John the Baptist indirect evidence, according to excavation leader Kazimir Popkonstantinov, that the relics under the altar were those of the church's saint.

Video: John the Baptist relics found? Map: Relics found on Sveti Ivan

But Popkonstantinov said the "key" clue to the relics' origins was a tiny sandstone box found alongside the reliquary with a Greek inscription: "God, save your servant Thomas. To St John. June 24."

Popkonstantinov said the date, celebrated by Christians as John's nativity, indicated a direct link between the saint and the site. The rest of the inscription suggested the bearer of the box used it as an amulet for protection, perhaps carrying the relics in a simple container to avoid attracting attention, he speculated.

"We knew we could find a reliquary there and our expectations came true," Popkonstantinov said in e-mailed comments. "It seems rather logical to suggest the founders of the monastery did their best to bring relics of its patron saint."

Several sites already house relics purported to be John, such as the Grand Mosque in Damascus, Syria, and Amiens Cathedral in France, which both claim to have his head, and the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul, Turkey, which has a right arm on display.

Paul Middleton, a senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at the University of Chester, said there was good evidence to suggest John was a historical figure, with all four Gospels and the Jewish historian Josephus agreeing he was put to death by beheading on the orders of the local ruler, Herod Antipas.

Some other notable relics purported to be John the Baptist include:

John the San Silvestro in Capite, Italy: The Rome church claims to have John's head parts of a reliquary on display date from the 13th century
Notre-Dame d'Amiens, France: John's head is said to have been brought back from Constantinople in 1206 after Crusaders sacked the city
Umayyad Mosque, Syria: Damascus' great mosque is built over the site of a church dedicated to John, whose head is said to be contained in a shrine in the prayer hall
Residenz Museum, Germany: The Munich museum claims to have John's head one of a number of relics collected by Bavaria's Duke Wilhelm V in the 16th century
Topkapi Museum, Istanbul: Chronicles suggest John's right arm was transferred from Antioch to Constantinople in 956 by Byzantine emperor Constantine VII
St. Macarius Monastery, Egypt: A crypt and relics said to be John's, mentioned in 11th century manuscripts, were discovered during restoration work in 1969
Cetinje Monastery, Montenegro: The Orthodox monastery, which dates from the 15th century, claims to have John's mummified right hand

Christians believe John, an ascetic preacher, heralded the coming of Christ and baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. "He is seen as the forerunner of Jesus he prepares the way," said Middleton.

But the discovery on Sveti Ivan has been greeted with scepticism by some within Bulgaria's archaeological community.

Much of the criticism has been directed at government minister Bozhidar Dimitrov, also a notable historian and director of Bulgaria's National Museum of History, whose confident claims about the relics and the economic potential of Sozopol as a center of religious tourism provoked criticism from leading archaeologists.

In response, Dimitrov appeared to direct an expletive at his critics in an interview with the Dnevnik newspaper, prompting calls for his resignation from opposition politicians. In a subsequent interview with Bulgarian television, Dimitrov denied the expletive had been intended as an insult.

But doubts have not been confined to Fabrizio Bisconti of the Vatican Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology said there were "thousands" of alleged relics of John the Baptist. He said the commission would "wait until a more thorough study has been conducted" before expressing an opinion.

Dimitrov said that the relics had been handed to the Orthodox Church and that it was for church leaders to decide if further tests should be carried out.

But he added: "Even if it were established that the bones are indeed from the first century, some other Doubting Thomas would say: 'And what is the guarantee that these are the bones of St. John the Baptist and not of some other person who lived in the first century?' "

Popkonstantinov, meanwhile, said further tests would be done on the reliquary and its contents to establish their age, whether the fragments belong to one or more bodies and whether they are male or female.

But he conceded his case for the relics mixed fact with hypothesis: "As far as I know there is no database with DNA profiles of the saints. Here, I believe, the science stops. Since we cannot prove the attribution of any of the relics with scientific methods, we have to be tolerant of those who want to believe that they are."

Andreas Andreopoulos, director of the Centre for Orthodox Studies at the University of Wales Lampeter, said the question of any relic's origins was more a matter of faith than historical methodology.

"The Orthodox Church has been a little cavalier about the historicity of certain relics in the sense that there was never a strong sense of saying, 'Let's make sure this relic is absolutely 150 percent what it's claimed to be,' " he said.

15 Weird and Wonderful Religious Relics

I'm fascinated by religious relics. They appear in a number of my thrillers because they hold so much meaning for believers, and many of them are really strange.

Relics are sometimes used to give to weight to political posturing and they’re sometimes pressed into service for more nefarious reasons … So maybe, just maybe, they hold a lot of their own power too.

But there’s no denying that some relics are just bizarre.

From dried blood to severed heads, mummified hands and even preserved footprints, here are 15 of the weirdest and most wonderful religious relics around the world!

1. The Turin Shroud, Turin

Believed to be the burial shroud of Jesus, this linen cloth bears the image of a man – apparently that of Christ himself. While radiocarbon dating places it in the medieval period, many believe the image is far more detailed when viewed as a negative. Conspiracy theorists consider that such an image would be difficult to forge in the medieval era.

The Shroud even has its own website, which describes it as ‘the single most studied artifact in human history.' But the Shroud is incredibly delicate, so it won’t be shown again until 2025.

2. The body of St Francis Xavier, Goa

Francis Xavier was a 16th century Roman Catholic missionary in Goa, India. He also worked in Japan and China, among others, but he’s most famous for his work in India. Most of his body is on display at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India. You’ll find him in a glass container and he’s been in there since 1637.

His right forearm was detached in 1614 and is now at the Jesuit church in Rome, Il Gesù. Another arm bone, the humerus, is in Macau, having been kept there for safety instead of going on to Japan.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, and indeed the Saint's body, appear in my ARKANE thriller, Destroyer of Worlds, as Morgan and Jake race to stop an ancient weapon being unleashed.

3. The Buddha's Tooth, Kandy

A left canine was allegedly taken from the Buddha's funeral pyre in 543BC. According to legend, only the tooth remained following his cremation. It's currently housed at the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

Wars have been fought over it since whoever possesses the tooth has the right to rule the island. It's only displayed on special occasions, but it's said to perform miracles whenever anyone threatens to destroy it.

4. Muhammad's Footprint, Istanbul

The Topkapi Palace in Istanbul houses a number of Muhammad's relics. They include a signed letter, a sword and bow, his footprint and hair from his beard. According to legend, his beard was shaved after his death by his favorite barber.

His footprint allegedly made a lasting impression wherever he went and prints are displayed all over the Middle East. Some remain in situ, but the Istanbul print is preserved in the museum.

5. The Holy Right Hand, Budapest

The Holy Right Hand is thought to have belonged to King Stephen, the first Hungarian King, who died in 1038.

His death provoked unrest and his followers worried that his body might be desecrated. When he was exhumed, they discovered his right arm was perfectly preserved.

His arm was added to the Basilica's Treasury. It was stolen and kept in Romania for a while, though it’s now back in the Basilica of St. Stephen in Budapest.

A chronicler noted that while it was in Romania, the hand wore St Stephen's ring. The Holy Right Hand on display doesn't wear one and doesn't look like it's ever worn one. Some wonder how genuine the Holy Right Hand actually is …

In my political thriller One Day in Budapest, the Holy Right is stolen and a right-wing faction move against the Jews of the city, as they did in the dark days of the Second World War. The right is rising …

6. Mary's Holy Belt, Prato

Most religious relics seem to take the form of body parts, but the Virgin Mary left her belt behind instead. Her handwoven belt is kept in a silver reliquary in Prato Cathedral. The arrival of the relic allowed the Cathedral to add a transept and a new chapel.

According to legend, she gave the belt to the apostle Thomas before she ascended to Heaven. That’s Doubting Thomas – and the Virgin allegedly gave him her belt as physical proof of her ascension. The belt, known as Sacra Cintola, is displayed five times a year in the chapel built especially to house it. In centuries gone by, it was venerated by pregnant women.

7. St Catherine's Head (and thumb), Siena

One of Italy's two patron saints (along with Francis of Assisi), St Catherine died in 1380 at the age of 33. But she died in Rome. When the people of Siena requested her body for burial, the request was denied. A group of her followers decided to exhume her anyway to return her to Siena. According to legend, she was decapitated because they couldn’t conceal her entire corpse.

When the body snatchers were apprehended, guards found only rose petals inside their bag. The guards let them go, and St Catherine’s followers returned to Siena. The rose petals turned back into her head and it is is now displayed at San Domenico Basilica. Her head remained in Siena, but three of her fingers and a foot went to Italy, a rib went to Florence, and her hand and shoulder blade went to Rome.

8. St Antoninus' body, Florence

St Antoninus was a popular priest in Florence, getting by with only the bare essentials of life. He was so popular that Pope Eugene IV wanted to make him an Archbishop, and he threatened to excommunicate Antoninus when he declined the offer.

St Antoninus died in 1459 but his body wasn't immediately embalmed as it should have been. Left to the elements for eight days, his body didn't decompose. His followers took this as a sign of his incorruption, so he was placed in a glass coffin to display his divinity. You can see his corpse at the Church of San Marco.

9. Shrine of the Three Kings, Cologne

The bones of the Three Wise Men apparently rest in the ornate gold-plated sarcophagus inside Cologne Cathedral. According to legend, their remains originally lay in Constantinople, before being taken to Milan, then Cologne in 1164. The shrine is the largest reliquary in the western world. Some of the images on the shrine depict the dawn of time, as well as the Last Judgment.

It was damaged when it was hidden in 1794 to keep it from French revolutionary troops, but it was largely restored during the 1960s. Cologne is so proud to house the Three Magi that there are even three crowns on the city’s coat of arms.

10. The cloak of Muhammad, Kandahar

This is more of a powerful religious relic than a weird one. The Kerqa, believed to have been worn by Muhammad, is kept at the Shrine of the Cloak in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Some tales say the cloak was used to solidify a political treaty in 1768.

Others say that Ahmad Shah saw the cloak in Bukhara. Its keepers wouldn't let him borrow it, so he had a rock planted near by. Ahmad Shah told them he would never take the cloak far from the rock…then promptly took both the rock and the cloak back to Kandahar.

In more recent times, Mullah Omar, the then-leader of the Taliban, wore it in front of his followers. But the cloak hasn't been seen in public since 1996.

11. The Blood of San Gennaro, Naples

St Gennaro was beheaded by Emperor Diocletian in 4th century. His dried blood is presented to local residents and pilgrims at Naples Cathedral on September 19, December 16 and the first Sunday in May. They wait for the blood to liquefy, making this a grisly religious relic.

As the patron saint of Naples, the liquefaction of his blood is thought to signify a miracle and protects Naples from disaster. In 1527, it failed to liquefy and Naples suffered an outbreak of plague. In 1980, they were struck by an earthquake. The relic was even venerated by Pope Francis in March 2015.

12. The Heart of St Camillus

St Camillus started out life as a soldier and a gambler. He later repented and devoted his life to caring for the sick. After being denied entry to the Capuchin order thanks to a leg injury, he established the Order of Clerics Regular, Ministers to the Sick. They specialised in assisting injured soldiers on the battlefield. A large red cross was a symbol of the Order – centuries before the Red Cross was formed.

Many were so struck by his charity that they thought it must have left an imprint on his heart. So after he died, his heart was removed and preserved with salt. This religious relic is definitely more weird than wonderful. It’s now kept in a gold and glass container and it even went on tour. It visited Thailand, Ireland and the Phillippines.

13. The hand of St Teresa de Avila, Ronda

St Teresa de Avila reformed the Carmelite Order, and after she died, her remains were found to be incorrupt. Her left hand became a relic, but it was seized by General Franco in 1937. St Teresa had once been a contender for Spain’s national saint, and Franco used her during the Spanish Civil War as an ideal of traditional Spain.

According to legend, he kept the hand by his bedside until he died in 1975 – allegedly while holding the mummified hand. It now rests at the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced in Ronda, Andalusia.

14. The Holy Foreskin, currently missing

Yes, it really is as weird as it sounds. As many as 18 different churches have laid claim to having the skin from the infant Jesus's circumcised penis since the Middle Ages. St Catherine of Siena even claimed to wear an invisible foreskin as a ring.

But the most notorious Holy Foreskin was kept in the town of Calcata, near Rome, until it disappeared in 1983. Its whereabouts are still unknown.

15. The Tongue and Jaw of St Anthony, Padua

At the age of 35, St Anthony of Padua succumbed to ergot poisoning – also known as St Anthony’s Fire. He sealed himself in a small cell under a walnut tree and waited to die. He actually died on the way back to Padua where he was buried in 1231.

32 years later, his followers pried open his vault. Most of his body had turned to dust, but his tongue was strangely still fresh. Many believe this is a testament to the power of his words while alive.

St Bonaventure had St Anthony’s tongue, lower jaw and vocal chords mounted in a metal shrine. His tongue even went on a tour of UK churches in 2013.

You can visit a lot of these strange and sometimes unsettling religious relics. Just remember that they have meaning for many believers, so always be respectful. And who knows what weird experiences you might have when you see them?

5 The Funeral Garden

Egyptologists long suspected the existence of gardens for the dead. Inside ancient tombs, murals sometimes show such gardens. [6] In 2017, one was discovered at a necropolis on the Dra Abu el-Naga hill, in Luxor (ancient Thebes).

Found outside the entrance of a 4,000-year-old tomb, the garden was a neat, rectangular structure, 3 m x 2 m x half a meter high (10 ft x 6.5 ft x 1.6 ft). Inside were rows of 30 cm2 (4.65 in2) blocks. One corner bed holds a tamarisk shrub and a bowl with fruit, perhaps given as an offering. Two trees flank the garden and more probably stood at its raised center.

Additional research is needed to find out what else grew in the grid but experts believe the plants were chosen based on their connections to Egyptian religious beliefs. Possible species are sycamore, palm, and Persea trees, even lettuce since they all symbolized renewal and resurrection. The unique garden was the first time iconography was confirmed by a physical discovery, and the find could also reveal what Thebe&rsquos environment, botany, and religion entailed during a crucial time when the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt merged.

Rare religious relics found in attic of Bay du Vin home

A Saint John woman is looking for help with what may be an extraordinary discovery in her father's attic.

The two archaeological finds could be up to 500 years old.

Kelly Williston's father found what are apparently reliquaries — religious shrines containing what could be the remains of saints — in the attic of his childhood home in Bay du Vin after recently buying it back from a German family.

"He went looking in the attic, just to see what was up there," said Williston.

"There were lots of neat things and these were in a garbage bag, wrapped in Saran Wrap each and stuffed into one garbage bag."

Williston's father initially put them in his barn. He thought they were Christmas decorations.

But when Williston's mother noticed what appeared to be bones, Williston decided to take them to Saint John to find out more.

"I knew right away that there was something there," she said.

"They don't look like Made in China ornaments."

Williston initially asked some local nuns to take a look.

"They lovingly looked at them and said, 'Nuns made this,'" said Williston.

"So that was very nice to hear."

Williston also spoke with people at the New Brunswick Museum, a jeweler, a Catholic cleric and archaeologist Chelsea Colwell-Pasch.

Vatican and Interpol contacted

Colwell-Pasch said she has tried to contact the Vatican to see if they may be aware of the relics.

"A worry of ours is that these are on some sort of war crime looters list," said Colwell-Pasch.

"I've contacted Interpol as well."

The archaeologist estimates the relics are probably between 200 and 500 years old.

Williston has so far failed to find the German family who left them behind.

She says if they end up in a museum, she wants them to be on view.

She says her biggest concern is they end up in the right hands and no matter what happens, she doesn't want to profit from the find.

"I kind of have this romance that they will go back over there and some church will become well-known again, and it will bring more people."​

Definitions, concepts, and interpretative contexts

Nevertheless, it is necessary to make a preliminary attempt to identify some of the relic’s properties and characteristics. At the most basic level, a relic is a material object that relates to a particular individual and/or to events and places with which that individual was associated. Typically, it is the body or fragment of the body of a deceased person, but it can also be connected to living people who have acquired fame, recognition, and a popular following. Alongside these corporeal relics (skulls, bones, blood, teeth, hair, fingernails, and assorted lumps of flesh) are non-corporeal items that were possessed by or came into direct contact with the individual in question. These may be articles of clothing (hats, girdles, capes, smocks, shoes, and sandals) or pieces of personal property (cups, spectacles, handkerchiefs, weapons, staves, and bells). They can be printed books, written texts, letters, and scraps of paper bearing an autograph signature or graphic inscription. Or they might be rocks or stones upon which the impression of a foot, hand or limb has been left as an enduring testimony of the presence of a departed saint, martyr, deity, or secular hero.

Durability and resistance to decay are frequently defining features of the relic: in medieval Europe the incorruptibility of a corpse was regarded as a certain sign of sanctity and a seal of divine approbation. However, relics can sometimes be perishable and even edible items, as in the case of the mangoes in Maoist China discussed by Adam Chau in his essay here. A further key element is transportability and mobility: relics are objects that carry meaning over space as well as allowing it to endure in time. Consequently they are usually items small in size and scale, though the example of the Holy House of Loreto, the home of the Virgin Mary, which reputedly flew from Jerusalem in the late thirteenth century and took refuge at successive sites in Dalmatia and Italy, is an intriguing exception to this general rule. It also highlights the intricate relationship that pertains between relics and the receptacles in which they are kept. Christian reliquaries and Buddhist stupas are not always easy to distinguish from the sacred remains they enclose, not least because of the capacity of the latter to infect things with which they exist in close proximity by a form of holy contagion or radioactivity. 2 When the relics in question have been lost, destroyed, or confiscated, the containers themselves have a tendency to become surrogate foci of devotion and reverence.

A relic is ontologically different from a representation or image: it is not a mere symbol or indicator of divine presence, it is an actual physical embodiment of it, each particle encapsulating the essence of the departed person, pars pro toto , in its entirety. In practice, however, the lines dividing them have often been equally permeable. In ancient Byzantium and modern Eastern Orthodox cultures, icons function in much the same way as relics, while within the western Christian tradition pictures and statues that bleed, sweat, or shed tears exemplify the ease with which images can make the transition from signifier to sacred object in their own right. 3 The ambiguities surrounding the status of Veronica’s veil are no less revealing. And while uniqueness may be regarded as an essential attribute of this species of hallowed item, throughout history relics have been the subject of processes of forgery, fabrication, and reproduction that do not necessarily serve to demystify them in the eyes of believers. Medieval churchmen, for instance, reconciled the existence of multiple heads of John the Baptist and an improbably vast forest of splinters of the True Cross by means of an ingenious theory of self-generation that took inspiration from the gospel story of the handful of loaves and fishes that miraculously fed the five thousand. 4 Reproductive technologies such as printing and photography undoubtedly diminish the aura surrounding such objects and the familiarity they create can breed contempt, but the modern distinction between original and copy is arguably anachronistic in reference to earlier centuries ‘before the era of art’. 5 In this sense, it is unhelpful to situate relics and replicas, sacred objects and imitative artefacts, in sharp opposition. The interface between them is both unstable and frequently breached.

Relics may also be defined as material manifestations of the act of remembrance. They sublimate, crystallize, and perpetuate memory in the guise of physical remains, linking the past and present in a concrete and palpable way. In the words of Annabel Wharton, they are ‘remnant[s] of a history that is threatened by forgetting’: they ‘postpone oblivion’ and evoke ‘an absent whole’. 6 A kind of umbilical cord that connects the living and the celebrated dead, they carry messages from beyond the grave and provide a mnemonic ligature to a world that has been lost. Vestiges, fossils, and (literally in Latin) ‘leftovers’ of individuals, traditions, and cultures that are in danger of disintegration and extinction, relics cannot always be neatly distinguished from souvenirs, mementos, and antiquities. Like them, they serve as reminders and memorials and create senses of belonging and identity. Some societies, in fact, collapse them together completely, and use the words more or less interchangeably. The shifting and porous membrane between relics and these cognate concepts further complicates the task of pinpointing their meaning and writing their history.

Relics do, however, have one compelling feature that marks them out from other kinds of material object, and that is their capacity to operate as a locus and conduit of power. This power can take various forms. It can be supernatural, salvific, apotropaic, and magical: religious relics within the Christian, Buddhist, and Islamic systems are often conceived of as ‘a potentially wonder-working bridge between the mundane and the divine’, physical and metaphysical realms. 7 They channel redemptive and intercessory forces and are vehicles of grace, blessing, and baraka in the guise of miracles of healing or inner enlightenment. They operate as ‘spiritual electrodes’ that transmit waves of sacred energy into the sphere of the terrestrial and temporal. Technically, theologians may insist that they do this though the intervention of a transcendent deity, but in the minds of the faithful the holy is often believed to be immanent in them. 8 Unlike sacramentals or amulets, they are not invested with divine power through human rituals of liturgical consecration or spells: rather their capacity to tap and focus it is inherent in them. Once again, though, these distinctions sometimes break down in practice, nowhere more so than in the case of the transubstantiated host of the Eucharist, which came to be regarded in the medieval period as a special type of relic itself. 9 Where some see the possession of supernatural virtue as a sine qua non , 10 others are inclined to adopt a wider definition that recognizes the capacity of relics to contain and unleash charismatic power in a broader, Weberian sense: to arouse awe and enthusiasm, to foster emotion and loyalty, and to galvanize people to take dynamic action to transform their everyday lives. More inclusively still, though perhaps at the risk of diluting some of its distinctiveness, one might classify the relic as an object that has an autonomous ability to prompt an intense human response.

This brings us to the important point that material remains have no intrinsic status as relics. The former become the latter as a consequence of the beliefs and practices that accumulate around them. They are the products and confections of the cultures that engender and reverence them. The making of them is both a social and a cognitive process. Outside the cultural matrix and environment within which they were created, they are inert and lifeless objects devoid of significance and worth. As Patrick Geary has remarked, ‘the bare relic—a bone or a bit of dust—carries no fixed code or sign of its meaning’: divorced from a specific milieu it is unintelligible and incomprehensible. 11 What one society or religious tradition designates and venerates as a relic is liable to be dismissed by another as distasteful and dirty bodily waste or the useless detritus of daily existence. Alternatively, it may carry a range of other connotations dependent on the perspective of the viewer: as John Strong shows in his essay, the tooth captured and destroyed by the Portuguese viceroy in Goa in 1561 as a devilish idol and crafty ivory fake was polyvalent: interpreted by Buddhists as a remnant of the founder of their religion and by Muslims as a vestige of Adam, according to the local Tamil people it was the molar of a divine monkey-king. The symbolic and semiotic value of such objects is a reflection of the subjectivity of the society that honours and prizes them. The manner in which relics are discovered, identified, preserved, displayed, and used by particular communities is thus singularly revealing about the attitudes and assumptions that structure their outlook. ‘Relichood’, as Paul Gillingham comments below, ‘lies in the eye of the beholder’. 12

For all their potential to illuminate large questions of this kind, relics have, until recently, failed to attract much in the way of serious and sophisticated scholarly attention. 13 Earlier work on this subject was generally written from within the confines of individual religious traditions: an extension of Catholic hagiographical tradition, it often consisted of a celebratory description and antiquarian inventory of holy items, with sometimes little in the way of critical analysis. 14 Scholars of a Protestant disposition, by contrast, treated relics as an embarrassing manifestation of irrationality and superstition, an unedifying reflection of the conjunction between blind faith and amazing credulity, fervour, and greed, that blighted pre-modern civilization. Echoing vehement critics of relics from Guibert of Nogent and Desiderius Erasmus to Jean Calvin and Voltaire, the self-congratulatory tone they adopted betrayed the conviction that the cult of relics (as of saints in general) was primarily a phenomenon of the illiterate masses. 15 Mixing humour with a lingering strain of bigotry, it relegated Christian relics to the margins of academic history. Somewhere between these two poles lies a host of popular accounts of relics and related mysteries like miracles, visions, weeping icons, and stigmata, in which sensationalism and scepticism coexist in an uneasy mixture. 16 Interestingly, a similar set of influences has distorted the study of their Buddhist counterparts. The historiography of this subject has likewise been afflicted by a tendency to regard them as evidence of a ‘primitive’ or archaic mentality at odds with the true philosophical spirit of this religion, as a concession to the devotional needs of an ignorant plebeian majority. Evident in the writings of Asian apologists as well as western scholars, the Protestant and indeed orientalist bias of much Buddhology has likewise served to inhibit the emergence of new approaches and insights. 17 These instincts and prejudices have arguably lingered even longer in the field of Islamic studies, where they have conspired with the relative paucity of Muslim relics to minimize investigation of this category of religious object for much of the twentieth century. 18

The renewal of interest in relics that has emerged within the last thirty years and is now on the cusp of reaching maturity may be attributed in large part to the cross-fertilization of theology and ecclesiastical history with the disciplines of religious sociology and cultural anthropology. Medievalists have been at the forefront of these trends, the readiest to embrace these methodological tools and use them to cast fresh light on one of the most conspicuous features of the religious culture of that era. But scholars of other periods and faith traditions have begun to follow the lead of pioneers like Patrick Geary and Peter Brown and subject relics to deeper and more detailed scrutiny. 19

Several other intellectual and theoretical developments that have served to raise the visibility of relics and to inspire this Past and Present Supplement may be identified. One of these is a burgeoning awareness of the capacity of material culture of all kinds to enhance our knowledge of the societies that manufacture and modify it in its various guises. Historians have been much slower than practitioners of object-based disciplines like archaeology, art history, and museum studies to recognize the benefits of tracing the ‘cultural biographies’ and ‘social lives’ of physical things. But there are now plentiful signs that they are starting to exploit objects as a source for understanding the beliefs and motivations of the men and women who imbued them with form and meaning. They are becoming increasingly adept at unlocking the logic and grammar of the human and social relationships that such items express and mediate, and which, moreover, they create as active agents. The study of relics is but one of several subsets of a branch of anthropological and historical enquiry that is seeking new points of entry and ‘routes to past experience’. 20

A second and closely related frame of reference is the growing industry that is the history of the human body. Predicated on the productive idea that the body is not just a biological entity but also a carefully crafted artefact, a large corpus of literature dedicated to exploring the conjunctions between corporeality and cultural identity has developed. While the focus of many of these endeavours has been gender and sexuality, other dimensions of this nexus have not been entirely neglected. Caroline Walker Bynum’s remarkable explorations of the body as a locus for the sacred and as an integral element of notions of personhood have greatly illuminated medieval attitudes towards human remains and their fragmentation. 21 Historians and archaeologists of death have also taught us to read bodies as products of the myriad practices in which they are enveloped. Approaching mortuary customs like burial, cremation, and mummification as strategies for perpetuating the physical presence of the dead in the world of the living, they have explored what the treatment and disposal of corpses reveals about how particular communities conceptualize the connection between the invisible soul and carnal flesh, and between earthly existence and the realm of the afterlife. They have shown that the propensity of different cultures to revere relics is related in direct but complex ways to these assumptions. Transformed by the funerary rituals carried out by mourners, cadavers and skeletons supply striking insight into how the body functions as a metaphor and synecdoche of the central values of a given society. 22

A further strand of scholarly activity that provides a context for this collection of essays is the current surge of work in the field of memory studies. Investigation of the processes by which we remember and forget the pasts we have inherited has naturally directed attention towards the manner in which material objects act as mnemonic triggers and pegs. Readily assimilated into Pierre Nora’s model of lieux de mémoire , relics and human remains are concrete sites and entities around which people weave legends and invent traditions that supply them with a sense of legitimacy, authority, and longevity. They are instruments and vehicles of the creation and circulation of what James Fentress and Chris Wickham have called social memory. 23 Precipitants of division and conflict as well as agents of consensus and unity, they play a key part in forging the competing notions of history and identity that have been the focus of much recent analysis by students of the wars, revolutions and atrocities of the twentieth century, as well as of medieval and early modern moments of disjuncture, violence, reformation, and rupture. 24

Building on the fruits of these converging strands of research and drawing out key themes from the fourteen essays that follow, the remainder of this introduction is organized under three umbrella headings. The first is the link between relics and religion the second is the politics of human remains and sacred objects and the third the various social and cultural practices associated with their acquisition, accumulation, curation, and display.


The use of reliquaries became an important part of Christian practices from at least the 4th century, initially in the Eastern Churches, which adopted the practice of moving and dividing the bodies of saints much earlier than the West, probably in part because the new capital of Constantinople, unlike Rome, lacked buried saints. Relics are venerated in the Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and some Anglican Churches. Reliquaries provide a means of protecting and displaying relics. While frequently taking the form of caskets, [5] they range in size from simple pendants or rings to very elaborate ossuaries.

Since the relics themselves were considered "more valuable than precious stones and more to be esteemed than gold", [6] it was only appropriate that they be enshrined in containers crafted of or covered with gold, silver, gems, and enamel. [5] Ivory was widely used in the Middle Ages for reliquaries its pure white color an indication of the holy status of its contents. [7] These objects constituted a major form of artistic production across Europe and Byzantium throughout the Middle Ages.

Many were designed with portability in mind, often being exhibited in public or carried in procession on the saint's feast day or on other holy days. Pilgrimages often centered on the veneration of relics. The faithful often venerate relics by bowing before the reliquary or kissing it. Those churches which observe the veneration of relics make a clear distinction between the honor given to the saints and the worship that is due to God alone (see Second Council of Nicea). The feretrum was a medieval form of reliquary or shrine containing the sacred effigies and relics of a saint.

Perhaps the most magnificent example is that known as the Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral. After the storming of Milan in 1162 the supposed relics of the Magi were carried off and brought to Cologne, where a magnificent silver casket, nearly 6 feet long, and 4.5 feet high was constructed for them. This superb piece of silversmith's work resembles in outward form a church with a nave and two aisles. [8]

In the late Middle Ages the craze for relics, many now known to be fraudulent, became extreme, and was criticized by many otherwise conventional churchmen.

Sixteenth-century reformers such as Martin Luther opposed the use of relics since many had no proof of historic authenticity, and they objected to the cult of saints. Many reliquaries, particularly in northern Europe, were destroyed by Calvinists or Calvinist sympathizers during the Reformation, being melted down or pulled apart to recover precious metals and gems. Nonetheless, the use and manufacture of reliquaries continues to this day, especially in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian countries. Post-Reformation reliquaries have tended to take the form of glass-sided caskets to display relics such as the bodies of saints.

Forms Edit

The earliest reliquaries were essentially boxes, either simply box-shaped or based on an architectural design, taking the form of a model of a church with a pitched roof. These latter are known by the French term chasse, and typical examples from the 12th to 14th century have wooden frameworks with gilt-copper plaques nailed on, decorated in champlevé enamel. Limoges was the largest centre of production NB the English usage differs from that of the French châsse, which denotes large size rather than shape.

Relics of the True Cross became very popular from the 9th century onwards and were housed in magnificent gold and silver cross-shaped reliquaries, decorated with enamels and precious stones. From about the end of the 10th century, reliquaries in the shape of the relics they housed also became popular hence, for instance, the skull of Pope Alexander I was housed in a head-shaped reliquary. Similarly, the bones of saints were often housed in reliquaries that recalled the shape of the original body part, such as an arm or a foot.

Many Eastern Orthodox reliquaries housing tiny pieces of relics have circular or cylindrical slots in which small disks of wax-mastic are placed, in which the actual relic is embedded. [9]

A philatory is a transparent reliquary designed to contain and exhibit the bones and relics of saints. This style of reliquary has a viewing portal by which to view the relic contained inside.

During the later Middle Ages, the monstrance form, mostly used for consecrated hosts, was sometimes used for reliquaries. These housed the relic in a rock crystal or glass capsule mounted on a column above a base, enabling the relic to be displayed to the faithful. Reliquaries in the form of large pieces of metalwork jewellery also appeared around this time, housing tiny relics such as pieces of the Holy Thorn, notably the Holy Thorn Reliquary now in the British Museum.

Relics in Scripture

Keep in mind what the Church says about relics. It doesn’t say there is some magical power in them. There is nothing in the relic itself, whether a bone of the apostle Peter or water from Lourdes, that has any curative ability. The Church just says that relics may be the occasion of God’s miracles, and in this the Church follows Scripture.

The use of the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life: “So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet” (2 Kgs. 13:20-21). This is an unequivocal biblical example of a miracle being performed by God through contact with the relics of a saint!

Similar are the cases of the woman cured of a hemorrhage by touching the hem of Christ’s cloak (Matt. 9:20-22) and the sick who were healed when Peter’s shadow passed over them (Acts 5:14-16). “And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).

If these aren’t examples of the use of relics, what are? In the case of Elisha, a Lazarus-like return from the dead was brought about through the prophet’s bones. In the New Testament cases, physical things (the cloak, the shadow, handkerchiefs and aprons) were used to effect cures. There is a perfect congruity between present-day Catholic practice and ancient practice. If you reject all Catholic relics today as frauds, you should also reject these biblical accounts as frauds.

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Watch the video: Top 6 Impossible Biblical Artifacts Ever Discovered. (May 2022).