January 27, 2020

Relishing Relics

A short post about bones, or, Bring Me the Head of John the Baptist.

To borrow a quote from Chesterton contrasting the suicide and the martyr, and the attitude of Christianity to both,

 The Christian feeling was furiously for one and furiously against the other: these two things that looked so much alike were at opposite ends of heaven and hell. One man flung away his life; he was so good that his dry bones could heal cities in pestilence. Another man flung away life; he was so bad that his bones would pollute his brethren’s. I am not saying this fierceness was right; but why was it so fierce? (Orthodoxy, Chapter V, ‘The Flag of the World’, emphasis mine.)

This is a look at why dry bones were and are considered to have a virtue in them that could benefit us (and I’m speaking of virtue both in the conventionally understood sense and the older sense, as when my granny told us ‘there’s great virtue in seawater’ for healing cuts and sores so we should go down and wash any injuries in the sea).

What exactly are relics?  You may be interested to know that the Catholic Church classifies them by three kinds:

  1. First-Class Relics: Items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, skull, a limb, etc.)
  2. Second-Class Relics: An item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, rosary, book and so on.
  3. Third-Class Relics: Any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth, but you can touch anything (a rosary beads, a holy picture, and so on) to the first- or second-class relic (and that includes graves and tombs, which is why, for instance, there are customs of taking away clay or pebbles from a saint’s grave for healing or other uses).

Let’s get the lyin’, cheatin’ and stealin’ over with before we move on to the edifyin’.  Yes, there were and probably still are a lot of fraudulent relics out there, but it’s too simplistic to dismiss them all as power-crazed clerics inventing fake miracles to enveigle the credulous peasantry and keep them under their thumb for profit and status.  An example of this is one that regularly comes up; the liquefying blood of St. Januarius.  Briefly, Januarius was a 3rd century bishop of Naples supposed to have been martyred during the persecution of Diocletian.  An alleged sample of his blood is kept in a glass ampoule in the cathedral of Naples, where it is brought out for veneration three times a year and undergoes a miraculous liquefaction.  His relics are particularly honoured against eruptions of Mount Vesuvius.  Scientists and skeptics (the ones who like to spell “sceptic” with a “k” not a “c” to prove how hard-core they are) attribute this to a mediaeval fraud.

Ever heard the term “thixotropic”?  It’s why you have to shake the tomato ketchup bottle before the contents will come out.  Very simplistically, it’s how a solid(ish) material can become liquid(ish) and flow – and because the bishop tilts and moves the reliquary holding the blood, that is seen as evidence of “thixotropic flow”.  The alternate explanation can be found here, where an experiment to replicate the alleged blood was done

Their view? It’s scientifically reproducible, which means it isn’t a miracle, and is probably a fraud:

Today, a large percentage of the world’s population believes that through transubstantiation, bread and wine physically change into the body and blood of the Son of God. Is it not possible that 650 years ago a Neapolitan cleric/alchemist, who might regularly pray to his patron saint, Januarius, accidentally discovered the thixotropic properties of the mixture of molysite and limestone? Might he not believe that the material had taken on the form of the blood of his patron saint? Better to present his discovery as the finding of Januarius’s blood and receive acclaim, then present it as the result of an alchemical procedure and receive “no mercy” from Pope John XXII! Furthermore, in 1389, the Duomo of Naples was being built up and many artists from all over Italy were present. The king was then Robert of Anjou, described as an extremely religious person, and a “holy blood relic” was certain to please him.

And you know what?  That’s fine.  Unless the phial is opened and the contents examined (which is unlikely, but not due to fear by the clergy that their hoax will be revealed – sorry, conspiracy theorists! – but more to religious sentiment regarding desecration of a relic) nobody can say for sure one way or the other.  It may have been a 13th century fraud (deliberate), it may have been a pious hoax, it may be an honest mistake, it may be the real blood of a martyr.  You may be astounded, shocked and surprised to the point of your hair turning white to find out that the Catholic Church does not demand belief in the reality of relics – nope, not even the Shroud of Turin (which is a whole cottage industry on its own) or the Veronica or the Mandylion.  If some experiment in the morning proved that the Shroud was indeed a 14th century fake, this does not mean that every Christian in the world would have to say “That proves the Resurrection never happened!” and have to rip up their Bibles.  We don’t believe it because we have ‘proof’ in the form of the Shroud; the Shroud is venerated because (a) we believe in the Resurrection beforehand (b) it can be taken as an image of the Crucified Body of Christ, just like all those crucifixes in churches and paintings and hanging around people’s necks, which we use as a symbol and as a focus for prayer.

For myself, the rationalisation of the skeptic (some anonymous alchemist stumbled upon this reaction in an experiment and took it as a divine sign and decided to make fake martyr’s blood and present it to a notably devout King – who we must take, simply on the grounds that he was devout, as being a credulous idiot and not someone who managed to hang on to a throne in a time and place where politics was hot and bloody and therefore by necessity had to have a brain in his head – for the new cathedral, all done in the best possible taste and who also managed to invent a process that would work for six hundred years while he was at it) is just as much an article of his faith as the Neapolitan peasant who looks to the relic as an omen of the coming year.

That’s not to say that every relic should be considered the real deal; Chaucer’s Pardoner is an example of how they knew, back in the 14th century, that there were frauds and cheats going around:

First I pronounce where I come from, and then I show my bulls, one and all, but first the seal of our liege lord the king on my patent. I show that first to secure my body, lest any man, priest, or clerk would be so bold as to disturb me in Christ’s holy labors. After that I then proceed with my tales, and show bulls of popes and cardinals and patriarchs and bishops, and I speak a few words in Latin to give a flavor to my preaching and to stir men to devotion. Then I show forth my long glass cases, crammed full of cloths and bones: all the people believe that they are holy relics. I have a shoulder-bone set in brass which came from a holy Jew’s sheep.

Apart from deliberate fraud, there was a fierce spirit of emulation, when churches competed with one another as to which had the best and biggest collection of relics, which meant that we get such examples as the three (at least) heads of John the Baptist, as recounted in this Wikipedia article; after the desecration of his shrine by Julian the Apostate, the remaining relics were scattered and several places laid claim to having the ‘real’ head:

John’s skull it is located at Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt, at Gandzasar Monastery’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in Nagorno Karabakh, the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus and San Silvestro in Capite in Rome, and the Residenz Museum in Munich, Germany, (official residence of the Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria from 1385 to 1918). Further heads, no longer available, were once held by the Knights Templar, Amiens Cathedral in France (brought home by Wallon de Sarton from the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople), Antioch in Turkey (fate uncertain), and the parish church at Tenterden in Kent, where it was preserved up until the Reformation.

Such competition (what Ellis Peters called in the title of one of her Brother Cadfael mysteries, “A Morbid Taste for Bones”) led to things like the Venetians stealing Santa Claus’s body from Myra in Turkey (or rather, what was left after an expedition from Bari got there first).

You may also have heard or read some form of the jeer about the relics of the True Cross, along the lines that if gathered together, these alleged relics would make forty crosses or a ship or the likes.  It seems to have its origin with Jean Calvin who made the comment in his “Traité Des Reliques” that there were enough pieces of the True Cross to build a ship, though it has lost no popularity to this day not alone with Protestants but free-thinkers, materialists, skeptics and atheists of all stripes.  Well, we can thank an obsessive Frenchman for a rebuttal of this mockery; Charles Rohault de Fleury, an architect who devoted himself in later years to religious archaeology, and in 1870 published a book (“Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion”) on the fruits of his labours tracking down all authenticated relics of the True Cross, estimating the volume of a cross likely used in the execution of criminals by the Romans, and totting up the sizes of all the relics for comparison.  He came up with a result that the claimed relics came to a weight of under 2 kilograms, which isn’t enough to make any kind of a boat, really.  From the “Catholic Encylopedia” of 1913:

The work of Rohault de Fleury, “Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion” (Paris, 1870), deserves more prolonged attention; its author has sought out with great care and learning all the relics of the True Cross, drawn up a catalogue of them, and, thanks to this labour, he has succeeded in showing that, in spite of what various Protestant or Rationalistic authors have pretended, the fragments of the Cross brought together again would not only not “be comparable in bulk to a battleship”, but would not reach one-third that of a cross which has been supposed to have been three or four metres in height, with transverse branch of two metres, proportions not at all abnormal (op. cit., 97-179). Here is the calculation of this savant: Supposing the Cross to have been of pine-wood, as is believed by the savants who have made a special study of the subject, and giving it a weight of about seventy-five kilograms, we find that the volume of this cross was 178,000,000 cubic millimetres. Now the total known volume of the True Cross, according to the finding of M. Rohault de Fleury, amounts to above 4,000,000 cubic millimetres, allowing the missing part to be as big as we will, the lost parts or the parts the existence of which has been overlooked, we still find ourselves far short of 178,000,000 cubic millimetres, which should make up the True Cross.

I’ve seen a relic of the True Cross (alleged); it’s in Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary (a restored Cistercian monastery and church which had a relic of the True Cross from the 13th century but which was destroyed in the 17th century after Cromwell; the relic currently there was presented in 1977 by the Vatican upon its restoration) and it’s more a splinter than a huge chunk of wood.  If the other relics are on the same scale, then we’re definitely not talking “enough pieces to make a ship.”

There are even “relics” of very dubious provenance.  Yes, the (in)famous Holy Prepuce, which yes, is exactly what the name implies and if you want to know more, you’ll have to look it up yourself here.

Apparently, there was one contender which survived up to 1983 when thieves supposedly made off with it.  Further comment is superfluous.

It would seem to be human nature that we can’t resist “improving” upon things, such as the tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  There is some insistence that this image is not miraculous but was painted by a native painter; it is certain that there were some embellishments made (e.g. the figure of the angel, the golden rays, the stars on her cloak, other elements added and removed).  On the other hand, this is well within the tradition of the “icons not made by hands” (acheiropoieta) in Orthodoxy.  However, since there is room for honest error and the effects of enthusiasm as well as fraud and deceit when dealing with relics from the early ages of the church, this is why you’re on safer ground with relics from a more modern era, where they can be historically verified.  Like the head of St. Catherine of Siena, smuggled out of Rome by the Siennese in 1380 when the Romans wouldn’t give back her body to be buried in her home town.

Or the head of St. Oliver Plunkett, 17th century Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All-Ireland, hanged, drawn and quartered in England for treason as part of the fallout from Titus Oates’ “Horrid Popish Plot”, now in the church at Drogheda.

Or the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (the “Little Flower” which is a sugary sentimental name for a young woman who was as tough as old boots), exhumed due to popular devotion and nearly always on tour world-wide (they’ve been to England as recently as 2009, and visited Ireland both in 2001 – where one of the places they stayed was in Mountjoy Prison – and again in 2009).

Unfortunately, we moderns are much more squeamish than our sturdy forefathers in the Faith.  When they put Padre Pio’s body on display, they had the face covered by a “a life-like silicone mask” (apparently so that he would look like his photographs, which is how the pilgrims expect him to look) which I think (a) misses the whole point of relics (b) could cause confusion with the bodies of the incorruptibles (and “incorruptible” doesn’t mean “looking as if still alive”, anyhow), if people think this is his real face and (c) panders too much to our need for prettification of death.

They did the same thing for St. Bernadette’s body (face and hands), only they had to use wax back in 1925:

A precise imprint of the face was molded so that the firm of Pierre Imans in Paris could make a wax mask based on the imprints and on some genuine photos. This was common practice for relics in France, as it was feared that the blackish tinge to the face and the sunken eyes and nose would make an unpleasant impression on the public.

Darn it, dead bodies should look like this! (Crypt of Ss. Ambrose – the bishop who baptized St. Augustine – Gervase and Protase):

Okay, we’ve had the fun, now comes the educative bit.

Early altars were built over the bones of the martyrs in catacombs; when the churches came up to the surface, the custom remained, which is why altars have relics in their bases or within the body of the altar itself (in an “altar stone”).

Now for the favorite question you’re all dying to ask: “Where is that in the Bible?”  What evidence do I have that dried-out old bones, scraps of worn-out clothing, splotches of blood on rags or other impedimenta are any good to anyone?

Well, rejoice with me, my brethren, because I can actually answer this one for once!  (Excuse me a moment while I do the Dance of Joy).

1)    2 Kings: 13-21

“And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet.”  [By Catholic ordering, these would be first-class relics.]

2)    Mark 5:25-30
“And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.  She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment.  For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”  And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?””  [Either first-class – item associated with Jesus – or second-class relics; item worn or used by the saint.]

3)    Acts 5: 14-15
“And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,  so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.”  [A shadow has to count as a third-class relic, since it can’t be said to be worn or used by the person, unless you count your shadow as part of your body, which would make it a first-class relic – but really it’s too intangible for that.]

4)    Acts 19: 11-12
“And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.”  [Second-class – item worn or used by the saint –  or Third-class relics, items touched to a first- or second-class relic, in this case cloths touched to his body.]

Okay, so God can do great things – and that’s the prime thing to remember here.  Although – like so many other things in human life – this can degenerate into superstition, there are two major points to remember: firstly, that there is no obligation on you to believe that anything whatsoever, no matter how well-attested or provenanced, is a relic, or that even if it is, that it is anything necessary to your spiritual life.  The Roman Catholic Church does not demand this of you; what she says is that relics are worthy of veneration because of their association with the saints of God and secondly, that any power, virtue or blessing comes through God.  Relics are not magic.

Think of the modern craze for zombies – and these are not your traditional Jacques Tourneur zombies, these are the new recension, who are mindless and soulless and frightening precisely because they are what should not be – the walking dead, who have no memory or thought but are driven by hunger alone to devour and destroy and convert us into what they are.  The relics – the dust and ashes and bones of the dead who fell asleep in Christ – have this power: they are not zombies, not lemurs or lares or hungry ghosts, who have to be appeased so that their malevolence at the living who have the good things of the earth will not fall upon us.  Death has been overcome when Christ defeated death by dying and rising again.

The question has been put to us:

“And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live?  And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.”

And it has been answered:

“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”

So now too, the dead are not a curse or a fear, but a blessing.  We are an incarnated religion, and this dead body is not a thing to be cast away, not even something that we are now finished and done with once we have died;  as we say in the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”  So that the bones and bits we see, that ultimate fate awaiting us all, is not the end and as a sign to this, the power of God comes through even these remnants; as Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it in his poem “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection”:

 I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and

This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,

Is immortal diamond.

To finish where I began, the contrast between the holy and the unholy dead: “One man flung away his life; he was so good that his dry bones could heal cities in pestilence” (for he that loseth his life shall save it, and not his life alone, but those of his brethren).  Or, the poem by my countryman, William Butler Yeats:

 

Oil and Blood

In tombs of gold and lapis lazuli

Bodies of holy men and women exude

Miraculous oil, odour of violet.

 

But under heavy loads of trampled clay

Lie bodies of the vampires full of blood;

Their shrouds are bloody and their lips are wet.

 

Comments

  1. The only value I see in exhibiting bones and corpses and such is in reminding us of a future date that we all have coming up on the calender.

    But that’s just me.

    • And that is the very good example which our ancestors remembered and which we have forgotten, now that we tidy up the dead and put makeup on corpses for the viewing and don’t even bother with a grave, sometimes, but turn to a neat fluffy pile of ash to be scattered on the winds (and the proposal to make ‘diamonds’ out of the ashes of the deceased, what is that but a modern trade in relics?)

      As a reminder of our mortality, that is one service relics do to us. But as I hope I brought forward, now death is a new thing, to be regarded with new eyes. No longer do the dead only peep and mutter as shades in a gloomy underworld, or require festivals of appeasement lest they bring physical misfortune on those left behind, since all ties and bonds of affection are severed by death – those who loved you are now your enemies – like the traditional vampire which attacks its family members first, or the nightmare collection of demons and spirits in Malaysian folklore (e.g. “Penanggalan is another type of female vampire attracted to the blood of new born infants, who appears as the head of a woman from which her entrails trail, used to grasp her victim. There are several stories of her origins. One is that she was a woman who was sitting meditating in a large wooden vat used for making vinegar when she was so startled that her head jumped up from her body, pulling her entrails with it. Another has her as a normal woman during the day, whose head and entrails leave her body at night. If a baby is expected, branches from the thistle, jeruju placed around the doors or windows will protect the house, since her entrails will be caught by the thorns”)

      Now the dead are blessed or the damned are powerless, for evil is always lesser than good, and now corpses are no longer pollution (Christians have no ritual period of uncleanliness to be purified from in order to resume membership in the community, including religious acts) but some can even be media of grace.

      At the very root, relics are mementoes; it started with the remains of the martyrs. The Romans (like other peoples who executed criminals and traitors – all the ballads about being hanged and left in a quicklime grave in a prison yard , or the practice of leaving bodies on the gibbets until they rotted to pieces, or the spiking of the heads of traitors on spikes over town gates – wanted to disgrace the corpses as a lesson in deterrence; the believers rescued what they could of the ashes or bones or burying places and kept them as mementoes and memorials and encouragement to others facing trials and in defiance treated the dishonoured refuse of state criminals as more precious than jewels or gold.

      Over time this came to apply to the bodies not only of the martyrs but any who died in sanctity and who – to the people – exhibited the characteristics of a saint. And we have the secular example of what you could call relics in the modern world: all the signed photographs and autographs of celebrities, the sale of clothing associated with them (e.g Marilyn Monroe), the blue plaques on houses declaring that “X slept here/was born here/wrote his great novel here”, the way we collect and cherish and put on exhibit the wooden teeth of George Washington or a letter written in Jefferson’s own hand or a suit worn by Lincoln – what are these, what are the locks of hair and baby shoes in bronze and photo albums and old teddy bears we all have in our cupboards but relics?

      • Martha, like you, I’m born in a Catholic country and precisely for this I can no longer be Catholic. However you’re a great writer. I really like your posts, although I think your talent is spent for the wrong cause 🙂

        You said:

        “As a reminder of our mortality, That Is one service relics give to us.”

        This was not one of the purposes of the relics because until recently, death has always been very present in people’s lives. There was no need to remember the death to the people. Death was everywhere. Only we in the West, very recently historically speaking , we have distanced ourselves from death, and we locked it in aseptic places.

        I have not read all the comments so I apologize if someone has already mentioned this passage, but it seems appropriate to the subject:

        ” And he [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that David his father had done. 4 He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (it was called Nehushtan). 5 He trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him. 6 For he held fast to the Lord. He did not depart from following him, but kept the commandments that the Lord commanded Moses.”
        (2 Kings 18:3-6)

        Perhaps the Catholic Church should imitate Hezekiah more often?

    • Martha, I love all that you contribute here. Thanks so much.

      The Smithsonian is our secular relic-house in the US.

      • Not to hijack the thread…did you know that the Smitsonian Of American History is having a special exhibit on September 11, 2001 for the enxt week. If you live in the DC area or plan on visiting it can be a good exhibit to see. 😉

  2. This is where sola scriptura, at least the Lutheran doctrine of it, has its application. The church’s mission is to distribute Christ’s gifts according to his instruction. Go and baptize, eat my flesh and drink my blood, teach all that I have commanded, bind and loose sins, forgive. The church disregards its mission by pointing people to things Christ did not point to. Christ gave us neither a promise nor command with regard to relics. Despite Rome’s claims, the church does not have authority to bind Christ to promises he never made. Relics, speaking in tongues, a warm feeling in my heart, prosperity, furthering Christian morality in government, etc etc.., these things provide no assurance of God’s grace and no forgiveness. These are distractions from the church’s job of pointing people to Word and Sacrament. Why isn’t that good enough?

    • Well said.

      • Not just us depraved and corrupt Romans, I’m afraid, Br. Thomas.

        Brother Branham’s prayer cloths are still going strong. He was (according to this article) “William Marrion Branham (April 6, 1909 – December 24, 1965) was a Christian minister, usually credited with founding the post World War II faith healing movement.”

        It is shocking how error creeps in everywhere!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Is this “Serpent Seed Doctrine” Branham?

          Whose take on the Trinity was One God, One Person, wearing three different masks?

          And his equally offbeat take on Eve and Original Sin?

        • Martha I agree with you on this point and I know you’ve seen my rants in the past. Protestants regardless of their flavor have their issues of brokenness and ^&%$ed up theology. Whether it be some of the mainstream worshiping lituergy or the way that fundgelicals worship mega chruches, praise & worship leaders, praise and worship music, superstar pastors (ie John Piper, CJ Mahaney, Andy Stanley, Bill Bright, etc..) or missionaries. All sides are guilty as I say this.

          The one thing that bothers me about relics is that I think for some people they became an “item” to be worshipped. And it almost kind of becomes this (forgive me for saying this…) perverse, morbid fascination with bones, dead bodies, etc.. Can’t one remember what St. Januaruious did with out having his blood? Same with St. Peter while leaving his bones buried in the grave? Is that possible? For me as an adult it seems morbid to hang on to some of this stuff. And sadly I think some of this works against Catholicism. What if some of the class 1 relics turn out not to be what they are claimed to be. Than sadly a situation is created that gives opponants fuel to further criticize the Catholic church. I remember when I was a kid what the Shroud of Turin attracted, and the confusion and shock that is wasn’t as old as claimed to be.

          Do you understand what I’m saying? When I was in elementary school at a parachoial school I thought some of this stuff was cool. But that was also when I was at the young age before puberty when I thought Friday the 13th was cool also. (Today it’s not…I can’t stand those types of movies…)

          Just some .02 (or Euros in your case…) 😉

          • Sure, Eagle, I get what you’re saying, and indeed it did degenerate into morbidity and superstition (there are instances where, when someone of unusual sanctity died who was widely regarded as a saint, the body was practically ripped to pieces by relic-hunters even before the corpse was cold).

            But I think without the bones, we forget. We are able to push our mortality aside, we are able to disassociate our faith from the mess and confusion of ordinary life, we – to be blunt – create a neat, plastic religion that can be discussed and theorised about, but that needn’t have anything to do with our ‘real’ lives (and this leads or can lead to the “I’m spiritual but not religious” mindset, where my ‘spirituality’ consists of me with a Buddha statue and some pebbles arranged in a Zen/trendy minimalist bowl from Ikea, talking about my higher self and how I’m learning to appreciate my innate fabulousness).

            Sure, maybe it would make the Catholic Church more acceptable as a peddler of ‘rational’ religion if we dumped all the messiness, but I think of it more as the Church trying to herd cats. Human impulses keep bubbling up, and if we cut this out of religion, we still have the secular equivalent – the treasured bones of the First President, or the King, or Lenin’s tomb, or Jeremy Bentham’s “Auto-Icon” (which for my money is ten times creepier than any saint’s bits I’ve seen on display).

            The Church, by setting limits, has said both “Yes, we don’t have a watchmaker God who set the whole thing going and then discreetly stepped away and doesn’t interfere; we have a God who was born in the huddle and confusion of a crowded inn during a census when people had to sleep out in the barn, the inns were so crowded. Yes, God used mud and spittle and water and bread and wine as channels of healing and grace. Yes, you can channel your sentiments of respect, affection, and desire to emulate those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith, into venerating their remains because we look forward to the resurrection of the dead. This far, however, and not any further can you go – either to deny the working of the spiritual in the material, or to make idols and talismans.”

    • Although I can understand why Luther came up with the concept of Sola Scriptura my problem is that the early church did not have this concept and that the different christian traditions are not even able to agree on what the canon of the Bible is and even Luther himself in the 16th century! wanted to remove a book or two from the NT canon, not mentioning the OT canon, so this doctrine does not appeal to me as a very solid foundation for the Christian faith anymore. (I would strongly defend it in the past myself, so I think I can understand your concerns).

      • The importance of Sola Scriptura is that it protects Christ’s teaching against human corruption or additions or subtractions. If there was good historical evidence that Christ promised blessings or forgiveness or assurance through relics (or tongues, or whatever) then we would seriously consider adding that to the canon. Practically speaking, such evidence of Christ’s teaching would have arisen long ago, and not 2000 years later, as the Apostles (or their scribes) would surely have recorded such promises, having been inspired by the Holy Spirit and trained by Christ for 3 years.

        Of course the early church had this concept of sola scriptura. They were dedicated to faithful obedience to Christ’s teaching. The early church was careful to avoid adding to Christ’s teaching, and the early fathers repeatedly say doctrine should be tested against scripture.

        The Roman objection to sola scriptura attacks a strawman. It focuses on the need for an authoritative determination of canon, but the church survived 1500 years without one, and some early Christians, as well as some contemporary Catholics agreed with Luther’s doubts about the antilegomina. The canon arose from consensus that it was accurate representation of Christ’s teaching, not an authoritative determination. There aren’t any early christian doctrines that can’t be found in Scripture, but later churches have added many doctrines that do not come from Christ’s teaching.

        As an aside, CPH is coming out with a new study bible on the Apocrypha, which I’m looking forward to. Luther’s objections to various some of the apocrypha or antilegomina were not that these books have no benefit, it was more that they shouldn’t be relied on as sources of doctrines that can’t be found in the other undisputed books, because they were of questionable origins.

        • About the Lutheran version of the Apocrypha coming out: http://lutheranwriter.blogspot.com/2010/05/apocrypha-lutheran-edition-with-notes.html

        • “It focuses on the need for an authoritative determination of canon, but the church survived 1500 years without one,”

          That’s my jaw dropped, right there. So until Marty sat himself down one day and said “Hey, guess what, guys? I’ve figured out what the Bible should be!”, we all just straggled along with whatever we felt like reading?

          News to St. Irenaeus (2nd century bishop of Gaul who argued for the four Gospel canon we have, neither more – like the Gospel of Thomas or the other Gnostic ‘Gospels’ that pop up from time to time in modern recommendations aboiut the ‘variant Christianties’ – nor fewer, like Marcion who wanted to dump all the Old Testament and vast chunks of the New for being too Jewish), St. Athanasius (of whom you may have heard, that 3rd century guy who gave a list of canonical books of the Bible in between opposing the heresy of Arianism against the Emperor and a majority of the Church who just wanted everyone to get along), St. Jerome (who spent a good chunk of the 4th century overhauling the translations of the Old Testament from Hebrew and the New Testament in Latin), Pope Damasus I (who is popularly supposed to have commissioned Jerome to translate the Vulgate – that is, the Bible in Latin, which would have been a ‘common tongue’ of the time and understandable by the ordinary laity) and various Councils of the united Church of the East and West.

        • bz — I may be misunderstanding you, but you seem to imply that the veneration of relics is a new doctrine that has only now appeared after 2000 years of history. While you may not find Martha’s biblical references convincing, nonetheless there is strong historical evidence that the collecting and veneration of relics began early in church history.

          • You are right, the church has been going off the rails since Christ’s ascension. The church is full of sinners that has constantly looked to things other than Word and Sacrament for grace and assurance. This is exactly why Sola Scriptura is needed. Hence, Paul’s need to write all those nasty letters saying rely on Christ, rely on his body and blood, don’t rely on works, don’t rely on tongues, etc.

            And notice Paul’s method. He doesn’t argue for his own infallibility as an Apostle or for the Authority of the church: he refers to Christ’s teachings for his authority. That’s sola scriptura. It means Christ’s authority alone, and the church has never disputed that Scripture is a correct exposition of Christ’s teachings.

    • And there is no binding on you or anyone to collect or venerate or ask the intercession of a relic. However, as the excerpts from Scripture that I used show, by your standards, the early Church were not Lutherans.

      All those who begged handkerchiefs of Paul for their sick – obviously not Sola Scriptura! And Paul was a false teacher, since he bowed to their demands, instead of sending tthem to the pure Gospel!

      • Paul was an Apostle who received direct inspiration and instruction from Christ. Lutherans distinguish between the Apostles and later pastors. I believe there have been miracles performed by saints and pastors, but Christ didn’t promise such powers; in fact, he taught to prepare the church for the absence of miracles and signs.

        • “Christ didn’t promise such powers; in fact, he taught to prepare the church for the absence of miracles and signs.”

          Matthew 17:20 “He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.””

          Mark 16: 17-18 “17And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

          • Christ didn’t promise those powers to all Christians at all times everywhere. The disciples certainly received the power to work miracles. But Christ also made clear such signs were not promised to all Christians and not a sufficient basis for belief. There’s a reason priests don’t tell Christians to handle snakes and drink poison.

            But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

            Luke 16:29-31

            27 Then He *said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

            John 20:27-29

    • I’ve always been confused by the assertion that there’s no basis for relics and their veneration or their wonder-working ability in the Holy Scriptures, when there so obviously (to me, at least) is. The bones of Joseph were not just carried by the Israelites, but kept with the Ark of the Covenant (once it was made) the place of the mercy seat. They were treated with high honor at the center of the focus of worship. If that’s not veneration, I’m not sure what is. We see the bones of Elisha contained wonder-working power, even raising the dead. That’s another of the traditional Christian views of reality. This world is interwoven and interlocking with what we call ‘heaven’. God is everywhere present and filling all things. And when the Spirit particularly inhabits and transforms a mortal, the matter of his being is not left unchanged. We see with Jesus that merely touching his outer garment had the power to heal. And we see in the NT that, for instance, the handkerchiefs of Paul had the power to heal and drive out demons. Peter’s shadow fell on people and healed them.

      And that thread continues unbroken in the early history of the church. The persecuted Church did not choose to worship in the catacombs simply because they were a place to hide. There were many places to hide. They worshiped among the bones of the holy martyrs of the faith.

      So it’s not something “added” by those who came after the apostles. It’s something with a deep history among the people of God long before the Incarnation of our Lord, continuing through the ministry of Jesus and the apostles, and sustained within the Church in the years following.

      Someone might not like the idea or find it ‘primitive’ or something similar. But unscriptural? Hardly. Unless you just want to dismiss those parts of the narrative that don’t fit your preconceptions.

      • There are miracles that God uses in particular times and places for his purposes, and there are miracles that God promises to all Christians. Assurance and miracles or whatever from relics were not promised to all Christians, but surely he did use them in Old Testament times and with the Apostles.

        Christ gave us baptism and communion for all Christians to find forgiveness and assurance of his Grace. These are the promises we hold Christ too. We don’t look for assurance anywhere else, because there is no promise. If I go looking for miracles, or try to find assurance in relics or pilgrammages, or speaking in tongues, or in my prosperity and works, or anywhere God hasn’t promised he will be found, I am setting myself up for despair, or falsehood.

        Ask any ex-pentacostal about speaking in tongues and faking it, and you can see the risk of looking for Christ where he hasn’t promised to be found.

        • That’s true, as far as it goes, because you are perfectly correct that those who run around seeking for signs and wonders as a kick or spice are going astray.

          Perhaps their faith is too weak and needs these props.

          But there is the equal and opposite error to fall into; the rational religion, pared down to the utmost, where the miraculous is not only unwelcome but denied not alone in our day (the implication being that God is too polite to interfere with the workings of the world in such an unruly fashion) and leading back to denial or rationalisation of the miracles of the past (so we get the ‘Jesus on an ice floe’ explanation for the walking on the water).

          Which leaves us with an ethical code and a reduction of the Gospel to the Golden Rule, itself fuzzied into “Be nice to each other”, and nothing that can stand up as well as a straw in the wind to free-thinkers who say “Well, why not go the whole hog and dump this notion of deity?”, not to mention those within Christianity who knead all the lumps out of the dough and make God a kind of warm feeling within us, an immanent not transcendent deity, or some kind of ‘god-waiting-to-be-born-out-of-humanity’ notion.

          Miracles are uncomfortable.

          • It’s not rationalization, its a pastoral concern about sending Christians off to find faith in places Christ hasn’t promised to be for them.

            If I say that a true Christian speaks in tongues, and can find assurance of salvation there, I better be dang sure that I can show that teaching comes from Christ. But Christ never promised assurance of salvation there or that every Christian could do that, so while my teaching might lead a few to discover their ability to speak in tongues, many others will fake it and find no comfort, or despair at their lack of assurance. Same with relics. There’s no promise from Christ there. While some may indeed provide miraculous healing and blessing, there’s no promise from Christ to support that.

            Besides, history is littered with charlatans abusing relics and falsely claiming gifts of healing. It’s a dangerous road to send Christians down.

            How much better to instruct Christians to look at Christ’s very words and promises about those who eat and drink his body and blood, and the benefits of that. Or the comfort of being baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. Those are miracles and signs provided for every Christian.

          • I should add, there are lots of Lutherans who personally claim to have had angels miraculously appear to help them or comfort them, or who have been miraculously healed. No Lutheran pastor will dispute it or try to convince them it’s a fiction (unless it’s associated with some claim contrary to Scripture). The church doesn’t go about connecting it to a particular prayer or relic or investigating its truth. It’s simply accepted and Christ is thanked for his blessings.

  3. Thanks for writing this and enduring what is sure to be a boatload of less-than-lovely responses! We saw many churches in Europe with relics on display…..and they were of great interest to our young sons at the time, but did not strike me personally with a case of piety or awe. The exception to ME (JMHO) is the Shroud of Turin, which fascinates and inspires me. Even if it is not real (just like the cross and corpus above the altar are not “real”) it still is a reminder of what Christ endured, although my belief in the Death and Rising of the Lord is not based on it or any other object or “proof”.

    I also had to smile at the head of John the Baptist quandry. In the heyday of Saturday Night Live (when they were actually funny!) a standard character was Father Guido Salduchy, in full cassock and Italian accent. One of his lines that went right over many a head (pun intended!) was his statement that a church in Rome in had two heads of John the Baptist…one from when he was a baby, and another from when he was a grown man…….

    • “church in Rome in had two heads of John the Baptist…one from when he was a baby, and another from when he was a grown man…….”

      That’s funny, Pattie! I did get a kick out of Father Guido Sarducci and other Saturday Night characters. I just found this story online of something Sarducci said on the show: “To be made a saint in-a the catholic church, you have to have-a four miracles. That’s-a the rules, you know. It’s-a always been that-a. Four miracles, and-a to prove it. Well, this-a Mother Seton-now they could only prove-a three miracles. But the Pope-he just waived the fourth one. He just waived it! And do you know why? It’s-a because she was American. It’s all-a politics. We got-a some Italian-a people, they got-a forty, fifty, sixty miracles to their name. They can’t-a get in just cause they say there’s already too many Italian saints, and this woman comes along with-a three lousy miracles. I understand that-a two of them was-a card tricks.”

    • I’ll say this for everyone on here, Pattie, they are lovely and courteous, even when they don’t agree or even find the weirdness repellent.

      Having had an experience or two in online flamewars (very mild by comparison by how nasty they can get), the difference is refreshing.

      For sheer ignorant name-calling and invective, I would wander over to P.Z. Myers’ “Pharyngula” blog (which is uncharitable of me, but whenever he discusses religion, his comment boxes fill up with a very nasty strain of triumphalist “atheist” who don’t address the points in question but resort to ‘you’re a big poopy-head!’ style of insult and misrepresentation.)

      • Martha-

        Sounds like you need another great Irishman to respond to some of those individuals who resort to the poopy head name calling. Patches O’Houlihan (from the Dodgeball Association) could help you out!!! Remember some nasty people are about as useful as a “poopy flavored lollypop” 😀

        (If you haven’t seen Dodgeball make sure you put that on your Netflix list…) 😉

  4. Very good timing, Martha – there’s a special exhibition of mediaeval relics and reliquaries on at the British Museum at the moment. Beautiful as well as fascinating.

  5. I like the idea that relics remind us that Christ has overcome death. That’s certainly a better thought than my instinctive, “Ewww, yuck!” response to dried feet and knucklebones and skulls and such… 😉 One can also think of it as a reminder of the cloud of witnesses, the communion of the saints, those who have gone before.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And also why you’re much more likely to find a Goth at Mass than at a tent revival.

      “Dried feet and knucklebones and skulls” have no place among Happy Clappy Joy Joy Joy Christians (with perfect two-percent-body-fat bodies and white teeth sparkling like Edward Cullen). Memento Mori clashes with Cotton Candy.

  6. Years ago, when still a baptist (Anglican now) and just b/c I was interested in history etc. I called my local RC church and asked what relics they had in the altar. (I thought they all had to have a relic I could be wrong).

    The secretary there thought I was a little crazy:) She directed me to the priest, but he didn’t answer my call and I never got back to calling him back.

    • An altar has to have a relic, either in the body of the table itself or in the base. If this was an old church, the relics would have been in the altar and nobody probably knew exactly whose relics they were (there has to be a small strip of paper with the attribution sealed in to the stone).

      Also, post-Vatican II when a lot of free-standing altars were built, some churches didn’t have any relics in the new altars (for whatever reason; there was a lot of wackiness around in the aftermath) so maybe the church you rang didn’t know if you meant had they relics on display or what.

  7. As I mentioned in an earlier thread, if any of y’all live in or near San Francisco, or visit the city, you can see the mummified body of St. John Maximovich of Shanghai and San Francisco lying under glass at Holy Virgin Cathedral. You can also obtain bottles of blessed oil that was used in the reliquary for anointing purposes.

    I don’t know about Catholic Churches, but Orthodox Churches always place a relic in the altar table (kept and used behind the iconostasis) when it’s built.

    If you’re ever in Jerusalem, the Eastern Orthodox section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has a room full of relics (body parts, etc.).

    • I guess Mary addressed my Catholic altar question re: whether RC churches have relics in their altar.

      Also, my last line in the first paragraph would better read as: “You can also obtain for anointing purposes bottles of blessed oil that was used in the reliquary.”

    • You are correct, they do put relics of saints in all Catholic altars. My parish has a chunk of St. Francis of Assisi in there.

      • More like a sliver of bone rather than a chunk, Michael, I would imagine 😉

        • Probably, but I think “a chunk of St. Francis” is a bit more exciting than “a sliver of St. Francis’s bone.”

          • That’s the attitude that led to mediaeval relic-hunting, Michael.

            “You’ve got St. Walburga’s forearm? Pfft! We have the entire skeleton of St. Florian!”

            “Florian? He’s just a hick from the sticks! WE have St. Mary Magdalene’s very own head. So there!”

          • “A sliver? Pshh. We’ve got a chunk! A veritable chunk!”

      • What do you mean by a “chunk?” 😯

        • Well, see, Eagle, you got your chunks, your lumps, your gobbets, your honkin’ great wedges… it’s all ranked and chunks outrank lumps which outrank gobbets but entire corpses outrank them all.

          😉

          • 😀

            love the lively banter, but i will remain off my soapbox when it comes to this topic…

            yet the topic of faith & what is inspirational to that individual while being totally repugnant to another part of this diverse family we happen to be part of…

            what a Mötley Crüe we are… 😉

  8. Dan Crawford says

    Come to Pittsburgh and enter St. Anthony’s Shrine on Troy Hill to view what is reputed to be one of the world’s largest collection of relics. The story behind the collection is fascinating. (http://www.saintanthonyschapel.org/) A group of parishioners from a local Anglican Church toured the Shrine several years ago, and are still talking about the experience. Moderns tend to be somewhat squeamish about body parts which explains both the fascination with zombies and vampires and the common practice of cremation. According to the morning paper, a new technology for disposing of the body is coming to a funeral home near you. Labeled a “green solution” (pun intended), the process involves immersing the body in a heated liquid which dissolves the corpse and makes it magically disappear. It may be in the future we will only have third class and fourth class relics. BTW, several well-known Protestant televangelists like to peddle “prayer clothes” that they have touched and “prayed over”. Looks like they are in the relic business too.

    • According to the morning paper, a new technology for disposing of the body is coming to a funeral home near you. Labeled a “green solution” (pun intended), the process involves immersing the body in a heated liquid which dissolves the corpse and makes it magically disappear.

      There already is a “green solution.”

      It’s called Soylent Green.

      • Charlton Heston and Edward G.Robinson….

        • Speaking as an old Hospice nurse, you can also get your ashes mixed in with a concrete-type slurry and poured into a free-form mold. When hardened, it is placed on the ocean floor as a faux-coral reef. Honestly, this was fairly popular in Florida!!! (“Hey guys…lets go snorkling today AND visit Uncle Phil”)

          • Given the choice between being churned up in a cement mixer and being installed in a glass case under an altar with silken vestments and jewel-encrusted golden adornments, which is more appealing?

            :0

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      BTW, several well-known Protestant televangelists like to peddle “prayer clothes” that they have touched and “prayed over”. Looks like they are in the relic business too.

      And don’t forget the vials of dirt from the Holy Land and little bottles of air from the Holy Land. “The Dirt Jesus Walked On”, “The same air Jesus breathed”, available for a donation of only $49.95 to Our Holy Land Bible Ministry…

      • $49.95 what a steal!!!! Do they take credit cards? 😀

        • And you’re forbidden from selling relics, which is the sin of simony. So if anyone on eBay tries to flog you the left arm of St. Tibulus, turn ’em in to the Inquisition.

    • I checked out the link that Dan Crawford posted as I live near Pittsburgh. Very interesting. I do have one question however.

      On the Saint Anthony’s webiste, under the “protocol” section, it explicitly states the following:

      “Please remember that our chapel has a Tabernacle in the Sanctuary
      If the red Sanctuary Candle is illuminated Our Lord, Jesus Christ is present in the Tabernacle”

      Jesus is always present, everywhere. What is this about? Thanks for your responses, and Martha, I continue to find your articles the most fascinating on IM.

      • …meaning consecrated hosts are in the Tabernacle (ie the body of Christ). As Catholics, if there are cosecrated hosts in the Tabernacle we genuflect upon entering the pew.

        And since you live near Pittsburgh you should satisfy your curiosity, even if you don’t buy into it (good hstorical and art there as well)…

    • [Muffled shriek] What’s not green about dumping a body in the ground and letting it actually rot? I mean without Tupperware caskets and cement vaults. A genuinely composting cemetary would as green as anyone could want.

  9. I’m not RC, but I study in a RC university that was recently privileged to have received a significant relic of St. John Baptist de la Salle (a section of the radius or ulna, if I’m not mistaken). Like many, I queued to see the relic on campus the day before its formal translation into our main chapel. Said relic is currently touring in other campuses affiliated with my university.

    Here’s a photo of the relic and its receptacle: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ln0y7qWTHy1qan6ed.jpg

  10. We all need to remember that God is not bound to our thoughts, ideas, and beliefs about what is and what isn’t “allowable” or “possible” within the realm of His Rights to Act. Or would any of us have the boldness and dare say that God must act and can only act as we see fit and as we believe. As for those that would bind God to act only according to what they see is in the Bible I invite you to ponder the last verses of the Gospel of John. ” This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” These “other things” Jesus did, and of course would have included what he said at the time, are of the same Jesus we all claim to be the One, True, and Only Savior. Should we not all have the humility to thus realize there is much more to learn about who Jesus is, and who God is, that was not recorded in the Written Word of God, and that our finite minds have no right to bind the Infinite Mind of God to our mind.

    With that being said I’d like to share something I witnessed and experienced first hand. While living in Italy there was a flood in the town where the remains of a priest were layed in the crypt of the church shrine he had had built during his lifetime. The water had flooded the church and nearly filled the crypt which was evident by the markings on the wall. Years after this happened, this priest was to be beatified. The church authorities and government were asked to allow his remains to be removed from that tomb and be moved to the upper main floor of the church. There were priests, sisters, church authorities, government representatives present as well as people in the medical and science fields. His body had been layed in a simple pine box 40 years prior to this which was put into a large cement tomb. Fears about water having penetrated the tomb during the flood were proved to have been true when the tomb was opened. The initial stench was horrid. When they proceeded to lift the pine casket there was certain hesitation about what would be found given the years submerged in water. Again there was a putrid stench when the cover was removed. What they saw, was the body of this priest completely in tact as though he had just recently been burried. When his body was removed the room filled with a beautiful smell of flowers. The stench was no longer present. There was not one person present who didn’t experience this.

    His body was layed in a glass tomb for people to venerate. Even the hairs on his ears, head were still there. His facial expression had been somewhat of a contented smile which showed his teeth. He looked just like the photos of 40 years ago. A few weeks after this there started to develop a copper like color on his skin. His body had not been embalmed in any way so there was concern that having been in the open air it was beginning to decay. The bottom was moved to Rome and a group of top scientists and medical professionals were brought together to see if there was something to be done to preserve the body. Please note, there were atheists and Jewish members in this group. What mattered was they were specialists not their faith.

    This will seem quite absurd to our western mind, but they proceeded with removing his organs to try to keep the decay from continuing. I remember seeing his heart and the effect of the cardiac arrest that killed him. His lungs and kidneys, etc. were all in tact. His arms, feet neck and head were exposed and looked just as though he just recently died. I knew what death smelled like having worked in the medical profession but there was no stench in the room. His body had not been treated with any chemicals. Yet no smell of death.

    About a week after my visit above, they saw worms starting to invade his abdomen. At this point the atheists and the Jewish specialists were convinced it was a hopeless case and they tried to convince the other professionals and the Priests in charge to stop and just bury him. Exactly at the point the atheist and Jewish scientists said they were not going to continue, “it was useless and hopeless”, the room filled up once again with the smell of flowers so strongly that not one of them could deny the reality of it. This very experience converted the heart and minds of the atheist and Jewish men and at that point came to believe in the reality and truth of God and Jesus the Savior. They then were convinced they had to do what they could and they succeeded . His Body would be considered a first class relic. This was not the first miracle God worked through this man. The RCC takes it time to investigate a claim before stating Yes something was a miracle beyond the realm of human accomplishment.

    A child was deathly sick with meningitis and the doctors gave no hope of recovery. The mother was given a small relic of this priest, a piece of his clothing that touched his remains prior to burial and was instructed to ask this priest to intercede for the healing of her son. Out of desperation she did just that and begged this priest, Don Orione, to pray with her for her sons recovery. After hours at his bedside she retired for the evening. As I recall it, the next day her son was awake and fully recovered. Now a grown man. he was present, as was I, at the Beatification of this priest. It was in fact this miracle which sealed the beatification process.

    • Daisey wrote:

      Years after this happened, this priest was to be beatified. The church authorities and government were asked to allow his remains to be removed from that tomb and be moved to the upper main floor of the church. There were priests, sisters, church authorities, government representatives present as well as people in the medical and science fields. His body had been layed in a simple pine box 40 years prior to this which was put into a large cement tomb.

      According to this article:

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luigi_Orione

      Don Orione lay in the crypt from 1940-1965, when his body was exhumed (25 years after his death, not 40 years). His beatification didn’t occur until 1980 (i.e., 40 years after his death), with his canonization in 2004 (64 years after his death).

      Daisey wrote:

      It was in fact this miracle which sealed the beatification process.

      According to this site:

      sonsofdivineprovidence.org/LuigiOrione.html

      the attesting miracle was the healing of a 78-year-old man:

      Miracle attributed to Blessed Don Orione
      The official publication of the Decree formally recognising the miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Luigi Orione was held in Rome on 7th July 2003, in the presence of the Holy Father, John Paul II.

      The miraculous cure occured in Pierino Penacca, a man from the diocese of Tortona (Alessandria). He was born at Momperone on May 14th 1912. As a young man, Pierino knew Don Orione.

      In November 1990, Pierino became very ill and found that he was spitting blood. A lung tumour was diagnosed and confirmed. His general health worsened and on 28th November he was admitted to the San Raffaele Hospital, Milan. There, two further cytological tests detected the presence of a “lung carcinoma”. He was aged 78 years old and the doctors declared that neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy would diminish the tumour so he was discharged from hospital to be with his family.

      It was at this stage that Pierino, his sons, some of the Don Orione priests, friends and even the disabled people at the Cottolengo turned to Don Orione in prayer asking for his intercession. Surprisingly and without any explanation there was a speedy recovery and no traces of the deadly tumour could be found. Various tests were carried out in the the following 11 years and the findings were all clear. This healing could not be explained scientifically, but the Church recognised it as a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Luigi Orione.

      Pierino himself says “I remember only that I was very ill, blood was coming out of my mouth and I was feeling very worn out. I remember very little of being admitted to hospital; I find it easier to recall far away things, of my youth, rather than recent years.

      After being discharged from hospital I started to feel well. I have always had a great trust in Don Orione and I pray for his intercession always. Since I recovered I must thank the Lord and Don Orione.”

      Some of the facts of the case/story thus seem to disagree.

    • (Reposted without links to avoid going into the “moderation” bin – to go to the Websites replace “DOT” with a period)

      Daisey wrote:

      Years after this happened, this priest was to be beatified. The church authorities and government were asked to allow his remains to be removed from that tomb and be moved to the upper main floor of the church. There were priests, sisters, church authorities, government representatives present as well as people in the medical and science fields. His body had been layed in a simple pine box 40 years prior to this which was put into a large cement tomb.

      According to this article:

      enDOTwikipediaDOTorg/wiki/Luigi_Orione

      Don Orione lay in the crypt from 1940-1965, when his body was exhumed (25 years after his death, not 40 years). His beatification didn’t occur until 1980 (i.e., 40 years after his death), with his canonization in 2004 (64 years after his death).

      Daisey wrote:

      It was in fact this miracle which sealed the beatification process.

      According to this site:

      sonsofdivineprovidenceDOTorg/LuigiOrioneDOThtml

      the attesting miracle was the healing of a 78-year-old man:

      Miracle attributed to Blessed Don Orione
      The official publication of the Decree formally recognising the miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Luigi Orione was held in Rome on 7th July 2003, in the presence of the Holy Father, John Paul II.

      The miraculous cure occured in Pierino Penacca, a man from the diocese of Tortona (Alessandria). He was born at Momperone on May 14th 1912. As a young man, Pierino knew Don Orione.

      In November 1990, Pierino became very ill and found that he was spitting blood. A lung tumour was diagnosed and confirmed. His general health worsened and on 28th November he was admitted to the San Raffaele Hospital, Milan. There, two further cytological tests detected the presence of a “lung carcinoma”. He was aged 78 years old and the doctors declared that neither chemotherapy nor radiotherapy would diminish the tumour so he was discharged from hospital to be with his family.

      It was at this stage that Pierino, his sons, some of the Don Orione priests, friends and even the disabled people at the Cottolengo turned to Don Orione in prayer asking for his intercession. Surprisingly and without any explanation there was a speedy recovery and no traces of the deadly tumour could be found. Various tests were carried out in the the following 11 years and the findings were all clear. This healing could not be explained scientifically, but the Church recognised it as a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Luigi Orione.

      Pierino himself says “I remember only that I was very ill, blood was coming out of my mouth and I was feeling very worn out. I remember very little of being admitted to hospital; I find it easier to recall far away things, of my youth, rather than recent years.

      After being discharged from hospital I started to feel well. I have always had a great trust in Don Orione and I pray for his intercession always. Since I recovered I must thank the Lord and Don Orione.”

      Some of the facts of the case/story thus seem to disagree.

      • You are referring to the miracle that was the key to his being Canonized. I did not once mention a miracle in relation to His canonization because I was talking about His Beatification. One is first considered venerable, having lived a life of heroic virtue. The next step is to be Beatified. Unless there is a miracle associated with the intercession of this person the process of beatification does not occur. After, there must be additional miracles, if I’m not mistaken 2, unless this has changed during the past 15 years, which would bring one to be considered canonized. Don Orione was Beatified in 1980 which is what I was talking about.

        The reality of his body having been resumed prior to 1980 has nothing to do with what happened in 1980. I saw the large above ground cement tomb he was in down in the crypt under the church. I saw the water marks on the wall almost to the ceiling. This was a few years before his body was removed. After his body was returned to Tortona from Rome I saw the glass tomb he was placed in in the main part of the church. I lived next door to this church for some time and attended Mass there.

        You are referring to his canonization which occured years later at which I was not present. You can try to count what I said as not being true, however, I was a member of the community of sisters this Priest founded. I was there, I witnessed what I said, I have literature to back it up, I know what I know. I was at the Beatification in St. Peters in Rome. I recall having the man I talked about, the child who was miraculously healed, being pointed out to me.

        • One additional note of explanation. All the references you brought out refer to Don Orione as Blessed Don Orione. The title Blessed is only given after a person is Beatified. This in itself confirms they are referring to the miracle associated with Blessed Don Orione being Canononized after which he is no longer referred to as Blessed but as Saint Don Orione.

  11. I need to run to the dentist Martha but I want to comment on this in detail later. But first!!! Where are the gory pictures? There can be some really grusome relics and I was relishing some of that. This type of thread would do good for Halloween. 😉

  12. Right here in Pittsburgh we have Saint Anthony’s Chapel which claims to have over 5000 relics and also hand carved life size carvings of the stations of the cross (saintanthonyschapel.org). So if you happen to be traveling to Pittsburgh and want to see real relics….

    I’ve been there once, it sits on the top of Troy hill and looks like an old Church filled with relics. The life size stations are cool too.

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    If some experiment in the morning proved that the Shroud was indeed a 14th century fake, this does not mean that every Christian in the world would have to say “That proves the Resurrection never happened!” and have to rip up their Bibles.

    i.e. the funhouse-mirror reflection of Finding Noah’s Ark and PROVING(!) The Bible Is Absolutely True.

    • I do remember one of those debunking programmes on the telly doing a “Here’s how someone (probably Leonardo da Vinci) could have faked the Shroud of Turin”, which involved casting a bronze head and heating it and putting a linen cloth on the hot surface to scorch the image onto it.

      Which all seemed like an awful heap of work when, y’know, he could just have painted something onto the cloth; also, that until the invention of photography, the black-and-white image of the Shroud as we best know it didn’t come out (this was due to an amateur photographer by the name of Secondo Pia who took a picture in 1898 when it was being exhibited) and if you compare the two – the ‘positive’, which is what everyone would have seen up till then, with the ‘negative’, you get a reddish-brown collection of blotches versus a photo of a face.

      So maybe Leonardo invented the camera, as well (he seems to be the favourite for anyone who wants to attribute anachronistic technology to a mediaeval/Renaissance inventor, from Dan Brown on down or up), but the effect was really lost. Me, if I was going to fake a miraculous image, I’d produce something more like the tilma of Our Lady of Guadalupe than a cloth that looked like an ironing accident.

      This is not to say the Shroud is what it is held to be, just that it strikes me as a strange way to fake a fake. But I’m no Renaissance genius, so what do I know?

      And anyway, it doesn’t matter a straw if the Shroud is genuine or not. We either believe in the Resurrection through the Gospel accounts, or we don’t. A tangible proof is nice, but not to stand or fall on.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Remember a couple Easters ago, when all the cable-documentary networks were “All Da Vinci Code, All The Time”?

        I think the “Da Vinci made The Shroud” meme started out with the idea that if anybody of that period could fake a Shroud that could stand up to the investigative methods of 600 years and who knows how many Tech Levels later, it would HAVE to be Leonardo. It’s the reputation the guy developed, mostly over the last century.

    • HUG you make a good point here….

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Now for the favorite question you’re all dying to ask: “Where is that in the Bible?”

    Right alongside The Altar Call, The Sinner’s Prayer, and The Rapture.

    • Headless, I was pure overjoyed to find actual Scriptural warranty for this – the robe of Christ, the shadow of Peter, the cloths of Paul.

      Why, it’s very almost nearly like the early Christians weren’t pure Protestants, or something 😉

      And to quote St. Thomas Aquinas quoting St. Augustine (and Augustine was around to see Ambrose translating the bodies of Gervase and Protase to the cathedral in Milan):

      “I answer that, As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 13): “If a father’s coat or ring, or anything else of that kind, is so much more cherished by his children, as love for one’s parents is greater, in no way are the bodies themselves to be despised, which are much more intimately and closely united to us than any garment; for they belong to man’s very nature.” It is clear from this that he who has a certain affection for anyone, venerates whatever of his is left after his death, not only his body and the parts thereof, but even external things, such as his clothes, and such like. Now it is manifest that we should show honor to the saints of God, as being members of Christ, the children and friends of God, and our intercessors. Wherefore in memory of them we ought to honor any relics of theirs in a fitting manner: principally their bodies, which were temples, and organs of the Holy Ghost dwelling and operating in them, and are destined to be likened to the body of Christ by the glory of the Resurrection. Hence God Himself fittingly honors such relics by working miracles at their presence. “

  15. Thanks, Martha.

    Two things I would like to add:

    1) Remember that in the time of Christ, the burial practice of the Jews was to dress the body heavily with spices, wrap it in linen, lay it on a stony “bench” and close it up in the tomb for a year or two. Then after all the soft parts had gone away (through weather and other means), the family collected the bones and put them in a smaller container (ossuary). This is reflected in what we are told of the burial preparations for Jesus after the crucifixion. So handling the bones of deceased relatives and friends was not something that made people squeamish. The ossuaries remained in the tombs, but were visited like people today visit the gravesites of family members and friends. I have childhood memories of Memorial Day preparations and activities: melting paraffin to pour around artificial flowers in coffee cans to take them to the cemetery and swap out for the old, faded ones, and taking along the lawn edge trimmer-scissor apparatus to clean up the grass next to the concrete edging. I think care for family graves is therapeutic.

    2) In Eastern Orhodoxy, the reason for the holiness of the person’s body is that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, and even though we’re temporarily done with this body, it, like the material world in which we live and need a body in order to function, can still be a means for the transmission or unfolding of the action of God in this material world. When God made the material world, he called it “good”, and in the LXX that Greek word also means “beautiful”. There is such a strong sense of the holiness of matter; dualism is resisted on every front. Reality is one, there is no split universe; it’s only one story “high”.

    Dana

  16. This is the day Internetmonk jumped the shark. I don’t believe for a moment that Michael Spencer would have allowed (or wanted) this post to see the light of day — on his blog, at least.

    • I’m sad to hear that you believe that so strongly. It was his brainchild, “The Liturgical Gangstas” that opened my eye to the breadth of Christian witness and provided well thought out descriptions of different christian tradition’s viewpoints on things.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Treaty of Westphalia ended the Reformation Wars in 1648, Bob.

      Too bad you never got the news.

    • I’m sorry to hear that, Bob. Michael was very good to us all. I’m not trying to turn you all into Roman Catholics, I’m just trying to give a view of things from this side of the Tiber as to why we believe the things we do.

      I learned an awful lot from Michael and from this site about Protestants, about American Evangelicalism, about the way we phrase our beliefs and what those beliefs really are that I didn’t know before, and that knowledge has stood to me – so for instance, when I see newspaper reports that lump all conservative (and I hate that term for its political overtones) into one giant monolithic group called “fundamentalists”, I now know better.

      I hope to do the same for Catholics, so that we don’t come off as one giant cult with odd beliefs that nobody can explain or understand.

      • We loved Michael Spencer . . . he made us all welcome and gave us all a place to visit and to learn from one another

      • Martha I know where you are coming from. Hugs from Washington, D.C.!! This blogs offers a lot of differnet opinions and thoughts. I like your posts, your bring a lot to this blog and contribute a lot to it. Please continue!

    • A little bit of iMonk idolatry, Michael Spencer-style:

      https://internetmonk.com/archive/my-gear-part-1

      https://internetmonk.com/archive/my-gear-2

      Those were from April 2 and 3, 2009. The third installment, Thoughts on “Gear” (3) is dated April 4, 2009. I won’t link to that because I think 3 links will take this into moderation limbo, but here are a couple of excerpts from Michael in those days:

      “In my family, old Bibles and relics of Godly ancestors are treasured. My uncle was a revered pastor. I have a Bible, sermon notebooks and a ring he always wore. I have family Bibles from both parents.

      Ok, we don’t bow down to these things. Oh wait, what were they doing at the last Promise Keepers meeting I was at? Going down on the floor and bowing in front of a cross.

      OK, we don’t interact with images of….Oh wait. Who has all those Passion plays? And who went to see Passion of the Christ 12 times, right there with their Roman Catholic friends.

      Ok, we don’t use these things….Oh wait, who came up with prayer clothes and the whole bit about things and people being “anointed?” Who first said “put your hands on the radio/television?”’

      and then he ends up with:

      “But I understand what’s going on with icons, beads, statues and medals. It’s very much what’s going on with your ESV Study Bible, your picture of Calvin, your feelings about your favorite Praise and Worship music and your church’s insistence on an “Altar Call.”

      It’s OK with me. Let’s just be honest about it all. The differences matter and we should air them. But evangelicals need to get on the bus to rehab with everyone else.”

  17. If I can give my little contribution to understanding what is the culture behind the relics, you can watch the exhumation of Padre Pio (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaQKQORjhbg) who had a great media impact in Italy.
    Another example of this culture, can be found in the Cathedral of Otranto (http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Otranto_cathedral_martyrs.jpg)
    or even in the Church of San Bernardino alle Ossa in Milan (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/IMG_5811_-_Milano_-_Ossario_di_San_Bernardino_alle_ossa_-_Altare_barocco_-_Foto_Giovanni_Dall%27Orto_-_17_febr._2007.jpg).

  18. Martha, this was both hilarious & instructive.

    I love the ‘disturbing relics’. No-one does kitsch like a Catholic.

    Marvellous.

  19. I have always been fascinated by the dead saints called the ‘incorruptibles’ (wax and all) and very, very moved by the photographs of Bernadette of Lourdes (so beautiful, even in wax so beautiful).

    Maybe it has something to do with wanting to reach out and touch something tangible that has a special association in some way with Our Lord . . . might even be a part of our heritage of faith . . . like the poor woman who bled for all those years and reached out to touch the hem of Our Lord’s garment . . . and was healed . . .

    I love the tangible, sense-able things of my faith:
    the holy water, the sign of the Cross, the standing and kneeling, the genuflecting, the walking forward for the Holy Communion, the feel of the rosary beads in my fingers as my elbows rest on the wooden bench, the beauty of the crucifix that was in my father’s room before his death, the feel of the thin pages of the Bible, the Word spoken out loud to hear at Mass . . . love it, all of it

    But what I love the most is something not seen, only felt and known beyond doubt: the holy Peace of Christ that stays with me and does not leave . . . and I return again and again to the Table of Our Lord.

    • Christiane,

      you have said this so beautifully! I love how you personalized this. For some people, these tangibles are not as meaningful. But for others they have immeasurable depth and serve to connect us to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I’m not Catholic but have attended Episcopal services and found the sensory experiences to be enriching to my spiritual life and my connection to and understanding of God on a very deep level.

      • Here’s where I often worship near Tucson.

        http://www.sanxaviermission.org

        It’s one of the oldest US Catholic churches, built back in Geo. Washington’s day, and still going very strong. Click on the “saint” link on the left side.

        • It is one of the beautiful old Franciscan missions, isn’t it?
          I hope to visit some of them again before I grow too old to travel.

          Thanks for sharing that, Pilar.

          • You’d love it, Christiane, and free tours are now available by well trained docents (except during Mass). It was conceived by Jesuits, who founded a mission on this spot in the late 17th century, but the present structure was built under Franciscan leadership and the order still serves here. The Franciscans paid homage to the Jesuit founding by keeping the name, San Xavier, and by prominently featuring Xavier’s statue on the retablo; otherwise, it’s full of Fransciscan saints and imagery. Old school, counter-reformation baroque style, not an inch of it inside is without some sort of art.

  20. (maybe someone has already mentioned this)

    Luther said that there were enough nails from the cross in German Catholic Churches,as to shoe every horse in Saxony.

    Jesus did show Thomas, and He even let him put his finger in the holes. But then He said, “Blessed are those who have not seen (us) and yet still believe.”

    “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

    Right? Sometimes? When we are at our best.

    • I’m not sure the Thomas comparison is the right way round to apply to relics. Thomas wanted to touch something before he believed. When it comes to relics, people believe first – and then want to touch something.

    • And I refer you to the very precise (if not a little demented by it) Charles Rohault de Fleury, who in 1870 published a book (“Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion” to answer exactly these kinds of taunts about alleged relics of the Crucifixion.

      I rather think Luther may have been exaggerating for rhetorical and polemical purposes 🙂

      Though yes, I have no hesitance in saying there were a lot of false or mistaken relics floating around, and I don’t think we can say with assurance that “This is indeed a nail from the cross” or the crown of thorns or the likes. I think a lot of faking went on when the Crusaders were bringing back relics from the Holy Land (the same way that, centuries later, when the Egyptology craze hit Europe, instant ‘mummies’ and fake grave goods and ‘real ancient Egyptian out of the pyramids’ tat was – and still is – being churned out to rook collectors, museums, and tourists).

      All the Church will do in those cases is say that this is the history of the thing as far as we can trace it, these are the claims, and whether or not you believe it is up to you. If you think this really is the Spear of Longinus that pierced the side of the Saviour as He hung on the cross, and you approach it in a spirit of humble devotion in gratitude and sorrow for the sacrifice of the Lord, that any prayer is no loss. If you think this is all nonsense, that’s okay as well.

      It is the spirit of the pilgrims to view the Veronica (the veil imprinted with the image of the face of Christ) that Dante uses as a metaphor in the “Paradiso” (before he gazes on the Beatific Vision and sees God the Trinity):

      As the man who, perhaps from Croatia, has come
      to set his gaze on our Veronica,
      his ancient craving still not satisfied,
      and who thinks to himself while it is shown:
      ‘My Lord Jesus Christ, God Himself,
      was this then how You really looked?’

  21. Good piece Martha,

    I have to admit that I was more than a little creeped out during RCIA when they confirmed that the Altar indeed had a relic in it. We even got to see the box (but not the relic, it was part of a finger), I understand the scriptural side and appreciate the history. But it still makes me a bit uneasy, I guess I’m very western and modern in my thinking that dead things should be kept in places for dead things (Thriller Flashback)!!

    Imagine our horror the first my wife and I visited Westminster Abby in England, we expected a church. What we got was a mausoleum, full of crypts and plague victims in the floors, and walls. I would hate to spend the night there 😉

    So I understand it, I accept it as a Catholic, but I still am not comfortable with it. Not sure I ever will be…

    -Paul-

    • That thing about an altar and a relic:

      when the first Christians were martyred, they considered it a good thing to build a church on the very spot that the blood was shed. Often, the Church was built over the bones of the martyr, and named after the martyr.

      This practice began very, very early in Christianity, so that by the time St. John was writing Revelation, we find his verse that makes more sense, if you understand the practice of an altar placed over the bones of a martyr, this:

      “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”( Revelation 6:9-10)

    • Westminster Abbey is unfortunate in that it has come to be as much a state monument – and so getting a burial spot in the Abbey is seen as the crown of achievement in worldly recognition – so it got stuffed full of all kinds of statesmen, poets, and other undesirables after the Reformation did away with saints and images 😉

      (This explains the joke in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” where Professor Challenger says he never likes to look up one particular side of the Thames, as it’s almost depressing to see where he will end up – the implicit expectation on his part that he will get a grave in Westminster Abbey as a famous scientist – and Professor Summerlee cuts his vanity down by saying drily that he believes Hanwell Asylum – which is on the same side – is going to be closed down).

  22. Darlene from Ottowa says

    “First-Class Relics: Items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, skull, a limb, etc.)”

    And what about the physical remains of Christ himself? Yes, yes, I know–but if he never shaved or had a haircut, at least he must have trimmed his nails. Surely these could not all have been resurrected with him.

    Which reminds me: The Wikipedia article on the Holy Prepuce links to articles by David Farley, which speculate that the Vatican is behind the 1983 theft of this relic (or one of them) from an Italian town.

    “…the ones who like to spell “sceptic” with a “k” not a “c” to prove how hard-core they are”

    Those would be American skeptics, then.

    >For myself, the rationalisation of the skeptic… is just as much an article of his faith as the Neapolitan peasant who looks to the relic as an omen of the coming year.

    Oh come now–you are confusing “reason” (which your church supports) with “rationalization” (which nobody wants to admit to doing). While technically we can never really KNOW that math is true, or that we are not living in the Matrix, science has a demonstrated track-record which no form of religious tradition can claim. Anyway, I doubt you would be so generous towards non-Christian forms of superstition.

    • Ah, yes, the “what about when Christ went to the toilet?” argument (as I saw one particular jibe about relics of Christ, and I’m bowdlerising here).

      Being fully human as well as fully divine, any body parts which were cut off – hair trimmings, nail parings, and the like – were subject to natural decay the same way as the rest of us.

      Speculations about the sinister machinations of the Vatican are always popular, particularly when it can be seen to be either amusing or embarrassing, or both. I don’t think we have a crack team of relic thieves, but how do I know? Maybe the Congregation for the Causes of Saint keep the Relic Hunter, Professor Sydney Fox (as portrayed by Tia Carrere) or Lara Croft on retainer for just such instances.

      I think a skeptic (and there’s more to the difference in spelling than just a difference between American and British English – as the U.K. Skeptic Society adopted that spelling for the following reasons: “Skeptics in the USA, and in many other countries throughout the world, have a stronger identity than we have here in the UK thanks to the input of James Randi, Michael Shermer, and Stephen Barrett, to name but a few. Spelling skeptic the same way as they do helps with continuity, as the skeptic community is a world-wide one.

      Also, using skeptic rather than sceptic, helps with search engine results as the vast majority of people searching use the American spelling.” – also, some skeptics, like some atheists, are more aggressive and confrontational than others and have made the “k” not “c” spelling a badge of identity to differentiate themselves from the ordinary usage) who relies on a long chain of suppositions (possibly some alchemist whom we have no evidence for, possibly discovered this process at this time and possibly used it to fake a relic which he then palmed off on the King and the local church) is as entitled to invent his own explanations as anyone trying to reconstruct a lost play of Euripides from passing mentions in surviving works and literary theory plus wishful thinking, but this does not mean that “This is a scientific explanation, therefore it must have happened that way” is any more true in the absence of evidence that yes, there was an alchemist named Giorgio in the vicinity at the period who wrote down his new discovery and here’s the parchment to prove it.

      Re: non-Christian forms of superstition; I’m perfectly willing to allow that relics such as the Buddha’s tooth may be what they are claimed to be. I do accept that Buddha was a human who had teeth.

  23. “at least he must have trimmed his nails. Surely these could not all have been resurrected with him.”

    That is something to reflect upon, Darlene. Probably there IS someone somewhere who claims to have the fingernail and toenail clippings of Jesus! Someone else probably has the cloth on which he blew his nose. Oh dear…we could go on and on!

    • The Holy Handkerchief to go with the Holy Handgrenade?

      😀

    • Chaucer did go on and on, Joanie. Martha already quoted some of the Canterbury Tales, and here is some more from the Pardoner’s Tale. The Pardoner is trying to peddle his Junk for Jesus (TM) and the Host is offended.

      First, the Theodore Morrison translation, which is a little more direct than others, then the original. Pardon (uh, pun not intended) the street language:

      Come, offer first, Sir Host, and once that’s done,
      Then you shall kiss the relics, every one.
      Yes, for a penny! Come, undo your purse!
      “No, no,” said he. “Then I should have Christ’s curse!
      I’ll do nothing of the sort, for love or riches!
      You’d make me kiss a piece of your old britches
      And for a saintly relic make it pass
      Although it had the tincture of your ass.
      By the cross St. Helen found in the Holy Land,
      I wish I had you balls here in my hand
      For relics! Cut ’em off, and I’ll be bound
      If I don’t help you carry them around.
      I’ll have the things enshrined in a hog’s turd!”
      The Pardoner did not answer; not a word,
      He was so angry, could he find to say.

      481 Com forth, sire Hoost, and offre first anon,
      482 And thou shalt kisse my relikes everychon,
      483 Ye, for a grote, unbokele anon thy purs.-
      484 Nay, nay, quod he, thanne have I Cristes curs!
      485 Lat be, quod he, it shal nat be, so theech,

      486 Thou woldest make me kisse thyn olde breech,
      487 And swere it were a relyk of a seint,
      488 Though it were with thy fundement depeint.
      489 But by the croys which that seint Eleyne fond,
      490 I wolde I hadde thy coillons in myn hond

      491 In stide of relikes or of seintuarie.
      492 Lat kutte hem of, I wol thee helpe hem carie,
      493 They shul be shryned in an hogges toord.
      494 This Pardoner answerde nat a word;
      495 So wrooth he was, no word ne wolde he seye.