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Relics of St. Demetrius, in the cathedral of Thessalonika, Greece.

A relic is an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial. Relics are an important aspect of some forms of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Shamanism, and many other religions.

The word relic comes from the Latin reliquiae, meaning "remains." A reliquary is a shrine that houses one or more relics.

Contents

Ancient relics

At Athens the supposed remains of Oedipus and Theseus enjoyed an honor that is very difficult to distinguish from a religious cult, while Plutarch gives accounts of the translation of the bodies of Demetrius (Demetrius iii) and Phocion (Phocion xxxvii) which in many details anticipate Christian practice. The bones or ashes of Aesculapius at Epidaurus, and of Perdiccas I at Macedon were treated with the deepest veneration, as were those of the Persian Zoroaster, according to the Chronicon Paschale (Dindorf, p. 67). However; there is no tradition in Zoroastrianism or its scriptures to support this postulation.

Buddhist relics

In Buddhism, relics of the Buddha and various sages are venerated. After the Buddha's death, his remains were divided into eight portions. Afterward, these relics were enshrined in stupas wherever Buddhism was spread, despite his instructions that relics were not to be collected or venerated.

Some relics believed to be original relics of Buddha still survive including the much revered Sacred Relic of the tooth of the Buddha in Sri Lanka.

Buddha relics from Kanishka's stupa in Peshawar, Pakistan, now in Mandalay, Burma. Teresa Merrigan, 2005

A stupa is a building created specifically for the relics. Many Buddhist temples have stupas and historically, the placement of relics in a stupa often became the initial structure around which the whole temple would be based. Today, many stupas also hold the ashes or ringsel of prominent/respected Buddhists who were cremated. In rare cases the whole body is conserved, for example in the case of Dudjom Rinpoche, after his death his physical body was moved a year later from France and placed in a stupa in one of his main monasteries near Boudhanath, Nepal in 1988. Pilgrims may view his body through a glass window in the stupa.

The Buddha's relics are considered to show people that enlightenment is possible, to remind them that the Buddha was a real person, and to also promote good virtue.

Christian relics

A view inside the shrine of Saint Boniface of Dokkum in the hermit-church of Warfhuizen. The bone fragment in the middle is from Saint Boniface himself, the little folded papers on the left and right contain bone fragments of Saint Benedict of Nursia and Bernard of Clairvaux.
St. Francis Xavier's humerus. St. Joseph's church, Macao
Sign accompanying St. Francis Xavier's humerus, Macao.

History of Christian relics

One of the earliest sources that purports to show the efficacy of relics is found in 2 Kings 13:20-21:

20 Elisha died and was buried. Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. 21 Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man's body into Elisha's tomb. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. (NIV)

These verses are cited to claim that the Holy Spirit's indwelling also affects the physical body, that God can do miracles through the bodies of His servants, or both. Also cited is the veneration of Polycarp's relics recorded in the Martyrdom of Polycarp (written 150–160 AD). With regard to relics that are objects, an often cited passage is Acts 19:11–12, which says that Paul's handkerchiefs were imbued by God with healing power.

Many tales of miracles and other marvels were attributed to relics beginning in the early centuries of the church; many of these became especially popular during the Middle Ages. These tales are collected in books of hagiography such as the Golden Legend or the works of Caesar of Heisterbach. These miracle tales made relics much sought after during the Middle Ages.

There are also many relics attributed to Jesus, perhaps most famously the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. Pieces of the True Cross were one of the most highly sought after such relics; many churches claimed to possess a piece of it, so many that John Calvin famously remarked that there were enough pieces of the True Cross to build a ship from[1], although a study in 1870[2] found that put together the claimed relics weighed less than 1.7 kg (0.04m³).

"Virtus" and Daemons

In his introduction to Gregory of Tours, Ernest Brehaut analyzed the Romano-Christian concepts that gave relics such a powerful draw (see link). He distinguished Gregory's constant usage of "sanctus" and "virtus", the first with its familiar meaning of "sacred" or "holy", and the second

"… the mystic potency emanating from the person or thing that is sacred. These words have in themselves no ethical meaning and no humane implications whatever. They are the keywords of a religious technique and their content is wholly supernatural. In a practical way the second word [virtus] is the more important. It describes the uncanny, mysterious power emanating from the supernatural and affecting the natural. The manifestation of this power may be thought of as a contact between the natural and the supernatural in which the former, being an inferior reality, of course yielded. These points of contact and yielding are the miracles we continually hear of. The quality of sacredness and the mystic potency belong to spirits, in varying degrees to the faithful, and to inanimate objects. They are possessed by spirits, acquired by the faithful, and transmitted to objects." [3]

Opposed to this holy "virtue" was also a "false" mystic potency that emanated from inhabiting daemons who were conceived of as alien and hostile. Truly holy virtus would defeat it, but it could affect natural phenomena and effect its own kinds of miracles, deceitful and malignant ones. This "virtue" Gregory of Tours and other Christian writers associated with the devil, demons, soothsayers, magicians, pagans and pagan gods, and heretics. False virtus inhabited images of the pagan gods, the "idols" of our museums and archaeology, and destroying it accounts for some of the righteous rage with which mobs of Christians toppled sculptures, and smashed classical bas-reliefs (particularly the faces), as our museums attest.

The transmissibility of this potency, this virtus, is still reflected in the Roman Catholic classifications of relics in degrees, as mentioned above. By transmission, the "virtus" might be transmitted to the city. When St Martin died, November 8, 397, at a village halfway between Tours and Poitiers, the inhabitants of these cities were well ready to fight for his body, which the people of Tours managed to secure by stealth. The story of the purloining of St. Nicholas of Myra is another example. The Image of Edessa was reputed to render that city impregnable.

A reliquary in the church of San Pedro, Ayerbe, Spain
The Main Altar of St. Raphael's Cathedral, Dubuque, Iowa, containing the remains of Saint Cessianus - an eight year old boy martyred during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian.

Roman Catholic classification and prohibitions

The chains of Saint Peter, preserved in San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, a second-class relic.

Saint Jerome declared, "We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore him whose martyrs they are" (Ad Riparium, i, P.L., XXII, 907).

First-Class Relics 
Items directly associated with the events of Christ's life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr's relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints. Also, some saints' relics are known for their extraordinary incorruptibility (Human remains do not deteriorate as would normally be expected. For instance a 500 year old body that appears as though it is still in wake) and so would have high regard. Parts of the saint that were significant to that saint's life are more prized relics. For instance, King St. Stephen of Hungary's right forearm is especially important because of his status as a ruler. A famous theologian's head may be his most important relic. (The head of St. Thomas Aquinas was removed by the monks at the Cistercian abbey at Fossanova where he died). If a saint did a lot of travelling then the bones of his feet may be prized. Current Catholic teaching prohibits relics to be divided up into small, unrecognizable parts if they are to be used in liturgy (i.e, as in an altar; see the rubrics listed in Rite Of Dedication of a Church and an Altar).
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, book etc. Again, an item more important in the saint's life is thus a more important relic.
Third-Class Relics 
Any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic.[4] Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth.

The sale of relics is strictly forbidden by the Church. The Code of Canon Law states:[5]

§1190 §1 - "It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics."

§1190 §2 - "Relics of great significance and other relics honored with great reverence by the people cannot be alienated validly in any manner or transferred permanently without the permission of the Apostolic See."

Relics in Eastern Orthodoxy

Grapevine cross of Saint Nino of Georgia (Sioni Cathedral, Tbilisi, Georgia).

The veneration of relics continues to be of importance in the Eastern Orthodox Church. As a natural outgrowth of the concept in Orthodox theology of theosis, the physical bodies of the saints are considered to be transformed by divine grace--indeed, all Orthodox Christians are considered to be sanctified by living the mysical life of the Church, and especially by receiving the Sacred Mysteries (Sacraments). In the Orthodox service books, the remains of the departed faithful are referred to as "relics", and are treated with honour and respect. For this reason, the bodies of Orthodox Christians are not traditionally embalmed.

The veneration of the relics of the saints is of great importance in Orthodoxy, and very often churches will display the relics of saints prominently. In a number of monasteries, particularly those on the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos in Greece), all of the relics the monastery possesses are displayed and venerated each evening at Compline. As with the veneration of icons, the veneration (Greek; δουλια, dulia) of relics in the Orthodox Church is clearly distinguished from adoration (λατρεια, latria) ; i.e., that worship which is due to God alone). Thus Orthodox teaching warns the faithful against idolatry and at the same time remains true to scriptural teaching (vis. 2 Kings 13:20-21) as understood by Orthodox Sacred Tradition.

Relics of Saint Sabbas the Sanctified in the Catholicon of Mar Saba Monastery in the Kidron Valley.

The examination of the relics is an important step in the glorification (canonization) of new saints. Sometimes, one of the signs of sanctification is the condition of the relics of the saint. Some saints will be incorrupt, meaning that their remains do not decay under conditions when they normally would (natural mummification is not the same as incorruption). Sometimes even when the flesh does decay the bones themselves will manifest signs of sanctity. They may be honey colored or give off a sweet aroma. Some relics will exude myrrh. The absence of such manifestations is not necessarily a sign that the person is not a Saint.

Relics play a major role in the consecration of a church. The consecrating bishop will place the relics on a diskos (paten) in a church near the church that is to be consecrated, they will then be taken in a cross procession to the new church, carried three times around the new structure and then placed in the Holy Table (altar) as part of the consecration service.

The relics of saints (traditionally, always those of a martyr) are also sewn into the antimension which is given to a priest by his bishop as a means of bestowing faculties upon him (i.e., granting him permission to celebrate the Sacred Mysteries). The antimens is kept on the High Place of the Holy Table (altar), and it is forbidden to celebrate the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist) without it.

While Orthodoxy does not make use of the strict classification system of the Roman Catholic Chruch, it too recognizes and venerates relics which may pertain to Jesus Christ or a saint, such as a relic of the True Cross, the Chains of Saint Peter (feast day, 16 January), the grapevine cross of Saint Nino of Georgia, etc. Places can also be considered holy. When one makes a pilgrimage to a shrine he may bring back something from the place, such as soil from the Holy Land or from the grave of a saint.

Importance of relics in medieval Christianity

Since the beginning of Christianity, individuals have seen relics as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God. Since Christians during the Middle Ages often took pilgrimages to shrines of holy people, relics became a large business. The pilgrims saw the purchasing of a relic as a means to bring the shrine back with him or her upon returning home in a small way, since during the Middle Ages the concept of physical proximity to the “holy” (tombs of saints or their personal objects) was considered extremely important. Instead of having to travel hundreds of miles to become near to a venerated saint, one could venerate the relics of the saint within his or her own home.

Muslim relics

Footprint of the prophet Muhammad, preserved in the türbe (funerary mausoleum) in Eyüp, Istanbul.

In Istanbul

While various relics are preserved by different Muslim communities, the most important are those known as The Sacred Trusts, more than 600 pieces treasured in the Privy Chamber of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul.

Muslims believe that these treasures include the sword and standard of Muhammad, a hair from his beard, and the staff of Moses. Most of the trusts can be seen in the museum, but the most important of them can only be seen during the month of Ramadan. The Quran has been recited next to these relics uninterruptedly since they were brought to the Topkapi Palace.

Sacred Cloak of the Prophet

A cloak (kherqa) believed to have belonged to the prophet Mohammed is kept in the central mosque in Kandahar, Afghanistan. According to local history, it was given to Ahmad Shah by Mured Beg, the Emir of Bokhara. The Sacred Cloak is kept locked away, taken out only at times of great crisis. In 1996 Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban took it out displayed it to a crowd of ulema (religious scholars), and was declared Amir-ud Momineen, "Commander of the Faithful." Prior to this, the last time it had been removed had been when the city was struck by a cholera epidemic in the 1930s."[6]

Cultural relics

Relic is also the term for something that has survived the passage of time, especially an object or custom whose original culture has disappeared, but also an object cherished for historical or memorial value (such as a keepsake or heirloom).

References

  1. ^ Calvin, Traité Des Reliques
  2. ^ de Fleury, Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion
  3. ^ Medieval Sourcebook, Gregory of Tours (539-594), History of the Franks, Books I-X, Introduction by Earnest Brehaut (from his 1916 translation), pp. ix-xxv [Note: Many of Brehaut's opinions and prejudices would not be upheld by modern historians. Students should not rely on this Introduction as a guide]
  4. ^ The Catholic Source Book A Comprehensive Collection of Information about the Catholic Church ISBN: 015950630
  5. ^ The Code of Canon Law
  6. ^ Lamb, Christina (2002). The Sewing Circles of Herat. HarperCollins. First Perennial edition (2004), p. 38 and n. ISBN 0-06-050527-3.

Bibliography

  • Relics, by Joan Carroll Cruz, OCDS, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, 1984. ISBN 0-87973-701-8
  • Reliques et sainteté dans l'espace médiéval [1]
  • Brown, Peter; Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity; University of Chicago Press; 1982
  • Vauchez, Andre; Sainthood in the Later Middle Ages; Cambridge University Press; 1997
  • Mayr, Markus; Geld, Macht und Reliquien; Studienverlag, Innsbruck, 2000
  • Mayr, Markus (Hg); Von goldenen Gebeinen; Studienverlag, Innsbruck, 2001

Relics in fiction

  • The Relic by Eca De Queiros, Dedalus Ltd, UK 1994. ISBN 0-946626-94-4
  • The Translation of Father Torturo by Brendan Connell, Prime Books, 2005. ISBN 0-8095-0043-4

See also

External links

[2] World tour of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux


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Simple English

A relic is an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial. Relics are an important aspect of some forms of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Shamanism, and many other religions.

The word relic comes from the Latin reliquiae, meaning "remains." A reliquary is a shrine that houses one or more relics








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