What is a relic?
A relic is a part of the body, clothes, or personal item that remains as a memorial of a departed saint. The teaching of the Church on the veneration of relics was summarized in the Council of Trent in the 16th Century. At Trent, the Church proclaimed that the veneration and honor are not given to relics, but rather are given to the holy person to whom those sacred monuments point.
Certainly, relics have been the instrument of God’s power in working miracles. However, relics and miracles have always been under careful scrutiny from local bishops of the diocese in which the relic is housed. Further, the buying and selling of relics and sacred and blessed objects is forbidden by the law of the Church.
The important thing to remember is that relics are not talismans with some sort of magical power. There is no physical power residing in the relic. If a relic is the instrument of a miracle, it is always God performing the miracle to build up faith.
Relics of Jesus Christ’s Life
Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man, died on the Cross for our salvation and on the third day, after being laid in the tomb, rose from the dead. Forty days later, He ascended Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity into Heaven. Therefore, the whole of Christianity is historically grounded in this reality. Jesus truly rose from the dead. His bones will never be unearthed in an archaeological dig in the Holy Land, because His bones are with the rest of His Body in Heaven.
That being said, there are many relics from Jesus’ life that are possible. For example, there could exist pieces, part or entire, the burial cloth of Christ, a piece of wood from the manger in which the newborn Christ was laid, and articles of the crucifixion.
The Church has never pronounced officially that any particular relic, especially those related to Christ, are authentic. However, local bishops and even the Holy See have throughout history approved of honor being given to those relics “which with reasonable probability are believed to be genuine and which are invested with due ecclesiastical sanctions (Catholic Encyclopedia, “Relics”).”
Let us now briefly walk through some of these relics from the life of Jesus that you may or may not have known existed.
The Shroud of Turin is an old linen cloth that bears the image of man who was crucified, held in Turin, Italy. It is believed that this is the actual burial of Jesus Christ. The shroud has undergone extensive and careful scientific scrutiny. It is, quite possibly, the most studied artifact in human history.
There is much contention over the exact nature of the shroud. However, the studies of the Shroud of Turin have shown it to be consistent with the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ. Pope St. John Paul II shows us how to view relics like this. He cut through the controversy and got to the point when he said, “The Shroud is an image of God’s love as well as of human sin… The imprint left by the tortured body of the Crucified One, which attests to the tremendous human capacity for causing pain and death to one’s fellow man, stands as an icon of the suffering of the innocent in every age.”
Wood From the Manger
Once kept in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, there is a piece of wood that is just a few inches long. This fragment was recently given to Saint Catherine’s Church in Bethlehem. This piece of wood is said to date back to more than 2,000 years and “was part of the manger in which Baby Jesus was laid.” This particular relic was sent to the Vatican from the Holy Land in the 7th Century.
The True Cross, a Holy Nail, and the Crown of Thorns
In 313 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine proclaimed the Edict of Milan. This edict permanently established religious toleration of Christianity, which had been persecuted violently up until that point. Constantine was not the only convert. His mother, St. Helena, also became a convert.
St. Helena set off on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. She assembled many of the local elders in the region and asked them to assist her in finding relics associated with the life of Jesus Christ. After some digging, the group excavated three crosses, believed to belong to Jesus and the two thieves. St. Helena also found the title of the cross on which was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek: “Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.”
During this same excavation, she also found the nails that were driven into the hands and feet of the Lord, as well as His crown of thorns and His tunic. She even brought from Jerusalem to Rome, the Scala Sancta (holy stairs) which once led to the palace of Pontius Pilate, upon which Jesus ascended up to His trial. The Scala Sancta are 28 white marble steps that are now in the Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran.
Regardless of the authenticity of any of these relics, the fact remains: Jesus Christ, the God-man, was real and walked this earth. He was born of the Virgin Mary and laid in a manger. At the end of His earthly life, He suffered and died on a cross and was laid in a tomb. Then, He rose from the dead with what is certainly enough power to create a photo-negative on a burial shroud.
These relics point to the authentic and reliable testimony of the Gospels. They show us that Jesus is not a myth. He is fully God and fully man. The Word Incarnate walked this earth. He went to the Cross. His Blood was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Just as Catholics do not worship statues and icons, we look beyond relics to what they signify. Whether it is the bone of saint or a relic of the True Cross, these items do not have intrinsic power. However, they are worthy of veneration and due honor. They are also powerful instrumental means by which we can be disposed to grace and by which God has often chosen to work miracles.
Will is the Director of Content for The Ten Ten Group. Become more FULLY ALIVE by accepting Jesus’ invitation to abundant life today.
Photo Credit: https://www.cathopic.com/photo/15690-rostro-cristo