Friday, July 7, 2017

More relics of Jesus Christ

Relics, Relics, Relics!

The First Relics
A woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the tassel on his cloak. Immediately her bleeding stopped. Jesus then asked, "Who touched me?" While all were denying it, Peter said, "Master, the crowds are pushing and pressing in upon you." But Jesus said, "Someone has touched me; for I know that power has gone out from me." When the woman realized that she had not escaped notice, she came forward trembling. Falling down before him, she explained why she had touched him and how she had been healed immediately. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you; go in peace" (Lk 8:43-48).
I loved icons, but had no particular fondness for holy relics as I was well aware of all the superstitious stories about them, despite one of my iconography teachers, a Maronite Catholic priest, being totally 'into relics.' Coming from a scientific background, with empiricism and hard data having been drilled into me, throughout my professional life, as being the god of all and above all, before reaching the ultimate god Who is God, relics seemed to me to be a bunch of hocus-pocus at par with those famous indulgences and reported multitude of sales thereof, which had provoked Martin Luther to nail his 99 theses to the church door. I was "not that kind of person" - and had no intention of ever becoming one.

In vain did the priest for years attempt, in multiple ways, to educate me about the tangible, but mystical, significance of holy relics. I refused to listen.

"Talk to me about icons," I would say, "but leave relics out of the equation."

Icons were okay, in particular the ones written in the Russian-Byzantine tradition, considered the pinnacle of the sacred art of iconography. Those were 'safe.' Our Father had given me both a love for icons and the opportunity to learn iconography with great teachers. Icons were also beautiful to look at. I could just sit or stand in front of them for hours, just staring at them. I love writing icons. But relics?

Oh, no.


No, no, no, no, no, no, no.


Yet Jesus Christ, like His Father, had a different idea about the whole situation and a great sense of humor.

Ask and You Shall Receive
When people sit and tell holy stories, God comes to listen (cf. Mal 3:16).
At the time, it was my practice to complain to Christ that our Father had given me a gift - iconography - as a token of His love for having returned to Him. But Christ had not given me anything, I thought. Coming from my background as a relatively newbie revert, I did not consider that at all fair - and I wanted something from each Person of the Holy Trinity.

"What," I thus kept asking Jesus day in, day out, "are You going to give me? Won't You give me something? Give me something [tangible] of Yours too!"

The beautiful handmade and hand-carved gilt bronze, Baroque multi-reliquary shown first below arrived soon after from Northern Italy. I stared at it really hard upon its arrival in my mailbox in an unmarked brown Jiffy bag (other than my address) and stamped Milano by the post office. No one had known about my request to Christ. I had never disclosed it to anyone.

More and more relics then started to arrive or be given to me in a slow, steady stream: from the East and from the West; from the North and from the South; the vast majority of them given by priests, Catholic and Orthodox. Single relics, multiple relics. Relics with original documentation, relics without documentation, but of known provenance. Relics of saints wanted, relics of saints unwanted; relics of saints known, relics of saints relatively unknown. And relics of saints abandoned.

My iconography teacher could scarce contain his delight.

"See? I told you," he crowed.

Never in my wildest had I dreamed that I would end up becoming a custodian of holy relics. But the crowning point was the arrival of some relics you shall be seeing in this and future posts for your edification, in addition to the ones of Our Lady and of the Cross of Christ that you already saw in my first two posts on the topic.

Relics of the Passion, Death and Burial of Jesus Christ
They are the most precious evidence of the Passion of our Lord (Amalric I).
Ex Praesepio, Ex Petra Unctionis, Ex Sepulchro
Domini Nostri Jesu Christi

The relics of Jesus Christ shown in the above reliquary consist of three small stones: one from the Grotto of the Nativity (Ex Praesepio), one from the Stone of the Anointing (Ex Petra Unctionis), and one from the Holy Sepulchre (Ex Sepulchro). The reliquary bears the Jerusalem cross of the Custodian of the Holy Land, the head of the Franciscan Friars, on its intact seal inside.

The Grotto where Christ was born can be found in the crypt of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank. The Stone of the Anointing was installed in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre to commemorate the spot upon which it is thought the Body of Christ had been prepared for burial by Saint Joseph of Arimathea and Saint Nicodemus. The tomb of Christ can be found in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre - Church of the Resurrection in the city of Jerusalem.

Ex Columna Domini Nostri Jesu Christi

The above relic with intact seal is a small piece from the Column of the Flagellation to which Christ had been tied for the Scourging at the Pillar (Ex Columna). This relic also came from Italy.

The Column was taken to the Church of the Apostles on top of Mount Zion after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. A large portion of the column can now be found at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. A smaller portion of it was translated from Jerusalem in 1223 by Giovanni, Cardinal di Colonna, the papal legate in the Holy Land during the Sixth Crusade, and installed in his titular church, the Basilica di Santa Prassede in Rome, Italy where it can still be found.

During the Middle Ages, there reportedly existed such devotion to the Column of Flagellation that the Vatican established the Feast of the Holy Pillar. This feast used to be held on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

Ex Fune Domini Nostri Jesu Christi

This relic with intact seal consists of short, thick strands from one of the ropes with which Christ was tied to the Column of the Flagellation (Ex Fune). It too came from Italy and its original provenance was from the Patriarchs of Jerusalem.

De Purpurae Domini Nostri Jesu Christi

The above relic in modern theca is a small piece of the Purple Robe that Christ had been forced to wear on His shoulders during the Crowning with Thorns. This relic was originally part of a somewhat larger piece of the Robe in the possession of a Catholic priest, who opened up his own reliquary to give me a part of it. The theca bears the seal of the Augustinians.

Few pieces of the Robe are known to have remained to this day. One of these pieces can be found at the Catedral Primada Santa Maria de Toledo in Spain. Another piece can be found at Saint Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

De Sindone Domini Nostri Jesu Christi

The priest also gave me this in the same manner. It too bears the seal of the Augustinians. The relic consists of two short strands from the Holy Shroud of Jesus Christ (the Shroud of Turin; De Sindone), in which Saint Joseph of Arimathea had wrapped His Body for burial in the Holy Sepulchre.

The Shroud was originally kept by the Byzantine emperors after having received it from the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, but it disappeared during the sack of Constantinople. In 1453, the Shroud was given to the House of Savoy and translated to Torino, Italy, in 1578 after a few intermediate placements. It was donated to the Holy See by the House of Savoy in 1983. A limited number of Shroud relics used to be given to bishops when the glass case in which it was kept, was opened for examination. The Shroud can now be found in the Cappella della Sacra Sindone at the Duomo di Torino - Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista in Turin, Italy.

© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka the Bald Eagle.


  1. I want to say "mind blown" but I know you're saving the best for last, although I just can't imagine what else you could have that would be even more amazing. You are unbelievably blessed to have all these in your possession. What I wouldn't give for even one to place on my small home altar. I wish my house was just one small room larger to dedicate as an oratory. Thank you for sharing these sacred items.

  2. There are quite a few more to come. I am glad you are enjoying them. Thank you.

  3. These are truly stunning. I have wanted to visit Philadelphia, to see that chapel where the thousands of holy relics are. I'm pretty sure it is Philadelphia.
    I would love to see these. Do you ever feel, well, intimidated by them? It seems a huge responsibility, not to mention the horror of saying a bad word with them under the same roof, yikes.
    I sometimes worry about holy relics falling into bad hands. I'm glad these are safe with you! They are precious, very precious indeed! Thank you so much for sharing them.

  4. The place you refer to is Saint Anthony's Chapel in Pittsburgh, PA, with over 5000 documented relics.

    Do I ever feel "intimidated" by the relics is my custody? No. They are treasures and they are beautiful and I do wish I had a proper shrine for them so people could venerate them, but I don't feel afraid of the relics or anything.


Moderation is On.

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