relics, part of the body of a saint or a thing closely connected with the saint in life. In traditional Christian belief they have had great importance, and miracles have often been associated with them. Members of the Orthodox Eastern Church have generally followed St. John of Damascus in teaching that the earthly body of the saint has a kind of permanent grace, but in the Roman Catholic Church the miracles are held to be performed by the intercession of the saint in heaven on the prayer of the living; relics therefore are only to be revered as memorials, and belief is not required in any particular relic as authentic or miraculous. Roman Catholic altars (even portable ones) contain a relic, a rule coming from the time of the persecutions in Rome, when Mass was said over the martyrs' graves. Protestants have abandoned relics. Veneration of relics as miraculous dates from the 3d cent. Famous relics include the pieces of the True Cross (see cross); the veronica; the Holy Nails in the iron crown of Lombardy (Monza, Italy); the Holy Lance (St. Peter's, Rome); the Holy Coat (Trier, Germany); and the Precious Blood of Bruges. These are all called relics of the Passion. Celebrated shrines are often depositories of relics, e.g., of St. Peter and St. Paul at St. Peter's, of St. James at Santiago de Compostela, Spain, of St. Thomas à Becket at Canterbury, of St. Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey. Many relics are duplicated, i.e., there are rival claims of genuineness. Since the Middle Ages, close accounting of relics has been maintained in Western Christendom; the creation of false relics or the buying or selling of genuine relics is prohibited under penalty of excommunication.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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