They come in all shapes and sizes and substances : body parts (even body fluids), clothing, burial linen, and just about anything the holy person ever touched. From Jesus we have, by definition, no body parts because He took them all with Him on Ascension Thursday. But we do have oodles of splinters of the cross on which He was crucified (there is an endless supply available . . .), the Crown of Thorns (for which King Saint Louis built the gorgeous Sainte Chapelle), the Holy Grail (the chalice He used at the Last Supper, which is out there somewhere), and above all the Shroud of Turin, about which this Blog has said more than enough (click on “Search”, if you have nothing better to do). That’s about it for Jesus, but from His Mum we (used to) have liters of her maternal milk. His cousin, John the Baptist, left us his head which can be venerated in the cathedral of Amiens, not far from my home. St Therese, the “Little Flower”, has her body on display in a glass coffin in Lisieux. St James the Apostle’s body, reputedly transported miraculously from Jerusalem, has for centuries attracted millions of pilgrims to Compostella. Other saints have all sorts of paraphernalia they supposedly touched which have become objects of veneration, notably in more or less elaborate reliquaries. Every Catholic church altar has an altar-stone with fragments of the bones of early martyrs, all with certificates of authentification, about as genuine as a two-dollar bill or fake news on Fox.
Among the curiosities which are relics of other religions, the recent photograph in TIME (May 15, 2017), reveals the ecstatic, demented devotion of Kashmiri Muslims, hysterically venerating “a whisker believed to be from the beard of the Prophet Muhammad” at a shrine in India.
There are even relics not only of physical persons, but of moral persons as well. The multinational for which I worked for sixteen years, Capgemini, is this year celebrating the Golden Anniversary of its foundation by Serge Kampf in 1967. Serge, who died recently, created an information technology giant, employing at present 180,000 people in 40 countries. A collection of memorabilia has been assembled to mark the event. The company produces no products in the form of hardware or even packaged software, but only immaterial information technology services to large businesses and governments. The “relics” collected include everything from watches, pens, pins, tee-shirts, ties, caps, scarves, a rugby-ball, beer-mugs, a Prague crystal wine-decanter and glass gilded goblets inscribed with the company name and logo — to annual reports, technical publications and memorable photographs of management, personnel, notable events and of the Capgemini giant record-breaking catamaran. The collection includes even some of the pedagogical material I personally created for my seminars at the Capgemini University.
There is, of course, no comparison between religious and non-religious relics. But as far as the former are concerned, one has to wonder about the emotional and sometimes fanatical devotion they engender, and the miraculous powers attributed to them. When I’m dead and gone, I expect my fans (both of them) will go beserk, trying to get hold of a whisker from my beard, or a toe-nail or some precious dandruff. I’d prefer however that they not chop up my corpse, an arm here, a leg there, to satisfy the inevitable, insatiable, international demand. In fact, I would hope that this Blog will itself become more than a relic, more than a souvenir of what I have tried to accomplish in getting Believers on the Brink to question their persistent credulity. I would hope that its many posts continue to sow doubts in the minds of those who have not yet dared to admit how ridiculous religion really is. Relics have to be the prime example which more than justifies the Blog’s mocking mantra :
P.S. Type “Relics” in the “Search” slot top-right to review eleven earlier posts on this subject.