The power of relics today
In the middle ages every church or monastery of any importance had a relic. A fragment of the true cross.
A bone of a saint. And people would travel far and wide to see them, and of course pay for the privilege. These days we are more sceptical. A piece of the true cross? There must be enough fragments to build a forest.
Or maybe it’s just our Protestant/Anglican upbringing? In Oviedo cathedral in Northern Spain there is holy chamber with relics brought back from the crusades a thousand years ago.
By far the most important and impressive of these relics is the shroud that covered Christ’s body in the tomb. The shroud that the women found when they discovered the empty tomb early on Easter morning.
This shroud has blood marks on it and there is a detailed interactive display highlighting what you can see. It’s impressive. Inside the holy chamber you see the shroud from behind a grill and it’s in a group of other ornate relics that just seem to shout out and try and overshadow it.
I stood there mildly interested. And then the nuns came in. A tour group of nuns with their clerical knowledgeable guide. They all knelt before the shroud in silence.
And that was the moment. Forget the audio guide full of dull facts and dates. A party of nuns on their knees before a blood stained shroud.
Now I see the power of reliquary. It was mesmerising. Faith is all about confidence in what you believe. Why should we need any physical confirmation? Catholic churches and cathedrals are full of great works of art, powerful images of the suffering that goes with the faith.
But an actual relic. To this day it has a power to impress. It’s difficult to understand to our modern way of needing proof. We expect to see DNA matches etc the sort of investigation that gave us the king in the car park. Richard 111 in a Leicester city car park.
These nuns didn’t need that.
It calls for a little understanding.