Relics associated with Jesus
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A number of relics associated with Jesus have been claimed and displayed throughout the history of Christianity. Some people believe in the authenticity of some relics; others doubt the authenticity of various items. For instance, the sixteenth-century Catholic theologian Erasmus wrote sarcastically about the proliferation of relics, and the number of buildings that could have been constructed from the wood claimed to be from the cross used in the Crucifixion of Jesus. Similarly, while experts debate whether Christ was crucified with three or with four nails, at least thirty Holy Nails were venerated as relics across Europe in the early 20th century.
Some relics, such as purported remnants of the Crown of Thorns, receive only a modest number of pilgrims, while others, such as the Shroud of Turin (which is associated with an approved Catholic devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus), receive millions of pilgrims, which in recent years have included Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
As Christian teaching generally states that Christ was assumed into heaven corporeally, there are few bodily relics, unlike with relics of saints. A notable exception, from long before the ascension, is the Holy Foreskin.
The True Cross
In the Christian tradition, the True Cross refers to the actual cross used in the Crucifixion of Jesus. Today, many fragments of wood are claimed as True Cross relics, but it is hard to establish their authenticity. The spread of the story of the fourth century discovery of the True Cross was partly due to its inclusion in 1260 in Jacopo de Voragine's very popular book The Golden Legend, which also included other tales such as Saint George and the Dragon.
Tradition and legend attribute the discovery of the True Cross to Saint Helena, mother of Constantine the Great who went to Palestine during the fourth century in search of relics. Eusebius of Caesarea was the only contemporary author to write about Helena's journey in his Life of Constantine. But Eusebius did not mention the finding of the True Cross, although he dwelt heavily on the piety of Helena and the finding of the site of the Holy Sepulchre. Texts that tell (and gradually elaborate) the story of the finding of the True Cross and its identification through a miracle date to the fifth century, and include writings by Socrates Scholasticus, Sozomen and Saint Theodoret.
Pieces of the purported True Cross, including the half of the INRI inscription tablet, are preserved at the ancient basilica Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. Very small pieces or particles of the True Cross are reportedly preserved in hundreds of other churches in Europe and inside crucifixes. Their authenticity is not accepted universally by those of the Christian faith and the accuracy of the reports surrounding the discovery of the True Cross is questioned by many Christians. The acceptance and belief of that part of the tradition that pertains to the Early Christian Church is generally restricted to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The Medieval legends of its provenance differ between Catholic and Orthodox tradition. These churches honour Helena as a saint, as does also the Anglican Communion.
A number of acheiropoieta (i.e. not made by hand) images reported to be of the face of Jesus, or have impressions of his face or body on a piece of cloth have been written about or displayed over the centuries. In most cases these images are subject to intense debate and speculation.
Although various devotions to the face of Jesus have been practiced, the term "Holy Face of Jesus" as used today only relates to the specific devotions approved by Pope Leo XIII in 1895 and Pope Pius XII in 1958 in regards to the image from the Shroud of Turin.
Shroud of Turin
Various tests have been performed on the shroud, yet both believers and skeptics continue to present arguments for and against the validity of the tests. One of the contentious issues is the radiocarbon dating in 1988 which yielded results indicating that the shroud was made during the Middle Ages. Believers have since presented arguments against the 1988 carbon dating results, ranging from conflicts in the interpretation of the evidence, to samples being taken from a non representative corner, to additional carbon content via fire damage. Heated debate has ensued ever since.
Believers claim that pollen residues on the Shroud of Turin shows strong evidence that it originated in the Jerusalem area before the 8th century.
Both skeptics and proponents tend to have very entrenched positions on the cause of formation of the shroud image, (at times pitting science versus divine formation) which has made dialogue very difficult. This may prevent the issue from being fully settled to the satisfaction of all sides in the near future.
Sudarium of Oviedo
The Sudarium of Oviedo is a bloodstained cloth, measuring c. 84 × 53 cm, kept in the Cámara Santa of the Cathedral of San Salvador, Oviedo, Spain. The Sudarium (Latin for sweat cloth) is claimed to be the cloth wrapped around the head of Jesus Christ after he died, as mentioned in the Gospel of John (20:6–7).
The Sudarium is severely soiled and crumpled, with dark flecks that are symmetrically arranged but form no image, unlike the markings on the Shroud of Turin. However, some of those who accept the Shroud as authentic claim that many of the stains on the Sudarium match those on the head portion of the Shroud. Believers (such as Vatican archivist Msgr Giulio Ricci, who studied them in 1995) contend that both cloths covered the same man.
Image of Edessa
The Image of Edessa is also known as the Mandylion. Two images claim to be the Mandylion. One is the Holy Face of Genoa at the Church of St. Bartholomew of The Armenians in Genoa, the other is the Holy Face of San Silvestro, kept in the Church of San Silvestro in Capite in Rome up to 1870, and now in the Matilda Chapel of the Vatican Palace. The theory that the object venerated as the Mandylion from the sixth to the thirteenth centuries was in fact the Shroud of Turin has been the subject of debate.
Veil of Veronica
The Veil of Veronica, which according to legend was used to wipe the sweat from Jesus' brow as he carried the cross is also said to bear the likeness of the face of Christ. Today, several images claim to be the Veil of Veronica.
There is an image kept in Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome which is purported to be the same Veronica as was revered in the Middle Ages. Very few inspections are recorded in modern times and there are no detailed photographs. The most detailed recorded inspection in the 20th century occurred in 1907 when Jesuit art historian Joseph Wilpert was allowed to remove two plates of glass to inspect the image.
The Hofburg Palace in Vienna has a copy of the Veronica, identified by the signature of the secretary of Pope Paul V, during whose reign a series of six meticulous copies of the veil were made in 1617.
The image at the Monastery of the Holy Face in Alicante, Spain was acquired by Pope Nicholas V from relatives of the Byzantine Emperor in 1453 and was given by a Vatican cardinal to a Spanish priest who took it to Alicante, in 1489.
The Jaén Cathedral in Spain has a copy of the Veronica which probably dates from the 14th century and originates in Siena. It is known as the Santo Rostro and was acquired by Bishop Nicholas de Biedma in the 14th century.
In 1999, Father Heinnrich Pfeiffer announced at a press conference in Rome that he had found the Veil in a church of the Capuchin monastery, in the small village of Manoppello, Italy, where it had been since 1660. Professor Pfeiffer had in fact been promoting this image for many years before. This theory has since been promoted by the author Paul Badde in his 2010 book The Face of God.
Advocates of the Shroud's authenticity claim that recent research demonstrates that the face of the Manoppello Image corresponds exactly with the face presented on the Shroud of Turin and the blood stains on the Sudarium of Oviedo,[unreliable source?] although skeptics dispute this. Also, 3D properties of the Manoppello Image (similar to that claimed for the Shroud, but weaker) have been discovered.
The Holy Chalice is the chalice or vessel which Jesus used at the Last Supper to serve the wine, as in the Gospel of Matthew (26:27-28) which states: "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
A number of Holy Chalices have been reported and also given rise to the legend of Holy Grail, which is not part of Catholic tradition, but of mythology. Of the existing chalices, only the Santo Càliz de Valencia (English: Holy Chalice of the Cathedral of Valencia) is recognized as a "historical relic" by the Vatican, although not as the actual chalice used at the Last Supper. Although both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have venerated this chalice at the Cathedral of Valencia, neither has formally pronounced it as authentic.
A large number of other claimed relics of Jesus continue to be displayed throughout the world. A good number of these relics involve the journey of Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, to Syria Palaestina in the fourth century to gather relics.
The authenticity of many of these relics is in question. For instance, regarding the Holy Nails brought back by Saint Helena, the Catholic Encyclopedia states that given that the question has long been debated whether Christ was crucified with three or with four nails:
Very little reliance can be placed upon the authenticity of the thirty or more holy nails which are still venerated, or which have been venerated until recent times, in such treasuries as that of Santa Croce in Rome, or those of Venice, Aachen, Escurial, Nuremberg, Prague, etc. Probably the majority began by professing to be facsimiles which had touched or contained filings from some other nail whose claim was more ancient.
The Scala Sancta, the stairs from Pontius Pilate's praetorium, ascended by Jesus during his trial were also reportedly brought to Rome by Saint Helena of Constantinople in the 4th century.
The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium, claims a specimen of Christ's blood in a phial said to contain a cloth with blood of Jesus Christ, brought to the city by Thierry of Alsace after the 12th century.
Other claimed relics, based on the Crucifixion of Christ include:
- The Holy Coat: The possession of the seamless garment of Christ (Latin: Latin tunica inconsultilis; John 19:23), for which the soldiers cast lots at the Crucifixion, is claimed by the cathedral of Trier, Germany, and by the parish church of Argenteuil, France. The seamless robe of Jesus is kept at the cathedral of Trier. The Argenteuil tradition claims that the garment venerated in that city as the Holy Coat was brought there by Charlemagne.
- The Calvary of crucifixion, a small rock called Golgotha, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Inside the church is a pile of rock about 7 metres (23 ft) long by 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide by 4.8 metres (16 ft), believed to be what is now visible of Calvary.
- The Iron Crown of Lombardy and Bridle of Constantine, said to be made from nails used during the crucifixion.
- The Holy Lance (or Spear of Destiny), the spear of Longinus used to pierce Jesus' side when he was on the cross, to ensure that he had died.
- The Holy Sponge, in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
- The Column of the Flagellation, which Jesus was tied to during the Flagellation of Christ, kept in the Basilica of Saint Praxedes in Rome.
Crown of Thorns
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The relics of the Passion presented at Notre-Dame de Paris include a piece of the True Cross, which had been kept in Rome and delivered by Saint Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, a nail from the crucifixion and the Crown of Thorns.
Despite numerous studies and historical and scientific research efforts, its authenticity cannot be certified. It has been the object of more than sixteen centuries of fervent Christian prayer.
Saint John tells that, in the night between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, Roman soldiers mocked Christ and his Sovereignty by placing a thorny crown on his head (John 19:12).
The crown housed in the Paris cathedral is a circle of canes bundled together and held by gold threads. The thorns were attached to this braided circle, which measures 21 centimetres in diameter. The thorns were divided up over the centuries by the Byzantine emperors and the Kings of France. There are seventy, all of the same type.
The accounts of 4th century pilgrims to Jerusalem allude to the Crown of Thorns and the instruments of the Passion of Christ. In 409, Saint Paulinus of Nola mentions it as being one of the relics kept in the basilica on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. In 570, Anthony the Martyr found it exhibited for veneration in the Basilica of Zion. Around 575, Cassiodorus, in his Exposition on the 75th Psalm, exclaimed, "Jerusalem has the Column, here, there is the Crown of Thorns!" In 870, once again in Jerusalem, Bernard the Monk noted it as well.
Between the 7th and the 10th centuries, the relics were moved progressively to the Byzantine emperors’ chapel in Constantinople, mainly to keep them safe from pillaging, like that suffered by the Holy Sepulchre during the Persian invasions. In 1238, Byzantium was governed by the Latin Emperor Baldwin II of Constantinople. As he was in great financial difficulty, he decided to pawn the relics in a Venetian bank to get credit.
Saint Louis, the king of France, took over and paid back the Venetians. On 10 August 1239, the king, followed by a brilliant procession, welcomed twenty-nine relics in Villeneuve-l'Archevêque. On 19 August 1239, the procession arrived in Paris; the king took off his royal garments. Wearing only a simple tunic and with bare feet, assisted by his brother, took the Crown of Thorns to Notre-Dame de Paris before placing the relics in the palace chapel. He built a reliquary worthy of housing these relics, the Sainte-Chapelle.
During the French revolution, the relics were stored in the National Library. After the Concordat in 1801, they were given back to the archbishop of Paris who placed them in the Cathedral treasury on 10 August 1806. They are still housed there today.
Since then, these relics have been conserved by the canons of the Metropolitan Basilica Chapter, who are in charge of venerations, and guarded by the Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Napoleon I and Napoleon III each offered reliquaries for the crown of thorns. They are on display at Notre-Dame Cathedral during scheduled religious ceremonies.
Christian teaching generally states that Christ was assumed into heaven corporeally. Therefore, the only parts of his body available for veneration are parts he had lost prior to the Ascension. At various points in history, a number of churches in Europe have claimed to possess the Holy Prepuce, Jesus' foreskin from the Circumcision, sometimes at the same time. A section of the Holy Umbilical Cord believed to remain from the birth of Christ, is currently in the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran.
A number of miscellaneous relics are claimed to exist; there is no proof that any of them are genuine. In many cases, there are contradictory claims of a unique relic existing simultaneously at different locations.
St. Paul's Monastery on Mount Athos claims to have relics of Gifts of the Magi, while Dubrovnik's Cathedral, Croatia, lays claim to the swaddling clothes the baby Jesus wore during the presentation at the Temple. The knife that was claimed to have been used by Jesus during the Last Supper was also a matter of veneration in the Middle Ages, according to the 12th century Guide for Pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela. According to French traveler Jules-Léonard Belin the knife used by Jesus to slice bread was permanently exhibited in the Logetta (decorated entrance hall) of St Mark's Campanile in Venice.
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