I first came across ‘relics’ (bits of saints) when reading Chaucer at secondary school. At the time I thought it was a bit of weird superstition to stick a dessicated bit of (allegedly) someone’s body in a box, put it in a holy place and invite people to ‘venerate’ it – which I also didn’t understand.
I still don’t quite ‘get it’ now. I watched the coverage of the devotion many paid to the relics of St Therese of Lisieux earlier this year and couldn’t work out why the presence of someone’s body parts should evoke the devotion they did. I am perfectly happy to say that this is my personal deficiency, but having had it all explained to me, I still don’t quite get it. Maybe there is some bit of me I can’t suspend. (It won’t be a surprise, then, if I also confess to not being perturbed by the beatification of John Henry Newman this coming September – however inspiring or interesting I might find him – as I don’t think it makes the slightest difference to him or us.)
I was chatting to a couple of my colleagues this morning about a holiday visit to the Church of St Titus in Crete where a sign tells the visitor that the skull of St Titus (first Bishop of Crete and recipient of Paul’s New Testament letter) is housed in a side chapel. This led us on to a conversation about relics in general and then to a question in particular.
If you thought you were likely one day to be venerated, which bits would you (a) like to be preserved as a relic and (b) which would you definitely not want preserved for the devotion of the faithful?
We didn’t reach a conclusion. But we did miss the point about the purpose of relics…