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relics

relics are material remains of saints which are venerated as signs of their continued presence in the world. They are revered both as points of contact of this world with the divine, and as offering the promise of worldly intercession. The means by which relics gained devotional, theological, and liturgical value in the church were linked to the power and persona of a saint. Bodily fragments were venerated as representative of the worldly presence of a saint, the suffering that a martyr endured, as the miracles associated with the relics were testimonies of saintliness. The term literally refers to bodily remains, exhumed and moved to a church, but may include any object which was in contact with a saint. Either is venerated through pilgrimage, prayer, or worship since true relics are a site of the full presence of the saint, able to work miracles in the world.

The worship of saints' relics is closely tied to the growth of the Christian church. The reverence shown for relics has roots in the celebration of the Eucharist over the graves of the first Christian martyrs. Theological definition of the holiness of the relic is absent from both the Old or New Testament, but was perpetuated as Christianity grew, as a basis for seeking intercession, often in healing bodily ills. The reverence of early Christians for bodily remains of martyrs during the Age of Persecution (c.200–313) mirrored the healing powers of the belongings of the Apostles in the New Testament, but the holiness of martyrs' bodies derives from their being seen as instruments of their faith. While other Christian traditions separated the body from the self, Church fathers assimilated remains of saints to the spiritual body of Christ. They described fragmentary parts of the body — an arm, a finger, or a head — as a synecdoche for the person of the saint after death, and as forecasting Christ's promise of eventual resurrection. Encased in iron or under glass, such relics were especially esteemed for their power to reverse the course of the body's eventual decay by effecting cures or allaying physical pain.

The cult of relics soon won a prominent place within the Church. If Jerome argued that the physical remains of martyrs were to be worshipped out of honour for Christ as records of individual faith, by Augustine's time (354–430) the cult of relics expanded to include objects associated with martyrdom or with the individual person. Early churches were built over the tombs of martyrs, and in 401 the Council of Carthage decreed that all churches not honouring the relics of saints should be destroyed. In the Eastern Church, worship of relics receded in the face of the growing cult of icons, but in 787 the second council of Nicaea required that relics be present in the altars of consecrated churches and gave a liturgical role to the salutation of relics after the celebration of the Mass. While the exhuming of bodies faced fewer restrictions in the East, the increased need for relics led prohibitions against the spoliation of graves to be relaxed. Relics were increasingly translated, or transported into, churches from sites of martyrdom, and as the basis for Christian burial ad sanctos. Their charismatic value played a prominent role in European conversion. The church distinguished primary relics, parts of bodies which had suffered torture or martyrdom, from ‘secondary’ relics, objects valued for their contact with the body of a saint and as memories of a worldly presence. Secondary relics might be privately owned, and were believed to have power as protective charms.

Worship of saintly relics became a pressing theological concern in the high Middle Ages. The church emerged as a house of worship, as well as a place of the veneration of saints, at the same time as the number of relics in the West increased. Relics continued to be considered a treasure of towns and congregations, and as the papacy authorized translation of a large number of relics from the East during the Crusades, instruments of the passion, vials of Mary's milk, and relics of the apostles flooded Europe. Relics were treasured by towns and congregations, and the cult grew so rapidly that by 1274 the veneration of relics was forbidden without papal approval. The scholastic Thomas Aquinas emphasized the importance of relics as manifestations of the Godhead. He confirmed the doctrine of saintly intercession and also saw relics as confirming the promise of future resurrection. The combined emphasis on relics' divinity and physicality paralleled theologians' increased location of individuality in the human body.

The prominent place that relics came to occupy as material objects of veneration in medieval Christianity led reformers such as Jan Huss (d.1415) and Martin Luther (d. 1546) to question their worth as points of access to the divine. In arguing that true faith was independent from the cults of saints, Luther condemned the worship of relics as a money-making invention of the worldly Church. In response, Catholic theologians argued for the importance of relics as signs of religious faith, reaffirming their role as illustrations of the continual presence of saints within the Church. Cults of relics regained a prominent role in counter-reformation religiosity. While earlier relics were associated with Christ, the Virgin, and the apostles, the Catholic reformers confirmed worship of existing relics and encouraged veneration of parts of the saintly body: arms, hearts, tongues, throats, hands, and blood of saints were prominently exhibited on altars. Pope Sixtus V responded to accusations about the worship of false relics when he gave juridical form to the authentication of sainthood and of relics in 1588. This preserved the doctrinal basis of relics in Catholicism, established uniform guidelines for reviewing claims to sanctity, and created norms for the exhibition of relics. New guidelines for the display of relics were drafted in the late nineteenth century, to ensure their accessibility to the individual believer.

Daniel A. Brownstein

Bibliography

Brown, P. (1981). The cult of the saints: its rise and function in Latin Christianity. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Geary, P. (1978). Furta Sacra: thefts of relics in the central Middle Ages. Princeton University Press, Princeton.


See also saints.

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"relics." The Oxford Companion to the Body. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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relics

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.

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"relics." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Relics

Relics

Christianity

The word is applied to material remains of a saint after death, and to sacred objects associated with Christ or with saints. In the W. Church the cult of relics increased enormously, especially during the Crusades when quantities of spurious relics were brought to Europe. They were kept in reliquaries (often elaborate, decorated vessels of formalized shape), carried in procession, and believed to have miraculous powers. Relics of martyrs were placed under the altar stones of all Roman Catholic churches until 1969.

Buddhism

The earliest Buddhist relic (śarīra) was the bo tree (of enlightenment): trees grown from cuttings or seeds (taken from the original tree under which Gotāma achieved enlightenment) became objects of veneration. This reverence involves circumambulation (indicating the centre of one's life) and the offering of flowers or water. The development of the stūpa included the placing of relics.

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"Relics." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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relic

rel·ic / ˈrelik/ • n. an object surviving from an earlier time, esp. one of historical or sentimental interest. ∎  a part of a deceased holy person's body or belongings kept as an object of reverence. ∎  an object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded: individualized computer programming and time-sharing would become expensive relics. ∎  (relics) all that is left of something: relics of a lost civilization.

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"relic." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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relic

relic in religious use, especially in the Greek and Roman Catholic Churches, a part of a deceased holy person's body or belongings kept as an object of reverence. Recorded from Middle English, the word (like reliquary) comes ultimately from Latin reliquus ‘remaining’.

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relic

relic object remaining as a memorial of a departed saint XIII; (pl.) remains XIV; surviving trace or memory XVI. ME. relike — (O)F. relique, orig. pl. — L. reliquiæ remains, fem. pl. of reliquus remaining, f. RE- + base of linquere leave behind.

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relic

relic See relict.

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relic

relic See RELICT.

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relic

relicbathypelagic, magic, tragic •neuralgic, nostalgic •lethargic, Tajik •Belgic •paraplegic, quadriplegic, strategic •dialogic, ethnologic, hydrologic, isagogic, logic, monologic, mythologic, pathologic, pedagogic, teleologic •georgic • muzhik •allergic, dramaturgic •anarchic, heptarchic, hierarchic, monarchic, oligarchic •psychic • sidekick • dropkick •synecdochic • Turkic •Alec, cephalic, encephalic, Gallic, intervallic, italic, medallic, mesocephalic, metallic, phallic, Salic, tantalic, Uralic, Vandalic •catlick • garlic •angelic, archangelic, evangelic, melic, melick, philatelic, psychedelic, relic •Ehrlich • Gaelic •acrylic, bibliophilic, Cyrillic, dactylic, exilic, idyllic, imbecilic, necrophilic •niblick • skinflick •acyclic, cyclic, polycyclic •alcoholic, anabolic, apostolic, bucolic, carbolic, chocoholic, colic, diabolic, embolic, frolic, hydraulic, hyperbolic, melancholic, metabolic, parabolic, rollick, shambolic, shopaholic, symbolic, vitriolic, workaholic •saltlick • cowlick • souslik • gemütlich •public • Catholic

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