Weird & Creepy Catholic Relics & Reliquies

The Wax-Encased Remains of Blessed Anna Maria Taigi

Basilica of San Crisogono, Rome, Italy

The mystic whose incorrupt corpse still attracts the faithful.  

HOUSED IN THE BASILICA OF San Crisogono, is a small chapel with a glass coffin. Inside are the remains of Anna Maria Taigi, covered in a wax visage made from her death mask.

Born in Sienna, Anna Maria and her family moved to Rome when she was six years old. She later married and had seven children. Known for her charity and devotion, she joined the Secular Trinitarians in 1802. Of the many holy gifts attributed to her, the most impressive was the “miracle of the mystic globe-sun.” She would have visions of a sun-shaped globe that held images of current, past, and secret events. 

When she died in 1837 it was only a few days before pilgrims started to visit her resting place despite a cholera epidemic (which some believe she was holding off while alive). In 1868 her coffin was opened and though her clothes had deteriorated, her body was found to be incorrupt. When examined again in 1920, she had begun to decompose and so her visible hands and face were covered in wax replicas. Pope Benedict the XV declared her protector of families and mothers in 1920. Special masses are still held in her chapel to this day.

Arciconfraternita Santa Maria dell’Orazione e Morte

Rome, Italy

At the crypt of St. Mary of Eulogies and the Dead you are left alone to ponder mortality among piles of skulls. 

WITH SKULLS CARVED ABOVE THE doorway and winged skeletons etched into plaques outside, the exterior of St. Mary of Eulogies and the Dead suits its macabre name. 

Once inside, visitors can make a small donation to the church and a nun will unlock the crypt for you. The nun will take you down a short flight of stairs and leave you alone, surrounded by skeletons. There are skeletons set in the wall, etched skulls stacked on shelves, bones piled by the altar and made into a cross. Even the chandeliers are made with human vertebrate. A scythe lurks near the altar.

The stretcher in the corner offers a clue to the story behind the crypt. The church was established in 1576 to provide a proper burial for abandoned corpses. While it used to include huge vaults where over 8000 bodies were buried, most of the vaults were destroyed during other construction in 1886. This chamber is all that remains.

22 Papal Hearts at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi

Bulgarian Orthodox Church

Rome, Italy

This former Roman Catholic Church still contains the embalmed hearts and organs of 22 popes. 

IN 2002, POPE JOHN PAUL II gifted use of Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi in Rome to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, but 22 hearts of the popes remain in the marble urns.

The popes are listed to the left of the altar and their reigns range form Sixtus V in 1583 to Leo XIII in 1903. The custom of separating the organs from the corpse was called praecordia and was done to prevent decay while funeral arrangements were made.

There is a large collection of ex voto in this church, most depicting the Sacred Heart. These are small metal ornaments that are left by the faithful as a token of thanks when their prayers are answered.

The church faces the more famous Trevi Fountain. As with many churches in Italy, the dress code is strictly enforced. Bare shoulders and knees are prohibited.

The Head of St. John the Baptist at San Silvestro in Capite

San Silvestro

Rome, Italy

One of four skulls claiming to belong to the beheaded St. John the Baptist is on display at this Roman church. 

THOUGH CHURCHES IN FRANCE, SYRIA and Germany also claim the skull of St. John the Baptist, the relic is what gives this church its name. The skull can be viewed in the first chapel to the left of the entrance. Don’t miss the stained glass in this room depicting St. John’s head on a plate. 

The church was built to house relics from the catacombs. These are not normally on display. Instead they’re housed in the confessio under the altar and listed near the front door of the church.

Santa Francesca Romana

St. Francesca Romana Church

Rome, Italy

St. Francesca Romana, patron saint of drivers, resides in the church she founded. 

THIS 8TH-CENTURY BASILICA HOUSES THE skeleton of its namesake, still wearing her habit and clutching her prayer book in the crypt below.

St. Francesca Romana founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary in 1421, a religious order for widowed women that cared for the poor and sick. Despite her piety, she had a dark side too. She was known for her unusually harsh mortifications including whipping herself with metal chains and burning herself with animal fat. For a while she even drank from a human skull in an effort to ward off the devil.

During the restitution of the Forum to its original form, many constructions that had covered the sites of ancient imperial temples and basilicas were destroyed. The St. Francesca of Romana church is rumored to be the only surviving example of Christian intervention in the Forum. The church itself is said to be built on the spot where Simon Magus (a favourite of emperor Nero at the time) used black magic to fly, as part of a “miracle contest” between Simon and St. Peter. The apostles Peter and Paul prayed that he would fall. When God granted the apostles’ request Simon fell from the sky, broke both legs and was then stoned to death by an angry mob. The marble where the apostles knelt miraculously had their knee-prints pressed into it. The stone was removed and inlayed in the floor of the church. It can be found on the right hand side wall of the sanctuary, close to the tomb of Gregory XI.

In the sacristy is a 6th century colossal painting Vergine col Bambino, which may have come from Santa Maria Antiqua, and it is one of the most ancient Christian paintings in existence.

Francesca Romana is also the patron saint of drivers since it’s said that her path was always lit by an angel. On her feast day, March 9th, people park as closely to the church as possible to have their cars blessed (which of course causes an unbelievable traffic jam even by Roman standards).

The Sweating Cenotaph at the Archbasilica San Giovanni in Laterano

Rome, Italy

Stone memorial that’s said to predict the death of the pope and the site of the Cadaver Synod. 

THIS FORMER PAPAL PALACE HOUSES an unusual monument- Pope Sylvester II’s cenotaph (a funeral moment for a person whose remains are entombed elsewhere) that’s said to sweat profusely when the death of a pope is near. If it’s clammy or damp, the death of a cardinal or bishop is immanent. 

Interestingly, Pope Sylvester II has long been associated with the supernatural. His contemporaries (likely amazed by and maybe jealous of his intellect) said he was a sorcerer who built an automaton which acted like an oracle. The automaton told him that if he ever went to Jerusalem he would be taken by the devil. Taking the warning literally, he avoided the Holy Land but was struck dead when he said mass at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, a basilica just down the street from San Giovanni in Laterano. His remains are still there and an alternate version of the legend says his bones rattle when a pope is about to die.

San Giovanni in Laterano was also the site of the Cadaver Synod in 897 when the rotting corpse of Pope Formosus was dug up and put on trial by Pope Stephen VI. Records show that an earthquake damaged the church during the trial and shortly after it concluded a fire nearly destroyed it completely. These events are usually viewed within the church as a sign of God’s displeasure with the macabre spectacle.

St. Valentine’s Skull

Basilica di Santa Maria

Rome, Italy

The skull of the patron saint of lovers lies in the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin—maybe. 

A SKULL RESIDES IN A glass reliquary in Rome’s Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, surrounded by flowers. Lettering painted across the forehead identify the owner as none other than of the patron saint of lovers, St. Valentine.

Knowing just exactly whose skull it is, though, is complicated. There was more than one Catholic saint known as Saint Valentine, and there was approximately 1500 years between those martyrs’ deaths and the enthusiastic distribution and labeling of bodies in the Victorian era. Finally, and most troubling, there is the fact that no less than 10 places around the world claim to house the saint’s relics.

Though not much is really known of the real men behind the myth, at least two of the Saints Valentine lived in Italy in the late 3rd century, and another in North Africa around the same time. Over time, the stories of these different men seem to have merged. Most of the mythology about Valentine centers around him being a patron of lovers. In 496, Pope Gelasius I made February 14—originally part of the Roman festival of Lupercalia—a feast day dedicated to St. Valentine.

The Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin itself is very old, standing on the site of an ancient Roman temple that dates to the second century B.C. Most of what you see today dates to the 8th and 12th centuries, including the crypt located beneath the altar.

The skull can be found in the side altar on the left side of the church. While you’re there, stop by the portico to visit with the famous Bocca della Verità (mouth of truth).

The Catacombs of San Sebastian

Rome, Italy

Jesus’ footprints and the first catacombs in the world. 

KNOWN AS ONE OF THE Seven Pilgrim Churches of Rome, the Catacombs of San Sebastian have long attracted devout Christian pilgrims and curious visitors.

Along the first four mile stretch of Via Appia, are The Catacombs of San Sebastian. The martyred remains of San Sebastian were buried at the site in 350, and a basilica was erected over the grounds to worship the saint in the early 4th century. At the time, the subterranean burial area became known as ad catacumbas, which means “near the hollows,” due to the excavated mines near the site. This was the first use of term catacombs, and it has since signified underground Christian burials chambers.

Since the site was erected, many pilgrims have come to visit and see the relics held at the basilica as well. The basilica is dedicated to San Sebastian, who was martyred, and it houses the arrow that allegedly struck San Sebastian during his murder.

Besides the arrow relic, the basilica also possesses a set of marble footprints, that are attributed to Jesus, during his walk to Rome along the Via Appia.

Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory

Rome, Italy

A collection of objects supposedly singed by the hands of souls in purgatory. 

LOCATED IN THE BACK OF the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio on the banks of the Tiber, the tiny century-old Piccolo Museo Del Purgatorio, or “Museum of the Holy Souls in Purgatory,” holds a collection of bibles, prayer books, tabletops, and articles of clothing said to have been singed by the hands of souls in purgatory.

According to Catholic belief, the soul is stranded in purgatory until it atones for its sins, but can hasten its ascent to heaven through the prayers of loved ones still on earth. The scorched handprints and other burn-marks collected in this museum are believed to be the product of souls begging their earth-bound loved ones to pray harder.

Though not mentioned in the Bible, the idea of purgatory is a very old part of the Catholic faith, dating back to at least the 11th century. The notion that trapped souls might need to be freed comes from a story allegedly told to the Abbott Odilo of Cluny by a monk returning from the Holy Land. He told the Abbott how his ship had been wrecked, and he had been cast ashore on a mysterious island. A hermit who lived on the island related his own story of a mysterious chasm, from which burst forth demonic flames and the agonized screams of trapped souls. He pointed out that the demons were always complaining about losing souls when the living prayed or gave alms to the poor on their behalf.

The freeing of these trapped souls became a priority for the Church, and for family members grieving dead loved ones. November 2 was established as All Soul’s Day, whereon it was believed that prayers by the living could intercede on behalf of the faithful dead who had died without absolution, or babies who had died before baptism, thus freeing them for Heaven. (According to Catholic doctrine, one cannot go to hell from purgatory.)

Victor Jouet, the collector and French missionary, was supposedly inspired to build this purgatorial museum after a fire destroyed a portion of the original Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragio, leaving behind the scorched image of a face that he believed to be a trapped soul.

Santa Maria della Concezione Crypts

Rome, Italy

The crypts of Capuchin friars decorated with the bones of over 4,000 friars, including an entire “crypt of pelvises.” 

IN 1775, THE MARQUIS DE Sade wrote of it, “I have never seen anything more striking.” Granted, the crypt was to his tastes.

Mark Twain wrote about it in his 1869 book Innocents Abroad. When Twain asked one of the monks what would happen when he died, the monk responded, “We must all lie here at last.” And lie there they do. Some 4,000 Capuchin friars who died between 1528 and 1870 are still lying, hanging, and generally adorning the Santa Maria della Concezione crypt in Rome.

In 1631, the Capuchin friars, so-called because of the “capuche” or hood attached to their religious habit, left the friary of St. Bonaventure near the Trevi Fountain and came to live at Santa Maria della Concezione, of which only the church and crypt remain. They were ordered by Cardinal Antonio Barberini (the Pope’s brother and a member of the Capuchin order) to bring the remains of the deceased friars along with them to their new home so that all the Capuchin friars might be in one place.

Rather than simply burying the remains of their dead brethren, the monks decorated the walls of the crypts with their bones as a way of reminding themselves that death could come at any time. A plaque in the crypt reads, “What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be.”

The ossuary contains a crypt of skulls, a crypt of leg bones, and perhaps the oddest—a “crypt of pelvises.” Mummified monks were dressed in friar’s clothes and hung from the walls and ceiling. With the addition of electricity, light fixtures were incorporated into some of the hanging monks, bringing a new meaning to the phrase “the eternal light.”

A particular highlight of the crypt is the skeleton enclosed in an oval of bones holding a scythe and scales—tools made entirely out of, yes, bones. The crypt is said to have been the inspiration for Sedlec Ossuary in the Czech Republic.

The body of St Francis Xavier

Goa

Francis Xavier was a 16th century Roman Catholic missionary in Goa, India. He also worked in Japan and China, among others, but he’s most famous for his work in India. Most of his body is on display at the Basilica of Bom Jesus in Goa, India. You’ll find him in a glass container and he’s been in there since 1637.

His right forearm was detached in 1614 and is now at the Jesuit church in Rome, Il Gesù. Another arm bone, the humerus, is in Macau, having been kept there for safety instead of going on to Japan.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, and indeed the Saint’s body, appear in my ARKANE thriller, Destroyer of Worlds, as Morgan and Jake race to stop an ancient weapon being unleashed.

The Holy Right Hand

Budapest

The Holy Right Hand is thought to have belonged to King Stephen, the first Hungarian King, who died in 1038.

His death provoked unrest and his followers worried that his body might be desecrated. When he was exhumed, they discovered his right arm was perfectly preserved.

His arm was added to the Basilica’s Treasury. It was stolen and kept in Romania for a while, though it’s now back in the Basilica of St. Stephen in Budapest.

A chronicler noted that while it was in Romania, the hand wore St Stephen’s ring. The Holy Right Hand on display doesn’t wear one and doesn’t look like it’s ever worn one. Some wonder how genuine the Holy Right Hand actually is …

In my political thriller One Day in Budapest, the Holy Right is stolen and a right-wing faction move against the Jews of the city, as they did in the dark days of the Second World War. The right is rising

Mary’s Holy Belt

Prato

Most religious relics seem to take the form of body parts, but the Virgin Mary left her belt behind instead. Her handwoven belt is kept in a silver reliquary in Prato Cathedral. The arrival of the relic allowed the Cathedral to add a transept and a new chapel.

According to legend, she gave the belt to the apostle Thomas before she ascended to Heaven. That’s Doubting Thomas – and the Virgin allegedly gave him her belt as physical proof of her ascension. The belt, known as Sacra Cintola, is displayed five times a year in the chapel built especially to house it. In centuries gone by, it was venerated by pregnant women.

St Antoninus’ body

Florence

St Antoninus was a popular priest in Florence, getting by with only the bare essentials of life. He was so popular that Pope Eugene IV wanted to make him an Archbishop, and he threatened to excommunicate Antoninus when he declined the offer.

St Antoninus died in 1459 but his body wasn’t immediately embalmed as it should have been. Left to the elements for eight days, his body didn’t decompose. His followers took this as a sign of his incorruption, so he was placed in a glass coffin to display his divinity. You can see his corpse at the Church of San Marco.

Shrine of the Three Kings

Cologne

The bones of the Three Wise Men apparently rest in the ornate gold-plated sarcophagus inside Cologne Cathedral. According to legend, their remains originally lay in Constantinople, before being taken to Milan, then Cologne in 1164. The shrine is the largest reliquary in the western world. Some of the images on the shrine depict the dawn of time, as well as the Last Judgment.

It was damaged when it was hidden in 1794 to keep it from French revolutionary troops, but it was largely restored during the 1960s. Cologne is so proud to house the Three Magi that there are even three crowns on the city’s coat of arms.

The Blood of San Gennaro

Naples

St Gennaro was beheaded by Emperor Diocletian in 4th century. His dried blood is presented to local residents and pilgrims at Naples Cathedral on September 19, December 16 and the first Sunday in May. They wait for the blood to liquefy, making this a grisly religious relic.

As the patron saint of Naples, the liquefaction of his blood is thought to signify a miracle and protects Naples from disaster. In 1527, it failed to liquefy and Naples suffered an outbreak of plague. In 1980, they were struck by an earthquake. The relic was even venerated by Pope Francis in March 2015.

The Heart of St Camillus

Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Rome,

St Camillus started out life as a soldier and a gambler. He later repented and devoted his life to caring for the sick. After being denied entry to the Capuchin order thanks to a leg injury, he established the Order of Clerics Regular, Ministers to the Sick. They specialised in assisting injured soldiers on the battlefield. A large red cross was a symbol of the Order – centuries before the Red Cross was formed.

Many were so struck by his charity that they thought it must have left an imprint on his heart. So after he died, his heart was removed and preserved with salt. This religious relic is definitely more weird than wonderful. It’s now kept in a gold and glass container and it even went on tour. It visited Thailand, Ireland and the Phillippines.

The hand of St Teresa de Avila

Ronda

St Teresa de Avila reformed the Carmelite Order, and after she died, her remains were found to be incorrupt. Her left hand became a relic, but it was seized by General Franco in 1937. St Teresa had once been a contender for Spain’s national saint, and Franco used her during the Spanish Civil War as an ideal of traditional Spain.

According to legend, he kept the hand by his bedside until he died in 1975 – allegedly while holding the mummified hand. It now rests at the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Merced in Ronda, Andalusia.

The Tongue and Jaw of St Anthony

Padua

At the age of 35, St Anthony of Padua succumbed to ergot poisoning – also known as St Anthony’s Fire. He sealed himself in a small cell under a walnut tree and waited to die. He actually died on the way back to Padua where he was buried in 1231.

32 years later, his followers pried open his vault. Most of his body had turned to dust, but his tongue was strangely still fresh. Many believe this is a testament to the power of his words while alive.

St Bonaventure had St Anthony’s tongue, lower jaw and vocal chords mounted in a metal shrine. His tongue even went on a tour of UK churches in 2013.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found

Throughout Christian history there has been devotion to many relics. These are objects that are either the blood and bones of religious figures, or items that these figures have touched or been associated with. During the Middle Ages, these relics increased in popularity to the point where each altar was expected to possess at least one. A good relic could increase the economy of a town, as pilgrims would travel to come and see the sacred relic of a treasured saint.

This led to many fake relics and the stealing of relics, such as the body of Saint Nicholas. Strangely enough, the thefts were always admitted in order to verify the authenticity of the relic. Countless relics were destroyed during the reformation, and those that survive today are often called into question. Here are just a few relics from medieval and ancient history that are missing today. Some are rumored to have been destroyed, while others are believed to be hidden, their locations a mystery.

A piece of flesh believed to be the holy foreskin of Jesus. Catholic.org

The Holy Foreskin

Jesus was circumcised as an infant and it was believed by many that the skin cut from the infant was preserved. There was some reference to the foreskin being preserved by an old Hebrew woman in an alabaster box of old oil of spikenard. However, the foreskin largely disappeared after that, with no real mention of it again until the Middle Ages.

On December 25, 800, Charlemagne was purported to have given it to Pope Leo III in gratitude for crowning him Emperor. When asked where he got the holy foreskin, Charlemagne responded that it had been brought to him by an angel as he was praying at the Holy Sepulchre. Another report claims that it was given to him as a wedding present by Empress Irene. Pope Leo III then took the foreskin and placed it Sancta Sanctorum and there it remained until Rome was sacked in 1527.

A German soldier stole the foreskin during the attack and took it to Calcata where he was captured. The soldier managed to hide the relic in his cell and there it stayed until it was found in 1557. From then on, the foreskin remained in Calcata and had several miracles attributed to it. The story and the miracles were enough to have the Catholic Church approve the authenticity of the skin in Calcata over the numerous other claims of holy foreskin.

In 1900, the Church grew tired of the celebration of the foreskin. So the Vatican issued a warning that anyone who so much as talked about the Holy Prepuce would be excommunicated. This did little to deter the people of Calcata ,who were proud of their sacred relic and would march it through the streets every year on the Feast of the Circumcision. However, the practice stopped when the relic was stolen in 1983. Some believe that it was stolen by or sold to the Vatican in order to get people to stop talking about the foreskin. It has not been seen since.

Stained glass of Edward the Confessor and his ring. wjartuso.wordpress.com

Ring of Saint Edward

Saint Edward the Confessor was born in 1005 as the son of King Elthelred the Unready and his Norman Queen Emma. In 1042 he ascended to the throne. Edward was seen by many of his proponents as a deeply religious leader who removed unjust taxes, healed the sick and took a vow of chastity in order to remain devoted to his people and his religion. He built a cathedral to replace the Saxon church at Westminister in replace of the vow. The church then became known as Westminister Abbey.

There is one miracle that is attributed to Edward known as the miracle of the ring. It was said that while riding he was approached by a beggar who asked for alms. As Edward had no money on him, he took off his ring and gave it to the beggar. Years later, two pilgrims became stranded in the Holy Land.

There they were saved by St. John the Evangelist. With him, he carried the ring that Edward had given the beggar. He asked that when the pilgrims returned home to England that they give it to Edward with the message that he would be dead in six months.

The ring was one of many sacred relics that were kept from Edward the Confessor and were highly prized after he was made a saint 100 years after his death. The ring was kept at Westminister Abbey with other sacred relics. However, all the relics disappeared after the dissolution of the monastery in 1540. While the ring is lost, the sapphire that was in the ring is believed to be the center jewel on the cross atop the Imperial State Crown.

One of the largest purported pieces of the True Cross rests at Santo Toribio de Liébana in Spain. Wikipedia

The True Cross

There are many churches claiming to have fragments of the True Cross. It is believed that the cross was lost until Constantine’s mother Empress Helena traveled to the Holy Land in search of religious relics in 326-328. She traveled to the place where Jesus was said to have been crucified to discover that a temple had been built over it. Helena ordered that the temple be destroyed and the dirt beneath the temple removed.

Beneath the temple three crosses were found, the crosses were believed to be those that crucified Jesus and two thieves, St. Dismas, and Gestas. In order to discover which cross was the True Cross, a lady of rank that had long been suffering from disease was called to touch the crosses. The instant the woman touched one of the crosses, her disease disappeared and she was healed. Thus, Helena believed that she had found the True Cross and the Holy nails.

The Holy Nails were sent to Constantinople where they were added to Emperor Constantine’s helmet and the bridle of his horse. Part of the cross was also sent to Constantinople, while the rest was covered in silver and then given to the bishop of the city whom was asked to care for it carefully. The cross was cared for and taken out periodically for ceremonies until the fall of Jerusalem in 614.

The pieces of the cross in Jerusalem and in Constantinople were largely broken apart as both regions were conquered. Claims of splinters of the cross were found all over the world and men would wear small splinters in golden reliquaries around their necks. There are few who believe that most of these fragments are real, or that the story of Helena finding the cross is true. There is no definitive proof that the True Cross was ever really found, or that it survived at all.

Picture of Joan of Arc from a 1505 manuscript. Wikimedia

Relics of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was nothing more than a peasant girl until she rose to fame as leader of the medieval French forces. Joan was found guilty of heresy and witchcraft and burned at the stake in 1431 at the mere age of 19. It was said that her heart and intestines would not burn in the flames and therefore it was ordered that all of the ashes and remains of the body be thrown into the Seine River.

For this reason, there are no verified first class relics of Saint Joan of Arc. There is a jar of remains at the Chinon Castle Museum that is said to have been taken from the ashes at the stake of Joan of Arc, but it cannot be proven.

There are some other relics from Joan that survived for a time. There was a wax seal to one of Joan’s letters that she had placed one of her hairs. The hair disappeared during the second half the 19th century and no one knows where it is now. There was also a grey hat that was owned by Joan and given to Charlotte Boucher. It was given to the Oratorian Order of Priests in the 1600s where it stayed until it was taken by revolutionaries and purportedly burned in 1792.

There was also a sword that belonged to Joan and was kept by the descendants of her brother Pierre until it was lost during the chaos of the revolutionary period in France. It was also during the height of the French Revolution that Joan’s standard was believed to be burned and destroyed. Joan also kept a ring that was described during her trial. This relic is claimed to have been found and now in the possession of a private collector but the ring does not match the description given by Joan at her trial.

King David bearing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Getty Images

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant is one of the most famous relics of the Christian and Jewish faiths. The Ark of the Covenant was built by Moses according to a pattern provided to him by God. The Book of Exodus tells that the Ark was built while Moses was on Mount Sinai. The Ark was created to hold the Ten Commandments and was connected to numerous miracles, including clearing obstacles from their path and stopping the flow of the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross.

In 597 and 586 BC, the Babylonian Empire conquered the Israelites. The Ark at the time was said to be housed in the temple of Jerusalem. After the Temple fell to the Babylonians, the Ark disappeared. There is no evidence as to whether the ark was destroyed, was hidden by the Israelites, or was stolen by the Babylonians.

There are several theories as to the fate of the Ark, and a few people have claimed to have found it. One theory is that the Ark was smuggled away to Ethiopia before the Babylonians reached Jerusalem. It is now believed by some to be at the St. Mary of Zion cathedral in Askum. Church authorities have only permitted one man, the guardian of the ark, to see it and have never allowed it to be studied for authenticity.

There was another theory that said that the Ark was hidden beneath the First Temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed in 586 BC. The site is home to the Dome of the Rock shrine, and is sacred in Islam and therefore no digging to find the Ark is allowed. In 1982, Ron Wyatt claimed to find the Ark beneath the hill on which Christ had been crucified. The Ark was never seen again and Ron Wyatt was known for dubious archaeological finds.

Statue of Saint Christopher with missing relic. Metmuseum.org

Relic of Saint Christopher

The missing relic of Saint Christopher is particularly interesting because there are some who claim that he never existed. Some people debate whether or not he was a real person or if the term “Christopher” or “Christ-bearer” was a general title that was given to several people. The story for which he is most known was that he carried a child across a river before the child was later discovered to be Christ.

Saint Christopher was later said to have visited Lycia where he tried to comfort the Christians who were being martyred. The local king attempted to get Christopher to make a sacrifice to pagan gods but he refused. Then the king tried to tempt him with women and riches, but instead he converted the women to Christianity. The king then ordered that Christopher be killed, and the Saint was beheaded.

There is one relic that is said to be the gold plated head of Saint Christopher that is kept at the Museum of Sacred Art at Saint Justine’s Church in Croatia. The head is rarely seen but church tradition tells the story of when the bishop showed the relics in 1075 in order to convince the Italo-Norman army to stop the siege on the city. That is the only recorded relic of the Saint, but a statue at the Metropolitan museum suggests that there have been more.

This elegant statue beautifully depicts Saint Christopher with Christ upon his shoulder. The statue also features the staff which was said to bring the miracle of Christ for when Christopher planted the staff in the ground, it bore leaves and fruit the following morning. At the base of the statue is the spot where a now missing relic once resided. The relic would have been placed in a small box of crystal so that the relic could be seen.

Painting depicting Veronica holding her veil. Wikipedia

Veil of Veronica

The story of the Veil of Veronica was not recorded in its present form until the Middle Ages. The stories of Veronica and her veil began appearing in different forms in the 11th century, and the final Western version tells of a meeting between Saint Veronica and Jesus. Saint Veronica encountered Jesus along the Via Dolorosa and stopped to wipe the blood and sweat from his brow with her veil. When she did so his image was transferred onto the veil.

The veil was then believed to have mythical powers including heading the Roman Emperor Tiberius. It was said that it could quench thirst, allow the blind to see and even raise people from the dead. The veil then became a venerated symbol of the Church. There is written evidence that the Veil of Victoria was displayed through the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.

The fate of the veil became shrouded in mystery following the Sack of Rome in 1527. Some writers said that the veil was destroyed. Others say that it continued to be a presence in the Vatican and a witness to the sacking recounted that the veil was not found. Still another account tells that the veil was stolen and made its way through the taverns of Rome.

The mystery over whether or not the veil survived led to numerous people making replicas and copies which were passed around. In 1616, Pope Paul V prohibited the creation of copies of the veil, and in 1629 Pope Urban VIII ordered that all copies of the veil be destroyed. Anyone who refused to have their copy brought to the church to be destroyed faced excommunication. The fate of the veil has not been mentioned since.

Painting depicting the Holy Grail. History.com

Holy Grail

Few religious relics are as recognizable or as idolized as the Holy Grail. The cup is believed to have untold power and be the cup that caught the blood of Christ at the crucifixion. The Holy Grail was also the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and as such there are few religious artifacts with as much history to them. But there is no evidence the cup really existed.

The Holy Grail first started to be mentioned around the 12th century when it was presented as a divine object in “Perceval.” The poem “Joseph d’Arimathie” by Robert de Boron spoke of the grail being at the Last Supper and the death of Christ, which only added to the religious significance of the cup. After the cup grew in prominence, Knights such as Sir Galahad in the 13th century would set off in search of the relic. It was believed that anyone with a charitable spirit could set off in search of the Grail and have a chance at finding it.

There is no solid evidence that the grail was ever held in anyone’s possession. There are only written literary accounts of the grail and depictions of the grail in paintings and artwork. The mythology surrounding the grail and whether or not it ever truly existed have led numerous historians on a quest to find it.

There are some who believe the story of the grail emerged from Celtic mythology. Others attribute the grail to the sacrament of the Eucharist the medieval period believing that the story of the Grail might have been an attempt to renew the traditional sacrament.  The story of the grail continues to be retold to this day and there are many who believe that the grail existed and is out there somewhere.

Reference

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