FIRST AND SECOND CLASS RELICS
AUTHENTICITY OF RELICS
Documentation from Rome
Most relics when originally issued are accompanied by a document of authentication warranting the veneration of the relic. Dealers like to make much of these if they have them, stressing facts such as the number of tassels on the seal (an heraldic device which has nothing to do with the relic or the degree of authority attached to the authentication). But the dealers, it seems, cannot read Latin, or they would realize that the document is more than just a guarantee of authenticity. It is a legal document which probably constitutes a contract, as it usually contains a clause stating that the relic may be kept by the person to whom it is given, or given to another, in accordance with the norms of ecclesiastical law (which forbids the sale of relics). Now, you don’t have to sign anything to be party to a contract - for example, when you break the seal on a packet of software you are automatically bound by the conditions of use. Likewise anyone who accepts a relic accepts the conditions stated in the accompanying document.
On the document there is a variety of useful and necessary information. On the top of the document is the name of the ecclesiastic who has authenticated the relic as genuine, this could be the Postulator General of the religious order whose logo appears or, the Vicar General.
Next is what is usually written in Latin. The English translation is: "To all and any who will read this document. We, the Pro-Postulator in the Cause of (Beatification and) Canonization of ___________________ guarantee and testify that from the authentic Relics, which are preserved, we have extracted a particle from ___________ of the same ________________ and have placed it in a ______ _________ case covered by crystal, bound by red colored thread and sealed with the seal of our office."
Rome ( Date ) Signature [Seal]
This document is a public acclamation as to the authenticity of the relic itself, of which a high ranking ecclesiastic has signed his name. Typed or hand written into the blank areas are the name and abbreviation of the cause of their sainthood and the individuals station in religious life, as well as any distinction of honor that the Church has placed on them posthumously. There is also a description of the relic itself, (described below) and a description of the locket or reliquary that it is placed in. On the bottom of the authentic is the date of issuance, the seal of the office, registrar number and the signature of the authenticator.
Underneath the back cover of the relic locket there is a seal of red wax. The relic itself is held in place in the locket by threads that cross over it. The threads are fed through the walls of the locket on opposing sides and it is sealed shut with a wax seal bearing the insignia of issuing religious authority and their order’s initials. This seal and it's locking procedure, (threads and seal) should never under any circumstances be broken. It protects the integrity and validity of the authentication. Even if the papers are lost and the seal is intact it is difficult but not impossible to have new papers generated in Rome.
In the process of trying to identify the specific relic you have accompanied by the document you will find that the explanation will be in Latin. Below is a glossary with the definitions of the most commonly used words: arca mortuaria - mortuary box, container
arca sepulerali- coffin
breviario – breviary
coronse spinse D.N.J.C. - crown of thorns of Our Lord Jesus Christ
[cravio] corporis – body
de velo - from the veil
domini nostri jesu christi, D.N.J.C. - Our Lord Jesus Christ
domo – house
ex bireto - from the biretta
ex capillus - from the hair
ex carne - from the flesh
ex cineribus - from the ashes
ex indumento - from the clothing
ex ligneo pulvere, mixto pulveri corporis, quem residuum continebat prima capsa funeralis - from the remains of the wood, mixed with the dust of the body, the residue of which was contained in the first box, [or sarcophagus]
ex ossibus - from the bones
ex praecordis - from the stomach or intestines
ex praesepis - birthplace of D.N.J.C.
ex pelle - from the skin
ex pluviali - cope [ cloak wore for Benediction ]
ex sportula - from the little basket
ex stipite affixionis - probably means "from the whipping post"
ex strato - from the covering [ blanket ]
ex tela serica quae tetigit cor - from the silk cloth which touched the heart
ex tunica - from the tunic
There are initials that follow the name to which the relic belongs:
AP. – Apostle
C. – Confessor
D. - Doctor of the Church
E. – Bishop
EV. – Evangelist
F. - Founder of Order
Lev. – Deacon
M. – Martyr
Poen. – Penitent
PP. – Pope
Reg. - King or Queen
V. – Virgin
Vid. – Widow
The next important step is to the classification of the relic itself. There are three classes of relics; 1st class, 2nd class, and 3rd class.
[ 1st class ] First class relics are parts of the bodies of the saints, such as fragments of bone, skin, blood, hair or ash, or the instruments of Our Lord's Passion such as the True Cross. Nothing else whatever is a first class relic, and strictly speaking only these are canonically entitled to be called relics at all.
[ 2nd class ] Objects that have come in physical contact with living Saints and are thereby sanctified ( for instance, the instruments wherewith a martyr has been tortured, the chains by which he was bound, the clothes he wore, objects he used).
[ 3rd class ] Bits of cloth touched to an actual 1st or 2nd class relic.
Since the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into heaven we do not possess any first class relics of her with the exception perhaps of some hair. "Parts of Mary’s hair were claimed to be in the Messina Cathedral in Sicily, after being brought to Piazza, Sicily, by the Crusaders; various other places also claimed this relic."
Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) allegedly had hair of Mary and so did Pope Sergius II, which is now enshrined in Emmerich/Germany. There are still several other places where Mary’s hair is reportedly venerated: in 1148 in Saint Eucharius-Matthias and in 1209 in Saint Mary of the Martyrs in Trier as well as in 1170 in the Cistercian Abbey of Himmerode and in 1282 in the Benedictine Monastery of Prüfening; all of these sites are in Germany. In 1283 Mary’s hair has been deposited in a reliquary at the Augustinian Monastery in Ranshofen, Austria as well as in Linköping, Sweden. Among the secondary relics whose authenticity is naturally dubious a variety of items is known:
Mary’s garment and cincture/sash are considered among the most significant Marian relics. The Byzantine Church celebrates a feast in commemoration of the translation of the cincture to Constantinople (Calcopratreia Church and later to Blacherne Church) on August 31st the last day of the Byzantine Year. The feast of the deposition of Mary’s vestment/garment is celebrated in the Byzantine Rite on July 2nd.
A Letter supposedly sent by Mary to the first Christians of Messina. Investigations have shown that its actual author was Constantine Laskaris in the 15th century. Another letter written to Mary by Saint Ignatius of Antioch and her response proved to be forged.
Mary’s engagement ring is venerated in Perugia/Italy and her wedding ring in Weihenlinden/Germany.
There are a number of Mary’s veils, which are highly acclaimed. The oldest known originated in Constantinople and belonged to Charlemagne. Later Charles II (the Bald) gave it to the Cathedral at Chartres/France in 877. There are also veil relics in Brixen/Italy, as well as in churches in Cologne and Mainz/Germany and in Prague.
Mary’s shoes were venerated at the Cistercian Abbey Maria Ophoven. However they were stolen in 1826 and never found again.
In a wider sense places in the Holy Land where the Blessed Virgin Mary lived as well as the House of Loreto in Italy are esteemed as secondary relics.
Pilgrims to the Holy Land and participants in the crusades obtained these and other relics as souvenirs. References from the 6th century for example give testimony of a stone on which Mary supposedly rested while fleeing to Egypt, of a tree, which gave shade to the Holy Family while in Egypt and of a chair on which Mary sat during the Annunciation. Other relics were rendered through legends as for example Mary’s comb and a vessel she used to offer a drink to Baby Jesus. We cannot dismiss them as fake. Should a Catholic venerate as a relic some object, which is not authentic, such devotion is at least well meant, and always reverently directed towards the one whom the object is believed to represent. "In the final analysis, the most important relic of Mary that we have is a spiritual one – her abiding influence on Christians over the centuries and her comforting presence to us through her Divine Son."
The Sale of Relics
Simony (SAI-muh-nee) - The selling or purchasing of spiritual things, which is forbidden both by ecclesiastical law and natural law.
Canon Law: (Ecclesiastical Law)
Canon 1171 - Sacred things which are destined for divine worship through dedication or a blessing are to be treated with reverence and not to be employed for improper or profane use even if they are under the control of private individuals.
Canon 1190 - It is strictly forbidden to sell sacred relics.
Canon 1376 - One who profanes a movable or immovable sacred thing is to be punished with a just penalty.
The purchasing or selling of spiritual things. The word is derived from the biblical sorcerer Simon Magus, who attempted to buy spiritual powers from the apostle Peter. (see Acts 8:18-24)
Simony was a problem in the Christian church from the time of the Edict of Milan (313), when the church began to accumulate wealth and power, until modern times. This is evident from the frequent legislation against it. In 451, the Council of Chalcedon proscribed ordination for money; this prohibition was reaffirmed by the Third Lateran Council in 1179 and by the Council of Trent (1545-63). Simony was rampant from the 9th to the 11th century. During that period simony pervaded church life on every level, from the lower clergy to the papacy. At the time of the Reformation, major abuses centered on the sale of indulgences and relics.
Ecclesiastical law forbids simony and condemns it as a sinful practice that bespeaks a shallow understanding of spiritual values. Prohibited are all monetary transactions surrounding blessed or consecrated religious objects, prayers and masses (excluding ecclesiastically authorized offerings for the support of the clergy), and church offices and promotions.Some guidelines and clarifications are necessary for public relic exhibits: In the spirit and the letter of the Law we have decided to establish set of common guidelines for all member of the I.C.H.R. who exhibit relics for public and/or private veneration.The first point is to address the veneration fo Church approved Saints. In the Code of Canon Law, in the section Public Cult of Saints/Blessed (Canon 1187), "Veneration through public cult is permitted only to those servants of God who are listed in the catalog of the saints or of the blessed by the authority of the Church. This statement excludes all who have not been approved for veneration by Rome including relics pertaining to; holy personages who are 'servants of God', holy personages declared, 'venerable', items from unapproved apparitions, visionaries, mystics, stigmatists and seers. The term 'relic' may be extended to servant of God and venerable for whom there is an official process. A holy and proper atmosphere is imperative; relics are usually venerated in public by being exposed in their cases (teca-reliquary), with burning candles upon the table. Catholic individuals comply to the Code of Canon Law (Canon 1190, "It is strictly forbidden to sell sacred relics." Canon 1171, " Sacred things which are destined for divine worship through dedication or a blessing are to be treated with reverence and not to be employed for improper or profane use, even if they are under the control of private individuals", Canon 1376, "One who profanes a movable or immovable or immovable sacred thing is to be punished with a just penalty.
Relics of Saints Offered for Sale!
Important information for anyone looking for Holy Relics
Are you looking for an authentic relic for private or public veneration? If so, please read the following warning and information.
It may sound like the Middle Ages, but unfortunately it ís all too true. At the end of the Twentieth Century, on the eve of the Third Millennium, an illicit trade in relics (authentic or otherwise) is flourishing. A number of antique dealers and profiteers have somehow obtained relics of the saints - fragments of their bodies or clothing, or even relics of Jesus Christ such as splinters of the True Cross - and are selling them at incredibly inflated prices, at enormous profit to themselves, without any regard for the sacred character of these objects or for the law of the Church (the source of these relics) which strictly forbids such activities. These sales are taking place in antique shops and flea markets and even on the internet. Typically hundreds of dollars are charged for relics that originally must have been obtained from Church sources for a minimal donation of perhaps $15.00. (as of 2006) Some relics have even fetched over 1000 dollars, 95 percent of which is profit for the dealer.
The information provided by these dealers is frequently inaccurate, and displays their ignorance of these matters. Often they seem to want to ensnare vulnerable or desperate people, for example by suggesting that the relics they are selling might work miracles. The situation is made worse when relics are offered at auction, as desperate people may go to any lengths thereby increasing the dealer’s profit by bidding against each other. This trade is both cynical and sacrilegious, and since it may be assumed that those who wish to obtain relics are devout Christians of some sort, this information has been posted here as a warning and a guide.
First Class relics
Dealers sometimes state that the relics they offer are first class when there is no evidence that this is so. They seem to assume that anything that has been sealed into a theca (the round metal locket used to contain relics) is a first class relic. Not so! Second and third class relics are frequently distributed in this way. If the authentic document has been lost and the label on the relic doesn’t say what it is, it cannot be safely claimed that a relic is first class.
Relics are Rare or Unique
Dealers try to maximize their profit by saying that a relic is rare or unique or that ìt may be your only chance to obtain this highly sought after relic, etc. This is just rubbish. Relics were, and are, distributed from religious orders and from the relic office in Rome. Remember that the items being sold were obtained from these sources originally without any difficulty, and probably for about a twentieth of the price that you are being asked to pay. Don’t be taken in!
When relics are obtained from Church sources a donation is usually asked to cover the cost of the theca (the metal container) and other expenses. This is typically fifteen dollars (obviously more if the container is silver etc.). Some dealers imitate this by saying that their inflated price is a donation. Now, clearly, a donation is simply to cover costs. Anything more than this is not a donation, it is a profit; you can call it a donation or anything else if you want to but that won't alter the facts. You are only paying for the container, the relic is a gift Just try selling an empty theca and see how far you get...
Relic cards and medals may be wrongly described.
Small cards and medals with relics stuck on them are distributed in very large numbers by religious orders, often to promote a beatification or canonization, and are either given away free or for a very nominal donation. Usually these are third class relics of which there is an unlimited supply, typically ìex indumentis (pieces of cloth which have touched the saint’s tomb). Dealers sometimes wrongly state that these relics are pieces of the saint’s clothing, rare objects, etc. These have no financial value, and there is no justification for charging anything beyond the cost of postage for them.
Any bishop or religious order can issue relics and attach their seals to the theca and the accompanying document. The Pope, however, never does so (he is a world leader who has more important things to do with his time - for comparison, can you imagine the President of the USA personally signing drivers licenses?). Claims that the seals are Papal just show the ignorance of the dealer.
How to Obtain a Relic
It is important to remember that you don’t have to own relics in order to have the spiritual benefits of venerating them. All Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and some Anglican (Episcopalian) ones, have relics, at the very least sealed into the Altars, and sometimes on display in large collections. You can visit these any time the Church is open. Nonetheless, there is nothing wrong with desiring also to have your own relics for private veneration if you can provide a suitable place for them to be honored.
Is it ever justifiable to buy relics from antique dealers?
Sometimes, yes, but caution is needed. While the sale of relics is sacrilege (technically it is simony, the sale of spiritual goods, cf. Acts 8 18-24) it is permissible to buy relics in order to save them from desecration. However, a principle of proportionality applies, that is, the money offered should be in proportion to the good to be achieved. Thus it would not be justifiable to purchase a relic if the good of rescuing that relic was less (in a reasonable judgment) than would be achieved by devoting the same amount of money to other objects such as the poor or homeless. Thus, generally, it will not be justifiable to spend very large amounts of money rescuing relics, although there may be exceptional circumstances. The possibility that rescuing a relic may encourage a market to develop should also be considered.
Relics should never be bought at auction, however - buyers just end up bidding against other people who are also trying to rescue the relics.
Legitimate Sources for Relics
Parish Churches and priests who wish to obtain first class relics for public veneration may apply to the Vicariate in Rome. A vast store of relics is preserved there for this purpose. You will need to provide proof of status, and you may be asked for a letter from your Bishop to approve the request. The Vicariate no longer distributes relics for private veneration, in order to avoid abuses.
Some religious orders and jurisdictions do provide first class relics for private veneration. For example the Mother Seton Shrine in Baltimore distributes first class relics of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. The Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn sometimes has first class relics of Blessed Rafka and Blessed Al-Hardini. In addition, if you go on pilgrimage to any shrine it is worth asking in the official gift shop or sacristy as relics are sometimes obtained from these sources.
Relic cards and medals with second or third class relics are widely available in Catholic bookstores or from religious orders. If there is any particular saint you are interested in look up the address of the provincial postulator of their order in your local Catholic directory and write and ask. In addition, you can make your own third class relics if you visit a saint’s tomb just by touching the tomb with a piece of cloth. This method is sanctioned by a very ancient tradition - there are records of pilgrims to St. Peter’s tomb doing just this in the fifth century.
We have available over 100 third class relic badges of different saints. They are beautifully crocheted and can be obtained for $1.00 each from us. Please see our list of available saints.