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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

relics (religious) Though all the Protestant denominations have historically condemned the veneration of holy objects/relics and their use in healing, the Catholic church——at one time——preferred to depend entirely upon the magical qualities attributed to the possessions or actual physical parts of various saints and biblical characters for healing. The Vatican not only permitted but encouraged this practice, which entered history in the third century.
      Catholic churches and private collections still overflow with hundreds of thousands of relics. Included are pieces of the True Cross (enough to build a few log cabins), hundreds of thorns from the mock crown placed upon Christ, bones of the children slain by King Herod, the toenails and bones of Saint Peter, the bones of the Three Wise Kings and of Saint Stephen (as well as his complete corpse, including another complete skeleton!), jars of the Virgin Mary's milk, the bones and several entire heads and pieces thereof that were allegedly once atop John the Baptist, sixteen foreskins of Christ, Mary Magdalene's entire skeleton (with two right feet), scraps of bread and fish left over from feeding the five thousand, a crust of bread from the Last Supper, and a hair from Christ's beard——not to mention a few shrouds, including the one at Turin, Italy.
      A church just outside Moscow holds the fourteenth-century bones, it is said, of three Russian saints: Bishop John, Saint Euphemia and Saint Euphrosinia. Alas, examination shows that Saint Euphemia has been assembled from three different skeletons (one of them a child's) and has far too many ribs and several other extra bones. And all of these three assemblages are the remains of Mongols; the three saints were not Mongols. This may be a miracle.
      One avid German collector claimed to have more than 17,000 of these objects, which inspired Pope Leo X to calculate that the man had saved himself exactly 694,779,550½ days in purgatory by such pious devotion to his hobby. But this man's efforts were dwarfed by the collection at the Schlosskirche at Halle, Germany, which boasted 21,483 relics in its vaults.
      See also Januarius, Saint.



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