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History of Relic Veneration.

The veneration, or honoring, of sacred relics, is as old as the church itself. When St. John the Baptist was martyred, his remains were recovered by his followers and taken to be buried in a safe place where they could be honored. In the second century a bishop named Polycarp was burned at the stake for his religious views. His flock gathered his burned bones and place them in a tomb where they gathered to celebrate Mass and the life of their martyred pastor. During the years of persecution church members buried the remains of the martyrs in the catacombs of ancient Rome and gathered there secretly to celebrate Mass on the tombs of the saints. From that practice grew the custom in the Catholic Church of placing a small relic in the altar of each church. Until recent years this was continued. Older churches still have an altar stone built into the altar in which relics have been embedded.

During the Middle Ages religious often traveled the countryside with relics of the saints and told stories about their heroic lives. Major relics were usually held in churches in larger cities throughout Europe and it was often difficult, or impossible, for the common man to travel and view these precious items. These traveling priests and monks brought the relics to the people.

There Are Three Classes of Relics

First Class Relics are instruments of Our Lord's Passion or body parts of those declared blessed or saints by the Church.

Second Class Relics are items used by the saint during life (or after death). Included would be articles of clothing, a book, a rosary or even a fragment of the saint's coffin.

Third Class Relics are items, usually pieces of cloth, that have been touched to a first or second class relic.

(Some add a forth class of relics which are objects, usually cloths, that has been exposed in the shrine of a saint. An example would be a piece of cloth exposed in the Shrine of St. Michael the Archangel.)

Front View of Theca
Any bishop or leader of a religious order may produce relics. The small piece of relic material is usually enclosed in a locket-like container called a theca which has frequently been highly decorated by nuns. The relic is tied into the theca with red thread and then sealed with red wax. While the wax is still soft it is imprinted with the seal of office of the person authorizng the preparation of the relic.
Rear View of Theca

Starting in the Middle Ages many abuses grew out of an illicit trade in relics, many of which were counterfeits. The Church declared that any relic that would be used for public veneration must be accompanied by a document of authenticity. The document describes the relic and is signed by the authorizing official or his representative. Below are a couple examples of these "authentics."

Authentication Document 1
Authentication Document 2

Relic Descriptions
The relic document as well as the relic itself will have a Latin phrase describing the relic.
Below are some of the more common phrases:

Latin Relic Descriptions
applicasse et Lanceae Domini cuspidi - touched to the Holy Spear
applicasse et Sudarri Veronicae - touched to the Veil of Veronica
applicasse et vivicae Crucise - Touched to the True Cross
arca mortuaria - mortuary box, container
arca sepulerali- coffin
Beatae Mariae Virginis, B.V.M. - Blessed Virgin Mary
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
ex domo - from the house
ex bacula - from the staff
ex bireto - from the biretta
ex calce sepulchri - from the cement of the tomb
ex capillis - from the hair
ex capsa - coffin, also see capsa funeralis
ex carne - from the flesh
ex cineribus - from the ashes. Same as ex exuviis
ex coronae spinae - from the crown of thorns
ex crinibus - from the hair
ex crucis - from the cross
ex cute - from the skin
ex exuviis - from the ashes or dust of the body remaining after decomposition.
ex Funi. Flag. - from the flagellation ropes.
ex Inncunabuli - from the swaddling clothes
ex indumentis - from the clothing. Sometimes refers to pieces of cloth that have touched a 1st or 2nd class relic.
ex lanceae - from the lance
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 lignum crucis - from the wood of the cross
ex linteo attacto ossibus - from the cloth that touched the bones (third class relic)
ex loco Annunciationis Beatae Mariae Virginis - from the site of the annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary
ex ossibus - from the bones
ex pallio - from the cloak
ex panno a stigmatibus cruentato - from the bandage that covered the stigmatic wound
ex pelle - from the skin
ex pluviali - from the cope [cloak wore for Benediction]
ex praecordis - from the stomach or intestines
ex praesepis - birthplace of D.N.J.C.
de pulvere corporis - from the dust of the body following decomposition
ex pulvinari lapideo - from the stone pillow
ex purpurae - from the purple robe
ex sanguine - from the blood
ex scal.Pilati - from Pilate's staircase
ex sepulerali - coffin
ex spongia - from the sponge
ex sportula - from the little
ex stipite affixionis - probably means "from the whipping post"
ex strato - from the covering [blanket]
ex subucula - from the tunic
ex tegumentis - from the skin
ex tela serica quae tetigit cor - from the silk cloth which touched the heart
ex Titulus Crucis - from the title board of the cross
ex tunica - from the tunic
ex velo - of the veil
ex veste carne imbuta - from the vestment imbued with the flesh
ex mensae coenae D.N.J.C. - the room where the Last Supper took place
ex sindonis D.N.J.C. - from the burial shourd of Our Lord Jesus Christ
ex sudarii - from the sudarium or face cloth

Initial that follows the name to which the relic belongs:
AP. (or A.) - Apostle
C. - Confessor
D. - Doctor of the Church
D.N.J.C. - of Our Lord Jesus Christ
E. (or Ep.) - Bishop
E. (or Ev.) - Evangelist
F. - Founder of Order
Lev. - Deacon
M. - Martyr
Mil. - Soldier
Poen. - Penitent
PP. - Pope
Sp. - Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Reg. - King or Queen
V. - Virgin
B.V.M. - Blessed Virgin Mary
Vid. - Widow

Third Class Relics are frequently described as ex indumentis (from the cloth) and this is misleading as the cloth is not a second class relic but, rather, a piece of cloth touched to a first or second class relic.

Canon law absolutely forbids the sale of first and second class relics. This, however, has not stopped dealers from from profittng from this business. They simply state that they are not selling relics, only the thecas. The relic is to be considered as a gift. Yeah, right! A person is going to pay hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for a simple theca that can be purchased for a couple dollars. The office preparing the relic is, however, allowed to charge a small fee, usually less than $30.00, to cover the costs of materials and labor.

Unfortunately, the Church turns a blind eye to this shady business and is frequently indirectly complicit in it. When bishops or other clergy members die,their estates often contain sacred relics. More often than not, these relics are turned over to brokers to sell so that the estate can be settled. A similar fate oftens happens to relics held in churches, monasteries and convents that are closed for one reason or another.

Purchasing relics, however, is not forbidden by Canon Law if the purchase is meant to prevent the sacred relics from falling into the wrong hands and possible desecration.