RELICS: from the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Collection

The word relic comes from the Latin word 'relinquo', which means 'I leave' or 'I abandon'.

Do you have something special from your childhood? A toy or a book and when you pick it up you are taken back to that time? Do you have something that belonged to a loved one who has passed? When you hold it or wear it you are reminded of them and their special place in your life.  Is there a popstar or actor you love and have a poster of them in your room – just to remind you of how cool they are?
That is what a relic is – only these rockstars are the saints!

“Holy relics are symbols of the Divine here on earth…For those who are seeking spiritual strength, relics act as a beacon of faith that guide them through the distractions of this mortal realm to a more direct connection with God”

The Story of God with Morgan Freeman     (S3:ep2)

“When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.  For she said, If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.”

Mark 5:27-29  

Catholics have always protected objects associated with Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints.  These objects include artefacts associated with Christ’s suffering and death, articles of clothing and the remains of the saints.

These objects are known as relics, and the practice of preserving and honouring them is known as veneration. No one may “own” a holy relic, instead those in possession of relics are their guardians.

Relics are divided into three classes, based on degrees of separation from the saint, though not how powerful it is; the power comes through the saint’s intercession:

  • First-class relics are parts of the actual body of the saint.
  • Second-class relics are clothing and other items used by the saint during their life – things that they used in their own journey of faith
  • Third-class relics are items that have been touched to the body (first-class relic) or tomb of the saint.

While there’s no consensus on when relic veneration began, evidence is found in the Old Testament of veneration of sacred objects such as the Ark of the Covenant, and the bones of Joseph.  Reference to an early form of relic can be found in the New Testament, when a women was healed by touching the hem of Jesus’ garment (Mark 5:27-29). Matthew’s gospel recounts the sick being healed, having touched the tassel of Jesus’ cloak. (Matthew 14:36)

A little later in the year 156 A.D. was the death of Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (modern Turkey). He incurred the wrath of the Romans by praying to Jesus instead of the Roman gods, and he was burned.  Afterwards, Polycarp’s followers gathered his remains and circulated them as sacred objects. With that, the modern notion of relics was born. 

Veneration of relics is shown outwardly by respectfully bowing or making the sign of the cross before the relic.

“People brought to him all those who were sick and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed”

Matthew 14:36

Relics in the Cathedral Collection:

Bishop Grimes SM, through his travels, amassed a large collection of relics which subsequently went on display in the Relic Chapel of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, Barbadoes St. Certificates of authenticity were kept in a register Authenticae Reliquarium [Archives Reference: 2018.20.15].

Years later, the Relic Chapel was removed, and the relics were displayed throughout the Cathedral side chapels.  Following the Second Vatican Council and the reordering of the Cathedral, many relics were removed from their reliquaries, and placed in coffee jars within a tabernacle and buried beneath the altar of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Others were placed in storage.  Following the deconstruction of the Cathedral the relics were retrieved and translated to the care of the Diocesan Archives, along with other extant relics that were temporarily stored elsewhere.

These are some of the relics in the Cathedral Collection, that we can identify, along with the stories of their saints. Click through to read each story.

Other resources:

Here are some other website resources with biographies about Catholic Saints:

Catholic Online

My Catholic Life

Catholic Saints and Holy Figures