Post: Saints and Relics: Past and Present

It seems that the power of sainthood and relics still has a hold over billions of people today, despite the Reformation of the 16th Century. The veneration of, and trade in relics was one of the main criticisms that Martin Luther and his followers made of the Catholic Church. The unfolding events that came to be termed the Protestant Reformation split the Catholic Church and tore Europe apart. In the process the Catholic Church had its own Counter-Reformation that included a ‘reform’ of the use of relics.

But today we can see that relics are still able to draw millions in veneration. Around a million people attended the Vatican City State in Rome on the 27th April to witness the canonisation of two new Saints, Pope John Paul II and John XXIII, with billions more celebrating the event around the world. The occasion has been hailed as a truly historic day because this was the first time that two Saints had been canonised in the presence to two living Popes, despite the fact that neither fulfilled the normal conditions required for canonisation. (The process should only begin five years following death, plus the verification of two miracles.)

On this occasion the canonisation of Pope John Paul II was fast tracked for political reasons, in order to reconcile the conservative and liberal wings of the Catholic Church. An important part of the celebrations included the kissing and blessing by Pope Francis of two silver reliquaries, one containing the blood of John Paul II and the other said to contain some skin of John XXIII. On two previous occasions, vials containing the blood of John Paul II were reported as stolen, once in 2012 and again in January of this year, which shows the value placed on the relic by some people.

It would seem that the veneration of relics is as popular as ever. Why should this be? Is it that they are simply accepted as part of the traditional pomp and ceremony? Or is it something more fundamental; that the appeal of the magic talisman is still deep within us?