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A modern Pardoner's Tale

You may have read in your diocesan newspaper that the International Crusade for Holy Relics has asked Catholics to boycott e-Bay, which has allowed the sale of holy relics, including body parts.

The Washington Post has more.

I did not find any bones, hair or teeth of saints for sale when I checked e-bay, though ICHR says these have appeared.

But when I searched, I discovered I could get get several pieces of the True Cross for under $500, and a reliquary with a Holy Nail. One seller noted that the relic is FREE; he's only charging for the reliquary.

Some of these relics come with authentication. The Holy Nail is actually a facsimile, reportedly rubbed against a REAL Holy Nail, and thus accruing some of its holy particles.

It's all a sordid business, and ICHR is right to make an issue of it.

But relics have been part of Catholic devotion for centuries. I could not begin to count the number of rosaries I have been offered via direct mail that purport to contain water from Lourdes.

And for centuries Catholics have known that these things could be faked and traded for monetary gain. (True story: My husband's grandfather used to dig up sand in his back yard and sell it in his tailor shop as dirt from the Holy Land. He also got kicked out of Catholic school for spitting on a nun.)

Geoffrey Chaucer's Pardoner, after a couple snorts of ale, revealed to his fellow pilgrims the fake relics in his bag, the fake certificates of authentication and licences to pardon, and the fake Latin he used to spice up his patter.

Some Latin that anybody buying relics off stray Pardoners on e-Bay might want to remember: Caveat emptor.

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I am indebted to the woman who referred me to the great 1978 (ed.1990) work by Patrick Geary called _Furta Sacra: Thefts and Relics in the Central Middle Ages_ (Princeton Univ.)Read the book and wonder how eBay would have been involved in the "translation" trade back in the old days.On a serious note, I thank each Catholic who puts pressure on eBay concerning this practice. Immediately before and after the death of Pope John Paul II, sacred hosts of the Body of Christ were put up for auction that buyers claimed they received at one Mass or another from the Holy Father. eBay removed a good number of this listings. If given positive pressure, I am confident they will do so again.

Who will put pressure on the the bishops and various shrines throughout the world from selling phony relics?

Bill, I don't know of any shrines promoted by the Church that are fake. Do you have some in mind? The Shroud of Turin was disputed some years ago, and the authorities allowed carbon-dating. While the cloth itself was made several hundred years after Christ lived, nobody can explain how the image appeared on the cloth. And, if it doesn't sound too gullible, maybe it's one's faith in the relic rather than the relic itself that makes the difference.Fr. Shawn, thanks for the lead on "Furta Sacra." I'm going to check it out!A book I've been dragging around for decades is "Memoirs of a Medieval Woman" by Louise Collis (1964). It's a biography of Margery Kempe, and has some interesting side info on the shrine biz and how the trade affected various local economies.

Jean,The church has never really affirmed any apparitions. Pope Benedict, who headed the doctrinal congregation for 24 years, once said the multiplication of Marian apparitions was a "sign of the times" and should not be discounted. But he has also counseled prudence, even when it comes to apparitions officially recognized by the church, like those at Fatima, Portugal; Guadalupe, Mexico; and Lourdes, France. Medjugorje is a very good case to study. The Vatican and the local bishop virtually rejects it. Yes the disputed is described as political.It is doubtful whether the other appearances took place too. And you know what Mark Twain said about relics. If you put them all togerther you could not fit them into the whole world.From the fourth century onwards to have a relic of a saint was to have favor for that church or cemetery. They would bring the most visitors and parishioners.The legend of Helena, Constantine's mother is just that a legend.The history of relics is replete with forgery.