holy relics in Catholic churches

The practise used to be that for a church to be named after a saint, it had to house a physical relic of that saint (fingerbone etc.)
Is this still done?
What relics are housed in a selection of America’s (or wherever) most prominent cathedrals?
And what about all those hundreds and hundreds of St. Paul’s and St. Mary’s? What are THEY using for relics?

According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church’s entry for “relics” - “… the Second Council of Nicea (787) anathematized those who despised relics and ordered that no church should be consecrated without them.”

Doesn’t say when (or if) the RC Church changed this requirement. At the Reformation, of course, the Protestants did away with the veneration of relics, so the question wouldn’t apply to Anglican/Lutheran/Presbyterian churches named after saints.

Just a couple of WAG’s, but I’ll take a shot:

  1. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be a very BIG relic to be considered a holy relic. Maybe all it takes is a few grains of sand upon which Saint X is supposed to have walked.

  2. Aren’t a lot of Holy Relics made holy by declaration? For example, aren’t there a few buildings in the Middle East, built from the ground up by the Crusaders, in which the RC Church has declared that Biblical events took place? In other words, the church may be in posession of a bone that everyone knows is that of an anonymous Jewish martyr, but then some dignitary declares it to be a bone of St. Y, and that settles the matter.

I hope I haven’t offended any Catholics. I’m not trying to be offensive.

I don’t think that a church needs a relic to be dedicated to a saint. I think it was considered ideal, but of course impossible in all circumstances, especially after colonial/imperial days now that we have many many churches (at the same time though, the Catholic reformation likely toned down the importance of relics at a moment which happened to be at the start of colonial times-- a nice so-incidence).

I don’t see how Catholic Churches named things like “Holy Spirit”, “Resurrection”, “Incarnation”, “Guardian Angel” could have relics.

Los Angeles’ former cathedral, St. Vibiana, did have some relics from the saint herself. The new cathedral won’t be named after her, so I don’t know what the disposition of those will be.

Relics are usually tiny, something like a bone chip encased in resin or glass. I’ve also heard of pieces of cloth from the clothing that the saint wore. Commonly, the relic is imbedded in the altar. I don’t think the relic has to be from the saint that the church is named after–any saint will do. The church I go to is St. Raphael’s (an archangel). I once asked the paster if the church has a relic. He said yes, but he didn’t know off-hand who’s relic it was.


“I had a feeling that in Hell there would be mushrooms.” -The Secret of Monkey Island

What about the rather odd (to me anyway)custom of having complete bodies/remains of saints in the church? I once saw a church in Austria, where they had a saint (St. Placidus?) in a glass box, beside the altar. Anyway, he was supposed to have been a Roman soldier, and he was in pretty bad shape-mostly just bones.

I read about a relic that seems to have been a fake! In 1950, Life ran a picture essay featuring the left arm of St. Francis Xavier, a medieval missionary to Asia; the relic was on a “tour” in the United States, where it was placed on exhibition in a number of places, presumably Catholic churches. The arm was photographed by Life, and the picture was included in the article. However, a doctor’s wife wrote to the magazine, saying that the arm was a right arm! That can’t be, said the editors; St. Francis Xavier’s right arm is still attached to his body, buried in India!
Any comments?

Well my local parish, St. Judes (Patron of Lost Causes :)), has a bone chip of St. Jude in the sancutary behind the altar. I’ve never seen it though.

Also, the coffin containing St. Therese of Lisieux is touring the US, and is coming to a nearby parish on the 11th. (IIRC).

I thought St. F.X. was buried in Japan, and later dug-up again and found to be intact - no decay?

egkelly: the custom of burying people in the church was not limited to saints. And not limited to Catholic churches. Wander around a few churches in England, you’ll find all sort of people buried right there in the church.

Is it possible that Life just flipped the negative? Or would that be too easy?

Well, Beruang, you could ask a doctor if “flipping” the image would make a left arm look like a right one, in whatever stage of decay it had been…