Relics are objects of religious veneration and were the most important feature in the religious landscape of the middle ages. In them the power of the unseen world was more accessible than anywhere else. Every church, every alter, every nobleman, every king, every monastery, had relics, sometimes in great quantity. >From the time when the charred remains of St. Polycarp were reverently gathered up until the present, relics have been with us.

As human beings, men were powerless. They could only survive through their dependence on the supernatural, and they sought to clothe themselves in the power of the unseen world. Relics were the main channel through which supernatural power was available for the needs of ordinary life. The cult of the saints fostered an intensive preoccupation with their relics. Augustine wrote that "Let us not treat the saints as gods, we do not wish to imitate those pagans who adore the dead." By 787, the practice had so accelerated that a church council declared, "If any Bishop from this time forward is found consecrating a temple without holy relics, he shall be deposed as a transgressor of ecclesiastical traditions." The veneration of dead bodies of martyrs was ordered by the Council of Trent, the Council which also condemned those who did not believe in relics.

The crusades especially set off a wave of relic hunting. Pieces of bone, hair, fingers and teeth of saints flooded the west and authentication was impossible. They were credited with miracle working powers. If there is need of rain, the relics can be carried in procession around the thirsty country and relief is sure to follow.

There is perhaps no subject connected with veneration of Saints that requires more sympathetic understanding, knowledge of human nature and a sense of humor than a discussion of relics. The Decameron related "he showed me a finger of the Holy Ghost." The gross superstition that has accompanied the use of relics reveals the deception and inconsistency with which Romanism has been plagued for centuries. Splinters of the “true cross” seemed to be everywhere - enough it was said later to build a ship, several churches claimed to have the crown of thorns; water pots used in the miracle at Cana; even the wine; the crib of Jesus; the foreskin of Jesus; bones of the donkey Jesus rode; cup at the last supper; coat of purple; the sponge; hair from the virgin Mary (black, brown, red, blond), the lance that pierced the side of Jesus, the dismembered body of St. Theresa and Thomas Aquinas. The skulls, bones, and hairs of saints were the most common relics, but some exotic items were preserved as well: the sweat, tears and umbilical cord of Jesus; St. Joseph's breath; and the Virgin's milk. Several heads of John the Baptist have been claimed and whole skeletons of various saints.

Some of the power of the saints was thought to persist on earth in their physical remains. Hence immense importance was placed upon the bones, teeth, and intimate possessions of departed saints. No church or monastery was without its hoard of relics - it's "spiritual endowment." To this day the treasures of many European churches are rich with golden reliquaries and their precious contents. The genuineness of these were not questioned by the faithful and they ran into the millions. At last by the end of the Middle Ages, some devout Christians began to doubt their authenticity. In His book, "The Work of Monks", St. Augustine gives a warning against monks who peddle false relics.
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