Scientists Totally Despiritualize A Group Of Holy Relics
Since the sixth century AD a church in Rome has treasured what the devout have believed to be the holy relics of the two apostles Saint James the Younger and Saint Philip. Now, new scientific analysis, has collapsed 1,500-years of Christian tradition. For more than 1,500 years, the holy men administering the Santi Apostoli church in Rome have protected what were considered to be bones of two of the earliest Christians apostles: Saint James the Younger (or St. James the Less) and Saint Philip. Although both sets of holy relics have been officially recognized by the Catholic Church, a team of scientists from the University of Southern Denmark have now shown one set at least is much too young to have belonged to either of the saints.
Holy Relics: An Ancient Christian Church Business Model
Christianity became the dominant religion of the known world after Emperor Constantine declared it as the state religion on his death bed, inspiring the construction of churches all over the Roman Empire. The “translation,” or “transfer” of holy relics from one church to the next was a big business that was required to support the emerging pilgrimage industry. The “alleged” remains of Christian martyrs were moved from their ancient graves to designated places of worship, and the remains of the two apostles, St. Philip and St. James the Younger were thought to be held at Santi Apostoli church in Rome.
The mummified foot long believed to have belong to the apostle St Philip. (Professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen / University of Southern Denmark)
Professor Birgitte Svennevig of the University of Southern Denmark has published a new paper in the journal Heritage Science in which she says the remains of St. Philip and St. James were taken to “glorify the current church of Santi Apostoli in Rome,” after it was specifically constructed in the sixth century in their honor. However, her findings are certainly not what church officials at the Vatican will be wanting to hear. Quite the opposite.
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A piece of the femur, believed to be of St James the Younger, mounted on a wooden peg with a gilded ring. (Professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen / University of Southern Denmark)
Scientific Method Sheds New Light On Holy Relics
The “alleged” saints’ bones at the church in Rome are a fragment from a tibia and a mummified foot attributed to St. Philip, and a femur believed to belong to St. James the Younger. According to Dr Svennevig, “It appears likely that this [attribution] has been the case since the sixth century.”
Rather than presenting a conclusive dating of the bones, negating or proving the claim that they belonged to two saints, once and for all, the researcher wrote in her new study that the remains of the alleged St. Philip were “too difficult to de-contaminate and radiocarbon date.” So, their credibility remains unprovable with current methods.
However, the femur believed to belong to St. James the Younger was radiocarbon dated in a bracket dating to AD 214-340, and both dates were around 160-240 years too late to have been his remains, explains researcher and Professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen. The researcher added that all the bones must have been taken from Christian graves and she considers it “very likely,” that when the femur was taken to the Santi Apostoli church whoever moved it “believed it belonged to St. James.” She noted that the same goes for the believed remains of St. Philip.
Entrance to the crypt of Santi Apostoli church in Rome also known as The Church of the Twelve Holy Apostles, where the so-called holy relics of the two saints are located. (Fczarnowski / CC BY-SA 3.0)
Stripping The Idea Of Holy From “Holy Relics”
In 2014, author and excavation director Francesco D’Andria announced her discovery at Hierapolis, in ancient Christian Turkey. Having discovered “the tomb of the martyred apostle Philip,” D’Andria’s team first discovered a first-century Roman tomb at the center of a new church, which he said had originally contained Philip’s remains, and this early church of Christian Turkey was built around the tomb in the fourth or fifth century AD.
In a 2016 Ancient Origins article we looked at the legend of the Apostle John’s brother, Saint James the Great, who according to the Bible was a friend of Jesus and was buried in the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. It is thought the remains of St James the Great were transported from Jerusalem to Galicia, where he was buried in the small city of Pradon, and later transported to the church in Santiago de Compostela. However, many researchers still question the authenticity of Saint James the Great’s remains buried in Galicia.
While the findings of Dr Kaare Lund Rasmussen will satisfy the atheist leaning audience, it will be interesting to see the the reaction of Santi Apostoli church if one is forthcoming. For Dr Rasmussen has depowered the believed relics of St. James the Younger and surely weakened those of St. Philip, essentially extracting the word “holy,” from the term “holy relics”. For now, they are just bones, kept in a holy place. But does it matter? The power of faith will always transcend such trifles.
By Ashley Cowie