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Rediscovery of the Relics of St Mark, a 14th century painting by Paolo Veneziano

Religious Artifacts found alongside Bones in Attic may be Relics of a Saint


A resident of St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, has found what may be religious relics hundreds of years old in his attic. The man's daughter contacted a museum, an archaeologist, some nuns, a jeweler and a Catholic priest to help determine what they are.

The archaeologist Williston called, Chelsea Colwell-Pasch, contacted the Vatican and Interpol to identify the decorated objects, called reliquaries, that contain bones. The bones themselves are called relics.

When the nuns looked at the objects they told Kelly Williston, “Nuns made this,” Williston told the CBC. “So that was nice to hear,” Williston added. "I knew right away that there was something there. They don't look like Made in China ornaments.”

St. Felix's remains are in an elaborate reliquary coffin in Our Lady's Cathedral in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic.

St. Felix's remains are in an elaborate reliquary coffin in Our Lady's Cathedral in Kutná Hora, Czech Republic. (Photo by HoremWeb/Wikimedia Commons)

Her father found them when he looked in the attic of his childhood home, which he had repurchased from a German family. The Willistons are trying to contact the Germany family to tell them about the relics but so far have had no luck.

A screenshot from a CBC video of the relics

A screenshot from a CBC video of the relics

“He went looking in the attic, just to see what was up there," Williston said. "There were lots of neat things and these were in a garbage bag, wrapped in Saran Wrap each and stuffed into one garbage bag."

Colwell-Pasch said a concern is that the relics may be war loot. She said the objects may be 200 to 500 years old.

Christians have a long history of collecting body parts and objects associated with the saints and even Jesus Christ and his apostles. The Shroud of Turin may be the most famous. Legend says the shroud was used to wrap Jesus after he died and had an imprint of his tormented face and body, though his is hotly debated. Other relics include purported pieces of the cross upon which Jesus hung, his baby teeth, his mother's milk or pieces of her veil.

Head of St. Catherine of Siena

Head of St. Catherine of Siena (Photo by Cerrigno/Wikimedia Commons)

Many relics may be spurious and not truly as old as their legends say or may not really be connected with religious figures from antiquity. But Christians believed relics have power to heal, in accord with the New Testament story about relics touched by Jesus or his apostles, says an article at the website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Relics were important to the Christian religion from its onset, but by the time of the Middle Ages and Charlemagne, every altar in every church was required to have a reliquary. Veneration of relics became so important they rivaled even the sacraments in the medieval church, the museum website says. Saints had the power to advocate or intercede for mankind in heaven, so objects associated with them became very important.

The most sacred relics were those associated with Jesus or his mother, Mary.

The website Crux: Covering All Things Catholic reported in September 2014 about a dispute over what to do with the body of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. The popular 20 th century orator is interred at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, but a bishop in another diocese wants to remove the body and re-inter it in Iowa.

The article at Crux included some background about what some may see as the distasteful practice of divvying up a dead saint's body parts and shipping them around for public display—and the money that pilgrims bring.

When a person is sainted, the church used to collect body parts and put them in reliquaries and underneath altars.

A screenshot from a CBC video of a reliquary and objects inside, found in an attic in Canada

A screenshot from a CBC video of a reliquary and objects inside, found in an attic in Canada

“It is highly unlikely in this day and age that Bishop Sheen’s body would actually be dismembered if he were to be canonized. Most likely, hair, pieces of fingernails, or skin, would be collected instead,” the article at Crux says. The Catholic Church, however, used to dismember deceased saints' bodies a lot.

For example, when Thomas Aquinas died in 1274, monks removed his head, and his skull is now on display in Fossovo Abbey near Rome. His bones are in Toulouse, France, and his thumb is in Milan, Italy.

You may take a peek at the famous theologian and saint's thumb for 6 euros, Crux says.

Featured image: Rediscovery of the Relics of St Mark, a 14 th century painting by Paolo Veneziano (Wikimedia Commons)

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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