Relics from the Crown of Thorns and the True Cross are also on display and evoke reactions ranging from astonishment to sheer awe.
For centuries Catholics have been fascinated by relics. They’re a tangible way to bring us closer to the lives of saints and other holy people.
“Treasures of the Church” is an astounding traveling exhibit of relics I recently viewed. The largest collection of relics in the world outside the Vatican, the exhibit carefully documented and offered for veneration and intercessory prayer over 150 authenticated relics. Many of the relics come from well known and beloved saints from hundreds of years ago, such as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Anthony of Padua, St. Rita of Cascia, St. Patrick, and St. Louis de Montfort. Recent saints are included too, including St. John Neumann, St. Faustina, Pope John Paul II, St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. Padre Pio, and St. Maximillian Kolbe.
The exposition attracts lines of people, many of whom come in search of favorite saints they want to honor and whose intercession they seek for personal intentions. I saw people with photos of beloved family members, alive or deceased, for whom they asked the saint’s prayers, some touching their photos to the relic. Others touched their rosary beads, crucifix, or miraculous medal to various relics. Many blessed themselves or knelt for a moment before each one.
People of different nationalities often commented on their family’s or region’s devotion to a particular saint.
“My grandmother met Padre Pio once in Italy and we’ve always prayed through his intercession since then,” one woman said.
Others were interested to learn what a particular saint is the patron of. A woman commented that she never knew St. Dymphna is the patron saint of those struggling with neurological disorders or mental illness, and that she could now appeal to this saint for her sister.
A young man was surprised to learn that pilots, including his brother, have a patron saint, St. Joseph Cupertino.
As an adoptive mom, I was interested to learn that St. Thomas More is the patron of adoptive families. He’s now on my “go to” list of saints!
Some saints are surprising patrons, such as St. Januarius, patron of blood banks, St. Monica, patron of alcoholics, St. Dominic Savio, patron of juvenile delinquents, St. René Goupil, patron of anesthesiologists. I shared with a friend who has struggled for years with arthritis that I learned St. Alphonsus Liguori is the patron of those with this disease.
Almost incredibly, the exposition even includes one of the largest certified relics of the True Cross in the world, and a piece of the veil of Our Lady. To stand before these breathtaking relics, preserved in veneration for 2,000 years, is an overwhelming experience. The reactions of people before these particular relics ranges from astonishment to sheer awe. Another min- boggling relic is a piece of the actual Crown of Thorns used in the crucifixion of Our Lord.
I found it interesting to read the stories of saints or blesseds I knew nothing about, such as the 11 martyrs of Novogrudok, St. Jane Frances de Chantal, St. Malachy, and St. Paul Miki.
I ran into a young man I know who is a recent convert and who is discerning a vocation to the priesthood. He’d never seen a single relic before and spent hours at the exhibit.
“I just can’t get over how ancient some of these are, that they’ve been saved all these centuries, and what amazing lives they lived. Some of the relics are actual hair or bone from the person!” he noted.
The traveling exhibit is usually arranged by the invitation of individual parishes but can also be hosted by schools or organizations. There is no charge whatsoever to host this exhibit, to ensure that poorer parishes can host the exhibit, too. Each relic is carefully transported, unpacked and arranged on tables covered with tablecloths, usually in the auditorium, school gym, or parish hall, by parish volunteers. Each relic in its own gold reliquary is placed in front of its proper documentation. Fr. Carlos Martins of Companions of the Cross introduces the exhibit with a talk and multimedia presentation in the church beforehand, detailing the Church’s history with regard to holy relics.
According to the Treasures of the Church website, some people have claimed healing or other prayers answered through the veneration of the relics. While I can’t claim any such intercession, I found the entire exhibit truly remarkable and a great way of evangelizing.