Fr. Matthew Pittam on Relics
The University of Oxford is to become a world leading centre into the study of religious relics following the launch of a new department. This ground-breaking centre, based in Keble College’s Advanced Studies Centre, is to be composed of computer and medical scientists as well as historians, classicists and theologians. Such an interdisciplinary approach builds upon work that has been undertaken by the university’s archaeological school since the 1980s.
Past achievements within the university have included the dating of the shroud of Turin, which involved study in three laboratories and the radiocarbon accelerator unit. This new unit is the first time that such a wide-ranging field of experts has been brought together in this way.
Not that there is anything wrong with that; this article is not about the shroud but … As a new centre to study relics opens in Oxford, Fr Matthew Pittam takes a look at some more unusual examples in the Catholic Herald:
- The head of St Catherine of Siena – San Domenico Basilica Siena, Italy
- The Holy Prepuce (Christ’s foreskin) – stolen in the 1980s
- St Antonius’s body – Church of San Marco, Florence, Italy
- Blessed John Henry Newman – The Oratory of St Philip Neri, Birmingham, UK
- The hand of St Francis Xavier – Gesu, Rome
Well, I hope Oxford is not planning to test the foreskin. It has gone missing, since 1983.
Fr. Pittam concludes his article:
I remember a friend telling me how he had retrieved relics from a presbytery bin when the parish priest had disposed of them in the early 1980s. This just shows how relics have been regarded by many more recently.
Hopefully, the new Oxford Centre for the Study of Relics will help further advance and promote the use of relics in the Church and encourage us to think afresh about their importance. Whilst studies will undoubtedly identify some relics as counterfeit or misidentified, others may be confirmed as originating from the time and place where the holy person lived. It will certainly give the veneration of relics more credibility.