Business as Usual in Romanism: Part II — Mary’s Dress and Christ’s Swaddling Cloths
Last week we saw that it is still very much business as usual in the Roman Church when it comes to paying to have masses said and paying to have a share in priests’ good works. Now comes this story from Germany on: relics. Yes, relics. You know the superstitious bits and pieces of saints bones and hair and blood and objects. Well, these relics are particularly interesting, for it is claimed that they are the dress Mary wore when giving birth to our Lord, and some of the swaddling cloths he was wrapped in. I have a hunch that there are enough dresses of Mary and swaddling cloths of Jesus in Medieval lore and legend to cloth a legion of young women and wrap an equal number of newborns. One person commenting here has noted that the dress appears to be quite large. Either the Mother of our Lord was a *very* large woman, or those are two very short priests. Here is the story:
Trinity Hartman | www.dw-world.de | © Deutsche Welle.
Holy Skepticism: Christian Relics Face a Modern Audience
Virgin Mary’s dress is a treasured relic. But is it real?
European Catholics arrive in Aachen this week to see a 2,000-year-old
dress reputedly worn by Mary when she gave birth to Jesus. Christian
relics continue to draw crowds, but for most people seeing isn’t
The bones and
belongings of holy people remain a big tourist draw in Europe. For most
modern day pilgrims, whether the ancient Christian relics are real or
not is beside the point.
Aachen expects 100,000 pilgrims and tourists during its 2007 pilgrimage, which started Friday and goes until June 10.
Among the visitors
will be plenty of skeptics. That’s okay, Aachen’s Roman Catholic Bishop
Heinrich Mussinghoff said at the Friday service to open the shrine
containing the relics. One doesn’t need to do pilgrimages or venerate
relics to be a good Catholic, he said.
Most modern day Catholics emphasize relics’ importance as symbols rather than their belief in supernatural powers.
relics to a family heirloom which is treasured for providing a link
to the past. Relics "speak of the difference these people made, of what
they accomplished for the future, of their thoughts, actions and
beliefs which are still so valuable and precious today," he said.
Bildunterschrift: Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Relics draw crowds
Weisner, a spokesman for We Are Church, a group advocating for reform
of the Roman Catholic Church, said he sees relics as a form of
"I have some
reluctance about praying to relics or expecting healing from relics,"
he said. "We have to be careful not to become superstitious."
Weisner does applaud
some of the modern day activities that often go along with relics such
as making pilgrimages, praying and meeting other believers, he said.
All those are important parts of the catholic faith, Weisner said.
"Belief needs emotional things," he said. "At the same time we have to use our brain, we need reason."
A matter of faith
The popularity of relics surged during the Middle Ages and ended with the Protestant Reformation.
During the Middle
Ages, relics were thought to provide a direct link to the saint. Going
on pilgrimage provided a way to have sins forgiven and shorten the time
in purgatory. For many pilgrims, coming face to face with relics was
the most terrifying and awesome experience of their lives.
Pilgrims to Aachen faced some of the most important characters in Christianity: Jesus, his mother Mary and John the Baptist.
As the center of
Charlemagne’s empire, Aachen was Europe’s most important pilgrimage
destination during the Middle Ages after Rome and Santiago de
Compostela in Spain. Charlemagne’s role in acquiring the relics in 799
is "only a legend," said relic expert Christof Diedrichs, a researcher
at the Humboldt University in Berlin.
Besides Mary’s dress,
Aachen has three other major relics: Jesus’ swaddling clothes, a cloth
used during John the Baptist’s beheading, and the waistcloth Jesus wore
during his crucifixion. Aachen has brought the relics out for a public
viewing once every seven years since 1394.
What has been
scientifically proven is that the textiles which make up the four
Aachen relics has been shown to date back to the first or second
century after Christ, Diedrichs said.
Seeing is believing
Bildunterschrift: This package contains cloth believed to be Jesus’ swaddling clothes
Even during the
Middle Ages, pilgrims mixed holiness with tourism. Today, people travel
to see relics out of piety, curiosity, skepticism, or an interest in
"All these different
people come for all these different reasons," said US sociologist
William Swatos, who published a book last year about pilgrimages and
tourism. "It’s a multilayered phenomenon."
The supernatural has
also regained popularity, Swatos said. Modern day pilgrims are willing
to believe the bones of a saint really could be magical.
"It’s all right once
again to have feelings and to imagine the unimaginable," said Swatos,
who is also the executive officer for the Association for the Sociology
of Religion. "You can transcend the rationality of modernity. The old
can also become new and true again."
Going on pilgrimage
Bildunterschrift: Famous Germans, such as entertainer Hape Kerkeling, have gone on pilgrimage
and tourism have increasingly become intertwined. Going on pilgrimage
has become fashionable not only for the devout but for hikers and
Shirley MacLaine’s interest in New Age spirituality led her to walk
(and write a book about) the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) in
Last year, Hape Kerkeling, a well-known German comedian
and television personality, published a bestselling book about his
650-kilometer (400-mile) Spanish pilgrimage.
According to media
reports, Kerkeling is digging out his hiking boots again this week.
He’ll walk with 3,550 school children to visit the relics in Aachen.