For centuries, objects associated with Jesus Christ have been venerated. Their authenticity has not been verified, but whether you’re a believer or not the history behind these religious relics is fascinating.
10. The Holy Nails
Experts have debated how many nails were used to crucify Jesus almost from the moment it happened. Some say it’s three, while others argue four. No one actually knows for sure, but there are many so-called Holy Nails that are venerated by believers around the world. Legend has it that Constantine the Great asked his mother, Helena, to go to Jerusalem and find the cross of Jesus Christ. Helena brought with her some fragments of the True Cross, and along with it the Holy Nails. Upon returning to Constantinople, Helena decided to have one nail inserted into the royal helmet of her son to protect him from his enemies. Another nail was used in the bridle of his horse, while the last nail was used in the Iron Crown of Lombardy. Aside from these three relics, there are thirty or so venerated Holy Nails scattered throughout Europe, though of course this means that some are inauthentic.
9. The Crown of Thorns
The Crown of Thorns, supposedly worn by Jesus during his crucifixion, has yet to be proven as legitimate despite countless studies throughout history. Nevertheless, millions of Christians are undeterred from venerating this religious relic. The crown underwent a long and challenging journey before it found its home in Paris, where it now permanently resides. In 1238 Emperor Baldwin of Constantinople pawned the crown to a Venetian bank due to financial difficulties, but thanks to Saint Louis, the King of France, the crown was bought back and brought to Notre-Dame de Paris in August of 1239. The crown has seventy original thorns, but over the centuries these thorns have been divided by different French kings and Byzantine emperors.
8. The Shroud of Turin
The Shroud of Turin is perhaps the most studied, popular and controversial relic in Christian history. Officially, the Catholic Church does not have a position as to whether the shroud is authentic or not. However, the Church does acknowledge its importance to the Catholic world. In fact, the Vatican has made arrangements for the public to view the relic. It was during the 14th century that the first documentation regarding the shroud appeared. Historical accounts show that it was passed down from one person to another until it was finally placed in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, in 1578. In 1988 the shroud underwent radiocarbon testing to determine its date of origin. To the dismay of many believers, the results showed that the shroud might have been made between 1260 and 1390. Three independent laboratories conducted the radiocarbon testing, and all of them arrived at the same conclusion, thus proving that the shroud is fake (although some experts argue that their results are inaccurate). Regardless, believers worldwide still venerate the iconic relic.
7. The Sudarium of Oviedo
The Sudarium of Oviedo is similar to the Shroud of Turin, in that both were used after the crucifixion of Jesus. The shroud was supposedly used to cover Jesus’ body, while the sudarium (Latin for sweat-cloth) was used to cover and wipe his face. This religious relic does not contain any images, but it does have blood stains on it. The Gospel of John does mention the existence of a cloth that was used to wipe and cover the face of Jesus. Much of the information we know about the sudarium comes from Pelagius, the bishop of Oviedo who lived in the 12th century. In 1075, the chest that contained the sudarium was opened before Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, better known to the modern world as El Cid. This religious relic can be found in a cathedral in the town of Oviedo, Spain, where it is displayed to the public three times a year. Radiocarbon testing dates it to 700 AD, apparently making it older than the Shroud and raising yet another debate as to its authenticity.
6. The Veil of Veronica
The Veil of Veronica was supposedly used by a believer to wipe Jesus’ face along the Via Dolorosa on his way to Calvary, after which his image was implanted on the cloth. The Bible doesn’t mention this particular event, leaving the Veil based entirely on legend. The veil was supposedly stolen from the Vatican during the 17th century. It was only in recent times that a German Jesuit, Father Heinrich Pfeiffer, claimed that he has found the long lost religious relic. Pfeiffer, who is a professor of Christian Art History at the Pontifical Gregorian University, reported that he has discovered the Veil of Veronica in the small village of Monoppello, Italy. In addition to the Veil’s dubious history, testing Pfeiffer’s claim would be further complicated by the fact that the veil is fragile and would be easily damaged. While the general assumption is that the veil is inauthentic, it has nevertheless proven to be an influential relic that was historically useful in spreading Christ’s image to believers.
5. The Blood of Christ
Legend has it that after the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea used a cloth to wipe the blood from Jesus’ face. This cloth is said to have been preserved in Jerusalem until the Second Crusade, when Baldwin III, King of Jerusalem, gave the relic to his brother-in-law, the Count of Flanders, Diederik van de Elzas. After returning to his hometown of Bruges, Belgium, the Count ordered the cloth to be placed in the upper chapel of the Basiliek van het Heilig Bloed, or the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The cloth is stored in a beautiful vial decorated with angels and adorned with gold which, amazingly, remains unopened to this day, although recent studies have suggested that the vial is made of rock crystal and was once intended to hold perfume. Every Ascension Day, a festival is held in honor of the Blood of Christ. Tourists flock to Bruges to witness the procession of the relic — the Bishop of Bruges carries the vial through the streets of the town, while behind him follow locals who reenact the arrival of the cloth and depict various historical accounts from the Bible.
4. The Holy Lance
The Holy Lance, also known as the Spear of Longinus, refers to the spear that was used to pierce the side of Jesus’ body during his crucifixion to confirm his death. There are several conflicting stories regarding its modern discovery, including one find in the city of Antioch in 1098 by Peter Bartholomew, an impoverished and unknown monk. According to him, St. Andrew appeared before him in a vision while the city was under siege, saying that the Holy Lance was hidden under the city’s cathedral of St. Peter. Bartholomew appeared before Count Raymond and the Bishop of Lepuy, telling them of his divine revelation. The bishop was skeptical of Bartholomew’s claims, but the count was impressed. The count’s men dug under St. Peter’s Cathedral but, to the dismay of the count, found nothing. However, Bartholomew then jumped into the trench and found a piece of iron, which he claimed to be the Holy Lance. While many doubted his claim, the discovery inspired the starving Crusader army to break the siege of the city in one of the most famous battles of the First Crusade.
3. The Holy Prepuce
The Holy Prepuce, or the Holy Foreskin, is perhaps the most prized relic on this list, as it was once part of Jesus’ body. Like all Jewish boys, Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth. The earliest claim to the Prepuce goes back to Charlemagne’s discovery of it around 800 AD. According to him, the Holy Foreskin was given to him by an angel. Charlemagne later gave the relic to Pope Leo III after the latter crowned him Emperor of the Romans. Since its introduction to the Catholic world, the Holy Foreskin has caused controversy and commotion among European churches. There have been over twenty-one churches that claimed they possessed Jesus’ foreskin, all of which wanted to be declared the true holder. Surprisingly, the Catholic Church made an official stand on the issue, when Pope Clement VII declared that the foreskin owned by the monks of Charroux was the authentic foreskin of Jesus Christ. To further complicate matters, many of the claimants have been lost to history, while theologians argue that all of the supposed Holy Prepuces are frauds because during Jesus’ resurrection his entire body, including parts no longer attached, ascended to heaven. The debate over Jesus’ most sensitive body part has inspired everything from theft to excommunication, and it remains one of the more unusual relics in Christian history.
2. The Image of Edessa
The Image of Edessa, also known as the Mandylion or, more modestly, the Holy Towel, has several stories surrounding its origin. The most famous and commonly accepted is the correspondence between Jesus Christ and King Abgar of Edessa. According to legend, King Abgar commanded his servant Ananias to find Jesus and give him a letter, which asked Jesus to come to his city and cure his leprosy. In his response Jesus declined the request, although he blessed Abgar and promised to send a disciple to cure his leprosy. Some versions of the story say that Ananias was a painter who painted Jesus’ image on a cloth to accompany the return letter, while others argue that Jesus gave Ananias a towel that he had washed his face with and miraculously bore his image. Whatever it was that Abgar received, he revered it.
1. The Holy Grail
The Holy Grail, unlike what Dan Brown or Monty Python has told you, refers simply to the cup used by Jesus during the Last Supper. The grail was also used by Joseph of Arimathea to collect Jesus’ blood. Since the crucifixion and the blood of Christ are highly significant to the Christian faith, it’s no wonder why so many people are intrigued and mystified by this relic. There are several cups competing for the title as the authentic Holy Grail, but one that stands above them all is the Holy Chalice of Valencia. This cup is said to have been used by the first 22 popes, starting from St. Peter up to Pope Sixtus II. The latter gave the Holy Chalice to St. Laurence for safe-keeping. When St. Laurence died, the relic was brought to Spain. Of all the cups claiming to be the Holy Grail, the Holy Chalice of Valencia has by far the greatest claim. It has a certificate of authentication dating back to 262 AD, and is still used by modern Popes on special occasions today.