Friday, April 22, 2011

Relic Chapel

Good Friday

Here's a photo of the relic chapel at my parish church.

St. Michael's Relic Chapel

Joe, our sacristan, has rescued hundreds of relics over the years and donated them to the chapel. In the mad rush to modernize, a number of churches dumped relics en masse on flea markets and pawn shops (when they weren't just tossed in the trash). In response, the more pious faithful began looking for the abandoned and orphaned relics and giving them good homes.

In the middle of our relic chapel altar is a tabernacle, and on top of the tabernacle is a cross-shaped reliquary whose foundation is a box with glass sides. This particular reliquary houses relics from our Lord's Passion, including a splinter of the True Cross. Here's a close-up of it.

Close Up of the Relic Chapel

During my pilgrimage last year to Europe, the tour guide at Fatima said that she had seen enough relics of the True Cross in her time to create a forest of crosses. She was repeating the standard canard that pseudo-intellectuals have been laughingly espousing at least since the time of Erasmus (for the record, our chaplain on the pilgrimage politely corrected the tour guide).

How can I be so sure that our relic of the True Cross is genuine, the modern mind accustomed to habitual, unthinking skepticism regarding anything sympathetic to or in support of the Christian faith might ask?

Because a French architect and archeologist by the name of Charles Rohault de Fleury (1801-1875) actually took the trouble to track down and measure every surviving relic of the True Cross.

De Fleury calculated that the Cross on which Christ was crucified weighed about 220 pounds. He then calculated the volume of the wood in the Cross at 10,900 cubic inches. Interestingly, de Fleury was able to find and measure a mere 240 cubic inches in all known relics of the True Cross. To allow for splinters and fragments held in private hands, lost, or destroyed in war and acts of vandalism (e.g. the Protestant Reformation), he increased his original number by a factor of 10 to arrive at a new total: 2,400 cubic inches. This was still less than 20% of the estimated size of the Cross. De Fleury concluded that if all the surviving relics of the True Cross were to be reassembled, there would not be nearly enough wood to crucify a man. De Fleury published his findings in 1870 in his book, Memoire sur les Instruments de la Passion.

How the Cross was buried, rediscovered, carried to Rome, turned into numerous relics that traveled the world, and how one of those relics ended up at my little chapel, is the stuff of another entry on this blog. For now, it is enough to observe that efforts to dismiss the relics of the True Cross as pious fakes is itself the urban myth that needs to be corrected.

No comments: