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Relics and Reliquaries


Holy relics — often bits of bones or possessions of saints — were the “ruby slippers” of medieval Europe and they were contained in dazzling jeweled vessels. Called reliquaries, these were often masterpieces of art.

Complete Video Script

[101] Dazzling jeweled vessels, called "reliquaries," were often masterpieces of art designed to protect relics. A relic is some physical reminder of Christ or a saint, like their bones or possessions…the finger of St. Theresa…the jaw of St. Anthony…perhaps a skull of a saint, complete with jewels and silver…or better yet, a full, regally dressed skeleton.

[102, Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi] Holy relics were the "ruby slippers" of medieval Europe. To the faithful, relics had power — they helped answer prayers, win wars — and ultimately, they helped you get to Heaven.

[103] That's why pilgrims traveled far and wide to venerate relics, making the High Middle Ages a golden age of travel. In Venice, they came for the supposed bones of St. Mark. In Padova, the vocal chords of St. Anthony. An especially sought-after relic was a supposed piece of the original cross, like this one — with an actual nail hole — carried in a jewel-encrusted case by the emperors. In Paris, this entire church — so famed for its windows today — functioned as a reliquary itself, purpose-built to house the supposed Crown of Thorns in all its glory.

[104] To this day, pilgrims pray at these relics. If a request for a miracle is answered, they might leave a votive — that's a token of gratitude for the saint's divine intervention.