St Augustinus complains, in his work entitled The Labour of Monks, that certain people were, even in his time, exercising a dishonest trade, hawking about relics of martyrs, and he adds the following significant words, should they really be relics of martyrs, from which we may infer, that even then abuses and deceits were practised, by making simple folks believe that bones, picked up any where, were bones of saints. Since the origin of this abuse is so ancient, there can be no doubt that it has greatly increased during a long interval of years, particularly as the world has been much corrupted since that age, and has continued to deteriorate until it has arrived at its present condition.
Now, the origin and root of this evil has been, that, instead of discerning Jesus Christ in his Word, his Sacraments, and his Spiritual Graces, the world has, according to its custom, amused itself with his clothes, shirts, and sheets, leaving thus the principal to follow the accessory.
It did the same thing with the apostles, martyrs, and other saints, and, instead of observing their lives in order to imitate their examples, it directed all its attention to the preservation and admiration of their bones, shirts, sashes, caps, and other similar trash.
I know well that there is a certain appearance of real devotion and zeal in the allegation, that the relics of Jesus Christ are preserved on account of the honour which is rendered to him, and in order the better to preserve his memory. But it is necessary to consider what St Paul says, that every service of God invented by man, whatever appearance of wisdom it may have, is nothing better than vanity and foolishness, if it has no other foundation than our own devising. Moreover, it is necessary to set the profit derived from it against the dangers with which it is fraught, and it will thus be found that, to have relics is a useless and frivolous thing, which will most probably gradually lead towards idolatry, because they cannot be handled and looked upon without being honoured, and in doing this men will very soon render them the honour which is due to Jesus Christ. In short, the desire for relics is never without superstition, and what is worse, it is usually the parent of idolatry. Every one admits that the reason why our Lord concealed the body of Moses, was that the people of Israel should not be guilty of worshipping it. Now, we may conclude that the act to be avoided with regard to the body of Moses must be equally shunned with regard to the bodies of all other saints, and for the same reason—because it is sin. But let us leave the saints, and consider what St Paul says of Jesus Christ himself, for he protests that he knew him not according to the flesh, but only after his resurrection, signifying by these words, that all that is carnal in Jesus Christ must be forgotten and put aside, and that we should employ and direct our whole affections to seek and possess him according to the spirit. Consequently the pretence that it is a good thing to have some memorials either of himself or of the saints, to stimulate our piety, is nothing but a cloak for indulging our foolish cravings which have no reasonable foundation; and should even this reason appear insufficient, it is openly repugnant to what the Holy Ghost has declared by the mouth of St Paul, and what can be said more?
It is of no use to discuss the point whether it is right or wrong to have relics merely to keep them as precious objects, without worshipping them, because experience proves that this is never the case.
It is true that St Ambrose, in speaking of Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine the Great, who sought with great trouble and expense for the cross of our Lord, says that she did not worship the wood, but the Lord who was suspended upon it. But it is a very rare thing, that a heart disposed to value any relics whatever should not become to a certain degree polluted by some superstition.
I admit that people do not arrive at once at open idolatry, but they gradually advance from one abuse to another until they fall into this extremity, and, indeed, those who call themselves Christians have, in this respect, idolatrised as much as Pagans ever did. They have prostrated themselves, and knelt before relics, just as if they were worshipping God; they have burnt candles before them in sign of homage; they have placed their confidence in them, and have prayed to them, as if the virtue and the grace of God had entered into them. Now, if idolatry be nothing else than the transfer elsewhere of the honour which is due to God, can it be denied that this is idolatry? This cannot be excused by pretending that it was only the improper zeal of some idiots or foolish women, for it was a general custom approved by those who had the government of the church, and who had even placed the bones of the dead and other relics on the high altar, in the greatest and most prominent places, in order that they should be worshipped with more certainty.
It is thus that the foolish fancy which people had at first for collecting relics, ended in this open abomination,—they not only turned from God, in order to amuse themselves with vain and corruptible things, but even went on to the execrable sacrilege of worshipping dead and insensible creatures, instead of the one living God. Now, as one evil never comes alone but is always followed by another, it thus happened that where people were seeking for relics, either of Jesus Christ or the saints, they became so blind that whatever name was imposed upon any rubbish presented to them, they received it without any examination or judgment; thus the bones of an ass or dog, which any hawker gave out to be the bones of a martyr, were devoutly received without any difficulty. This was the case with all of them, as will be shown hereafter.
For my own part, I have no doubt that this has been a great punishment inflicted by God. Because, as the world was craving after relics, and turning them to a wicked and superstitious use, it was very likely that God would permit one lie to follow another; for this is the way in which he punishes the dishonour done to his name, when the glory due to him is transferred elsewhere. Indeed, the only reason why there are so many false and imaginary relics is, that God has permitted the world to be doubly deceived and fallen, since it has so loved deceit and lies.
The first Christians left the bodies of the saints in their graves, obeying the universal sentence, that all flesh is dust, and to dust it must return, and did not attempt their resurrection before the appointed time by raising them in pomp and state. This example has not been followed by their successors; on the contrary, the bodies of the faithful, in opposition to the command of God, have been disinterred in order to be glorified, when they ought to have remained in their places of repose awaiting the last judgment.
They were worshipped; every kind of honour was shown to them, and people put their trust in such things. And what was the consequence of all this? The devil, perceiving man’s folly, was not satisfied with having led the world into one deception, but added to it another, by giving the name of relics of saints to the most profane things. And God punished the credulous by depriving them of all power of reasoning rightly, so that they accepted without inquiry all that was presented to them, making no distinction between white or black.
It is not my intention now to discuss the abominable abuse of the relics of our Lord, as well as of the saints, at this present time, in the most part of Christendom. This subject alone would require a separate volume; for it is a well-known fact that the most part of the relics which are displayed every where are false, and have been put forward by impostors who have most impudently deceived the poor world. I have merely mentioned this subject, to give people an opportunity of thinking it over, and of being upon their guard. It happens sometimes that we carelessly approve of a thing without taking the necessary time to examine what it really is, and we are thus deceived for want of warning; but when we are warned, we begin to think, and become quite astonished at our believing so easily such an improbability. This is precisely what has taken place with the subject in question. People were told, This is the body of such a saint; these are his shoes, those are his stockings; and they believed it to be so, for want of timely caution. But when I shall have clearly proved the fraud which has been committed, all those who have sense and reason will open their eyes and begin to reflect upon what has never before entered their thoughts. The limits of my little volume forbid me from entering but upon a small part of what I would wish to perform, for it would be necessary to ascertain the relics possessed by every place in order to compare them with each other. It would then be seen that every apostle had more than four bodies,1 and each saint at least two or three, and so on. In short, if all the relics were collected into one heap, the only astonishment would be that such a silly and clumsy imposition could have blinded the whole earth.
As every, even the smallest Catholic church has a heap of bones and other small rubbish, what would it be if all those things which are contained in two or three thousand bishoprics, twenty or thirty thousand abbeys, more than forty thousand convents, and so many parish churches and chapels, were collected into one mass?9 The best thing would be not merely to name, but to visit them.
In this town (Geneva) there was formerly, it is said, an arm of St Anthony; it was kissed and worshipped as long as it remained in its shrine; but when it was turned out and examined, it was found to be the bone of a stag. There was on the high altar the brain of St Peter; so long as it rested in its shrine, nobody ever doubted its genuineness, for it would have been blasphemy to do so; but when it was subjected to a close inspection, it proved to be a piece of pumice-stone. I could quote many instances of this kind; but these will be sufficient to give an idea of the quantity of precious rubbish there would have been found if a thorough and universal investigation of all the relics of Europe had ever taken place. Many of those who look at relics close their eyes from superstition, so that in regarding these they see nothing; that is to say, they dare not properly gaze at and consider what they properly may be. Thus many who boast of having seen the whole body of St Claude, or of any other saint, have never had the courage to raise their eyes and to ascertain what it really was. The same thing may be said of the head of Mary Magdalene, which is shown near Marseilles, with eyes of paste or wax. It is valued as much as if it were God himself who had descended from heaven; but if it were examined, the imposition would be clearly detected. It would be desirable to have an accurate knowledge of all the trifles which in different places are taken for relics, or at least a register of them, in order to show how many of them are false; but since it is impossible to obtain this, I should like to have at least an inventory of relics contained in ten or twelve such towns as Paris, Toulouse, Poitiers, Rheims, &c. If I had nothing more than this, it would form a very curious collection. Indeed, it is a wish I am constantly entertaining to get such a precious repertory. However, as this is too difficult, I thought it would be as well to publish the following little warning, to awaken those who are asleep, and to make them consider what may be the state of the entire church if there is so much to condemn in a very small portion of it;—I mean, when people find so much deception in the relics I shall name, and which are far from being the thousandth part of those that are exhibited in various parts of the world, what must they think of the remainder? moreover, if those which had been considered as the most authentic proved to be fraudulent inventions, what can be thought of the more doubtful ones? Would to God that Christian princes thought a little on this subject! for it is their duty not to allow their subjects to be deceived, not only by false doctrine, but also by such manifest impositions. They will indeed incur a heavy responsibility for allowing God to be thus mocked when they could prevent it.
I hope, however, that this little treatise will be of general service, by inducing people to think on the subject; for, if we could have the register of all the relics that are to be found in the world, men would clearly see how much they had been blinded, and what darkness and folly overspread the earth.
Let us begin with Jesus Christ, about whose blood there have been fierce disputations; for many maintained that he had no blood except of a miraculous kind; nevertheless the natural blood is exhibited in more than a hundred places. They show at Rochelle a few drops of it, which, as they say, was collected by Nicodemus in his glove. In some places they have phials full of it, as, for instance, at Mantua and elsewhere; in other parts they have cups filled with it, as in the Church of St Eustache at Rome. They did not rest satisfied with simple blood; it was considered necessary to have it mixed with water as it flowed out of his side when pierced on the cross. This is preserved in the Church of St John of the Lateran at Rome.
Now, I appeal to the judgment of every one whether it is not an evident lie to maintain that the blood of Jesus Christ was found, after a lapse of seven or eight hundred years, to be distributed over the whole world, especially as the ancient church makes no mention of it?
Then come the things which have touched the body of our Lord. Firstly, the manger in which he was placed at his birth is shown in the Church of Madonna Maggiore at Rome.
In St Paul’s Church there are preserved the swaddling clothes in which he was wrapped, though there are pieces of these clothes at Salvatierra in Spain. His cradle is also at Rome, as well as the shirt his mother made for him.
At the Church of St James, in the same city, is shown the altar upon which he was placed at his presentation in the temple, as if there had been many altars, according to the fashion of the Popish churches, where any number of them may be erected. This is what they show relating to the time of Christ’s childhood.
It is, indeed, not worth while seriously to discuss whence they obtained all this trash, so long a time after the death of Jesus Christ. That man must be of little mind who cannot see the folly of it. There is no mention of these things in the Gospels, and they were never heard of in the times of the apostles. About fifty years after the death of Jesus Christ, Jerusalem was destroyed. Many ancient doctors have written since, mentioning fully the occurrences of their time, even to the cross and nails found by Helena, but these absurdities are not alluded to. But what is more, these things were not brought forward at Rome during the days of St Gregory, as may be seen from his writings; whilst after his death Rome was several times taken, pillaged, and almost destroyed.
Now, what other conclusion can be drawn from these considerations but that all these were inventions for deceiving silly folks? This has even been confessed by some monks and priests, who call them pious frauds, i.e., honest deceits for exciting the devotion of the people.
After these come the relics belonging to the period from the childhood to the death of Jesus Christ, such as the water pots in which Christ changed water into wine at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee.
One would naturally inquire how they were preserved for so long a time? for it is necessary to bear in mind that they were not discovered until eight hundred or a thousand years after the performance of the miracle.
I cannot tell all the places where these water pots are shown; I only know that they can be seen at Pisa, Ravenna, Cluny, Antwerp, and Salvatierra in Spain.1
At Orleans they have even the wine which was obtained by that miracle, and once a-year the priests there give to those who bring offerings a small spoonful, saying that they shall taste of the very wine made by our Lord at the marriage feast, and its quantity never decreases, the cup being always refilled. I do not know of what date are his shoes, which are preserved in a place at Rome called Sancta Sanctorum, or whether he had worn them in his childhood or manhood; but this is of little moment, for what I have already mentioned sufficiently shows the gross imposition of producing now the shoes of Jesus Christ, which were not possessed by the apostles in their time.
Now, let us proceed to the last supper which Christ had with his apostles. The table is at St John of the Lateran at Rome; some bread made for that occasion at Salvatierra in Spain; and the knife with which the paschal lamb was carved is at Tréves. Now, it is necessary to observe that Christ made that supper in a borrowed room, and on going from thence he left the table, which was not removed by the apostles. Jerusalem was soon afterwards destroyed. How, then, could the table be found after a lapse of eight hundred years?
Moreover, in the early ages tables were made of quite a different shape to those of our days, for people then took their repasts in a lying, not in a sitting posture—a circumstance expressly mentioned in the Gospels. The deceit is therefore quite manifest, without more being added to prove it.
The cup in which Christ gave the sacrament of his blood to the apostles is shown at Notre Dame de l’Isle, near Lyons; and there is another in a convent of Augustine monks in the Albigéois;—which is the true one? Charles Sigonius, a celebrated historian of our times, says, in his fourth book on Italy, that Baldwin, second king of Jerusalem, captured in 1101, with the assistance of the Genoese, the town of Cesarea in Syria, and amongst the spoils taken by his allies was a vessel or cup of emerald, which was considered to have been made use of by Jesus Christ at his last supper.Therefore,—these are his own words,—this cup is even now devoutly preserved in the town of Genoa.
According to this account, our Lord must have had a splendid service on that occasion; for there would be as little propriety in drinking from such a costly vessel without having the rest of the service of a similar description, as there is in some Popish pictures where the Virgin Mary is represented as a woman with her hair hanging over her shoulders, dressed in a gown of cloth of gold, and riding on a donkey which Joseph leads by the halter. We recommend our readers to consider well the Gospel texts relating to this subject.
The case of the dish upon which the paschal lamb was placed is still worse, for it is to be found at Rome, at Genoa, and at Arles. If these holy relics be genuine, the customs of that time must have been quite different from ours, because, instead of changing viands as we now do, the dishes were changed for the same food!
The same may be said of the towel with which Jesus Christ wiped the feet of the apostles, after having washed them; there is one at Rome at the Lateran, one at Aix-la-Chapelle, and one at St Corneille of Compiegne, with the print of the foot of Judas. Some of these must be false.
But we will leave the contending parties to fight out their own battles, until one of them shall establish the reality of his case. It appears to me, however, that trying to make people believe that a towel which Jesus Christ had left in the place where it was used, had in several hundred years afterwards found its way into Germany and Italy, is nothing better than a gross imposture.
I nearly forgot to mention the bread with which five thousand persons were miraculously fed in the desert, and of which a bit is shown at Rome, and another piece at Salvatierra in Spain.
The Scripture says that a portion of manna was preserved in remembrance of God having miraculously fed his people in the desert; but the Gospel does not say a word respecting the preservation of the fragments of the five loaves for a similar purpose; the subject is not mentioned in any ancient history, nor does any ecclesiastical writer speak of it. It is therefore very easily perceived that the above-mentioned pieces of bread are of modern manufacture.
The principal relics of our Lord are, however, those relating to his passion and death. And the first of them is the cross. I know that it is considered to be a certain fact that it was found by Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine; and I know also that some ancient doctors have written about the manner in which the discovery was certified that it was the true cross upon which our Lord had suffered. I think, however, that it was a foolish curiosity, and a silly and inconsiderate devotion, which prompted Helena to seek for that cross. But let us take for granted that it was a laudable act, and that our Lord had declared by a miracle that it was the real cross, and let us consider only the state of the case in our own time.
It is maintained undoubtingly that the cross found by Helena is still at Jerusalem, though this is contradicted by ecclesiastical history, which relates that Helena took a piece of it, and sent it to her son the emperor, who set it upon a column of porphyry, in the centre of a public place or square, whilst the other portion of it was enclosed by her in a silver case, and intrusted to the keeping of the Bishop of Jerusalem; consequently, either the before-mentioned statement or this historical record must be false.
Now let us consider how many relics of the true cross there are in the world. An account of those merely with which I am acquainted would fill a whole volume, for there is not a church, from a cathedral to the most miserable abbey or parish church, that does not contain a piece. Large splinters of it are preserved in various places, as for instance in the Holy Chapel at Paris, whilst at Rome they show a crucifix of considerable size made entirely, they say, from this wood. In short, if we were to collect all these pieces of the true cross exhibited in various parts, they would form a whole ship’s cargo.
The Gospel testifies that the cross could be borne by one single individual; how glaring, then, is the audacity now to pretend to display more relics of wood than three hundred men could carry! As an explanation of this, they have invented the tale, that whatever quantity of wood may be cut off this true cross, its size never decreases. This is, however, such a clumsy and silly imposture, that the most superstitious may see through it. The most absurd stories are also told respecting the manner in which various pieces of the cross were conveyed to the places where they are now shown; thus, for instance, we are informed that they were brought by angels, or had fallen from heaven. By these means they seduce ignorant people into idolatry, for they are not satisfied with deceiving the credulous, by affirming that pieces of common wood are portions of the true cross, but they pretend that it should be worshipped, which is a diabolical doctrine, expressly reproved by St Ambrose as a Pagan superstition.
After the cross comes the inscription, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, which was placed upon it by order of Pilate. The town of Toulouse claims the possession of this relic, but this is contradicted by Rome, where it is shown in the Church of the Holy Cross. If these relics were properly examined, it would be seen that the claims of both parties are equally absurd.
There is a still greater contradiction concerning the nails of the cross. I shall name those with which I am acquainted, and I think even a child could see how the devil has been mocking the world by depriving it of the power of discernment on this point. If the ancient writers, such as the ecclesiastical historian Theodorite, tell the truth (Historia Tripartita, lib. ii.), Helena caused one of the nails to be set in the helmet of her son Constantine, and two others in the bridle of his horse. St Ambrose, however, relates this differently, saying that one of the nails was set in the crown of Constantine, a second was converted into a bridle-bit for his horse, and the third was retained by Helena. Thus we see that twelve hundred years ago there was a difference of opinion on this subject, and how can we tell what has become of the nails since that time? Now, they boast at Milan that they possess the nail which was in Constantine’s bridle; this claim is, however, opposed by the town of Carpentras. St Ambrose does not say that the nail was attached to the bridle, but that the bit was made from it,—a circumstance which does not agree with the claims of Milan or Carpentras. There is, moreover, one nail in the Church of St Helena at Rome, and another in that of the Holy Cross in the same city; there is a nail at Sienna, and another at Venice. Germany possesses two, at Cologne and Tréves. In France there is one in the Holy Chapel at Paris, another in the same city at the church of the Carmelites, a third is at St Denis, a fourth at Bruges, a fifth at the abbey of Tenaille in the Saintonge, a sixth at Draguignau, the whole number making fourteen shown in different towns and countries.1 Each place exhibiting these nails produces certain proofs to establish the genuineness of its relic, but all these claims may be placed on a par as equally absurd.
Then follows the iron spear with which our Saviour’s side was pierced. It could be but one, and yet by some extraordinary process it seems to have been multiplied into four; for there is one at Rome, one at the Holy Chapel at Paris, one at the abbey of Tenaille in Saintonge, and one at Selve, near Bourdeaux.
With regard to the crown of thorns, one must believe that the slips of which it was plaited had been planted, and had produced an abundant growth, for otherwise it is impossible to understand how it could have increased so much.
A third part of this crown is preserved at the Holy Chapel at Paris, three thorns at the Church of the Holy Cross, and a number of them at St Eustache in the same city; there are a good many of the thorns at Sienna, one at Vicenza, four at Bourges, three at Besançon, three at Port Royal, and I do not know how many at Salvatierra in Spain, two at St James of Compostella, three at Albi, and one at least in the following places:—Toulouse, Macon, Charroux in Poitiers; at Cleri, St Flour, St Maximim in Provence, in the abbey of La Salle at St Martin of Noyon, etc.
It must be observed, that the early church has made no mention of this crown, consequently the root that produced all these relics must have grown a long time after the passion of our Lord. With regard to the coat, woven throughout without a seam, for which the soldiers at the cross cast lots, there is one to be seen at Argenteuil near Paris, and another at Tréves in Germany.
It is now time to treat of the sudary, about which relic they have displayed their folly even more than in the affair of the holy coat; for besides the sudary of Veronica, which is shown in the Church of St Peter at Rome, it is the boast of several towns that they each possess one, as for instance Carcassone, Nice, Aix-la-Chapelle, Tréves, Besançon, without reckoning the fragments to be seen in various places.1
Now, I ask whether those persons were not bereft of their senses who could take long pilgrimages, at much expense and fatigue, in order to see sheets, of the reality of which there were no reasons to believe, but many to doubt; for whoever admitted the reality of one of these sudaries shown in so many places, must have considered the rest as wicked impostures set up to deceive the public by the pretence that they were each the real sheet in which Christ’s body had been wrapped. But it is not only that the exhibitors of this one and the same relic give each other mutually the lie, they are (what is far more important) positively contradicted by the Gospel. The evangelists who speak of all the women who followed our Lord to the place of crucifixion, make not the least mention of that Veronica who wiped his face with a kerchief. It was in truth a most marvellous and remarkable event, worthy of being recorded, that the face of Jesus Christ was then miraculously imprinted upon the cloth, a much more important thing to mention than the mere circumstance that certain women had followed Jesus Christ to the place of crucifixion without meeting with any miracle; and, indeed, had such a miracle taken place, we might consider the evangelists wanting in judgment in not relating the most important facts.
The same observations are applicable to the tale of the sheet in which the body of our Lord was wrapped. How is it possible that those sacred historians, who carefully related all the miracles that took place at Christ’s death, should have omitted to mention one so remarkable as the likeness of the body of our Lord remaining on its wrapping sheet? This fact undoubtedly deserved to be recorded. St John, in his Gospel, relates even how St Peter, having entered the sepulchre, saw the linen clothes lying on one side, and the napkin that was about his head on the other; but he does not say that there was a miraculous impression of our Lord’s figure upon these clothes, and it is not to be imagined that he would have omitted to mention such a work of God if there had been any thing of this kind. Another point to be observed is, that the evangelists do not mention that either of the disciples or the faithful women who came to the sepulchre had removed the clothes in question, but, on the contrary, their account seems to imply that they were left there. Now, the sepulchre was guarded by soldiers, and consequently the clothes were in their power. Is it possible that they would have permitted the disciples to take them away as relics, since these very men had been bribed by the Pharisees to perjure themselves by saying that the disciples had stolen the body of our Lord? I shall conclude with a convincing proof of the audacity of the Papists. Wherever the holy sudary is exhibited, they show a large sheet with the full-length likeness of a human body on it. Now, St John’s Gospel, chapter nineteenth, says that Christ was buried according to the manner of the Jews; and what was their custom? This may be known by their present custom on such occasions, as well as from their books, which describe the ancient ceremony of interment, which was to wrap the body in a sheet, to the shoulders, and to cover the head with a separate cloth. This is precisely how the evangelist described it, saying, that St Peter saw on one side the clothes with which the body had been wrapped, and on the other the napkin from about his head. In short, either St John is a liar, or all those who boast of possessing the holy sudary are convicted of falsehood and deceit.1
In the Church of St John of the Lateran at Rome, they show the reed which the soldiers, mocking Christ in the house of Pilate, placed in his hand, and with which they afterwards smote him on the head. In the Church of the Holy Cross at Rome they show the sponge which was filled with vinegar, and given him to drink during his passion. Now, I would ask, how were these things obtained? They must have been formerly in the hands of infidels. Could they have delivered them up to the apostles to be made relics of? or did they preserve them themselves for future times?
What a sacrilege to make use of the name of Jesus Christ in order to invent such absurd fables!
And what can we think of the pieces of silver received by Judas for betraying our Saviour? The Gospel says that he returned this money to the chief priests, who bought with it the potter’s field for a burial-place for strangers.
By what means were these pieces of silver obtained from the seller of that field? It would be too absurd to maintain that this was done by the disciples of Jesus Christ; and if we are told that they were found a long time afterwards, it will be still less probable, as this money must have passed through many hands. It is therefore necessary to prove, that either the person who sold his field did so for the purpose of obtaining the silver pieces in order to make relics of them; or that he afterwards sold them to the faithful. Nothing of this kind has ever been mentioned by the primitive church.1 To the same class of impositions belong the steps of Pilate’s tribunal, which are exhibited in the Church of St John of the Lateran, as well as the column to which Christ was fastened during the flagellation, shown in the Church of St Prasedo in the same city, besides two other pillars, round which he was conducted on his way to Calvary. From whence these columns were taken it is impossible to conjecture. I only know that the Gospel, in relating that Jesus Christ was scourged, does not mention that he was fastened to a column or post. It really appears as if these impostors had no other aim than to promulgate the most fallacious statements, and, indeed, they carried this to such a degree of extravagance, that they were not ashamed to make a relic of the tail of the ass upon which our Lord entered into Jerusalem, which they show at Genoa. One really cannot tell which is most wonderful,—the folly and credulity of those who devoutly receive such mockeries, or the boldness of those who put them forth.
It may be said that it is not likely all these relics should be preserved without some sort of correct history being kept of them. To this I reply that such evident falsehoods can never bear the slightest resemblance to truth, how much soever their claims may be supported by the names of Constantine, Louis IX., or of some popes; for they will never be able to prove that Christ was crucified with fourteen nails, or that a whole hedge was used to plait his crown of thorns,—that the iron of the spear with which his side was pierced had given birth to three other similar pieces of iron,—that his coat was multiplied threefold,—and that from his single sudarium a number of others have issued, or that Jesus Christ was buried in a manner different from that described in the Gospels.
Now, if I were to show a piece of lead, saying, This piece of gold was given me by a certain prince, I should be considered a madman, and my words would not transmute the lead into gold.
Thus it is precisely when people say, This thing was sent over by Godfrey de Bouillon after his conquest of Judea. Our reason shows us that this is an evident lie. Are we then to be so much imposed upon by words as to resist the evidence of our senses?
Moreover, in order to show how much reliance may be placed on the statements which are given about these relics, we must remark that those considered the principal and most authentic at Rome have been, according to those accounts, brought thither by Vespasian and Titus. Now, this is such a clumsy fabrication,—they might just as well tell us that the Turks went to Jerusalem in order to carry off the true cross to Constantinople!
Vespasian conquered and ravaged a part of Judea before he was elected emperor, and his son Titus completed that conquest by the capture and destruction of Jerusalem. They were both Pagans, and had no more regard for Christ than if he had never existed on earth. Consequently to maintain that Vespasian and Titus carried off the above-mentioned relics to Rome, is even a more flagrant falsehood than the stories about Godfrey of Bouillon and St Louis.
Moreover, it is well known that the times of St Louis were very superstitious. That monarch would have accepted as a relic, and worshipped, any thing that was represented to him as having belonged to the Holy Virgin; and, indeed, King Louis and other crusaders sacrificed their bodies and their goods, as well as a great portion of their country’s substance, merely to bring back with them heaps of foolish trifles, having been taught to consider them as the most precious jewels of the world.
It must be here mentioned, that in Greece, Asia Minor, and other eastern countries, people show, with full assurance, counterpart old rubbish, which those poor idolaters imagine they possess in their own country. How are we to judge between the two contending parties? One party says that these relics were brought from the East; but the Christians now inhabiting those lands maintain that the same relics are still in their possession, and they laugh at our pretensions. How can it be decided betwixt right and wrong without an inquiry, which will never take place? Methinks the best plan is to let the dispute rest as it is, without caring for either side of the question.
The last relics pertaining to Jesus Christ are those which relate to the time after his resurrection,—as, for instance, a piece of broiled fish which St Peter presented to him on the sea-shore. This fish must have been strongly spiced, and prepared in some extraordinary manner, to be preserved for so long a period. But, seriously, is it likely that the apostles would have made a relic of a portion of the fish which they had prepared for their dinner? Indeed, I think that whoever will not perceive this to be an open mockery of God, deserves not to be reasoned with.
There is also the miraculous blood which has flowed from several hosts,—as, for instance, in the Churches of St Jean-en-Greve at Paris, at St Jean d’Angeli at Dijon, and in many other places. They show even the penknife with which the host at Paris was pierced by a Jew, and which the poor Parisians hold in as much reverence as the host itself. For this they were well blamed by a Roman Catholic priest, who declared them to be worse than the Jews, for worshipping the knife with which the precious body of Christ was pierced. I think we may apply this observation to the nails, the spear, and the thorns; and consequently those who worship those instruments used at our Lord’s crucifixion are more wicked than the Jews who employed them for that purpose.
There are many other relics belonging to this period of our Lord’s history, but it would be tedious to enumerate them all. We shall therefore pass them over, and say a few words respecting his images,—not the common ones made by painters and carvers, but those considered as actual relics, and held in particular veneration. Some of these images are believed to have been made in a miraculous manner, like those shown at Rome in the Church of the blessed Virgin, in Portici, at St John of the Lateran, at Lucca, and other places, and which they pretend were painted by angels. I think it would be ridiculous to undertake a serious refutation of these absurdities, the profession of angels not being that of painters, and our Lord Jesus Christ desired to be known and remembered otherwise than by carnal images.
Eusebius, it is true, relates, in his Ecclesiastical History, that our Lord sent the likeness of his face to King Abgarus;1 but the authenticity of this account has no better proof than that of a fairy tale; yet, supposing it were true, how came this likeness to be found at Rome (out of Abgarus’ possession), where people boast to have it now? Eusebius does not mention where it was in his time, but he merely relates the story as having happened a long time before he wrote; we must therefore suppose that this image reappeared after a lapse of many centuries, and came from Edessa to Rome.
They have forged not only images of Christ’s body, but also copies of the cross. Thus they pretend at Brescia to have the identical cross which appeared to the Emperor Constantine. This claim is, however, stoutly opposed by the town of Constance, whose inhabitants maintain that the above-mentioned cross is preserved in their town, and not at Brescia.
But let us leave the contending parties to settle this point between themselves, though it would be easy enough to show the absurdity of their pretensions, because the cross which, according to some writers, appeared to Constantine, was not a material cross, but simply a vision.
There are several carved images, as well as paintings, of Jesus Christ to which many miracles are attributed. Thus the beard grows on the crucifixes of Salvatierra and Orange, and other images are said to shed tears. These things are too absurd for serious refutation, and yet the deluded world is so infatuated that the majority put as much faith in these as in the Gospels.
The Blessed Virgin
The belief that the body of the Virgin was not interred on earth, but was taken to heaven, has deprived them of all pretext for manufacturing any relics of her remains, which otherwise might have been sufficiently abundant to fill a whole churchyard; yet in order to have at least something belonging to her, they sought to indemnify themselves for the absence of other relics with the possession of her hair and her milk. The hair is shown in several churches at Rome, and at Salvatierra in Spain, at Maçon, St Flour, Cluny, Nevers, and in many other towns. With regard to the milk, there is not perhaps a town, a convent, or nunnery, where it is not shown in large or small quantities. Indeed, had the Virgin been a wet-nurse her whole life, or a dairy, she could not have produced more than is shown as hers in various parts. How they obtained all this milk they do not say, and it is superfluous here to remark that there is no foundation in the Gospels for these foolish and blasphemous extravagances.
The Virgin’s wardrobe has produced an abundant store of relics. There is a shirt of hers at Chartres, which has been fully celebrated as an idol, and there is another at Aix-la-Chapelle.
I do not know how these things could have been obtained, for it is certain that the Apostles and first Christians were not such triflers as to amuse themselves in this way. It is, however, sufficient for us to consider the shape of these articles of dress, in order clearly to see the impudence of their exhibitors. The shirt at Aix-la-Chapelle is a long clerical surplice, shown hanging to a pole, and if the Blessed Virgin had been a giantess, she would still have felt much inconvenience in wearing so large a garment.
In the same church they preserve the shoes of St Joseph, which could only fit the foot of a little child or a dwarf. The proverb says that liars need good memories, so as not to contradict their own sayings. This rule was not followed out at Aix-la-Chapelle, otherwise care would have been taken to maintain a better proportion of size between the shoes of the husband and the shirt of the wife. And yet these relics, so devoid of all appearance of truth, are devoutly kissed and venerated by crowds!
I know of only two of her head-dresses; one is at the abbey of St Maximian at Treves, and the other is at Lisio in Italy. They may be considered quite as genuine as the Virgin’s girdle at Prato and at Montserrat, as her slipper at St Jaqueme, and as her shoe at St Flour.
Now, those who are at all conversant with this subject well know that it was not the custom of the primitive church to collect shoes and stockings, &c., for relics, and also that for five hundred years after the death of the Virgin Mary there was never any talk of such things. It really seems as if these well-known facts would be sufficient to prove the absurdity of all these relics of the Virgin; but her worshippers, not merely satisfied with the articles I have just enumerated, endeavour to ascribe to her a love of dress and finery. A comb of hers is shown in the church of St Martin at Rome, and another in that of St Jean-le-Grand at Besançon, besides others that may be shown elsewhere. Now, if this be not a mockery of the Virgin, I do not know what that word implies. They have not forgotten her wedding-ring, which is shown at Perusa.
As it is now the custom for a husband to present his bride with a ring at the marriage ceremony, they imagined it to be so in the time of the Virgin, and in her country, consequently, they show a splendid ring as the one used at her wedding, forgetting the state of poverty in which she lived.
Rome possesses four of her gowns, in the churches of St John of the Lateran, St Barbara, St Maria supra Minervam, and St Blasius; whilst at Salvatierra they boast of having fragments of a gown belonging to her.
I have forgotten the names of other towns where similar relics are shown.
It is sufficient to examine the materials of these vestments in order to see the falsehood of their claims, for their exhibitors give to the Virgin the same sort of robes with which they dress up her images.
It remains now to speak of her images—not of the common ones, of which there are so many everywhere, but of those which are distinguished from the rest by some particular claims. Thus at Rome there are four, which they pretend were painted by St Luke the evangelist. The principal one is in the church of St Augustine, which they say St Luke had painted for his own use; he always carried it about his person, and it was buried with him. Now, is it not a downright blasphemy to turn thus a holy evangelist into a perfect idolater? And what reason had they for believing that St Luke was a painter? St Paul calls him a physician. I do not know from whence they obtained this notion; but supposing it was so, is it possible to admit that he would have painted the Virgin for the same purpose as the Pagans did a Jupiter, a Venus, or any other idol?
It was not the custom of the primitive Christians to have images, and it only became so a long while afterwards, when the Church was corrupted by superstition. Moreover, the whole world is filled with representations of the Blessed Virgin, which are said to have been painted by the same evangelist.1
I shall not say any thing about St Joseph, whose shoes at Aix-la-Chapelle I have already mentioned, and whose other similar relics are preserved in many places.
It may be supposed that I am joking when I speak of the relics of an angel, considering how absurd and ridiculous it is to do so, yet, although the hypocrites certainly know this well, they have made use of the name of St Michael to delude the ignorant and foolish; for they show at Carcassone his falchion, which looks like a child’s dagger, and his shield, which is no larger than the knob of a bridle. Is it possible for man or woman to exist who can believe such mockery? It is indeed a blasphemy, under a garb of devotion, against God and his angels. The exhibitors of the above-mentioned relics endeavour to support their imposture by the testimony of Scripture that the archangel Michael combated with Satan; but if he was conquered by the sword, it would at least have been one of a different size and calibre than the toy to which I have alluded. People must, however, be very silly to believe that the war waged by angels and the faithful against the devil is a carnal encounter, fought with material weapons. But as I said before, at the commencement of this treatise, the world has rightly deserved to be led astray into such absurdities, for having lusted after idols, and worshipped them instead of the living God.
St John the Baptist
Proceeding in due order, we must now treat of St John the Baptist, who, according to the evangelical history—i.e., God’s Word of Truth—was, after being beheaded, buried by his disciples. Theodoret, the eminent chronicler of the Church, relates that his grave was at Sebaste, a town in Syria, and that some time after his burial the grave was opened by the Pagans, who burnt his bones and scattered their ashes in the air. Eusebius adds, however, that some men from Jerusalem, who were present on the occasion, secretly took a little of these ashes and carried them to Antioch, where they were buried in a wall by Athanasius.
With regard to his head, Sosomen, another chronicler, relates that it was carried to Constantinople by the Emperor Theodosius; therefore, according to these ancient historians, the whole body of John the Baptist was burnt with the exception of his head, and the ashes were all lost excepting the small portion secretly taken away by the hermits of Jerusalem. Now, let us see what remains of the head are extant.
The face is shown at Amiens, and the mask which is there exhibited has a mark above the eye, caused, they say, by the thrust of a knife, made by Herodias. Amiens’ claim to this relic is, however, disputed by the inhabitants of St John d’Angeli, who show another face of St John.
With regard to the rest of the head, its top, from the forehead to the back part, was at Rhodes, and I suppose must now be at Malta, at least the knights boast that the Turks had restored it to them. The back of the head is at St John’s Church at Nemours, the brains at Nogent le Rotrou, a part of the head is at St Jean Maximin, a jaw is at Besançon, a portion of a jaw is at St John of the Lateran, and a part of the ear at St Flour in Auvergne. All this does not prevent Salvatierra from possessing the forehead and hair; at Noyon they have a lock of the hair, which is considered to be very authentic, as well as that at Lucca, and many other places.
Yet in order to complete this collection, we must go to the monastery of St Sylvester at Rome, where the whole and real head of St John the Baptist will be shown to us.
Poets tell us a legend about a king of Spain who had three heads; if our manufacturers of relics could say the same of St John the Baptist, it would greatly assist their lies; but as such a fable does not exist, how are they to get out of this dilemma?1
I shall not press them too hard by inquiring how could this head be so divided and distributed, or how have they procured it from Constantinople? I shall merely observe, that either St John must have been a miracle, or that those who possess so many parts of his head are a set of the most audacious cheats.
What is more than this, they boast at Sienna of possessing an arm of that saint, which is contrary, as we have already said, to the statements of all the ancient historians; and yet this fraud is not only suffered, but even approved of, for in the kingdom of Antichrist nothing is too bad which can serve to keep people in a state of superstition.
Another fable has been invented respecting St John the Baptist. When his body was burnt, they say that the finger with which he had pointed out our Lord Jesus Christ had remained whole and uninjured by the fire. Now this story may easily be refuted by the ancient historians, because Eusebius and Theodoret distinctly state that the body had already become a skeleton when the Pagans burnt it; and they certainly would not have omitted the relation of such a miracle in their histories if there had been any foundation for it, having been but too eager to narrate such events even as are quite frivolous. But supposing that this miracle had really taken place, let us seek where this finger is now to be found. There is one at Besançon in the Church of St John the Great, a second at Toulouse, a third at Lyons, a fourth at Florence, and a fifth at St Jean des Aventures, near Maçon. Now I request my readers to examine this subject, and to judge for themselves whether they can believe, that whilst St John’s finger, which, according to their own tradition, is the only remainder of his body, is at Florence, five other fingers can be found in sundry other places, or, in short, that six are one, and one is six. I speak, however, only of those that have come to my knowledge; but I make no doubt, if a careful inquiry were made, that one might discover half a dozen more of St John’s fingers, and many pieces of his head, besides those I have enumerated.1
There are many relics of another kind shown as having belonged to St John the Baptist; as, for instance, one of his shoes is preserved in the Church of the Carthusians at Paris. It was stolen about twelve years ago; but it was very soon replaced by that sort of miracle never likely to cease so long as there are shoemakers in the world.
At St John of the Lateran, at Rome, they boast of having his haircloth mentioned in the Gospels. The Gospel speaks of his raiment of camel’s hair, but they endeavour to convert it into a horse-hair garment.1
They have also at the same church the altar before which he prayed in the desert, as if altars were in those days erected on every occasion and in every place. I wonder, indeed, that they have not ascribed to him the saying of the mass.
At Avignon they show the sword with which he was beheaded, and at Aix-la-Chapelle the sheet which was spread under him at that time. Is it not absurd to suppose that the executioner would spread a sheet under one whom he was about to kill?
But admitting that this should be the case, how have they obtained these two objects? Is it likely that the man who put him to death, whether a soldier or executioner, should have given away his sword and the sheet we have mentioned, in order to be converted into relics?
St Peter and St Paul
It is now time to speak of the apostles, and I shall begin with St Peter and St Paul. Their bodies are at Rome; one part of them in the church of St Peter, and the other in that of St Paul. We are told that St Sylvester weighed their bodies in order to divide them into equal parts. Both their heads are preserved also at Rome in St John of the Lateran. Besides the two bodies we have just mentioned, many of their bones are to be found elsewhere, as at Poitiers they have St Peter’s jaw and beard. At Treves there are several bones of the two apostles. At Argenton in Berri they have St Paul’s shoulder, and in almost every church dedicated to these apostles there will be found some of their relics. At the commencement of this treatise I mentioned that St Peter’s brains, which were shown in this town (Geneva), were found on examination to be a piece of pumice stone, and I have no doubt that many of the bones considered to belong to these two apostles would turn out to be the bones of some animal.
At Salvatierra they have St Peter’s slipper. I do not know what shape it is, or of what material it is made; but I conclude it to be similar to the slippers of the same apostle shown at Poitiers, and which are made of satin embroidered with gold. It would seem as if they had made him thus smart after his death as a compensation for the poverty which he suffered during his lifetime. Their bishops look now so showy in their pontificals, that no doubt it would be thought derogatory to the apostles’ dignity if they were not dressed out in the same style. They take, therefore, figures which they gild and ornament all over, and name them as St Peter or St Paul, forgetting that it is well known what was the condition of these apostles whilst in this life, and that they wore the raiments of the poor.
They show also at Rome St Peter’s episcopal chair and his chasuble, as if the bishops of that age had thrones to sit upon. The bishops then were engaged in teaching, consoling, and exhorting their flocks both in public and private, setting them an example of true humility, but not teaching them to set up idols, as is done by those of our day. With regard to his chasuble, I must say that it was not then the custom to put on disguises, for farces were not at that time performed in the churches as they are now. Thus, to prove that St Peter had a chasuble, it is necessary to show in the first place that he had played the mountebank, as the priests do now whenever they intend to serve God.
It is, however, no wonder that they have given him a chasuble since they have assigned an altar to him, there being no more truthful foundation for the one than for the other. It is well known what kind of mass was said at that time. The apostles simply celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and this requires no altar; but as to the celebration of the mass, it was then not heard of, nor was it practised for a long time afterwards. It is, therefore, evident that those who invented all these relics never expected contradiction, or they would not have devised such audacious falsehoods. The authenticity of St Peter’s altar at Rome (which I have just mentioned) is denied by Pisa, that town pretending to possess the real one. The least objectionable of St Peter’s relics is undoubtedly his staff, it being most probable that he had made use of one during his travels, but unfortunately there are two of them at Cologne and Treves, each town claiming exclusive possession of the identical one.1
The Other Apostles
We shall speak of the rest of the apostles together, in order to get quicker over the matter, and we will relate, in the first place, where their whole bodies are to be found, that our readers, by comparison, may be able to form their own opinions on the subject. All know that the town of Toulouse boasts of possessing the bodies of six, namely, St James the Major (brother of St John), St Andrew, St James the Minor, St Philip, St Simeon, and St Jude. At Padua they have the body of St Matthias, at Salerno that of St Matthew, at Orconna that of St Thomas, in the kingdom of Naples that of St Bartholomew.
Now, let us reckon up those apostles who possess two or three bodies. St Andrew has a duplicate at Amalfi, St Philip and St James the Minor both have duplicates at Rome, ad sanctos Apostolos, St Simeon and St Jude the same in St Peter’s Church. St Bartholomew enjoys an equal privilege at Rome, in the church bearing his name. Here we have enumerated six of them, each provided with two bodies, and St Bartholomew has an additional skin into the bargain, which is shown at Pisa. St Matthew, however, outrivals them all, for besides the body at Padua, which we have before mentioned, he has another at Rome in the church of St Maria Maggiore, a third at Treves, and an additional arm at Rome.
It is true that the bits and scraps of St Andrew’s body, scattered in various places, counterbalance, in some measure, the superiority of St Matthias; for he has at Rome, in St Peter’s Church, a head, and a shoulder in that of St Chrysostom, an arm at St Esprit, a rib at St Eustache, I do not know how many bones at St Blaise, and a foot at Aix in Provence.
Now, as St Bartholomew has left his skin at Pisa, so he has left there a hand; at Treves he has also some bones, of which I forget the number; at Frejus a finger, and at Rome there are other of his bones; so that, after all, he is not the poorest of the apostles, others not having such a number of relics. St Matthew and St Thomas are the poorest of all. The first has only, besides his body at Salerno, which we have mentioned, some bones at Treves, an arm in the church of St Maria at Rome, and in that of St Nicolas his head; though it may be that other of his relics may have escaped my knowledge, which would be no wonder, for who is not confused with this ocean of impostures?1
As they pretend, in their tales, that the body of St John the Evangelist disappeared immediately after it was deposited in the grave, so they cannot produce any of his bones, and they therefore sought for a compensation amongst his clothing, &c. Thus they show at Bologna the cup from which he was forced to drink poison by order of the Emperor Domitian. Probably owing to some wonderful process of alchemy, the same cup exists also in the church of St John of the Lateran at Rome.
They have also his coat, and the chain with which he was bound when brought from Ephesus to Rome, as well as the oratory at which he used to pray when in prison.
We must now hurry on, or we shall never quit this labyrinth. We will, therefore, only briefly mention the relics of those saints who were our Lord’s contemporaries, and then proceed to those of the martyrs, etc., leaving our readers to form their own conclusions from these brief sketches.
St Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin, has a whole body at Apt in Provence, and another at Notre Dame de l’Isle at Lyons. She has a head at Treves also, a second at Duren near Cologne, and a third at a town called after her name in Thuringhia. I shall not speak of her other relics shown in more than a hundred different places. I remember that I myself kissed one of her relics, kept at the abbey of Orcamps near Noyon, on the occasion of a grand festival held in its honour.
Lazarus, Mary Magdalene etc.
Lazarus has, to my knowledge, three bodies, at Marseilles, Autun, and Avalon. A protracted lawsuit took place between the two last-named towns concerning the validity of their respective claims to the possession of the real body of this saint. Yet after an immense expense, both parties may be said to have gained their suit, for neither forfeited its title to ownership. With regard to Mary Magdalene, she owns but two bodies, one at Auxerre, and another of very great celebrity, with its head detached, at St Maximin, in Provence.
Of their numerous relics scattered over the world I shall not speak. I would merely inquire whether Lazarus and his sisters ever went to preach in France; for those who have read the accounts given by ancient historians of those times cannot fail to be convinced of the folly of this fable.
St Longinus, and the Three Wise Men, or Kings
The individual who pierced the side of our Lord on the cross has been canonised under the name of St Longinus, and after having thus baptized him, they have bestowed upon him two bodies, one of which is at Mantua, and the other at Notre Dame de l’Isle at Lyons.1
The same has been done with the wise men who came to worship our Lord at the nativity. In the first place they settled their number, telling us that there were three. Now the Gospel does not mention how many were present, and some eminent ecclesiastical writers have maintained their number to have been fourteen, as mentioned for instance in that imperfect commentary on St Matthew which is ascribed to Chrysostom.
Moreover, the Gospel calls them wise men, but they have elevated them to the dignity of kings, without bestowing on them, however, either kingdoms or subjects. Finally, they have been baptized under the names of Balthazar, Melchior, and Gaspar. Now, supposing we concede to them these fables, frivolous as they are, it is certain that the wise men returned to the east, for the Gospel informs us of this, and we may conclude that they died in their native land, there being no reason for thinking otherwise. Now, who transferred their bodies to the west, for the purpose of preserving them as relics? It would be quite ridiculous, however, for me to attempt seriously to refute such a palpable imposture. Let Cologne and Milan, both of which towns pretend to possess relics of these wise men, or kings, decide this question between themselves.
St Dionysius is considered to be one of the most celebrated of ancient martyrs, as a disciple of the apostles, and as the Evangelist of France. Occupying such high rank, it is therefore very natural that his relics should be so liberally dispersed; his whole bodies are, however, only preserved at the Abbey of St Dénis in France, and at Ratisbon in Germany. About a century ago Ratisbon instituted a lawsuit at Rome to prove that the body in its possession was truly that of the saint, and the justice of the claim was established by a decision of the Papal Court, delivered in the presence of the French Ambassador. And yet, any one so bold as to dare to assert at St Dénis that theirs was not the real body would run the risk of being stoned for blasphemy; whilst those who oppose the claim of Ratisbon are considered as heretics, rebellious to the decision of the Holy See.
The whole body of St Stephen is at Rome, his head is at Arles, and his bones are in more than three hundred places; and the Papists, as if to show themselves to be the partisans of those who murdered him, have canonized the stones with which he was killed.
It may be asked how these stones were obtained, but to my mind this would be a foolish question, as stones may be picked up anywhere, without incurring any trouble or expense in their transport. These stones are shown at Florence, at the convent of the Augustine monks at Arles, and at Vigan in Languedoc, etc.
Whoever will close his eyes and allow his understanding to be set aside, may believe that these are the identical stones with which St Stephen suffered martyrdom, but whoever will exert his reason a little cannot but laugh at this imposition. The Carmelite monks of Poitiers discovered some of these stones only fourteen years ago, to which they ascribed the virtue of assisting women in the pains of travail; but the Dominican monks, from whom a rib of St Margarita which possessed the same virtue had been stolen, were very indignant, and raised a great outcry at the deception practised by the Carmelites, but the latter gained the body by firmly maintaining their rights.
The Holy Innocents
It was not at first my intention to mention the Holy Innocents, for if I were to enumerate a whole army of their relics, it might always be said to me in reply that history is not contradicted by that, as their number has never been mentioned to us. I shall not dwell, therefore, upon their multitude, merely observing that they are to be found in every part of the world. I would ask, however, how it came to pass that their graves were discovered so long after their massacre, since they were not considered as saints when their murder by Herod took place? And then, how were these numerous bodies conveyed to the many places where they are now to be seen? To these questions but one answer can be given—All this occurred five or six hundred years after their death. How can any but idiots believe such things?
But supposing even that some of their bodies had really been discovered, how came so large a number of them to be transported to France, Italy, and Germany, and to be distributed amongst so many towns situated so far apart? This can only be a wholesale deception.
St Gervasius and St Protasius
The sepulchres of these two saints were discovered at Milan in the time of St Ambrose, as testified by him. This fact is confirmed also by the evidence of St Jerome, St Augustine, and several others; consequently Milan maintains its possession of the real bodies of these saints. Nevertheless, they are likewise to be seen at Brissach in Germany, and in the Church of St Peter at Besançon, besides an immense number of different parts of their bodies scattered throughout the land, so that each of them must have had at least four bodies.
This saint, from the wonderful power his remains possessed of curing the plague, was put into requisition and more sought after than many of his brother saints, and no doubt this popularity was the cause of his body being quadrupled. One body is in the church of St Lawrence at Rome; a second is at Soissons; the third at Piligny, near Nantes, and the fourth at his birth-place, near Narbonne. Besides these, he has two heads at St Peter’s at Rome, and at the Dominican church at Toulouse. The heads are, however, empty, if we are to believe the Franciscan monks of Angers, as they pretend to possess the saint’s brains. The Dominicans of Angers possess one of his arms, another is at St Sternin, at Toulouse, a third at Case Dieu in Auvergne, and a fourth at Montbrisson. We will pass over the small fragments of his body, which may be seen in so many churches. They did not rest satisfied with this multiplication of his body and separate limbs, but they converted into relics the arrows with which he was killed. One of these is shown at Lambesc in Provence, another is in the Augustine convent at Poitiers, and there are many others in different towns.
A similar reason has bestowed on St Anthony the advantage of multiplication of his remains, he being considered as an irrascible saint, burning up all those who incur his displeasure; and this belief caused him to be dreaded and reverenced. Fear creating devotion, and producing also a universal desire to possess his relics, on account of the profits and advantages to be derived therefrom, Arles therefore had a long and severe contest with Vienne (in France) respecting the validity of the bodies of this saint possessed by each of these towns.
The issue was the same as in other similar disputes, i.e., matters remained in the same state of confusion as before; for if the truth had been established, both parties would have lost their cause.
Besides these two bodies, St Anthony has a knee in the Church of the Augustines at Albi, and several other limbs at Bourg, Maçon, Ouroux, Chalons, Besançon, etc.
Such are the advantages of being an object of dread and fear, otherwise this saint might possibly have been permitted to remain quietly in his grave.
St Petronilla, St Helena, St Ursula, and the Eleven Thousand Virgins
I must not forget to mention St Petronilla, St Peter’s daughter, who has a whole body at Rome, in the church dedicated to her father, besides other relics in that of St Barbara. This does not, however, prevent her from owning another body in the Dominican convent at Mans, which is greatly venerated for the virtue it possesses of curing fevers. St Helena has not been so liberally provided for. Besides her body at Venice, she has but an extra head in the Church of St Gereon at Cologne. St Ursula beats her hollow in this respect; for she has a whole body at St Jean d’Angely, and a head into the bargain at Cologne, besides three separate limbs, and various fragments at Mans, Tours, and Bergerat. The companions of this saint are called the eleven thousand virgins, and although this is a respectable number, yet it is still too small, considering that the remains of these virgins are to be seen everywhere; for besides there being about one hundred cart-loads of their bones at Cologne, there is hardly a town where one or more churches have not some relics of these numerous saints.1
If I was to enumerate all the minor saints I should enter a labyrinth without possibility of egress. I shall, therefore, rest satisfied with giving a few examples, leaving my readers to judge from these of the rest. For instance, there are two churches at Poitiers, one attached to the convent of Selle, and the other dedicated to the saint in question, between which a great dispute has been going on as to the possession of the real body of St Hilarion.
The lawsuit upon this point has been suspended for an indefinite time, and meanwhile the idolaters worship two bodies of one and the same individual.
St Honoratus has a body at Arles, and another at the island of Lerins, near Antibes.
St Giles has a body at Toulouse, and a second in a town bearing his name in Languedoc.
I could quote an infinite number of similar cases. I think that the exhibitors of these relics should at least have made some arrangement amongst themselves the better to conceal their barefaced impostures. Something of this sort was managed between the canons of Trêves and those of Liége about St Lambert’s head. They compounded, for a sum of money, not to show publicly the head in their possession, in order to avoid the natural surprise of the public at the same relic being seen in two different towns situated so near to each other. But, as I have already remarked at the commencement of this treatise, the inventors of these frauds never imagined any one could be found bold enough to speak out and expose their deceptions.
It may be asked, how it came to pass that these manufacturers of relics, having collected and forged without any reason all that their imaginations could fancy in any way, could have omitted subjects pertaining to the Old Testament?
The only reply I can give to this query is, that they looked with contempt on those subjects, from which they did not anticipate any considerable gain.
Still they have not entirely despised them, for they pretend to have the bones of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the church of St Maria supra Minervam, at Rome. They also boast of possessing, at St John of the Lateran, the ark of alliance, with Aaron’s rod, though the same rod is also at the Holy Chapel in Paris, whilst some pieces of it are preserved at Salvatierra. Moreover, at Bordeaux they maintain that St Martial’s rod, which is exhibited in the church of St Severin, is no other than that of Aaron. It seems, indeed, that they would wish with this rod to perform another miracle; formerly it was turned into a serpent, whereas now they would convert it into three different rods! It is very likely that they may have other relics of objects mentioned in the Old Testament, but the few we have here alluded to show that they have treated them much in the same style as those belonging to Christian times.
I now beg to remind my readers of what I mentioned at the beginning of this work, that I have had no commissioners for visiting the numerous churches of the different countries enumerated by me, nor must my description be taken for a register or inventory of all that can be discovered respecting relics. I have mentioned about half-a-dozen towns in Germany, but three in Spain I think, about fifteen in Italy, and between thirty and forty in France, and even of these few examples I have not related all that I might concerning them. Now, let us only imagine what a mass might be raised out of all the relics which are to be seen in Christendom, if they were collected and arranged together in proper order. I speak, however, only of those countries which we know and frequent; for it is most important to observe that all the relics belonging to Christ and the apostles which are displayed in the west are also to be seen in Greece, Asia, and all other countries where Christian Churches are in existence. Now, what are we to say when the Eastern Christians assert their claims?
If we contradict them, alleging on our part that the body of such a saint was brought to Europe by merchants, that of another by monks, that of a third by a bishop, that a part of the crown of thorns was sent to a king of France by an emperor of Constantinople, and another part was carried off in time of war, and so on of every object of the kind, they would shake their heads, and laugh at us! How are such differences to be settled? In every doubtful case we can only judge by conjecture, and, in following this out, the adherents of the Eastern Churches are sure of success, because their claims are more probable than those of their opponents. It is indeed a difficult point for the defenders of relics to settle.
Finally, I beseech and exhort, in the name of God, all my readers to listen to the truth now clearly displayed before them, and to believe that, by God’s especial providence, those who have endeavoured thus to lead mankind astray have been rendered so blind and careless as to neglect a proper concealment of their deceptions, but that, like Midianites having their eyes put out, they run one against another, for we all know that they quarrel amongst themselves, and mutually injure each other. Whoever is not wilfully prejudiced against all reason must certainly be convinced that the worship of relics, whether true or false, is an abominable idolatry; yet should not this even be the case with him, he must nevertheless perceive the evident imposture, and whatever may have been his former devotion to relics, he must lose all courage in kissing such objects, and become entirely disgusted with them.
I repeat what I said at the commencement of this treatise, that it would be most important to abolish from amongst us Christians this pagan superstition of canonising relics, either of Christ or of his saints, in order to make idols of them; for this is a defilement and an impurity which should never be suffered in the Church. We have already proved that it is so by arguments, and also from the evidence of Scripture. Let those who are not yet satisfied look to the practices of the ancient fathers, and conform to their examples. There are many holy patriarchs, many prophets, many holy kings, and other saints mentioned in the Old Testament. God ordained at that time the observance of more ceremonies than are needed now. Even funerals were performed then with more display than at present, in order to represent symbolically the glorious resurrection, especially as it had not then been so clearly revealed by the Word of God as it is to ourselves.
Do we ever read in that book that these saints were taken from their sepulchres as idols? Was Abraham, the father of the faithful, ever thus raised? Was Sarah ever removed from her grave? Were they not left in peace, with the remains of all other saints? But what is more conclusive, was not the body of Moses concealed by God’s will, in such a manner that it never has been or can be discovered? Has not the devil contended concerning it with the angels, as St Jude says? Now, what was our Lord’s reason for removing that body from the sight of men, and why should the devil desire to have it exhibited to them? It is generally admitted that God wished to put away from his people of Israel all temptation to commit idolatry, and that Satan desired its introduction amongst them.
It may be said, however, that the Israelites were inclined to superstition. I ask, how stands the case now with ourselves? Is there not, without comparison, more perversity in this respect amongst Christians than there ever was amongst the Jews of old?
Let us call to mind the practice of the early church. It is true that the first Christians were always anxious to get possession of the bodies of the martyrs, lest they might be devoured by beasts or birds of prey, and decently to bury them, as we read was the case with the bodies of St John the Baptist and St Stephen. This solicitude was shown, however, in order to inter them in their graves, and there to leave them until the day of the resurrection; but they did not expose these remains to the sight of men for their adoration.
The unfortunate custom of canonising saints was not introduced into the Church until it had become perverted and profaned, partly by the folly and cupidity of its prelates and pastors, and partly because they were unable to restrain this innovation, as people were seeking to deceive themselves by giving their hearts to puerile follies, instead of to the true worship of God. If we wish, in a direct manner, to correct this abuse, it is necessary to abolish entirely what has been so badly commenced and established against all reason. But if it is impossible to arrive at once at such a clear comprehension of this abuse, let people at least have their eyes opened to discern what the relics are which are presented for their adoration.
This is indeed no difficulty for those who will only exercise their reason, for amongst the numerous evident impostures we have here mentioned, where may we find one real relic of which we may feel certain that it is such as is represented?
Moreover, all those that I have enumerated are nothing comparatively to the remainder yet untold by me. Even whilst this treatise is in the press, I have been informed of many relics not mentioned in it; and if a general visitation of all existing relics were possible, a hundredfold more discoveries would be made.
I remember when I was a little boy what took place in our parish. On the festival day of St Stephen, the images of the tyrants who stoned him (for they are thus called by the common people) were adorned as much as that of the saint himself. Many women, seeing these tyrants thus decked out, mistook them for the saint’s companions, and offered the homage of candles to each of them. Mistakes of this kind must frequently happen to the worshippers of relics, for there is such confusion amongst them that it is quite impossible to worship the bones of a martyr without danger of rendering such honours by mistake to the bones of some brigand or thief, or even to those of a horse, a dog, or a donkey.
And it is equally impossible to adore the ring, the comb, the girdle of the Virgin Mary, without the risk of adoring instead objects which may have belonged to some abandoned person.
Now, those who fall into this error must do so willingly, as no one can from henceforth plead ignorance on the subject as their excuse.