An Interesting Tidbit on Marian Relics for the Feast of the Assumption
A reader writes:
I have been doing research on relics. I read your 2016 article on relics where you said there are no Marian relics.
Permit me to interject the relevant passage to which he refers here:
“Mary and Relics
Another sort of relic comes from the Church’s rich legacy of Marian apparitions. This is paradoxical of course, since Mary herself leaves behind no relics, due to her bodily assumption into Heaven. Indeed, one of the difficulties facing critics of the Assumption (who often also lightly dismiss veneration of relics as a combination of mere superstition and early Christian hucksterism) is that the fact that, if the Assumption of Mary is a fairy tale that entered into Christian belief from legends concocted centuries after her death then there would most certainly have been, before the legends arose, a thriving tradition of Marian relics just as there was a thriving tradition about the relics of every other New Testament figure. Not only were saints bones venerated everywhere the Church spread, but Church buildings themselves were typically sited on or near the graves of saints.
That’s why the Church was teeming with relics (some real, some phony) by 451 . Yet . . .
At the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when bishops from throughout the Mediterranean world gathered in Constantinople, Emperor Marcian asked the Patriarch of Jerusalem to bring the relics of Mary to Constantinople to be enshrined in the capitol. The patriarch explained to the emperor that there were no relics of Mary in Jerusalem, that “Mary had died in the presence of the Apostles; but her tomb, when opened later . . . was found empty and so the Apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.” (Father Clifford Stevens, “The Assumption of Mary: A Belief since Apostolic Times,” Catholic Heritage (Heritage, IN: Our Sunday Visitor, July-August 1996)).
Think about this. As the Empire became Christian, relics sometimes took on the character of team mascots, establishing various cities with Most Valuable Player credentials in the court of public opinion. That’s one of the reasons that it really mattered that Peter was buried beneath the High Altar at St. Peter’s Basilica and it’s why King Marcian wanted Mary’s relics.
But here’s the thing: Both Jerusalem and Ephesus laid claim to being the final resting place of the Blessed Virgin. So if the Assumption never happened and only grew from legend centuries later, the Church in both these cities would have claimed her relics in the centuries long before the alleged fantasy of the Assumption was dreamed up.
But, in fact, nobody anywhere ever did that. Christians venerated relics (whether real or phony) of every other contemporary of Mary, from John the Baptist to the twelve apostles. But nobody ever claimed to have the bones of the Blessed Virgin. It’s as though she was assumed bodily into Heaven or something!
That said, many have, however, claimed (with remarkably good evidence at times) that the Blessed Virgin has appeared from Heaven with various messages for the Church militant here on earth. Of course, such claims are not part of the Church’s public revelation and there is no requirement that Catholics accept such private revelation as essential to the Faith. Similarly, the Church does not require us to believe in gravity, the existence of germs, or the inadvisability of playing in traffic. But she does suggest that if common sense points to the truth of a thing, we would be better off paying attention to common sense. In the case of the Church’s approved apparitions, such as at Lourdes, Fatima, or Betania, common sense suggests that we credit the claim that Mary appeared, because the evidence is very strong that she did. In the case of Lourdes, two major relics confront us: the incorrupt body of St. Bernadette and the waters of Lourdes itself. Millions have found inspiration to trust Jesus Christ from both and many thousands have encountered healing, both spiritual and physical, from the miraculous waters.”
My reader continues:
Well there are several places that claim to have a lock of hair from Mary, which would be a first class relic. Also there are relics that are second class. See below:
“Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) allegedly had hair of Mary and so did Pope Sergius II, which is now enshrined in Emmerich/Germany. There are still several other places where Mary’s hair is reportedly venerated: in 1148 in Saint Eucharius-Matthias and in 1209 in Saint Mary of the Martyrs in Trier as well as in 1170 in the Cistercian Abbey of Himmerode and in 1282 in the Benedictine Monastery of Prüfening; all of these sites are in Germany. In 1283 Mary’s hair has been deposited in a reliquary at the Augustinian Monastery in Ranshofen, Austria as well as in Linköping, Sweden. Among the secondary relics whose authenticity is naturally dubious a variety of items is known:
Mary’s garment and cincture/sash are considered among the most significant Marian relics. The Byzantine Church celebrates a feast in commemoration of the translation of the cincture to Constantinople (Calcopratreia Church and later to Blacherne Church) on August 31st the last day of the Byzantine Year. The feast of the deposition of Mary’s vestment/garment is celebrated in the Byzantine Rite on July 2nd.”
So if you are writing another article on relics, consider the above.
I should have been clearer. By relics, I meant pieces of her dead body, of course, since she was assumed into heaven and therefore left no corpse behind to venerate. Things like locks of hair or articles of clothing also count as relics, of course. But I had in mind the bones and body parts of saints that early Christians immediately began to venerate upon their deaths. Claims are made for every saint except with one marked exception: Mary.
What is interesting is that veneration of relics began very early in the history of the Church, but the accounts of her Assumption are handed down by tradition and only get commemorated in the liturgy starting in the fourth century (with the Feast of the Dormition) in the Eastern Churches. If the Assumption was cooked up in the fourth century, there would have been a ton of claims to Marian relics in the centuries before that, since her relics would, above all others, have been prized. But there are none (in the sense of “parts of her dead body”). It’s like she was assumed bodily into heaven or something! It’s also like liturgical commemorations are invariably the tip of an iceberg and refer to traditions that are centuries older than the thing commemorated. The Church never just makes crap up on the spot, especially in the liturgy.
Happy Solemnity of the Assumption!