Relics and Their Supernatural Powers
Online Minsitry College
The real value of relics lay in their ability to perform miracles. A relic that was an acknowledged fake could become "real" if it performed a miracle or after a trial by ordeal. People believed relics were invested with heavenly powers and that to be close to a relic, or even better, to touch one, would provide a person with spiritual blessings, divine protection, and even a cure from illness.

By Antonio Lombatti
Deputaeione di Storia Patria
Parma, Italy
August 2010 

What is a Relic?

A relic is something connected with a saint or blessed, including a part of their body (e.g. hair or a piece of bone), their clothing, or an object that the person used or touched.

 Relics are classified as 1st Class – a part of the person’s body, for example: blood, hair, or bones; 2nd Class - an article touched by the person or touched directly to part of his or her body; and 3rd Class - something touched indirectly to the person, that is, to a 1st or 2nd Class relic, to the tomb, etc.

 It is not the kind of relic or how big it is that is important, but rather the faith and prayer that the relic occasions. By the communion of saints, it is that person who is close to us, blessing and praying
for us.

Is Praying With a Relic Merely a Catholic Superstition?
Catholics believe that only God can heal, but that God may in some cases permit healing through physical means, such as a relic of a holy person. The Holy Spirit's indwelling affect the physical body, and God can work miracles through the bodies of deceased saints. As far back as the Old Testament, the relics of the deceased have been shown to possess a power which certainly comes from God.

One of the earliest verses which shows the efficacy of relics is in the Old Testament book of Second Kings (2 Kings 13:20-21).  The prophet Elisha had died and his body had been buried. In the spring of the year, an invading band of Moabites was burying a man from their tribe when they came upon the grave Elisha. The Moabites tossed the deceased man into the grave, atop the bones of Elisha; and as soon as he touched the bones, the man was revived and stood on his feet.

And in the New Testament, Acts 19:11-12 recounts the story of Paul's handkerchiefs, which were imbued by God with healing power.

Relics and Reliquaries since Medieval Christianity

Christian belief in the power of relics, the physical remains of a holy site or holy person, or objects with which they had contact, is as old as the faith itself and developed alongside it. Relics were more than mementos. The New Testament refers to the healing power of objects that were touched by Christ or his apostles. The body of the saint provided a spiritual link between life and death, between man and God: "Because of the grace remaining in the martyr, they were an inestimable treasure for the holy congregation of the faithful." Fueled by the Christian belief in the afterlife and resurrection, in the power of the soul, and in the role of saints as advocates for humankind in heaven, the veneration of relics in the Middle Ages came to rival the sacraments in the daily life of the medieval church. Indeed, from the time of Charlemagne, it was obligatory that every altar contain a relic.

The holiest of relics were those associated with Christ and his mother. Because of the belief in the resurrection of Christ and the bodily assumption of the Virgin into heaven, physical relics of Christ and the Virgin were—with a few rare exceptions, like the baby teeth of Jesus or the Virgin's milk—usually objects that they touched in their lifetime, such as the wood from the True Cross (17.190.715ab; 2002.18) or pieces of the Virgin's veil. The most common relics are associated with the apostles and those local saints renowned for the working of miracles across Europe. All relics bestowed honor and privileges upon the possessor; monasteries and cathedrals sought to obtain the prestigious relics, and when they succeeded, their proud accomplishment is sometimes celebrated in the decoration of their sanctuaries (24.167a–k). Some relics were even stolen from one church, only to find a new home in another, those of Saint Mark in Venice, Saint Nicholas in Bari on the Adriatic coast, or Saint Foy at Conques being among the most famous examples.