Bones of Contention

Body parts of the saints are no longer relics of the past

by Colleen O'Connor


"People will buy a relic at an online auction for $125, then turn around and sell it to some poor Catholic for $5,000," says Tom Serafin, a relics enthusiast who monitors what he calls "e-simony," or trafficking in relics through online auction houses. The item whose price was bid up to $5,000 was a wood fragment allegedly from Jesus' True Cross.

Less prestigious relics command less stratospheric prices: $76 for prayer card that has touched a relic of St. Thérèse, for example, or a reliquary containing effects of St. Catherine Labouré that goes on the block at eBay for $5.99 and is quickly bid up to $150.

A less controversial manifestation of the current relics mania is the International Crusade for Holy Relics, which Serafin helped found a few years ago and which aims to revive the veneration of relics through exhibits and conferences. Its website allows the devout to venerate a range of relics online, from the bones of St. Candidus, a 3rd-century martyr, to a vial containing the blood of St. Teresa of Avila, a Spanish mystic who died in 1582.