The mysterious world of relics

By Douglas Belkin, Palm Beach Religion Staff Writer

Friday, November 19, 1999


The Internet "is like the Wild West," said Thomas Serafin, a Californian author, collector and international expert on relics and reliquaries (the often ornate cases that hold the relics.) "Anything goes." Serafin is on a crusade to bring the sacredness back to an "industry" that is increasingly pocked by skullduggery." If Internet sales continue, eventually you'll have some nut cutting up chicken bones and putting them up for sale."

During the Middle Ages, as relics became more and more popular, pressure increased for churches to have relics of high-profile saints on their premises, Serafin said. Having a relic from a famous saint would bring people from miles around to pray and tithe at the church. The process of authentication starts about the same time the multi-step canonization process begins. The body is exhumed and under supervision of the religious order to which the venerated person belonged, pieces of bone, hair, even the clothes the deceased was wearing and the burial coffin are removed. Once taken, the pieces are placed in packages and closed with a wax seal. If the seal is broken, it is very difficult to reauthenticate a relic, Serafin said.