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Photographer loans holy relics to Forest Lawn
Artifacts part of display that opens today
By Helen Gao
GLENDALE -- Inside an exquisite silver and gold box lined with purple velvet lies a transparent locket containing what is said to be a remnant of the veil once worn by the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Displayed next to the box is a gold crucifix, with another locket embedded in it, holding a piece of what is purported to be the cross on which Jesus died.
The two relics are part of a display of 250 religious artifacts that opens today at Glendale Forest Lawn Museum, 1712 South Glendale Ave. "Manger to Martyr: Veneration of Relics" is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Jan. 27.
Thomas Serafin of Glendale loaned his collection of relics to the museum in the hope that it will revive the veneration of saints and relics and build faith.
"What is happening straight across the board is we are starting to become more aware that we are losing tradition," said Serafin, a professional photographer and devout Catholic.
"If you don't have a past, you cannot constantly change without holding on to anything," he said.
Serafin concedes that some visitors may question the authenticity of his relics, but he believes their meaning is a matter of individual faith.
"Whether a piece of garment is the actual garment is not the point," he said. "It's whether you can maintain your faith through mementos."
In the exhibit, some of the relics are paired with century-old stained-glass windows depicting the images of saints.
"You are not just looking at the relics, but it's telling you a story, too," said Margaret Burton, museum director and exhibit curator.
Notable relics on display include three black nails that are said to have been made with filings from the nails used during the crucifixion; bits of the manger where Christ was born; a piece of the cloak once worn by Joseph, Mary's husband; and a rock from where archaeologists said Noah's Ark stood for 85 years.
Guests, both laymen and members of the clergy, who were invited to a special opening reception Thursday night, were impressed by the exhibit.
"This is the finest of this kind of exhibit I have ever seen," said Msgr. Francis Weber, director of the San Fernando Mission, which has a relic collection of its own. "It's so beautifully illustrated with the (stained-glass) windows."
Charles Herrmann found himself overwhelmed.
"It almost makes you feel holy being in here with all these relics," he said.
One display case is devoted to early Christian martyrs who were fed to wild animals, roasted alive or decapitated because of their refusal to give up their Christian faith.
"I feel like I am being surrounded by angels," said Leonora Bouzas, who works as a cashier at the cemetery and has relics of her own. "People who had one time lived and are so strong and do not mind pain or suffering for their beliefs."
Serafin said his passion for relics began about 10 years ago when he set out to find a relic of St. Alphonsus Liquori, whose work greatly impressed him.
"When I started to search one out -- although everyone was telling me how extremely valuable they were -- they were not being venerated in the United States," he said.
Through gifts and trades with other collectors, Serafin now has 1,200 religious relics. He also founded an educational Web site called Saints Alive and the International Crusade for Holy Relics, which monitors the trading of relics on the Internet.
Serafin said many of his relics come with documents of authenticity issued by the Roman Catholic Church. Lockets that hold authentic relics, he said, carry a special red wax seal with a thread running through it to guarantee that the contents are untouched.
Because most of the original containers have been melted down by those who want the precious metals and jewels, Serafin has personally designed many reliquaries for his collection.
In recognition of his work, Serafin was knighted by the Order of the Immaculate Conception of Vila Vicosa in Portugal. The robe he wore for the ceremony is part of the exhibit, as well as a note to him from the late humanitarian, Mother Teresa, commending his work.
While his relic collection might be centuries old, Serafin said relics remain relevant today. An especially poignant example of a modern-day relic, he noted, is a policeman's badge that President Bush held up during a speech to the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"That is a relic," he said. "He is carrying a relic from a dead hero. Relics are about honoring people who have gone before us."