Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

There it is in black and white: Canon 1190 §1—“It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics.” But the Code of Canon Law doesn’t seem to say that that you can’t buy them. Nor does it say that you can’t sell the reliquary in which a relic happens to be—and then give, as a gift, the relic itself to the buyer.

And so there exists a market for relics—a market which, like all others in our wonderful age, has been digitized by eBay. Actually, if you distinguish first-class relics from second- and third-class, I can’t find any likely-to-be genuine first-class relics online. But do an eBay search for relics and, on any given day, you’ll come up with a few hundred items to choose from.


Today, for instance, I found the (badly spelled) Wonderful Calender Reliquary with 369 relics—with True Cross, Crown of Thorns, Titulus, holy Lance:


Can one speak of the mood of an online page? The listed reliquaries are occasionally beautiful, but the mood of the entire thing is odd. The descriptions have a disturbing pseudo-reverence, and the epistemology is a kind of pure historical relativism: An Authentic Eighteenth-Century Fake!

Or maybe not fake. The second- and third-class relics have a reasonable chance of being genuine. This one, for instance: Sterling Silver Glass Locket Reliquary containing an authentic piece of the papal collar worn by Pope Leo XIII.


It’s possible—likely, even—that Leo’s collars were cut up into little pieces for sale to the faithful, which would make this a minor second-class relic.

I think I ought to approve these things, Sally. I’m the one, after all, who’s written about how our connection with the dead lies at the root of culture. But I found myself disturbed by all this, with little breath to say why.

More on: Relics

Show 0 comments



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles