July 6, Relics IV: Thomas’s elbow returns to Canterbury

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The Eztergom relic of Saint Thomas carried in procession to Canterbury Cathedral. MMB

I am not alone in finding the treasuring of bones of saints a mite disturbing. I do not need to visit my father’s grave in Leicestershire to remember him; but it’s not hard to see how being at the graveside, even decades later, helps some people connect to their loved ones. We all know someone who talks to a spouse or parent in this way; their own little portion of the Communion of Saints.

But what set me thinking about relics was the pilgrimage made by St Thomas Becket’s elbow to Canterbury. We were invited to walk the last mile and a half from Saint Michael’s church at Harbledown, on the old London Road that he would have travelled.

The fragment of bone was in a new reliquary, displaying, even proclaiming, the relic rather than simply containing it. The procession to the Cathedral combined the solemnity of papal knights in splendid robes and a guard of honour from the Hungarian Scouts of London; and relaxed conversation, as if we were walking with a member of the family, as indeed we were.

The family included not only us locals, who are well aware of Thomas’s presence at the Cathedral and the Catholic Church nearby, but also the Hungarian delegation, eager to tell how important this European connection is to them. Thomas stood up to secular power as they had to during Communist times. The relic says that we are one family, one body, across the world and across time. No need to emulate the Church of the Latterday Saints in genealogical research to know that. We may hold solemn acts of remembrance in November, but a photo, a book, a loved one’s spoon that we use daily can stir our hearts to think of them in love and prayer. Even a fragment of bone in a crystal monstrance.

Archangel Saint Michael:                       pray for us.

Saint Thomas of Canterbury:     pray for us.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary:        pray for us.

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