The case of Saints Jucundina and Verecunda at Folkestone illustrates why relics are looked at sideways by many of us. If we know nothing of these two women, however can we call them saints? And how is it that John the Baptist has at least three heads (my daughter Naomi having visited two of them)? Understandably, today the Church insists that it is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful credibility placed beneath it.
Father Knox reminded us on Monday that ‘people used to use relics rather freely in the Middle Ages’, so it was worth bringing some home from one’s pilgrimage or crusade. Louis IX of France came back to Paris with the Crown of Thorns and built the Sainte Chapelle to house it. Was it truly the Crown of Thorns? He thought so.
La Sainte Chapelle has the ‘wow’ factor to get into all the guide books, but the Crown of Thorns means more than the building – and yet, even if it was truly Christ’s Crown of Thorns – it means less than the answer to John Betjeman’s question:
And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
It matters not if the bread and wine are consecrated by a bishop in la Sainte Chapelle, or on a rickety table by a military chaplain, or in a parish church somewhere near you. God lives today in the Universal Church; that is you and me and all saints, living and dead. Relics can remind us of that but they are no substitute for the daily miracle of the Eucharist. And far less of a challenge to us as we live our lives from day to day.
Saint John the Baptist: Pray for us.
Saint Louis of France: Pray for us.
All saints, known or unknown today: Pray for us.
 Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar, Chapter II, 5
 John Betjeman, ‘Christmas’.