Holy Body Parts! 7 Saintly Relics Around the World

Around the World, Featured — By Rachel Greenberg on April 7, 2010 at 11:42 am

A relic is an item from the past that represents the life of a religious person. What constitutes a relic is as varied as the religions that honor them, and the devout have been collecting, displaying, and traveling to see relics since the beginning of human history. Relics can be any item – from something a holy person touched once in a lifetime, to a personal belonging, to an actual preserved body part. There’s only rule when it comes to relics: the closer the item was to the person, the more holy the it is. This makes body parts some of the most sought after, worshiped, and slightly morbid religious relics in the world.

1. Buddh-Dantya (the Sacred Relic of the Tooth of the Buddha), Kandy, Sri Lanka

Image: LeszekZadlo/ Flickr

Although the tooth now resides in Sri Lanka, the Buddh-Dantya was originally taken from the mouth of the Buddha himself while his recently deceased body smoldered on a funeral pyre in India. The story goes that after his body was burned, it was believed anyone who possessed the tooth would be granted divine right to rule, and battles raged between kingdoms over who could posses the Buddha’s tooth. After hundreds of years, an incredibly strong and powerful invading army was sent to destroy the tooth once and for all. And in fear that the army might succeed, Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamali were sent to flee from India with the tooth and hide it somewhere safe.

Dressed as Brahmins and hiding the tooth in Hemamali’s hair ornament, the royal couple made their way to Sri Lanka where they were met with open arms. The Sri Lankan king built a shrine for the tooth in the royal palace, and it is venerated to this day.

Image: Steve Weaver/ Flickr

2. St. Antoninus of Florence, Church of San Marco, Florence, Italy

Antoninus was an exceptionally pious monk born in the 14th century. He lived incredibly simply, with only a few meager possessions and an old mule to his name. Because of his impressively religious nature, the Pope at the time wanted to make him an Archbishop. An invitation that Antoninus strongly refused since he was so humble. Only after the pope threatened to excommunicate him did Antoninus accept the offer. After his death in 1459, his un-embalmed body was left exposed for eight days without decomposing which was taken as a sign of the man’s holiness. Antoninus was then buried in a glass coffin, so believers could witness first-hand his miraculously preserved body.

Image: Curious Expeditions/ Flickr

3. The Right Hand of Saint Istvan, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest, Hungary

King Istvan (“Stephen” in Hungarian) was the first king of Hungary and is credited with bringing Christianity to the region. King Istvan died in 1038 and was canonized soon after his death. As part of the process of becoming a Saint, his body was dug up from the grave and shockingly his right arm had not decayed like the rest of his body. Taking this to be a sign that his right arm was holy, it was chopped off and separated from the rest of his body which was re-buried.

Image: Curious Expeditions/ Flickr

St. Istvan’s hand bounced around Eastern Europe during turbulent war years, and it finally made its way back to Hungary in 1945 after WWII. It currently resides in St. Stephen’s Basilica, a Neoclassical church completed in 1905, inside an elaborate reliquary. Although the reliquary is free for public viewing, to see the hand itself visitors to St. Stephen’s have to put a 100 Forint coin in a slot, and then the hand becomes illuminated for 30 seconds.

Image: Curious Expeditions/ Flickr

4. The Holy Hair of Muhammad, Mosque of Hazratbal, Srinagar, Kashmir

A single brown strand of the Prophet Mohamed’s beard may be small, but it is an incredibly valuable relic. Muhammad’s hair is kept inside a silver crystal bottle, in three bags inside three wooden boxes and locked in a secret cabinet. The cabinet is watched over by four sacred guards and located in the innermost of four cells inside the Mosque of Hazratbal in Srinagar, Kashmir. This relic is considered so special that on the very few holy days it is taken out to be shown to the public, Muslim worshipers clamor just to get a look at the strand of hair.

Image: Fayaz Kabli/ Reuters/ Wall Street Journal

5. St. Catherine of Siena’s Head, Church of San Domenico, Sienna, Italy

Catherine is the patron saint of Italy,  and during her life she was credited with being exceptionally pious: she had the stigmata, was a virgin, had visions, had the power to heal, was safe from fire, lived off only the Sacrament, and was able to levitate. She was born in Siena and  started having visions of Christ at the young age of seven. She also escaped a life of marriage by scarring herself with scalding water as a teenager, and she had a vision that she had a wedding ring on that Christ gave her that only she could see.

Image: Curious Expeditions/ Flickr

Unfortunately for the people of Sienna, Catherine was in Rome when she died at the age of 33, and she was buried there even though the city of Siena desperately wanted her to be buried in her home town. Knowing that the Roman guards would never allow them to take her body back, a group of people from Siena stole into her grave and removed her head (since it was easier to conceal and carry than her whole corpse) and brought it back to Siena where it is on display to this day.

6. St. Therese of Lisieux, Originally from Lisieux, France

The journey of St. Therese was an unconventional one. She was born in the small French town of Lisieux and entered the covenant at the age of 16, where she died in 1897 at a young age from tuberculosis. Her life was so uneventful, the nuns were having trouble figuring out what to say at her funeral, and so they turned to a short auto-biography she had written a few years before her death.

Image: Clifton Dicese

The autobiography turned out to be incredibly popular. St. Therese’s close personal relationship with God resonated with many readers, and her book entitled The Story of a Soul has been in continual print to this day. Her remains were buried in Lisieux and have been a popular spot for pilgrims to visit, especially after she was canonized and became the co-patron saint of France (along with Joan of Arc).

Image: catholicrelics.co.uk/ Flickr

And in 1997, on the centennial of her death, part of her remains were taken on a tour of France. A Brazilian Bishop was traveling in France during her initial tour, and he requested a visit from St. Therese to his congregation in Brazil. From there the requests started pouring in, in numbers far greater than anyone expected. Since 1997, St. Therese’s remains have toured nonstop all over the world and are booked until the end of 2010.

Image: catholicrelics.co.uk/ Flickr

7. Piece of Tooth of the Prophet Muhammad, Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey

This relic is located in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, which housed the Ottoman Sultans from 1465-1856 and is now open to the public as a historical monument and religious museum. The piece of a tooth of Muhammad is part of a larger group of extremely important relics called The Sacred Relics, which were sent to Istanbul in various times between the 16th and 19th century. The Sacred Relics are considered so holy, the Koran is recited by a religious man continuously in this chamber, day and night.

Image: mwanasimba/ Flickr

    7 Comments

  • Pharaonick says:

    Sorry to lower the tone somewhat, but aren’t a few churches meant to contain Christ’s foreskin?

    From what I understand, in the Middle Ages a new church had to have a relic in order to be consecrated… hence a massive and lucrative trade in relics, and the duplication of all sorts of anatomical curios…

  • Tom says:

    Just a comment to #2: if Antoninus lived in the 13th century, he could not die in 1459.

    He lived from 1389 (14th century) to 1459 (15th century).

    Scusa! ;)

  • chalice says:

    Last count of known “authentic” artifacts:

    Buddha’s teeth = more than 2600
    Splinters of Christ’s cross = more than 12 tonnes
    Mohammed’s hair = more than 3 kilometers (1.5 tonnes)
    Mohammed’s teeth = more than 400
    Christ’s foreskin = more than 330
    Fragments of Moses’ stone tablets = more than 3 tonnes
    Pieces of the Berlin Wall = more than 86000 tonnes
    Moon rocks = more than 6 tonnes
    L. Ron Hubbard’s haemorrhoids = not clear

  • Alexi says:

    Nick totally stole my comment – Christ’s foreskin should definitely be on this list. And anyone who thinks that’s kind of awesome should read a book dedicated to the subject:

    http://www.amazon.com/Irreverent-Curiosity-Search-Churchs-Strangest/dp/B002XULXYM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271096202&sr=8-1

    It’s hilarious.

  • Rachel Greenberg says:

    Tom- thanks for the catch!

    Alexi and Pharaonick – good call guys…there are tons of even more “questionable” body part relics out there. I also saw some churches in my research that claimed to have vials of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk! EEk!!

  • durel wiley says:

    Okay you bunch of heathen savages. If God’s only son came to earth to commit suicide so that his father who was also him would forgive all of us humans for eating a fruit in the garden of eden where everything was cool until we messed up and ate it…..well………isn’t it possible at least that he had a penis? And if he had a penis, aqnd was the son of god and also god himself….wouldn’t that be a REALLY big penis? And if it was…..wouoldn’t it have a REALLY GIGANTIC foreskin????? Heh? And if he actually made a few fish feed a gobzillion people….couldn’t he also make his foreskin, which was really really big anyways…..reside in as many churches as he wanted? AND….if you had a foreskin that big and special, wouldn’t YOU want to show it off in as many places as you could????? Well, then. Have some respect for the holy stuff for cryin out loud. You could go to hell forever if you blow this thing. Kiss the holy foreskin of Jesus you bunch of scumbag evil poopieheads.

  • hmmm says:

    Jesus’ foreskin would have been removed when he was eight days old, per Jewish law. Not real likely to be appearing in churches.

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