Summary: Why did Christ come to earth? What message did he leave us?
During the 1000 years between the time of Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, who declared Christianity the religion of the realm and the Reformation and rise of Protestantism an avalanche of religious fervor overtook the European Continent. The rulers of the various countries and city-states would donate their riches to pay for churches and monasteries. Other rulers would donate land to the Church on which they could build the churches and monasteries or farm the land and raise cattle to support the church properties.
The shopkeepers and peasants would flock to the churches and give what little they had to spare for the church. There were numerous religious festivals throughout the year that everyone would joyfully, or somberly, attend depending on the occasion.
In addition to the piety demonstrated by society was the concept and desire of being able to see the mortal remains of the Saints, Apostles and any emblems related to Christ. A vast industry was created to supply the churches with these items. So, how did this become so important?
In 327 AD Constantine’s mother, Helena, traveled to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. While there she visited a small church where the Dome on the Rock now stands in Jerusalem. She was taken down into a cave below the church where three crosses that Christ and the thieves were nailed were kept in a protective state. She managed to obtain these crosses along with the nails and the lance that pierced the side of Jesus and took them back to Constantinople.
The crosses were whittled down and slivers were sent to the major churches in Christendom. The nails were kept in Constantinople and were eventually buried with Constantine when he died. The lance and a large part of the crossbeam from Christ’s cross was sent to Rome.
These emblems supposedly from the Crucifixion started the veneration of what is termed holy relics. Society was hugely impressed with these relics and requested more symbols from the time of Christ.
The Catholic church was only to eager to fulfill that demand. They sent missionaries and priests to the Holy Lands with a few of them detailed to find the burial sites of the apostles and bring the remains back to Rome while the remaining men would begin preaching to the infidels.
Today, under St. Peters Cathedral in Rome is a spur of the Catacombs. Buried in the catacombs is the tomb and sarcophagus of Peter. In the Cathedral on the main floor and in the center of the cathedral is an elaborate altar. The altar is placed directly above Peters tomb. There are four columns on the altar and in one is the Lance and in another column is a piece of the cross that Helena sent back in 328AD.
Also located in Rome is St. Paul’s Cathedral. Buried under the church is the tomb and sarcophagus of Paul. In fact, located in the archives of Vatican City is an additional 7500 other holy relics from the Middle Ages.
Rome however, is not the only place you will find holy relics from the Middle Ages. Slivers of the cross can be found in churches located in Paris, London, Florence and Venice. You will also find them in Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Kosovo and the Philippines.
Surprisingly, you will also find slivers of the cross here in the United States. In a small church known as St. Ann’s Chapel outside Pittsburgh, PA there are 22 slivers of the True Cross. In addition is a thorn from the Crown of Thorns Christ wore on the cross. They also have a sliver from the table used in the Last Supper. In fact, they have over 5,000 relics including at least a small bone from all twelve of the disciples.
Of course, this maybe fascinating trivia, but think of the implications. The Middles Ages was rife with religious fervor. The majority of the people living in Europe at that time never lived in the Holy Lands or ever traveled there. Obviously they never lived in the Holy Lands during the time of Christ’s sojourn on Earth. Neither were they alive during the years the Apostles lived to witness their missionary endeavors. Yet, the people desired to clutch or see some artifact from that time.
To venerate it.
To be able to look at or touch it.
To have it near when they worshiped and prayed. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of people did not worship these relics. Instead they wanted them near to help them focus on Christ and his sacrifice for mankind. Something that we in the modern ages need to do more of. Focusing on Christ and his sacrifice for us.
We are now in the Christmas Season, a time of year when Christians traditionally have focused their attention on the birth of Christ in a manger. A time when people gather as a family and celebrate together. People put up decorations inside and outside their homes. They will exchange gifts and gorge themselves on a big meal and deserts. Then they will retire to their beds with a smile on their faces feeling like they did well that day.