From the Archives: Relics


Image of a relic of the True Cross
Relic of the True Cross

The Jesuits in Britain Archives hold perhaps hundreds of relics, authenticated and non-authenticated, wrapped up in tiny parcels or housed in reliquaries of varying size, style and ornamentation. A relic usually consists of the physical remains of a venerated person or saint, or personal effects preserved so that the individual may be venerated. The relics held here range from teeth and small bones to blood soaked linen, rocks taken from holy places to a piece of rope from the hurdle that took Edmund Campion to his death (a small piece from that held at Stonyhurst which featured on the BBC Treasures of Heaven), a zuchetto to pieces of the true cross, from individuals and places across the world and throughout the history of the Catholic church.

In Catholicism, relics are divided into three classes:
First Class Relics:  Items directly associated with the events of Christ's life (manger, cross, etc.) or the physical remains of a saint.
Second Class Relics:  Items that the saint owned or frequently used, such as a crucifix or rosary.
Third Class Relics: Any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic.

Relics were at the heart of medieval Christianity, and still play an important part today, with many thousands of people visiting holy shrines each year. The evidence is clear when looking through the records of the Cause of the Holy Martyrs Office, which contain many letters from individuals asking for relics so that they might have a favour or miracle granted, or to notify the Vice-Postulators of intercession through the veneration of a relic.

St Beuno relics


This image is a sketch made in 1892 of a reliquary that was held for some time at St Beuno’s. It contains two skulls, one of which has a hole in the cranium possibly made by a pike on which it could have been exposed, the bones of a leg in the sleeves of a child’s jacket, and several other bones. It is thought that these are the remains of at least one Catholic martyr of the Reformation. In the 19th century it was believed that they were the remains of the two Welsh Jesuit martyrs, St Philip Evans and St David Lewis, executed in 1679. In the latter part of the 20th century it was suggested that they belonged to St Richard Gwyn, a Welsh school teacher martyred for treason in 1584. Investigations as to whether the remains could be of St John Plessington, who was also executed in 1679, are currently being considered (to read about the appeal click here). No evidence regarding the true identity of these bones have been found in the Archives.

The image can be found in a bound volume called 'Notes and Letters of Relics of the English Martyrs' in the Archives, which contains information and sketches from the 19th and early 20th century of relics owned by the Society by the place in which it is held.

Below is a selection of relics from the Archives. Please click the image to enlarge.

Relics in the Jesuits in Britain Archives


L-R, top-bottom: Relics of 17 Jesuit Saints and Blesseds in a reliquary; Zuchetto of Oliver Plunkett from the relics belonging to the Martyrs Cause Office with its entry in Notes and Letters of Relics of the English Martyrs; relic of St Francis Xavier with authentication certificate; relic of the True Cross with authentication certificate.

For more information about the relics held at the Jesuits in Britain Archives, please contact us.