Medieval crusaders returning from Palestine and Constantinople brought with them a treasure trove of “relics”—sacred objects from the Holy Land. All Europe was astir, bishop vying with bishop, church competing with church, to acquire and display various holy items. Cathedrals became virtual museums, and these relics were soon objects of veneration and pilgrimage.

In various churches, worshipers could view barbs from the crown of thorns, splinters from the cross of Christ, or the finger that Thomas thrust into Jesus’ side. The church of Halberstadt acquired the sponge and reed of Golgotha. A church in St. Omer claimed the lance that pierced the Savior’s side. The cathedral of Amiens enshrined the head of John the Baptist in a silver cup. Three different churches in France boasted a complete corpse of Mary Magdalene. In various other European churches, one could view Noah’s beard, Jacob’s rock, Moses’ rod, or the stone of Christ’s sepulcher. Elsewhere his robe, his chalice (the Holy Grail), or shavings from his beard thrilled wide-eyed pilgrims.

Even the Lord’s foreskin, his navel cord, and milk from Mary’s breasts were reportedly discovered and displayed. The basilica of St. Peter in Rome enshrined the bodies of Peter and Paul, making it the ultimate goal of Christian pilgrimage.

It isn’t surprising, then, that England was beside itself on October 13, 1247, when some of “Christ’s blood” arrived in London. The Crusaders vouched for its authenticity, and it bore the seals of the patriarch of Jerusalem and the archbishops of the Holy Land. King Henry III fasted and prayed through the night of October 12; then as morning broke he marched through London’s streets, accompanying the priests in full regalia. He held aloft the vase containing the holy liquid. The procession moved from St. Paul’s to Westminster, then the Bishop of Norwich preached a great sermon regarding the relic in the vase.

But he would have done better to have ignored the relic and preached the reality, proclaiming nothing more nor less than the truth of Ephesians 1:7—Christ sacrificed his life’s blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven.

Christ sacrificed his life’s blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. God has great wisdom and understanding, and by what Christ has done, God has shown us his own mysterious ways. (Ephesians 1:7-9)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Oct.13.

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