From "Thy Kingdom Come" - October 2011, a publication of the
Association of the Covenant People, Burnaby, B.C. Canada
TREASURES OF HEAVEN
BY PASTOR JORY STEVEN BROOKS, CBIA
London's famed British Museum hosted a special exhibit this
summer that was both fasci nating and instructive. Labeled,
"Treasures of Heaven," it showcased the largest and most valuable
collection of Roman Catholic relics and reliquaries probably ever
assembled in Britain. Not personally being of the Romanist
denomination myself, it might have seemed to be a waste of time
to visit this exhibit. To the contrary, many of the relics and
reliquaries (relic holders) showed spectacular artistry and were
often breathtaking in their beauty. There is no question that
many of the best artists and artisans in Europe spent years
designing, constructing, and painting these items for the Roman
Church. Still others were fine examples of "repousse," an art
form in which human likenesses were hammered out of copper
sheets. Yet, in admiring this artistry, I wondered if any
thinking person who viewed the exhibit might be strongly
influenced to leave Catholicism. To see why, let us be-
gin with some background to this subject.
Medieval Christians were taught by the Roman Church to look
to the "authorized" saints for help in all of life's travails,
whether due to spiritual issues, physical health, death, or
disaster. In essence, God was presented as being too remote to
help, and the individual too unimportant for God to notice. It
was to the saints they looked, who provided a sort of courier
service to God, and who had the divine healing ability themselves
(even in death!), or in some cases were a sort of goodluck charm.
Several exhibits depicted famous saints. One exhibit portrayed
St. George, the patron saint of England, who long had a relic of
his heart displayed at St. George's chapel in Windsor Castle. St
Christopher became the patron saint of travelers because by
legend he once carried Christ across a river. St. Veronica was
depicted in artwork with a sudarium (or sweat cloth); she by leg-
end wiped Christ's face as he carried the cross to His
crucifixion. The cloth was "re-discovered" hundreds of years
later with a "miraculous imprint of the face of Christ." Legend
is piled on top of legend, and so the "miraculous cloth" itself
supposedly had extraordinary power to heal.
These relics and their supposed healing power still have
strong appeal to the masses today. St. James, one of the twelve
apostles, is said to have been martyred in A.D. 44 after
preaching the gospel in Spain. His relics were said to have been
rediscovered there in A.D. 825 at a shrine at Santiago de Compos
tella in Galicia in northern Spain. In the year 2010, 270,000
people made pilgrimages to the site.
The British Museum interpretive text at the exhibit pointed
out the adoption of pagan religious symbolism, images, and even
terminology by the Roman church. An Etruscan Urn from pre-Roman
Italy depicted a female winged figure which became a standard
representation on later Roman Catholic urns. An exhibit sign
nearby stated that this "demonstrates the continuing of pagan
Roman practices by early Christians." Another sign stated,
"Jews, pagans, and Christians shared similar customs and burial
sites in ancient Rome, A.D. 300-400." In many paintings, "gold
glass roundels" or halos were seen, also adopted from pagan
Pagan Romans set up "votive plaques" requesting divine help
at sacred places, and the exhibit informed the viewer that
"Christians continued this tradition with only very slight
modifications." Signs of the zodiac in medieval art symbolized
the months of the year. Yet another exhibit showed a "pedant
amulet" from Roman Britain of A.D. 300, filled inside with
sulphur, a ritual purifying substance. We were informed that
"this practice was fashionable among the elite of pagan Rome and
was later adopted for use by Christians."
Christian and pagan religious beliefs were freely
intertwined. A casket designed and detailed by a Frank artist in
Gaul "shows Roman, Jewish, and Germanic stories." The Roman siege
of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was combined with runic letters telling
the story of the pagan legend of Egil.
The exhibit told the little-known story of the Emperor
Constantine's British mother, Helena, who began the reliquary
obsession about A.D. 326-8 while on a trip to Palestine. She
brought back a piece of wood which she obtained there; having
been assured that it was from the actual cross of Christ's
crucifixion! Helena found it by interrogating local Palestinian
Jews to reveal the location of Christ's cross. She had little suc
cess at first. Finally, a Jewish man named Judas Cyriacus
"reveals the location when threatened with death in a furnace."
This "revelation" under severe duress was apparently not
questioned, and kings and churches throughout Europe began paying
high prices for any physical object whose owner claimed an
association with a saint. In ensuing years, not only were all
three crucifixion crosses supposedly rediscovered, but even the
"reed and sponge" from Christ's crucifixion.
The reliquary business was spurred further by the Second
Council of Nicea (in Turkey) which decreed that "every altar must
contain the relic of a saint before consecration could take
place." Some of the interesting relics later making their way to
the church altars included hair from the head of the Virgin Mary,
as well as her breast milk!
King Louis IX of France (1214-70) gained fame for his huge
collection of relics. In 1239, he acquired the crown of thorns
worn by Christ at his crucifixion "at the enormous cost of
135,000 lives." Louis instigated the fourth crusade to the Holy
Land specifically to acquire these relics at a tremendous loss of
human lives. For his efforts he was rewarded with canonization in
1297 for his "piety." In addition, the city of Paris received
special status in the church as a holy city, "a New Jerusalem,"
because of Louis' acquisition of relics.
Not to be outdone, Frederick the Wise of Saxony (14631526)
collected a total of 19,013 relics, which were displayed at the
Church of All Saints in Wittenberg, Germany.
Roman Catholic adherents seeking miracles through the
centuries paid good money to view or touch such relics--and still
do today. The holy coat of Christ, which the Roman soldiers cast
lots for, was shown at Trier Cathedral in Germany in 1996.
Over 700,000 pilgrims paid to view it that year; in 2012 it
will be shown again to commemorate the 500th anniversary of its
"discovery." Whatever the entrance fee, it would be a small price
to pay if divine healing resulted. Those who are not healed,
however, are told by the church that "only the worthy will be
healed," Yes, it is your own fault if you are not healed by the
relics you pay to see!
At the end of the exhibit was the Protestant response to
Roman relic worship. German reformer, Martin Luther, said, "If
one counts up the pieces [of St. Barbara's skull] she will have
seven heads!" Similarly, John Calvin observed, "How do we know we
are venerating the ring and comb of the Virgin Mary rather
than the baubles of a harlot?" (Calvin, "Treatise On Relics,"
1543) The Protestant view was (and still is) that devotion to
saints and relics is idolatrous, and that the Word of God was
(and is) the most important element in worship.
I paused before leaving the exhibit and watched some young
people reading the words of Luther and Calvin above, and wondered
if the information presented would possibly strengthen their
faith and lead them away from the worship of things instead of
God, and of gimmicks in place of Godliness. I pray that men and
women's hearts were opened to truth by the information presented
in this extensive and well-prepared exhibit by the British