Many religions have odd ways of worship, unusual ways of revering the divine. Statues may represent a god, a saint or, for some, a statue may actually be the divinity itself (an idol). A relic is a part of the body of a venerated person, or even a religious object of some sort, preserved for purposes of veneration or sometimes as a tangible memorial of that person or event. Relics hold a place of importance in certain religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam. It is a word, derived from the Latin meaning ’something left behind‘.
The footprint of Muhammad is thought by many Muslims to be a real and an important trace of the prophet. Some Muslims believe that wherever the Prophet Muhammad roamed, his left foot made a lasting impression. Such footprints have been recovered from religious sites throughout the Middle East and are now on display at mosques, museums and other historical sites throughout the region. One such print found its way to the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, where it is displayed today.
The Shroud of Turin is a famous relic thought by some to be the true burial cloth of Christ. The Shroud of Turin, a yellowed, 14-ft.-long (4.3 m) linen some believe to be Christ’s burial cloth, has drawn millions to the Italian city. While the Shroud bears an image of a crucified man with wounds similar to those endured by Jesus, carbon-dating tests in 1988 showed the cloth was made between 1260 and 1390 and therefore could not have been used to wrap Christ’s body. Still, the test results have not stopped pilgrims from flocking to take their 3-to-5-minute looks at the shroud this month in its first public viewing since 2000. Some of the faithful claim that the tests may have been skewed and should be redone.
Similar to the Shroud of Turin is the Holy Manylion (the Image of Edessa), an image of the face of Christ given to King Abgar of Edessa (today called Urfa, a city in southeastern Turkey). The image had been a relic for the eastern Orthodox Church, taken to Constantinople in the 10th century then taken by Christian crusaders when the city and taken to France. It disappeared in the French revolution but the commemoration of the transfer of the ‘icon’ from Edessa to Costantinople is still celebrated by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Buddha’s tooth: According to Sri Lankan legend, a single tooth remained following Buddha’s cremation. His left canine came to be an important possession as it was thought that whoever had the tooth had the divine right to rule. The tooth was fought over many times and today is located in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
The head of John the Baptist: The final resting place of John the Baptist’s head varies widely depending on which religion you subscribe to. Muslims believe his head lies inside the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, while Christians believe that a head on display at Rome’s Church of San Silvestro in Capite is that of John the Baptist. Still others believe it is buried in Turkey or even southern France.
The Blood of San Gennaro: Each year the people of Naples, Italy, gather on the anniversary of the martyrdom of their patron saint, San Gennaro, to watch a miracle: the liquifying of the saint’s dried blood. The miracle occurs like clockwork on Sept. 19, and as many as 18 additional times a year. The fact that the phenomenon has been questioned by scientists has never stopped the celebration. Many believe the so-called miracle of the blood serves to protect the town from harm (such as from the nearby Mount Vesuvius).
Muhammad’s beard: The hair is said to have been shaved from Muhammad’s face by his favorite barber postmortem, the Prophet’s beard is on view today in the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Though relics have no official sanction in Islam, and the Prophet himself preached against worshipping anyone other than God, many visit the museum’s extensive collection of items — including footprints of the Prophet and other items associated with Muhammad — each year.
The Grapevine cross (an Eastern Orthodox Christian relic): Legend has it that St. Nino, a woman from Cappadoccia who preached Christianity in Georgia in the 4th century, was said to have been given the Grapevine Cross — a cross with peculiar drooping arms — by the Virgin Mary herself. Like its original bearer, the cross, now a major symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church, wandered several countries before finding its home in the Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi, Georgia, where it is now displayed.
Some relics that could be revered by all three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are ‘unfound’ such as the staff of Moses, reportedly kept at the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey; and the Ark of the Covenant, probably kept by members of the Ethiopian orthodox Church in Ethiopia/Eritrea.
But relics are not always sacred objects associated with religion. Marxism-Leninism, an ideology that has/had many characteristics of religion (unquestioning faith, obedience to dogma) also created relics for its followers.
The most well-known of these relics is preservation of the remains of their respective founders, available for veneration by their citizens (Lenin in the former Soviet Union, Mao Zedong (even though Mao, himself had wanted to be cremated) in China), with special care taken to embalm the bodies in order that the corpse remain lifelike and be visible ‘forever’ .
Kumsusan Palace of the Sun is sometimes referred to as the Kim Il-sung Mausoleum, is a building located in the city of ngyang, North Korea and serves as the mausoleum of the founder of the regime, Kim Il-sung and of his son Kin Jong-il who succeeded him.
In Hanoi, Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum houses the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh in the cooled, central hall surrounded by an honor guard.
Unfortunately, none of these countries had the same embalmig expertise as the ancient Egyptians and maintenance of the corpses has been an on-going process.
For an interesting video concerning relics of the Church, click on the link below.
*Religious relics: subjects of research for the novel The Tao of the Thirteenth God – Amazon Kindle.