The fact that my blog has recently become an ebay clearing house for Cabbage Patch Kids
has prompted one reader to request a post on the on-line sale of relics (this is not to imply any direct
parallel, of course). At this moment on Ebay you can buy a piece of Padre Pio's habit
, part of St. Pius X's clothes
, a bone fragment of St. Rose of Lima
, a 'holy nail' relic, this bulk collection of nineteen relics
, and, of course, the ever-present fragments of the true cross
There are a couple of angles to this, all bad. From the side of the seller, you have no idea of the person to whom this relic is being sold. Possibly it is a pious overly-devotional (aka, 'POD') Catholic who will show it the care and veneration it deserves. Or it could be a collector who'll shove it in a box or let it sit in a flea market for six years, or possibly some sicko with much darker intentions. In either case, you've got a pretty good shot at being party to sacrilege. From the side of the buyer, there are more practical problems. You know neither the seller, the origin of the relic, nor even full knowledge of what it is. Some of them come with 'documentation,' but this is easily forged or interchanged (as long as it's written in unintelligible Latin, of course, no one will question it). And this assumes, naturally, that it was even a genuine relic in the first place. The chances, ultimately, aren't that great that you're really getting the Virgin Mary's nursing cloth for that $600.00 you're shelling out.
But even assuming that a relic of certifiable authenticity could be sold to a buyer of certifiable POD, you're still looking at ecclesiastical sanction. The Code of Canon Law, c. 1190, sums up the Church's position on this activity quite forthrightly:
Can. 1190 §1 It is absolutely wrong to sell sacred relics.
The Latin, "Sacras reliquias vendere nefas est
," is the strongest possible language; the word 'nefas
' (nefarious) is used in the Code only to describe sins against the Blessed Sacrament, forced ordination and priests breaking the seal of confession.
Of course, most sellers weasel their way out of this imposition by claiming something like this: 'The $600.00 auction is for the reliquary alone. The 11 relics inside are just a bonus gift to the person who buys the reliquary.' Yeah, right. Take the relics out and see how much you get for an empty reliquary.
The organization Saints Alive: International Crusade for Holy Relics
exists, in part, to put an end to commerce in relics. Good luck. The Ebay listings for Christian Relics is currently at 544 items