Back in the 13th century, a French king – Louis IX – went on crusade to the Holy Land. While in the great Christian city of Constantinople, Louis bought what he believed to be the Crown of Thorns of Jesus and part of the True Cross for an astonishing sum of money. When he returned, the saintly king then built an equally expensive chapel to house these relics of the passion. Recently I visited the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, which you can still see today.
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What are the Passion relics?
Louis wasn’t the only person to be convinced he had found passion relics from the crucifixion. From himself down to the Nazis in the 20th century, there has been a fascination with acquiring these treasured and sacred items. When we talk about “passion relics”, we’re normally referring to the following:
- The Crown of Thorns
- The True Cross – that is part of the cross Jesus was nailed to
- The nails used to fasten Jesus to the cross
- The lance of the centurion Longinus who pierced the side of Jesus
It can also refer to the veil of Veronica used to wipe the face of Jesus; a piece of stone from the table or room where the Last Supper was held; the burial shroud of Jesus (Turin Shroud for example) and I’ve even heard of a chip from the column to which Jesus was tied for the flagellation as being revered by the Catholic faithful.
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Holy Grail as passion relic
Templar conspiracy theories have often claimed that the knights’ core mission was the retrieval of passion related relics, most notably of course the Holy Grail. That is a cup held against the body of Jesus during the crucifixion to collect some of his blood (unless you think it wasn’t a cup but the literal “bloodline” of Jesus – see Dan Brown).
During the Middle Ages, churches and abbeys vied to get their hands on passion relics. If they couldn’t get part of the cross Jesus was nailed to then they’d claimed to have a splinter of the cross on which the so-called Good Thief died. That’s the thief who was nice to Jesus as they died together.
Or one church in Rome still claims to have the finger of saint Thomas that was poked by the doubting follower of Christ into one of his wounds after the saviour came back from the dead. Then there’s the seamless robe Jesus wore on his way to die that several churches claim to possess, most notably Trier in Germany.
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Himmler and one passion relic
Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler stole the lance of the centurion Longinus from Austria during the Second World War. It was returned to the Austrian capital Vienna after Hitler was defeated in 1945. And then the most enormous passion relic has to be the Scala Santa in Rome – the entire marble staircase that led up to the palace of Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who condemned Jesus to death.