Reader Mara writes in to ask: what’s happened to all the saint relics from the Middle Ages? Are they in museums? Do you guys trade them or sell them to each other?
Oh goodness me, no. In fact there’s a special sin on the books for that very thing: paying money — or trading for — sacred objects or spiritual services. It’s called simony, and it’s the only sin I’m aware of that’s actually named for a person. Simon Magus was the fellow’s name, a magician of sorts from the days just after the crucifixion of Jesus. He observed St. Peter and St. John laying their hands on believers and imbuing them with the Holy Spirit. Seemed to him like a pretty good racket — something he could charge a good buck for — so he offered to pay Peter and John in exchange for teaching him the trick. You can judge for yourself how well that worked out for Simon.
I confess there’s something oddly cool about having a sin named after you. Perhaps one day the church will name one after me: Joe-ry, the sin of writing cheeky blog posts about aspects of one’s own religion. But wasn’t I supposed to be answering a question?
Ah yes, relics. With the rise of Protestantism (and its subsets, especially Evangelicalism), Catholics have gotten increasingly sheepish about venerating actual physical objects. It isn’t done all that much anymore. Which is not to say that there aren’t relics around, especially in Europe and parts of Asia. There people may not be as interested in relics as they once were, but many churches are proud to claim ownership of a saint’s remains, especially one of the really well-known ones.
I remember once attending a lecture on the subject of relics in which the priest/scholar remarked that if you put together all the femurs, ribs and digits that are reputed to have belonged to John the Baptist you’d have a 15-foot-tall giant, a man who strode the earth like a colossus. Now, we Catholics aren’t famous for reading the Bible, but I don’t remember anything like that from catechism class. I’d better go look it up.