relics

Is the Crown of Thorns rescued from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire authentic?

Is the Crown of Thorns rescued from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire authentic?

THE QUESTIONS:

About the Crown of Thorns rescued from the Notre Dame Cathedral fire in Paris: Is this the actual crown that Jesus Christ wore at the Crucifixion? Does authenticity matter? What’s the role of such relics?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Before Jesus Christ was crucified, the New Testament records, Roman soldiers “stripped him, and put a scarlet robe upon him, and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” (Matthew 27:28-9, similarly in Mark 15:17 and John 19:2-3).

More than 19 centuries later, a relic believed to be that humiliating crown was rescued from the disastrous fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It is the most revered item in the cathedral’s collection, which also contains what are identified as one of the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross, and a wooden fragment from the cross itself.

In today’s supposedly secularized France, only 41.6 percent of citizens are baptized Catholics and a mere 12 percent tell pollsters they regularly attend Mass, well below numbers elsewhere in Europe. Yet the damage and substantial survival of the venerable cathedral, and the valiant effort that saved its treasured relics, roused fervent sentiment nationwide.

Is the celebrated Crown of Thorns, which goes on public display each Good Friday, authentic? There’s no way to prove it is, nor do the Bible or early Christian annals say the artifact was preserved. Here’s what we do know, courtesy of British historian Emily Guerry, writing for theconversation.com.

The earliest record dates from four centuries after the Crucifixion, when St. Paulinus instructed Christians to venerate a “holy thorns” relic at the Mount Zion basilica in Jerusalem.

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Why rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral could cost billions and take over a decade

Why rebuilding Notre Dame Cathedral could cost billions and take over a decade

The catastrophic Holy Week fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris completely destroyed the roof and center spire, although the famous facade of the centuries-old gothic house of worship was spared and remains intact, as did the lower part of the church.

As investigators continue to sift through the damage — which includes three massive holes in its vaulted ceiling — in an effort to pinpoint the cause of the inferno, French officials and architects are working to determine how much money and time it will take to restore Notre Dame to its previous glory.

“We have so much to rebuild,” French President Emmanual Macron said Tuesday in a televised speech from Paris. “We will rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral even more beautifully. We can do it, and once again, we will mobilize.”

French officials confirmed, a day after the blaze, that the stone walls of the cathedral are structurally sound. Macron vowed that the landmark church, a symbol of Paris and Roman Catholicism for the past 800 years, will be rebuilt. State officials will enact an ambitious timetable of just five years to get the project completed.

The investigation into the cause of the blaze remains under investigation. Despite a spate of vandalism at French churches over the past few months, authorities do not believe this latest incident to be arson.

How long will it take to rebuild?

French officials said an international effort would be needed to pay for the reconstruction. Although Macron said rebuilding would be completed by 2024 (with one estimate saying it could cost $8 billion), some experts said the cathedral’s full renovation could take up to 15 years.

In terms of money raised, the billionaire Pinault family has pledged $113 million, as did the French energy company Total and cosmetics giant L’Oreal. The family of Bernard Arnault, who own luxury goods group LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, has planned to donate $225 million. Donations are coming in from all over the world, including $100,000 from Notre Dame University.

It’s worth noting that the cathedral was not insured.

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Notre Dame in flames: What was lost? What was saved? What was 'news'? What issues remain?

Notre Dame in flames: What was lost? What was saved? What was 'news'? What issues remain?

As it turns out, Paris firefighters — apparently drawing on centuries of tradition — know quite a bit about how to save a medieval cathedral, or how to save as much of one of these unique structures as can be saved. They know more about this subject than the president of the United States does, apparently.

It will take weeks to unpack all of the stunning details of the story that unfolded before the eyes of the world yesterday in the heart of Paris. Officials are saying that it is too early to begin an in-depth investigation of what happened, but also that they are sure the fire was not an act of vandalism or worse. That’s an interesting pair of statements, right there.

Watching several hours of television coverage, it became pretty apparent that it really mattered whether newsrooms had people involved in the coverage who knew anything about Catholicism and its sacraments. It was, to be blunt, the difference between news about a fire in a symbolic building, like a museum, that is important in French culture and coverage of the near total destruction of a Catholic holy place, a cathedral, at the start of Holy Week.

Case in point: Is an ancient relic — a crown of thorns venerated for centuries as part of the one worn by Jesus — really an “artwork” that was rescued from the flames? How about a container holding what Catholics believe is bread consecrated to be the Body of Christ? Is that “artwork”? Are people praying the Rosary and singing “Ave Maria” really “in shock,” and that is that?

I could go on. But to get a sense of what happened in much of the journalism yesterday, compare these two overtures from two very important American newspapers. Guess which material was written by a team that included a religion-beat professional.

The headline on case study No. 1: “The fire at Notre Dame, a Catholic icon, was made even more heartbreaking by the timing.” The overture:

PARIS — A symbol of Paris, a triumph of Gothic architecture and one of the most visited monuments in the world, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is a beloved icon for millions across the globe. But for many in this largely Catholic country, especially for the most faithful, the medieval masterpiece is a sacred space that serves as the spiritual, as well as the cultural, heart of France.

So as it burned Monday — during Holy Week, which precedes Easter — Parisians gathered on the other side of the Seine, embers blowing onto their heads, praying and crying as they sought fellowship in their shared disbelief. As night fell, people clutched flickering candles, still praying as ochre plumes of smoke billowed in a dimming sky. The sound of hymns filled the air.

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Archaeology as click bait: Is the news 'Santa is dead' or 'Tomb of St. Nicholas has been found'?

Archaeology as click bait: Is the news 'Santa is dead' or 'Tomb of St. Nicholas has been found'?

Let me start with a kind of religion-beat emotional trigger alert.

WARNING: Members of ancient Christian communions (and lovers of church history) should put down any beverages (hot or cold) that are in their hands before reading the following "Acts of Faith" feature in The Washington Post. It may help to take some kind of mild sedative.

Now, let's proceed. First there is the headline, which is both clever and totally outrageous, in light of the actual news hook in this story. Ready? Here we go:

Santa dead, archaeologists say

The New York Post headline? You do NOT want to know.

So can you say, "click bait"? Of course this is click bait and I understand why. However, the question is whether this report contains key information that is useful to readers who are interested in the real story -- which could turn out to have major implications for church history as well as ecumenical relations between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox churches of the East.

The "Santa" in the headline is actually St. Nicholas of Myra, one of the most beloved saints and bishops in ancient Christianity. Before we get to the real story, here is the creative (to say the least) overture of the Post report (which was not written by a religion-desk pro).

First the good news:
Whoever told you that Santa Claus was an impostor with a fake beard collecting a Christmastime check at the mall or a lie cooked up by your parents to trick you into five measly minutes of quiet was, at minimum, misinformed.
The bad news: Santa Claus is definitely dead.
Archaeologists in southern Turkey say they have discovered the tomb of the original Santa Claus, also known as St. Nicholas, beneath his namesake church near the Mediterranean Sea.

Pause: This man is "also known as St. Nicholas"?

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What were Time editors really trying to say with their White House turns Russian red cover?

What were Time editors really trying to say with their White House turns Russian red cover?

Yes, Russia, Russia, Russia. Russia, Russia and more Russia.

Again.

The big idea behind this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is that one thing is for certain -- America is not Russia and America is not turning into Russia (no matter that the cover of Time magazine was trying to say).

There is another crucial idea linked to that that I have discussed before at GetReligion and with our colleagues at Issues, Etc. That would be this: Vladimir Putin is a Russian, but Putin is not Russia. Or try this: There is more to Russia than Putin. Or this: One of the reasons Putin is effective -- in his culture -- is that he knows which Russian buttons to push to move his people, even he is not sincere when doing so.

Host Todd Wilken and I ended up discussing this question: What were the editors of Time trying to say with that cover? After all, they thought the image of the White House morphing into St. Basil's Cathedral (standing in for the actual towers of the Kremlin, perhaps) was so brilliant, so powerful, so logical, that it didn't even need a headline.

The image was supposed to say it all.

But it didn't. If you want to have fun, surf around in this collection of links to discussions of all the errors and misunderstandings linked to that Time cover (and CNN material linked to it). Hey, even Pravda jumped into the mix.

All together now: But St. Basil's isn't the Kremlin. And they took the crosses off the top of the iconic onion-dome steeples (so they had to know they were dealing with a church). And this whole White House with onion domes thing has turned into a cliche, since so many other news and editorial people have used it.

So what was the big idea behind that cover?

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The debates go on and on: Could the Shroud of Turin be Jesus’ actual burial cloth?

The debates go on and on: Could the Shroud of Turin be Jesus’ actual burial cloth?

MARK’S QUESTION:

Is the Shroud of Turin really the burial cloth of Jesus?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Is Italy’s celebrated Shroud of Turin an authentic relic of Jesus Christ from the 1st Century that undergirds belief in his crucifixion and resurrection? Or a hoax from medieval times? Or an ingenious work of pious art? Or what? The Religion Guy will attempt to fairly summarize key aspects of this seasonal topic.

Quick answer: There is no undisputed, empirical proof that this was Jesus’ actual burial garment from 20 centuries ago, and chances are there never will be. Yet that’s not all. Mysteries hover, and it’s likely the debate will be unending to judge from recent decades.

The Holy Shroud (Santa Sindone in Italian, so students of it are called “sindonologists”) is “the most studied ancient artifact in existence,” says an organization of devotees. Probably true. The aged linen cloth, secured in Turin’s Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, measures 14 feet 3 inches by 3 feet 7 inches. It contains two faint brown images, front and back, of a thin, bearded man 5 feet 7 inches tall, showing blood stains and wounds consistent with crucifixion.

All four New Testament Gospels record that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Jesus’ corpse in linen. Three Gospels say he used a “linen shroud” in the singular. But John states that on Easter morning Jesus’ empty tomb contained “linen cloths” plural. John also mentions a separate “napkin that had been on his head.” If that napkin covered the face, then why is there a face on the Turin shroud?

Since 1578 the shroud has been in Turin, where it is occasionally put on public display. More than 2 million pilgrims from many nations visited the last exhibition in 2015. Existing records can trace the garment to France as far back as 1357.

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Colonial Jamestown reliquary: Secret Catholics or Protestants 'venerating' bones of saints?

Colonial Jamestown reliquary: Secret Catholics or Protestants 'venerating' bones of saints?

I love a good mystery hidden in the mists of history and it goes without saying that is doubly true of a mystery with a strong religion hook. So the Washington Post team had my full attention when it pushed out an online promotion for a fascinating feature story about some of the latest finds in the Jamestown Rediscovery project.

The key: Researchers found a small silver box containing what appear to be human bones, with what they believe is the letter "M" inscribed on the cover. Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

JAMESTOWN, Va. -- When his friends buried Capt. Gabriel Archer here about 1609, they dug his grave inside a church, lowered his coffin into the ground and placed a sealed silver box on the lid. ...
The tiny, hexagonal box, etched with the letter “M,” contained seven bone fragments and a small lead vial, and probably was an object of veneration, cherished as disaster closed in on the colony.
On Tuesday, more than 400 years after the mysterious box was buried, Jamestown Rediscovery and the Smithsonian Institution announced that archaeologists have found it, as well as the graves of Archer and three other VIPs.
“It’s the most remarkable archaeology discovery of recent years,” said James Horn, president of Jamestown Rediscovery, which made the find. “It’s a huge deal.”

OK, but what was this small silver box? The story says it was probably an "object of veneration," but are we talking about some form of link to ancestors? The Post team, interviewing the experts, immediately locks into a crucial religious element of this mystery -- but misses some key questions and historical details.

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Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

I wrote in this space on Tuesday that the New York Times' coverage of the Archbishop Sheen body battle was missing information on why relics are important to Catholics. By contrast, a recent article by Anne-Gerard Flynn at MassLive.com, although light on theology, captures the sense of the faithful who see in relics a living connection to saints.

Flynn seeks to capture the atmosphere of devotion among those venerating a relic of St. Anthony of Padua on loan to a local parish. She begins with an adept verbal snapshot of one woman paying her respects to the 13th-century Franciscan friar:

Springfield resident Brenda Madison was among the first area residents to venerate the relic of St. Anthony of Padua, and the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary containing the bone fragment of the saint, born in Portugual in 1195, left her in an emotional state.
"I teared up. I was just so happy. All of these years I have prayed to Anthony, and now I got that close to a part of the saint," said Madison, who attended a brief prayer service, Sept. 6, marking the reception of the relic into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, at St. Michael's Cathedral.

Flynn's line about how "the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary ... left [Madison] in an emotional state" is subtle and powerful. Instead of asking an expert in Catholic theology about what it means to venerate a saint, she is trying to capture in words what such veneration means to the believer: physical contact with a person who, although dead to this present world, is alive in heaven.

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Why steal the blood of the Blessed Pope John Paul II?

So let’s talk about the theft of that relic containing the blood of the Blessed Pope John Paul II. For starters, I admit that this whole subject is a little strange for people who are not members of the ancient Christian churches of the East and the West.

Also, there appears to be some confusion about what, precisely, was stolen. Some reports say that robbers stole a vial of the pope’s blood, while others — BBC for example — report that the object stolen was a “piece of gauze once soaked in the blood of the late pope.”

Either way, journalists trying to cover this story face the challenge of answering one crucial question: Why would someone want a vial of the blood of someone such as this beloved pope, who will be proclaimed a Catholic saint in April?

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