(Note: I get religious here. If you find religious talk uncomfortable or offensive, feel free to enjoy the rest of my blog 🙂 )
I love these images from photographer Paul Koudounaris. I’ve actually always loved relics. Part of it is, of course, because I have a macabre streak a mile wide (as anyone who has read my stuff or followed this blog may attest). Part of it, though, is that the practice of venerating relics is a deeply Catholic practice, and I love the theology behind it. Catholics are a physical people. We believe that our salvation is through the Word made flesh, who lived and died for humanity. That the church — that is, the people of the faith — is Jesus Christ on earth. And our central sacrament is the consumption of the Body and Blood, which we believe is made the actual body and actual blood of Christ (transubstantiation is a tricky wicket, which I won’t go into here. If you’d like to know the specifics, feel free to ask in the comments). So these bodies of the holy men and women are adored and adorned as not only touched by the holy, but suffused with it.
If you think about it, though, this is not only a Catholic practice, but a human one. Think of the various political figures who have been preserved, from the pharaohs in Egypt to Lenin. Sometimes there are religious beliefs at work, but sometimes the reasons are entirely secular. Recently a cloth that had St. John Paul II’s blood on it from when he was shot went missing. The level of derision online for those “freaky Catholics” was…well, entirely predictable, actually. Thing is, though, is that something similar has happened with the pink dress that Jackie Kennedy was wearing when her husband was assassinated, that was covered in the president’s blood and brains. People have been fascinated with and clamoring to see it for decades. Imagine the reaction if it was discovered that the dress was stolen or destroyed.
I think we all have an attachment to the tangible. It can be pathological, such as in the case of hoarding. But I think it can also be important to recognize that the holy is not just some remote nebulous concept. It is all around us, in the physical world we touch and breathe and are an integral part of.