|Very Rev. David M. O'Connell, C.M. , CUA president, and Sandra Scham , lecturer, anthropology, appeared April 6 on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360˚" to discuss the validity of religious relics . See the show's transcript below.|
CUA President and Professor Discuss Religious Relics on CNN
Whether the relics are genuine or not doesn't seem to matter much to believers. The passion stirred up by the items is decidedly real.
CNN's David Mattingly reports.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Joan of Arc burned at the stake 1431. Her remains displayed in a French museum, declared a fraud in 2007.
The Shroud of Turin surfaced in the 1300s as the burial shroud of Jesus, labeled a medieval fake in 1988. But in 2005 a new study suggested the old tests were flawed.
Such is the mysterious and contentious world of holy relics: revered pieces of Christian history, or maybe more accurately, revered pieces of historic Christians.
DAVID O'CONNELL, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA: A first class relic would be a piece of bone or a piece of the body of the saint.
A second class relic would be something that the saint used or held or touched his body or her body, that the saint had in his or her possession.
And a third class relic would usually be a piece of cloth or some material touched to either a first class relic or a second class relic.
MATTINGLY: The church does not attribute any power to relics, but there are churches all over the world. In 2000 pilgrims lined up in Moscow, hoping to be healed by the relics of a third century physician who was martyred for treating the poor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I cried and begged that I could come and touch the icon of Saint Pantenemon (ph). I asked so much, and, look, God sent a woman to help me.
MATTINGLY: The church considers the display of relics a way to celebrate great deeds and sacrifices in the name of faith. Verifying their authenticity is not always possible. DR. RICHARD VALANTASIS, CANDLER SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY: The positive statement is that the Christian faith is a material faith in the sense that it was the true flesh of Jesus that God inhabited and took on in his enfleshment. And, therefore, material substances are extremely important.
MATTINGLY: Theologian Richard Valantasis once kissed the skull of St. Andrew, on a display at a cathedral in Greece. He says it was an act of respect to the memory of the saint, not to the relic itself.
VALANTASIS: Now, whether it's Saint Andrew or not. I don't know. But in a sense it doesn't matter because, you know, you're venerating the saint, regardless of whether it's his actual body or not.
MATTINGLY: It's a tradition dating back to the earliest days of Christianity, but it was the middle ages when the interest and all the questions about relics flourished.
Today there are relics that some believe come from Jesus himself. The foreskin from the circumcision of baby Jesus. Remnants of the loincloth he wore on the cross. And a multitude of fragments from the cross itself, kept in boxes or shrines called reliquaries.
(on camera) How credible is this?
VALANTASIS: It's not credible at all, I don't think. When my wife and I were in Florence, in fact, in Redomo (ph), they have a whole room full of reliquaries, and they probably have enough wood of the true cross to build a house.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): In secular terms, think of it as the world's most beloved collection of memorabilia, way bigger than baseball cards. Way more profound than Elvis.
LAWRENCE CUNNINGHAM, THEOLOGIAN: When people go to Graceland and line up by the hundreds of thousands during the year to look at the king's house and to -- they actually leave notes at his graves -- at his grave and so on.
MATTINGLY: And with the approach of Easter, the day that Jesus rose from the dead, thousands converge on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, widely believed to be the spot where Jesus was crucified and buried. A physical location where those full of faith come to celebrate the deeds of the most venerated figure in history.
David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.
ROBERTS: With more insight, joining us now is Sandra Scham, an apropos name for this segment. She's a professor of biblical archeology of Catholic University in Washington and also editor of the publication "Near Eastern Archaeology".
You heard the story about Joan of Arc's remains. They had been authenticated by the Catholic Church. Now found to be fake. How do they test for authenticity?
SANDRA SCHAM, PROFESSOR OF BIBLICAL ARCHEOLOGY, CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Well, I don't think you can really test for authenticity. There are a number of tests that you can do on a relic or any artifact to find out how old it is and also to find out what it's made of.
But as far as even if you did find out it was from the date that it was supposed to be from, there is nothing really that would connect it definitively to Joan of Arc or Jesus or any of the saints.
ROBERTS: And Joan of Arc put to death in the 1420s. The bones that were inside, what were believed to be -- inside the pocket that was holding what were believed to be the remains of Joan of Arc, turned out to be from a mummy who was entombed some 2,000 years before she even lived.
SCHAM: Well, there are a number of situations where they've found that doing tests on these things they find that they are older or that there are intrusions from other artifacts in that case. Some mummies were stolen in huge numbers from Egypt at that time and ended up in all sorts of places, including apothecary shops as mummy dusts. So surprising.
ROBERTS: Sandra, what makes these relics so attractive that the faithful will make pilgrimages to see them? Is it a way of making faith tangible?
SCHAM: Well, it's sort of interesting, because I think that this is something that makes archaeology attractive to people. They want to touch something from the past.
And the more important that the past is, the more important it is to have some sort of physical remainder of it, to have something they can see and just have something that's concrete, so I do think it's very important. It's the same reason that people make pilgrimages to the holy land.
R0BERTS: And for some people it doesn't matter if the item is real or not. It's just the idea of it that makes it real for them?
SCHAM: Well, I think that's a lot of it. I think that a lot of the sites in Jerusalem, for example, that Christians visit cannot, in any way, be connected with Jesus definitely. The Christians still like to feel they're walking in places where Jesus walked, touching places that Jesus could have touched.
And as far as authenticity goes, I don't think you can ever use archaeology or any kind of scientific methods to decide questions of faith. I mean, people want to believe in these things, then I think it's important.
ROBERTS: The Shroud of Turin, believed to be the burial cloth of Christ, was initially thought to be real. Then tests said it was fake. Now those tests are being questioned. Could it still be authentic? SCHAM: Authentic -- well, it could certainly be authentically of the time that is supposed to be from, and that's as far as the tests will get you. There's no -- there's -- there's nothing to compare it to as far as DNA from Jesus, for example, although the people who found the Jesus tomb claim to have it.
But there's really nothing that could connect it absolutely to Jesus, but according to the newer test, it does seem to be from that time period.
ROBERTS: Has there always been a skepticism about the authenticity of these relics? Or is this a recent phenomenon now that we have the technology to be able to determine age and possible origins?
SCHAM: Oh, I think that definitely there's always been skepticism. If you remember in Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales", "The Pardoner's Tale" talks about the pardoner having a pillowcase full of fake relics that people could touch in order to get absolution, so -- and this was in the middle ages. Certainly, from at least that time people have been skeptical about these things.
ROBERTS: Well, it's a terrific subject, particularly at this type -- this time of year.
Sandra Scham from Catholic University. Thanks. Appreciate it.
SCHAM: Thank you.