The word relic comes from the Latin reliquiae ('remains') and there are many pre-Christian instances of some bone or other part of the corpse, or some intimately associated object, carefully preserved with an air of veneration as a tangible memorial. The preservation of relics is a primitive instinct, and it is associated with shamanism as well as many other developed religious systems besides that of Christianity. Relics are an important aspect of Buddhism and Hinduism. In some denominations of Christianity, a relic is an object of religious veneration, especially a piece of the body or a personal item of a saint. A shrine that houses a relic is called a reliquary.

Christian relics

History of Christian relics

Many tales of miracles and other marvels were attributed to relics beginning in the early centuries of the church; many of these became especially popular during the Middle Ages. These tales are collected in books of hagiography such as the Golden Legend or the works of Caesar of Heisterbach. These miracle tales made relics much sought after during the Middle Ages.

Pieces of the True Cross were one of the most highly sought after such relics; many churches claimed to possess a piece of it, so many that Erasmus famously remarked that there were enough pieces of the True Cross to build a ship from. The Shroud of Turin is another relic whose authenticity is questionable. The abbey church of Coulombs in France, among several others, claims to possess the relic of Jesus Christ's circumcision - the Holy Prepuce.

Roman Catholic classification and prohibitions

; First-Class Relics : Actual part of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.)

; Second-Class Relics : An item that the saint wore (a sock, a shirt, a glove, etc.)

; Third-Class Relics : The Third-Class Relics above fall into two categories. The first category is a piece of cloth touched to the body of a saint. The second category is a piece of cloth brought to the shrine (or site of the vision) of the saint.

It is prohibited by the Catholic Church to sell First- and Second-Class Relics. When the church prohibits the selling of "sacred relics" it is referring to First- and Second-class relics. It is not referring to Third-class relics. It is not prohibited by the church to sell Third-Class Relics.

Non-Christian relics

At Athens the supposed remains of Oedipus and Theseus enjoyed an honor that is very difficult to distinguish from a religious cult, while Plutarch gives accounts of the translation of the bodies of Demetrius (Demetrius iii) and Phocion (Phocion xxxvii) which in many details anticipate Christian practice. The bones or ashes of Aesculapius at Epidaurus, of Perdiccas I at Macedon, and even, according to if we may trust the statement the Chronicon Paschale (Dindorf, p. 67), of the Persian Zoroaster were treated with the deepest veneration.

Cultural relics

Relic is also the term for something that has survived the passage of time, especially an object or custom whose original culture has disappeared, but also an object cherished for historical or memorial value (such as a keepsake or heirloom).

Fantasy RPG

In role-playing games, a relic is a magicalal object with marvelous and alarming power, originating from a deity as opposed to manmade origins. (Compare to Artifact.)

See also