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Marian Relics: Veneration of Holy Relics of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Marian relics were known and venerated from the time of Byzantium. The principal relics kept in the Constantinople churches dedicated to the Theotokos were Her Girdle and the Veil. The Girdle was particularly associated with the Chalcoprateia church, the Veil with the church of Blachernae. Both relics, along with a portrait of the Holy Mother believed to have been painted from the living model by Luke the Evangelist, were brought to Constantinople from Jerusalem by Arcadius, the son of Theodosius the Great, and set in magnificent reliquaries.

The Church has definitively declared that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into the glory of heaven. The tradition in the West is that she was assumed prior to her death, and the tradition of the East is that she was assumed after her death (known as the Feast of the Dormition of Mary). At no time in history has the Church, or even critics of the Church claimed to have the body of the Virgin Mary. However, the Church has shown great respect to objects associated with the Mother of God. After our Lord’s ascension into heaven, both scripture and history testify that Mary lived with the apostles, and would have been a well-known figure in the early Church. When relics of Mary are given authenticity by the Church, the statement of validity is based on clear evidence of a string of unbroken possession of that object from the early Church to the time of its documentation. This consistent string of known possession carries great historical weight.

Stone and Wood Relics of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Some relics of Mary are stones or wood from places associated with her life. When Helen, Empress of Rome, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326 AD, she visited the holy sites venerated consistently since Gospel times. One site was the tomb or sepulcher of Mary, or her resting place prior to her assumption. Stones taken from this place are classified as “Ex Sepulcro” relics of Mary. In addition, relics classified as “Ex Domo” come from two known houses where the Virgin Mary lived : (1) the house believed to be the house of the holy family while in Nazareth was brought to Loreto (Italy) in 1295, and (2) the house venerated since the first century where St. John the Apostle and Mary lived in Ephesus (Turkey).  

Christians venerated ​the Holy Milk of the Blessed Virgin Mary ​from the first century on. They held as sacred a white powder that was scraped from the walls of the shelter in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Later that white powder from the stable of the Nativity was thought to be Mary’s dried milk. Three “drops of this milk” eventually made it into a medallion that emperor Charlemagne (†814) used to carry into battle. The Vatican claims that the breast milk of Mary was first contained in “Milk Grotto in Bethlehem”. The milk made the rock white, and the powder from the rock was collected and venerated as ​it was believed to have healing powers.

Textile Relics of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Other relics of Mary are pieces of textile from Her garments. The Cathedral of Chartres in France has a silk veil that is believed to have been used by Mary. It has been venerated in this cathedral since 876 AD and was venerated in Constantinople by the Byzantine Emperors for centuries prior to that. Since the beginning of its veneration in France, the veil has survived fires and the effects of weather, often requiring cleaning and repair work. Over the centuries documents of the relics of the Veil of Mary (“Ex Velo”) have come from little strands of cloth removed from the veil, or from linen that was laid over it to protect or clean it, thus absorbing its sanctity. The Chartres Cathedral in France is home to a Chemise said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary during the birth of Christ. The undergarment, or Sancta Camisia that lain against the naked skin of the Virgin Mary, said to have been given to the church in 876, was thought to have been destroyed in a fire in 1194. Three days later it was found miraculously unharmed in the treasury, which the bishop claimed was a sign from Mary herself that another, more magnificent, cathedral should be built in its place.

The Holy Girdle of the Blessed Virgin Mary (“Ex Cincturae”) is a Christian relic in the form of a "girdle" or knotted camel hair cord used as a belt, that according to a medieval legend was dropped by the Virgin Mary from the sky to Saint Thomas the Apostle at or around the time of the Assumption of Mary to Heaven. When the belt found its way to Prato, Italy in the 14th century, a special chapel was erected to house it. Today, the belt, called Sacra Cintola, is revered as a relic of the Virgin Mary and is displayed five times a year (Christmas, Easter, May 1, Aug. 15, and on Mary's birthday, Sept. 8).

Ex Capillis - the Only Bodily Relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Hair of Our Lady is the rarest and the most desirable of all holy relics and the only first-class relic we have of the Most Holy Mother of God. Since the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed into Heaven with body and soul, no physical relics of Her exist. The sole exception is that of Her hair, which had been preserved and venerated since antiquity in the Holy House of Nazareth. The Holy relic was initially kept by the Patriarchs of Jerusalem until the fifth century when it was ordered by the Byzantine Empress Pulcheria for the Holy relics of the Virgin's Veil and Hair to be translated to Constantinople. 

Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) allegedly had the Hair of Mary and so did Pope Sergius II, which is now enshrined in Emmerich/Germany. A spectacular 18th-century reliquary in the treasure of the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice contains an extremely rare first-class ex Capillis relic of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Within the reliquary, which is secured by the personal seal of Pope Pius VI (p. 1775-1799), is a bundle of the Blessed Virgin's own hair. Parts of Mary’s Hair were claimed to be in the Messina Cathedral in Sicily, after being brought to Piazza, Sicily, by the Crusaders. There are still several other places where Mary’s Hair is reportedly venerated: in 1148 in Saint Eucharius-Matthias and in 1209 in Saint Mary of the Martyrs in Trier as well as in 1170 in the Cistercian Abbey of Himmerode and in 1282 in the Benedictine Monastery of Prüfening; all of these sites are in Germany. In 1283 Mary’s hair has been deposited in a reliquary at the Augustinian Monastery in Ranshofen, Austria as well as in Linköping, Sweden.

"In the final analysis, the most important relic of Mary that we have is a spiritual one – her abiding influence on Christians over the centuries and her comforting presence to us through her Divine Son."

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