Relicuriosity

My delightful Early Church History class evinced some curiosity the other day about martyrs and relics. In the course of trying to address their interest, I mentioned that in the Catholic tradition, it’s customary to require a primary relic (usually an actual recognizable portion of a saint’s body) for the installation of an altar, and that St. Luke’s had an assortment of relics.

Well, of course, right away they wanted to know what the relics were. I remembered that the high altar enclosed a primary relic of St. Elizabeth Seton (at least, according to parish lore); I knew we had more relics, though, so I asked John Lukens, on whom I rely for all wisdom about our parish. John pointed me to a sealed statement from the Bishop James Montgomery (ninth Episcopal bishop of Chicago), stating that our St. Luke’s altar contained a primary relic of St. Domity, a primary relic of St. Louinian, a primary relic of St. Joachim, and tertiary relics of Sts. Benedict and Teresa.

Now, I would not be inclined to doubt the sealed affirmation of a bishop, but this placard entails several problems. First, I can find no record of the existence of a “St. Domityor a “St. Louinian,” so the matter of their primary relics seems. . . cloudy. St. Joachim is familiar as the father of the Virgin Mary; that would attenuate the likelihood of a relic of his making its way to Evanston, except perhaps that the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1911 notes that the supposed tomb of Joachim and Anna was discovered in 1889. Perhaps that rediscovery made available relics that had long rested in obscurity.

The tertiary relics — items that had touched a saint or a saint’s relic, as distinct from secondary relics hallowed by close association with a saint — pose no great problem; I reckon that it’s pretty simple to come by tertiary relics even of Benedict and Teresa. I’ll have a lingering fascination, however, with the question of who on earth Sts. Domity and Louinian might have been. (For the time being, I’m imagining pious dowagers in the congregation whom Bp. Montgomery decided were saintly enough for commemoration here.)

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. AKMA: I’m going to have to go with a transcription error or some sort of textual corruption. I’m prepared to suggest that you actually have relics of St. Louthiem, a 6th century Irish saint, whose feast day is October 17th, only one off from St. Luke himself.

    As for the other, perhaps the record intends an abbreviation of one of the several Sts. Domitius. Perhaps this one who was an 8th century saint. Again, his feastday is in October. Indeed, it is today.

  2. For my own curiosity and clarification, the St. Luke’s you are referring to is Episcopalian? Is the use of relics common in Anglicanism? Is it specifically Anglo-Catholic? Hadn’t heard of this before . . .

  3. David, yes; St. Luke’s Evanston is an Episcopal congregation with a long Anglo-Catholic history. I don’t know how common the use of relics is in Anglican churches; I’ve certainly served a number that registered no awareness of the existence of relics in their altars (and of course, the more Reformed party of Anglican congregations would recoil in horror at the idea of a relic in their wooden Lord’s Tables. On the other hand, I’m aware of several Anglo-Catholic parishes with relics in their altar — so I suppose the answer to your middle question is, “It all depends.”

    In a follow-up instant message exchange with Micah, he suggested that our St. Joachim might be Blessed Joachim Royo, whose feast day falls on October 28.

  4. Saint Gregory’s Abbey, in Three Rivers, MI, is an Episcopal Benedictine monastery with a BOATLOAD of relics.

    The most impressive relic is an arm which is encased in silver. I forget which group of martyrs the arm came from, but I did have some rather vivid thoughts about how the arm could be used for a blessing!

    David+

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