La classification des reliques .-RELICS

The Classification of Relics.

The word relic is derived from the Latin word relinquo – meaning I leave, or I give up. The Church recognizes relics as being one of three different classes; First class, second class and third class. Some Catholics believe that there is a fourth class distinct from the third. For the purposes of this article, we will discuss all three classes, noting the fourth where applicable.

From the earliest times, the faithful fervently preserved objects relating to the tortures of martyrs (we see in the story of the martyrdom of Saint Cecilia, for example, that the people of her house soaked canvases with the blood that the Saint is spreading).

Saint Yvon Reliquary patron saint of lawyers on

The faith of the Church thus demonstrated that the sacrifice of the martyrs was united to that of their divine Redeemer and that if "in the eyes of fools they appeared to die, and their departure from this world seemed a misfortune... they are in peace . Even though they suffered punishment before men, their hope was full of immortality... For God tested them and found them worthy of Himself: he tested them like gold in the furnace and accepted them like a perfect holocaust” (Sap. III, 2-5).

After the pacification which followed the Edict of Milan (in 313), the cult developed and large churches were erected on the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and on those of other particularly venerated saints such as Saint Sebastian, Saint Anthony , Saint Agnes…etc.
Saint Helena, mother of Saint Constantine I the Great, had places and objects linked to the life and death of Our Lord Jesus Christ searched in the Holy Land.
The basilicas that were built at this time were therefore like large reliquaries in which the tombs of the Saints or objects particularly precious to the Christian faith were preserved ( the Holy Cross and the objects of the Passion, the Holy Sepulchre, the cave of the Nativity… etc.).

From that moment on, too, "translations" of bodies or holy objects were carried out: when the place of burial was not suitable for the construction of the envisaged place of worship, or when (because of the length and difficulties of travel) we preferred to divide the places of veneration and for this we began to share the relics .

A little later, at the time of the great barbarian or Norman invasions, the fears linked to destruction and pillaging were also the occasion for translations of relics, sometimes giving rise to solemn processions, to resounding miracles too, and to an extension of devotion to the saint whose body had been transported.

The celebration of the Holy Mysteries on the very tomb of the martyrs is also at the origin of the use of the translation of relics for the consecration ceremonies of churches and altars: it even became obligatory to insert relics of the saints in the consecrated stone table, in the hollow of a small cavity (called a tomb) which the consecrating bishop solemnly seals.

The development of the fruits of holiness in the Church and the increase in the number of Saints also of course led to the development of the cult of relics.

We distinguish the relics by classes

a) Are considered “first class” relics

the bodies of saints or important fragments of these bodies (skull – we are talking about the head –, entire bones); Objects directly associated with events in the life of Christ (nativity scene, cross , etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.) Traditionally, the relics of a martyr are often more prized than the relics of other saints. Additionally, the relics of some saints are known for their extraordinary incorruptibility (human remains do not deteriorate as one might expect). For example, a 500 year old body appears to still be in the wake) and are therefore highly valued. It is important to note that the parts of the saint that were important in his life are more prized relics. For example, the right forearm of King Saint Stephen of Hungary is particularly important because of his sovereign status. A famous theologian's head may be his or her most important relic. (The head of Saint Thomas Aquinas was removed by the monks of the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova where he died). If a saint has traveled extensively, the bones of his feet may be prized.


first class relics ex ossibus of holy martyrs on

  • ex ossibus - bones
  • ex crure - leg
  • ex brachio - arm
  • ex carne - flesh
  • ex body - from the body
  • ex praecordis - of the stomach or intestine
  • ex piliis - hair (hair, beard or mustache)
  • ex cineribus - ashes (burnt martyr)
  • ex exuviis - ashes or dust (collected on the slab of the martyrium)
  • ex tela imbuta sanguine - fabric soaked in blood
  • ex tela imbuta cineribus - fabric impregnated with ashes
  • ex lignum Crucis DNJC - wood from the cross Domini Nostri Jesu Christi (Our Lord Jesus Christ)
  • ex rupe presepij - from the Grotto of the Nativity
  • ex shovel - skin
  • ex sanguine - some blood
  • ex sindonis DNJC - from the shroud of Domini Nostri Jesu Christi
  • ex sudarii - from the shroud
  • Ex Arundine DNJC - from the cane of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Ex Bireto - biretta
  • Ex Petrae Calvariae - from the rock of Golgotha
  • Ex Coenaculum - from the place of the Last Supper
  • Ex Cincturae - of the Belt
  • Ex Cingendo (Ex Cingulo) - of the Belt
  • Clavus - sacred nail
  • Ex Column flag. - from the Flagellation Column
  • Ex Corona Spinensis (Coronse spinse) DNJC - from the crown of thorns of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Ex lignum Crucis DNJC - Wood of the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • SS. Crucis DNJC - the Most Holy Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ

    The relics of the true cross

  • Ex Cunis (Cunabulum) - from the Holy Crib of Our Lord.
  • Ex Arundine DNJC - from the cane of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Ex Petrae Calvariae - From the rock Golgotha
  • Ex Coenaculum - From the Place of the Last Supper
  • Ex Cincturae - From the Belt
  • EX Lapide Circumcisio : stone of the altar on which our Lord Jesus Christ was circumcised
  • Ex Cingendo (Ex Cingulo) From the belt
  • Ex Purpura - From the purple mantle of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Ex Domo - either the Domo Lauretana or the House of Ephesus.
  • Ex Fascia - from the band / from the scarf
  • Ex Fune - rope
  • Lancea Longini - the Holy Lance
  • Ex Lacte BVM - from the milk of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • Ex Mensa Ult. Cenae - from the Table of the Last Supper
  • Ex Pane Benedetta - Blessed bread
  • Ex Scala sancta - Holy steps
  • Ex scala cruciae - Of the holy steps of the holy cross
  • Ex Praesepe DNJC - particle from the cave of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Ex Rupe M. Calvario DNJC - Particle of the Stone of Mount Calvary of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • Ex Sindone DNJC - Shroud of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Turin, Constantinople)
  • Ex Sepulcro DNJC - Particle from the empty tomb of Our Lord Jesus Christ
  • From Sponga - particle of the Holy Sponge
  • Ex Stipite Affixionis - from the whipping post
  • Ex Sudarii - sweat cloth (Shroud of Oviedo)
  • Ex Titulus DNJC - from the Titulus IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM which would have been affixed to the cross of Jesus.
  • Ex Velo - from the Protective Veil, Pokrov
  • Ex Alba Jacket - from the white garment of Our Lord.
  • Ex Jacket Incons. - the seamless cloak of Our Lord
  • Ex Vinctum - robe or chain which bound Our Lord.

b) “Second class” relics


reliquary of the holy nail on

A second class relic differs from the first class, in that they are possessions or tools that belonged to or were used by a saint during his or her lifetime. Items such as clothing, jewelry, scepters, bibles, and hand tools could all be considered second-class relics, as long as they were used by a saint.

In the case of a martyr, the instruments of his demise may also be considered a second-class relic. The tools used in the process of torturing or executing the saint, while morbid to some, can be just as powerful as a ring worn by a saint. This may extend to the wood used to make the cross on which they may have been crucified, the rope with which they may have been hung, or even the ashes from when they were burned on the pile, like Joan of Bow.

  • ex pallio - coat
  • ex bike - veil
  • ex indumentis - clothing (the expression sometimes refers to a third and fourth class relic)
  • ex arca sepulchralis - the sepulchral arch (quadrangular tomb or coffin in the shape of a chest and closed by a lid of various shapes)
  • ex cilicio - hair shirt
  • Ex arca sepulcrali - of a coffin
  • Ex baculo - of the stick
  • Ex bireto - from the beret
  • Ex calciamentum - shoes/sandals
  • Ex camiseta - from the shirt
  • Ex casula - from the grave
  • Ex cilitio (cilicum) - from the hair shawl
  • Ex domo - from home
  • Ex fune - rope
  • Ex Inducio - from the cover
  • Ex incunabula - from the cradle
  • Ex indumentis - clothing
  • Ex ligno - wood
  • Ex linteis - fabric
  • Ex locii - of place, location
  • Ex pallio - pallium (omophor), a woolen coat
  • Ex pileolo - of a cap
  • Ex pluviali - screed
  • Ex praecepis – from the place of birth, from the nursery
  • Ex scutello - of the shield
  • Ex sindone - from the shroud
  • Ex sportula - from the little basket
  • Ex stola - of the dress
  • Ex strato - from the envelope (cover)
  • Ex subuculi - underwear, shirt
  • Ex tela serica quae tetigit cor - silk fabric that touched the heart
  • Ex tunica - tunic, clothing
  • Ex cycling - sailing
  • Ex velo que involuta (of the fabric that wrapped the relics)
  • Ex vessillo - from the coat
  • Ex vestimentis - clothing
  • Ex vestibus - clothing


reliquary, ex tunica relic of Saint Tarcisius on

c) “third class” relics

A third class relic is any object, new or old, which has come into contact with the remains of a saint, or pressed against his tomb or reliquary; in other words a first class relic. This could include burial cloths that were used in their funeral, the soil they were buried in, the remains of their coffin, or more recent items such as cloths, pendants or mantillas , which were blessed by God when placed against the first-class relic.

Third class relics are worn, transported or kept at home, for the protection, divine guidance and assistance of their patron saint.

The debate over fourth-class relics comes from the inclusion of pieces of the saint's tombstone, if there was one, and items that were pressed or rubbed onto second-class relics. Some Catholics categorically ignore these relics as real relics, others consider them third class. We have not been able to find a definitive answer on the Church's position on these items, so we advise you to follow your own faith and belief for these particular relics.

The veneration of holy relics belongs to the cult of “dulie” – it is not a cult of adoration but of veneration, adoration being due only to God alone –, but it is also a cult that we say "relative", because, through the relic, it is actually addressed to the person of the Saint, and not to the object itself.

Verification of the authenticity of relics is essential before offering them for veneration by the faithful: this authentication is entrusted to cardinals, bishops, certain specially authorized priests (major superiors of religious or vicars general in certain cases).
This authenticity is certified by a written document – ​​called an “authentic” – and by the seals which close the reliquary.
It is accepted that we can continue to offer relics for the veneration of the faithful when this certificate of authenticity has been destroyed or lost, on the condition that the seals of the reliquary are intact.

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1 comment

Est-il possible pour un laïc d’obtenir une relique de première ou deuxième classe et si non, est-ce qu’une relique de troisième classe peut avoir une certaine valeur spirituelle pour demander l’intercession d’un saint ?….merci

Francine Côté

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