Relics in New York City

By Raya Jalabi

Many have considered relics to be a curiosity of another era, a time before scientific and industrial revolutions had come to the fore and challenged the more antiquated conceptions of magic and mysticism. But in today’s world, one rife with a rigorously rationalist approach to life, the mysticism of relics still holds an appeal for a wide array of Christians, namely Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

A relic is an object, preferably a part of the body or clothes, which remains a memorial of a departed saint. According to Roman Catholic Canon Law, there are three classes of relic: first-class relics are items directly associated with the physical remains of a Saint, e.g. a bone or hair; second-class relics are items which came into physical contact with a saint, e.g. a piece of clothing or a rosary; and third-class relics are objects which were touched and blessed by a first or second-class relic.

Relics are associated with many other religious traditions, other than Christianity, most notably in Buddhism and Islam. But early Christianity’s development in a polytheistic society, created a particular position for relics within the initial manifestation of the faith, something which has carried on to today’s Catholic practices.

However, relics aren’t relegated to ancient seats of early Christianity, like Rome. Come a little closer to home and you might be surprised. New York, a city with a rich and diverse religious history, has a surprising number of relics, strewn at various places of Catholic worship in town. This slideshow focuses on four different places, important to local Catholics — three shrines dedicated to recently canonized saints, and a church: Transfiguration Church in Chinatown, the Shrine of Mother Seton in Battery Park, the shrine of Padre Pio in midtown and the shrine of Mother Cabrini in Fort Washington.

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