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Bảo tàng lịch sử Quốc gia

Vietnam National Museum of History

25/03/2014 10:47 1734
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All the reliquaries shown here have welcomed prayers, requests, thanks. For the believer, a relic is the last memory of a saint; it is also the promise of their closeness with God. In a way, it is the intercessor between the believer and God. To pray in front of a relic does not mean “to worship a piece of flesh”. To pray in front of a relic, one has to come with humility, beseech the help of a saint to speak to God.

People look at relics and reliquaries during an exhibition on March 20, 2014 at the Museum of religious art in the Fourviere Basilica in Lyon, southeastern France. In the Catholic religion, these relics are exhibited in art objects, reliquaries, which over the centuries have become the goldsmiths' true masterpieces in the rarest metals, decorated by precious stones. The exhibition runs from March 21 until June 29, 2014. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES.

This exhibition presents the multitude of memories of intercessor saints: the communion of saints. There are “certified” relics: they are relics of recent saints and their origin is known. For example: the relics of the saint vicar of Ars, of saint François de Sales, of Bernadette Soubirous, of John Paul II etc… In this case, it is the link between God and the men that is highlighted. The memory the saint has left is used as a guide. As a model and intercessor, they lead the believer to God. There are also “non certified” relics: the origins of these relics is far less obvious. For example: the dress of the Virgin, the relics of the Holy Innocents, of some saints from the first centuries etc… In this case, the devotion emphasises more the strong role model than the proved historic link. It is a form of popular devotion that is simple, touching and admirable. To understand a process of faith, throughout the centuries. Among Christians, the adoration of the body goes along with the mystery of the Incarnation. The devotion to relics goes back to the first centuries of Christianity with the celebrations of the martyrs buried in the catacombs. The cult of relics is certified since the Early Christian era but it reaches its peak during the Middle Ages. From the 4th century, the Church Fathers mention miracles happening on the tombs of the saints. Therefore, the holy bodies are transferred in crypts or on altars. These transfers are an occasion for festive events and processions. All along the Middle Ages, relics take a huge importance in the daily life: people take oaths on them, they are a protection during wars, epidemics or famines. Relics are the reason for building many churches and monasteries. When a sanctuary owns an “important” relic, pilgrimages multiply and its power increases. The spread of hagiographic stories gets along with and develops the devotion to saints. The protestant Reformation brings a first slow down. It denounces the excesses, the false relics, the abuses that “push the believers into kneeling before a bow instead of before God”. In the 16th century, one the goals of the Council of Trent is to redefine the cult of relics and to eliminate the excesses. With the Modern Times, the celebrations about the relics become more theatrical thanks to large gestures, luxuriant decorations, a vocal and an instrumental music. For example, processions are staged in a festive way: the life of the saint is played in front of abundant crowds. The body of the saint then makes a triumphant entry in the church of the village or the town that welcomes it. In the 17th century, the philosophers of the Enlightenment denigrate the cult of the relics. But the devotion does not stop; it changes, becomes less ostentatious. The holy bodies are coated with wax to hide the bones, considered too morbid. The bodies are placed in shrines made of glass. During the 19th and 20th centuries, portable reliquaries reappear. The soldiers of both the First and the Second World War demand them. This devotion which is very popular has lasted for 2000 years and is still continues.