“Imagine if you died and everyone thought you were a saint, Mum. They’d all come along with their scissors and cut bits off your clothing,” says Sophie.
“They’d have to keep redressing you, like they did for Rose of Lima,” adds Gemma-Rose. “They had to replace her habit a number of times.”
“They might snip your hair too,” says Charlotte. "You don’t think anyone would try to saw off a finger while no one was looking, do you? Everyone will want a relic of their own.”
Now if anyone did manage to sneak off with my hair or blood or bones, they’d end up with a first class relic (assuming I was holy enough, of course.) All the snipped pieces of my clothing would be considered second class relics. And if anyone missed out on these types of relic, they could always make some third class relics of me by touching pieces of cloth to someone else's first or second class relics. People could even get their very own relic by visiting my grave and touching their items to my tombstone.
Imagine! Bits and pieces of me could end up in the possession of lots of different people from all around the world. I might even be sold, though that's really against Church law. I could end up on ebay. They have quite a variety of relics up for auction. I know because I had a look. But I 'm guessing most of these are only 3rd class relics. I don't suppose anyone would try and sell a saint's bone or blood online. Or would they?
I wonder if there are false relics waiting for the unsuspecting buyer. How would anyone know? I guess if there were 15 fingers all claiming to be relics of St Sue Elvis, it would mean I either had 3 hands or some fingers weren’t mine to begin with.
So why would anyone want a relic? I guess it’s a bit like wanting to keep a few locks of hair or the special belongings of a loved one. They connect us to that person. And if that person was holy, the relic might inspire us to pray to him with full confidence that he will intercede for us with God. Miracles have been associated with the veneration of genuine relics, though they aren't magic charms. And prayers aren't always answered in the way we ask.
I have a relic of a saint, a 2nd class one. It’s a small circle of brown cloth that used to be part of one of St Padre Pio’s habits. It is enclosed in a hard transparent bubble of plastic, attached to the back of a medal. My friend John lent me this relic when I was pregnant with Thomas: “You can give it back to me after your baby is born. Perhaps Padre Pio will intercede for you. Maybe your baby will be blessed with a miracle of healing.” Perhaps he wouldn't die after birth like the doctors predicted.
For many months Padre Pio’s relic hung around my neck. It went with me to doctors’ appointments and ultrasounds. I closed my fingers around it while I heard bad news, while I prayed, while I cried, while I hoped, while I tried not to despair at the thought of our baby's death. I was wearing the relic when Thomas was born and when Thomas died.
When it was time to return the relic to John, I hesitated. A miracle might not have been granted to us because of the relic, but I still didn’t want to part with it. I associated it so closely with Thomas. Would John let me keep it just a little longer, until I felt stronger?
And then something unexpected occurred. Before I had time to ask my favour of John, he said, “Sue! That relic I gave you… keep it. I came across another one exactly the same. I don’t need two relics.” How does one just ‘come across’ another identical St Padre Pio relic? I did hear that quite a few relics were made from this saint's habits. They were given to those who donated money so his cause for beatification could go ahead. But even so...
I actually have more than one relic. Thomas is also a saint because he died as an innocent child. His locks of hair and his bloodstained gown are first class relics, while his hospital ear muffs, foot prints and hand prints are second class ones. I suppose I could make some third class ones but there doesn't seem much point.
So I have relics of both Thomas and Padre Pio, who are in Heaven together. For some reason, this seems so awesome.
“If you are recognised as a holy person when you die, Mum,” says Imogen, “we’ll have to bury you quickly. If we wait too long, you might disappear altogether, transformed into relics.”
If I die as a holy person (don't laugh) I could be in great demand. Would anyone like to get in first? Would you like a snipped out circle of my cast-off clothing... just in case?