The Relic, the Mystery and there’s just something about those eyes

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-y-pointing pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?”

― John Milton

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“Any relic of the dead is precious, if they were valued living.”
Emily Bronte

“Like Roman Catholics, they (Eastern Orthodox) believe that the grace of God present in the saints’ bodies during life remains active in their relics when they have died, and that God uses these relics as a channel of divine power and an instrument of healing.”
Timothy Ware (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware) (1993-04-29)

“Orthodox Christians respect and venerate the relics of the Saints (bodily remains) because the body along with the soul is redeemed and sanctified; one day it will rise from the grave to be with God forever.”
Anthony M.Coniaris (2010-12-29)

In yesterday’s post I had shared a little bit about my love and
fascination with history—
as it is all basically a lengthy story–and who doesn’t like a good story?
I also shared the tale of a chair and a love I have with and for antiques—
namely those things I’ve “inherited” along this life’s journey of mine–all from grandmothers and mother.

I left you with a bit of tantalizing intrigue asking you to stay tuned
as there was a quasi Part 2 to the story—

This is a story about a visit to the big monthly Antiques extravaganza known
as Scott’s Antique Market held at the old convention center located south of
the city near Atlanta’s massive airpot.
The show comes to town the second weekend of each month.
Two enormous “convention” centers are packed to the brim with every sort
of antique and dealer imaginable.
Even the outside areas are packed with a more flea market sort of vibe,
but equally interesting.

You want to find a matching plate to the set of dishes your
grandmother gave you years ago?
It’s here.

Looking for the perfect English corner cabinet for the living room?
It’s here.

Looking for the perfect old new rug for the family room?
It’s here.

You need a piece of silver or silverware?
It’s here.

Wanting to find a special gift for that impossible person to buy for?
It’s here—whatever it is, it’s here!

Old toys, jewelry, furniture–big and small, gadgets, cookware, figurines,
pottery, glassware, silver, trinkets and treasure–
it’s a fun way to spend a day hunting and rummaging.
And usually for the right price, it, whatever it is,
is going home with you.

As June’s show fell just after our big wedding event down in Savannah,
my aunt, who was staying with us throughout the big hoopla, wanted to take in Scott’s before she had to return back home to south Florida.

I also had two dear friends who wanted to tag along with us on this little antique adventure. Rummaging for treasure is always more fun with more eyes to take
it all in–
so off we all went looking for nothing in particular,
but thinking that we may stumble upon some little treasure we just couldn’t
live without.
Little did I know. . .

This show is a huge draw for the curious, the shopper and the dealer.
Buses come from all over the South.
There was a bus for the Junior League of Birmingham,
a group down from Nashville, folks from North Carolina,
Mississippi, etc—a regular “picker’s” paradise to be sure.

Once we found a parking spot, we made our way into the cavernous market.
We wandered up and down the aisles poking and prodding through the various booths,
tables and stalls when suddenly, out of no where,
a rather large and very worn crucifix catches me off guard.
I make a bee line for a closer inspection.

I stand.
I stare.
I marvel.

Remember, I am an art teacher who loves her art history and who possesses
a strong penchant for Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque time periods—
early Christian art.
The cross and figure of Christ had seen much better days, which was making me even
more curious as to its story–
yet there was just something in that face which held me in my place.

I took a peek at the price.
“Maybe she’ll take less” I muse in a silent attempt to reassure myself.
At which point the owner ambles over. . .“it’s French you know.”
“Yes, I thought so.”
“Plus it’s a relic”
“Really?
Where?
How?”

At which point she begins to explain the part of the story that she knows.
Located at the base of the cross, or what the cross is actually mounted on,
is a small wooden and glass enclosed box which holds an ancient nail.
She gently tilts the crucifix back so I can have a better view.

“When I found this, the glass was black with age and grime,
I didn’t realize it was a box”
she continued tilting the cross back
as she continued with her story.
“It seems that the monastery which originally possessed the cross,”
a monastery she now has no idea as to its identity,
“had a nail which they actually carried to Jerusalem,” or so she tells me,
“to be blessed and to be held to the purported nails of the True Cross.”

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“Ah, a third degree relic” I interject.
“Yes, how do you know that?”
“A third degree relic is an item that has been brought in contact with a purported original relic in order to receive various graces.”
“Are you Catholic?”
“No”
I lightly chuckle, “I just know these kind things”

I ask what she’d take for it as my aunt and friends now stand and stare
at me as in a ‘have you lost your freaking mind’ kind of stare.
One of them even asking
“is this something you would want to look at every day…all that blood and agony?!”
“Oh yes, very much so” I murmur as if in a trance.

She then tells me her bottom line price, which she explains is way down from the
original price— but she has had it a while and as she is receiving a new shipment
of items from France, she needs to “clean house”
I tell her I need to walk around a bit in order to think about it.

We walk around about 40 more minutes.
“Don’t you like this tureen” my aunt almost implores holding up a
Mulberry ware covered bowl, as in, ‘get this china pot instead of that dilapidated old cross, it’s cheaper and is not so ‘falling apart.’
“Yes, it’s nice but I don’t need more china” this as my mind is still churning over the crucifix.

I’m now mindlessly walking around, rationalizing and ruminating in my head
about having saved up for a new purse and wallet, something of a small treat.
Thinking to myself that perhaps I should forego something as trite as a new
purse for a treasured piece of history.
Something so terribly personal and immensely moving.

I haven’t had a new purse in several years…
but who needs a new purse when I can take home this ancient crucifix…
it certainly won’t go out of style I muse.
There’s nothing wrong with my old bag.
This will be an investment in history.
Plus there’s just something about those eyes…”

This battle waging in my mind as we continue wandering about the maze of booths and dealers.

“Ya’ll can look around here, I’m going back to that booth to ask about the cross.
Swing by when you finish here”
this as I practically call out over my shoulder as
hurriedly I make my way back to find the cross.

Once I re-find the booth and the owner, I tell her I’ll take the cross.
She warily studies me for a moment.
I think she originally thought I had intentions of reselling it.
Probably wondering why someone like me, not looking to be the overtly
religious type as in no collar or wimple,
would want such a piece for personal use.

“It’s beautiful” I sincerely tell her.
I proceed explaining that despite not being Catholic, I have a profound draw to the Catholic Faith and that I am, believe it or not, a very devout believer.
The cross, the lifelike plaster image, with it’s peeling paint and overtly dusty and fragile appearance, calls to my heart.
The face, his face, his eyes draw me inward, beckoning, calling.
“I am here, I suffer, I bleed, I do this for you. . .”

She then tells me that it’s her understanding that many of the churches in France,
just prior to the Nazi’s invasion,
took items such as this cross out of the churches,
hiding them in fear of looting or even worse, desecration and destruction.
It’s her understanding that this cross was moved and never made its way back home.
She proceeds to show me how to open the box, showing me the nail which is anchored to
a crumbling and faded burgundy velvet pad by a small piece of old wire.
Ever so gently she retrieves a yellowed folded piece of very fragile paper.
It is a certificate of authenticity–written in Latin and stamped,
proclaiming the nail to be a relic of the true nail of the true cross–
dated 1883.

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After I get the cross home, I immediately and precariously climb up on a stool,
perched on the counter, in order to place it high on top of the book case–
a perfect place for anyone coming in the house to see it.
It’s also a perfect place keeping it safe.
But just before placing it up and away,
I retrieve the fragile piece paper from the box, one final time,
in order to make a copy so I might do a little research of my own

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My current school of thought is that the monks only carried the nail to Rome,
to a church named for Jerusalem, but I could be wrong.
The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem—
Latin: Basilica Sanctae Crucis in Hierusalem.

Many more questions than answers to be sure.
I would love to somehow figure out where this cross came from–
what church or monastery.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous to be able to find its original home,
returning it to its rightful place of reverence and worship?!
My new goal and quest.

I’ll be keeping you posted to be sure—but for right now I need to go decipher a little bit of Latin. . .

12 comments on “The Relic, the Mystery and there’s just something about those eyes

  1. Lynda says:

    Oh Julie, that is beautiful. I almost wept when I looked at the picture of the crucifix between the two icons. What a treasure you have found!

  2. Great story and great purchase. I’d love to have had it too! Thanks for sharing the story and pictures with us. Hugs, Natalie 🙂

  3. Sarah says:

    Hi Julie. That was a great find. She shouldn’t have charged much for it though. One isn’t supposed to sell relics except perhaps to re-coup costs like transport or repair or suchlike.
    Did you translate the Latin?

    • Hi Sarah—that’s interesting about the selling of “relics”—no, it was a small fortune. More then any shipping cost.
      I tried emailing after I got it home explaining that I would like to try and return the cross to wherever it came from in France…if she might know where she’d bought it, etc but I never heard a word back from her.
      I couldn’t get the paper translated very well but in trying to decipher it via various translation tools, that was where I got the idea that the “nail” didn’t actually go to Jerusalem but rather to a church there in Rome….
      She had another crucifix in better shape but was a whole lot more as far as cost was concerned but there was just really something about the one I chose.
      And like I say—after reading that book about the looted books during the war—I just wish I knew where this cross belongs….

      • Sarah says:

        It comes under the sin of simony which you’ve probably heard of before.
        I bet if you took it to an old priest (or a young traddy) he would be able to translate the Latin for you.
        The churches in France are in a very sad state so it’s probably better off with you at the moment. It has found a good caretaker. 🙂

      • I bet the little antique dealer had no clue—as I often find those who are selling religious items just are selling them, as in there is no real connection or comprehension as to what it is they’re selling… besides being something somewhat unique, pretty or interesting….And when she wouldn’t respond to my email, as I did get her card, it just made me wonder.
        I looked for her booth when I went back a couple of months later and even since then when I’ve been there time from time over the past couple of years—as many of the dealers are regulars, but I never found her.

        It just makes me think about the altar it once sat on—of the folks who once looked upon the image, praying and imploring that face to hear them…
        and now it sits in my den…
        sad really—yet something still reverent and holy to me…..

      • Sarah says:

        Yes, you’re right; she probably didn’t know. I suppose if she wasn’t selling it then it probably wouldn’t have found a good home.

  4. I am very well interested in obtaining that specific relic to be used in public veneration (a dream, but yes,very impossible now). It is indeed a relic of the Holy Nail. In the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, copies of the nail kept there were made and touched to the very nail itself. Oftentimes also, filings from the nail were also melted with the metal used. This happens to be one of those nails which had touched it, and probably had some of the filings inside it. Congratulations!

    Translating the Latin document:

    “To one and all who read this letter, we attest in full faith, that this nail with a red silk ribbon attached with our seal, has been reverently applied to the sacred Nail which the Cistercians have reverently kept in the Oratory for sacred relics of the Basilica of the Holy Cross “in Jerusalem” at Rome, which is one of those (nails) that have affixed Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross, of which (this piece is) skillfully made to look like the original.

    From Rome, in our Monastery of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, 15th day of May 1883.”

    • Oh wow Neil—I just found your comment, so I apologize for not responding to you sooner…
      That all makes perfect sense. Then perhaps it is to the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Rome that I will send an inquiry, explaining to them what I have “acquired”—
      Thank you so much for the translation and Holy history lesson—Blessings to you Neil this most Holy season of Advent….

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