4:22 am

Crown of Thorns

Notre Dame de Paris has three major relics:

  • the Crown of Thorns
  • a piece of the Holy Cross, and
  • one of the nails of the Passion.

Indeed, it was to house these that Louis IX built Sainte-Chapelle, which I visited in January. But after the Revolution, the relics ended up in the keeping of the Cathedral, where they are displayed to the faithful on the first Friday of every month (as well as the Fridays of Lent and Good Friday).

This past Friday was the first Friday of June, and I cut class to attend the 3 PM service of Veneration of the Crown of Thorns. After a brief Liturgy of the Word, the Crown is presented for Veneration. The fragment of the Cross and the Nail are also displayed, but not presented. The Crown, mostly stripped of its thorns (there are several churches that claim individual thorns as relics), is kept in a reliquary in the form of a glass tube ornamented with gold and tied to a velvet pillow. I filed up with the rest of the congregation to kiss the reliquary.

Now, widespread counterfeiting of relics in the Middle Ages makes authenticity of any purported relic dubious. (Just how many heads did John the Baptist have, after all? And if you assembled all the alleged pieces of the True Cross, you could build a small village.) And even if authenticity is conceded (the Crown of Thorns has a pretty solid provenance), the veneration of relics still makes me a little uncomfortable, smacking as it does of superstition. It’s not as though the relic itself has any power.

So then why did kissing the reliquary make me cry?

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