(ORDO NEWS) — The crypt under the altar in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome supposedly contains parts of Jesus’ manger, known as the “Holy Cradle”.
What you see in this photo is actually called a “reliquary” – an item created to hold relics. This reliquary is not that old, it dates back to the 1800s. If you zoom in on the image, you will see small wooden planks inside.
These wooden planks can be traced back to 636 AD. The Saracens invaded the Holy Land and, according to stories, the priest in Bethlehem could not celebrate Mass on Christmas Eve. Therefore, with the help of Pope Theodosius, the relics were transported to Rome for safekeeping.
The church itself dates back to the 400s and has undergone a number of changes since those early days after the legalization of Christianity by Emperor Constantine, but it still retains much in common with an ancient Roman basilica and looks very different from many of the churches you will find in Rome.
The tree was previously in a 1600s reliquary that was stolen by Napoleonic troops. It is not known why they left the tree.
Are these really parts of the Holy Cradle?
In the churches of Europe you can find relics: the Crown of Thorns, the jawbone of St. Anthony, parts of the “True Cross”.
The presence of relics in the church helped to make the city and the ruler legitimate. This attracted pilgrims who came to visit your city. That’s why Venice sent some guys to get Saint Mark’s body.
This is a very complex topic. Of course, I think most scholars agree that there was a historical figure named Jesus. They also agree that at least two events definitely took place: the baptism of Jesus and the crucifixion of Jesus.
It seems plausible that the followers of Jesus could have kept the items from the crucifixion – although how anyone can determine if the Crown of Thorns in Paris is really what some think it is seems like an impossible task.
Would people keep parts of Jesus’ manger? Well… that’s perhaps a little harder to believe. It seems likely that these pieces were indeed brought from Bethlehem, but we are talking about more than six centuries of time.
In one of the churches in Venice, there is a small plaque next to a relic that claims to contain drops of Jesus’ blood. Basically it says something like, “Some people believe it’s the blood of Jesus. It may seem silly, but it’s what they believe. If it brings them comfort, who are we to judge?”
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