Ever since the days of the earliest Christians, there’s been a belief that the relics of Christ and certain of His Saints have healing powers. In Acts 19:11-12, for example, we hear that, “So extraordinary were the mighty deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face cloths or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them.” Today, I wanted to mention briefly (by my standards) two of these relics: St. Paul’s body, and the Cross on which Christ was crucified.
I. St. Paul’s Body
A while ago, I mentioned the discovery of St. Paul’s body. I know a bit more about the story now, and thought I’d provide an update.
The Catholic Church has long claimed to have had St. Paul’s body in St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome. But in 1823, after a fire, things got chaotic and they somehow lost his body (I’m a bit unclear how that’s even possible). They knew the body was somewhere beneath the Basilica, but they weren’t sure exactly where. Flash forward to 2006: a marble sarcophagus is found, reading “To Paul, Apostle and Martyr,” in Latin.
Archeologists were pretty skeptical. At the time of St. Paul’s death, the Christians didn’t have a whole lot of marble to spare, and spoke Greek instead of Latin. The church itself was built (on the site of an earlier church) in 390 A.D. So the three major theories were these: first, that St. Paul’s body was moved from his earlier grave to a more ornate one when the new church was built; two, that the body wasn’t St. Paul’s; or three, that there was no body at all. Time seems to have leaned towards the third view back in ’06:
X-ray tests on it have already failed because of a layering of concrete and plaster that still surrounds most of it. And the more than 300-year gap between Paul’s reported death by order of of the Roman emperor Nero in AD 68 and the construction of the old church leaves considerable room for doubt.
At the time, these hesitations were justifiable. No more.
This year, at the end of the Year of St. Paul, Pope Benedict XVI released information that convinced even the not-particularly-religious UK Daily Mail that “in all likelihood, they are the bones of the Apostle Paul – bones that have lain there for 1,950 years yet, astonishingly, have only been discovered in our time.” The Daily Mail continues: