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Relics, in Christianity, designate the material remains of a saint after death, and the sacred objects associated with Christ and the saints. The earliest record account of the veneration comes from the Martyrdom of Policarp (c. 156-157 AD) when the saint's remains are described as more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold; therefore, to be revered. Jerome and Augustine defended such a reverence at the second Council of Nicaea (787), which ruled that no church should be constructed without relics. In the Western Church the belief in relics greatly increased, especially during the Crusades when quantities of spurious relics were brought to Europe. There they were kept in reliquaries (often elaborate, decorated vessels of formularized shape), carried in possessions, and believed to possess miraculous powers. Relics of martyrs were placed under all altar stones in Roman Catholic Churches until 1969. The Council of Trent upheld the veneration of relics against the Reformers. Due to fewer canonizations and the lessen role of icon within the Orthodox Church, the veneration of relics played a lesser role in the East than the West. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 810

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