"Virgin Mary nursing the infant Christ" by Ethiopian Orthodox / Public Domain

For Sale: The Hair of the Virgin Mary

Jun 16, 2020

By Mattia Ferraresi

For a little more than $2,000, you can buy a small silver-plated case containing some hair of the Virgin Mary, a relic venerated by Catholic believers. Add a few hundred dollars, and you’ll get a wax-sealed reliquary carrying pieces of clothing worn by St. Peter and St. Paul, together with a yellowed record, handwritten in Latin, that supposedly attests to the relics’ authenticity.

A more significant investment, $16,750, will get you an austere multichambered reliquary with 50 of “the most important relics in Christendom,” including the remains of top-tier saints like St. John the Baptist and St. Benedict. But devotees on more of a budget can easily find scraps of the True Cross soaked in Jesus’ blood, ancient-looking nails containing iron filings of the nails used in the crucifixion, garments of martyrs, skullcaps worn by popes and the personal effects of revered mystics.

Most of the relics on sale online are counterfeit junk. Many of them even look fake in the pictures. The ads are carefully designed either to lure unsuspecting believers or to excite eccentric collectors. The whole business smells of scam. “Final sale with no returns due to the Sacredness of this item,” one online vendor warns, implying a peculiar moral system in which selling sacred articles is totally fine, but returning them is somehow sacrilegious.

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3 comments on “For Sale: The Hair of the Virgin Mary

  • 2
    Cairsley says:

    Planetary Paul: “Should that not be: All of the relics?”

    I would say no, Paul, only because ‘relic’ refers to items of, or physically associated with, mortal remains of saints (bodyparts and other things like clothing worn and implements used by the respective saint), and there are plenty of genuine relics in various houses and communities of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, kept hidden away or located in ornate shrines and chapels, where the faithful can venerate the saints to whom these relics provide a physical point of contact. The two monasteries where I once lived as a monk each had a special room called the Reliquary (Reliquarium), which was entered by the monks only once a year, processing in there from the church after None, for prayers and the chanting of the longest litany of all, which included all the unheard-of local saints whose remains (skulls, ribs, even a couple of whole skeletons) were displayed in casements all around us in that room — the creepiest experience of my former religious life.

    Perhaps we can compromise by agreeing that all the relics on the market for sale are fake.

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