& Martyrs

Relics of St Polycarp of Smyrna; St Thomas of Canterbury; St Ignatius of Antioch; St Boniface; St Agnes; St Agatha; [St] Catherine of Alexandria; St Pope Clement I

The belief that the power inherent in any relic was not diminished by division meant that relics could—as they are in this instance—be the smallest sliver of bone. The common theme in this reliquary is martyrdom. It includes 6 early martyrs as well as the 8th-century missionary Winfrith (Boniface) and Thomas Becket, the 12th-century archbishop of Canterbury.

St Thomas (1118-70) was murdered in his own cathedral on 29 December 1170—his feast day—by 4 knights who believed that they were acting on the wishes of the English king, Henry II. Thomas was declared a saint in 1173, and his tomb became one of Europe’s most popular pilgrimage sites until its destruction during the Reformation.

The cult of Catherine of Alexandria originated at Mount Sinai, Egypt, where her relics were located in the 9th century. It enjoyed widespread popularity in the Middle Ages but was suppressed following an assessment that she was a medieval fiction. In 2001, Catherine returned to the calendar of saints on a limited, local basis.

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Relics from the Cathedral Collection...