Textile Relics Associated with Jesus
Because Jesus was assumed into heaven after his death, he left behind no body on earth. Textile relics were thus important objects in the worship of Jesus. Like the relics of the Virgin, the relics associated with the body of Jesus gained popularity between the tenth and twelfth centuries, when people began adopting cults of universal saints rather than focusing on the relics held in local shrines. It was at this time that Christ regained his prominent role as a personal mediator between God and Christians that had been previously eclipsed by local saints. This relatively late development in interest in Christ’s relics corresponds with the appearance and proliferation of textile relics claimed to be clothes or shrouds that Jesus had worn or touched during his life.
As with the Virgin, the relics of Christ demonstrated the absence of the holy body, but also recall to mind Jesus’s humanity, suffering, and self-sacrifice. Relics of Jesus often contain some sort of trace left by the physical body, such as the imprint of an image or blood stains, and this emphasis on the trace of the physical body of Jesus both recalls his exalted position and suggests that his physical form, not just his place in heaven, is important to Christian doctrine.
Relic of the Holy Blood
The Basilica of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium houses a rock crystal vial containing a piece of cloth stained with Christ’s blood. The blood was collected from Christ’s body by Joseph of Arimathea and brought to Bruges during the Second Crusade by Dirk Van de Elzas, the Duke of Flanders. It arrived in Bruges in 1149. The vial has its own reliquary. Beginning in 1303, an annual procession is conducted in which the relic is carried through the city.
The Relic of the Holy Blood
The Holy Blood Reliquary
The Holy Coat
There are two competing claims for the Holy Coat, or Seamless Robe of Jesus. This robe was supposedly worn by Jesus at his crucifixion. After he died, the Roman legionaries divided up his belongings amongst themselves, but since this robe had no seams they cast lots for it rather than cutting it into pieces.
The robe kept at the cathedral in Trier was traditionally found by Saint Helena, along with various other relics from the crucifixion, in Jerusalem around the year 327.
In 1196 the Holy Coat of Trier was moved onto the High Altar. But it was not until 1512 when it was displayed for 23 consecutive days under the orders of Maximilian I that it gained a large pilgrimage.
The veneration of the Holy Coat is depicted in a c. 1512 woodcut made by Albrecht Dürer and also in one by Hans Burgkmair.
The Holy Coat of Trier Reliquary in its chapel
The Holy Coat of Argentueil is first mentioned in 1156 in the Charta Hugonis. This record lists among the churches possessions a garment that Mary wove for Jesus as an infant, which then grew as he grew. He wore this garment his entire life. The Empress Irene of Constantinople gave this coat to Charlemagne around the year 800, who gave it to his daughter Theocrate. She was an abbess of Argenteuil. The coat displayed there now is made of wine-colored wool.