8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found

Stephanie Schoppert - March 8, 2017

Throughout Christian history, there has been devotion to many relics. These are objects that are either the blood and bones of religious figures or items that these figures have touched or been associated with. During the Middle Ages, these relics increased in popularity to the point where each altar was expected to possess at least one. A good relic could increase the economy of a town, as pilgrims would travel to come and see the sacred relic of a treasured saint.

This led to many fake relics and the stealing of relics, such as the body of Saint Nicholas. Strangely enough, the thefts were always admitted in order to verify the authenticity of the relic. Countless relics were destroyed during the reformation, and those that survive today are often called into question. Here are just a few relics from medieval and ancient history that are missing today. Some are rumored to have been destroyed, while others are believed to be hidden, their locations a mystery.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
A piece of flesh is believed to be the holy foreskin of Jesus. Catholic.org

The Holy Foreskin

Jesus was circumcised as an infant and it was believed by many that the skin cut from the infant was preserved. There was some reference to the foreskin being preserved by an old Hebrew woman in an alabaster box of old oil of spikenard. However, the foreskin largely disappeared after that, with no real mention of it again until the Middle Ages.

On December 25, 800, Charlemagne was purported to have given it to Pope Leo III in gratitude for crowning him Emperor. When asked where he got the holy foreskin, Charlemagne responded that it had been brought to him by an angel as he was praying at the Holy Sepulchre. Another report claims that it was given to him as a wedding present by Empress Irene. Pope Leo III then took the foreskin and placed it in Sancta Sanctorum and there it remained until Rome was sacked in 1527.

A German soldier stole the foreskin during the attack and took it to Calcata where he was captured. The soldier managed to hide the relic in his cell and there it stayed until it was found in 1557. From then on, the foreskin remained in Calcata and had several miracles attributed to it. The story and the miracles were enough to have the Catholic Church approve the authenticity of the skin in Calcata over the numerous other claims of holy foreskin.

In 1900, the Church grew tired of the celebration of the foreskin. So the Vatican issued a warning that anyone who so much as talked about the Holy Prepuce would be excommunicated. This did little to deter the people of Calcata, who were proud of their sacred relic and would march it through the streets every year on the Feast of the Circumcision. However, the practice stopped when the relic was stolen in 1983. Some believe that it was stolen by or sold to the Vatican in order to get people to stop talking about the foreskin. It has not been seen since.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
Stained glass of Edward the Confessor and his ring. wjartuso.wordpress.com

Ring of Saint Edward

Saint Edward the Confessor was born in 1005 as the son of King Ethelred the Unready and his Norman Queen Emma. In 1042 he ascended to the throne. Edward was seen by many of his proponents as a deeply religious leader who removed unjust taxes, healed the sick and took a vow of chastity in order to remain devoted to his people and his religion. He built a cathedral to replace the Saxon church at Westminister in replace of the vow. The church then became known as Westminister Abbey.

There is one miracle that is attributed to Edward known as the miracle of the ring. It was said that while riding he was approached by a beggar who asked for alms. As Edward had no money on him, he took off his ring and gave it to the beggar. Years later, two pilgrims became stranded in the Holy Land.

There they were saved by St. John the Evangelist. With him, he carried the ring that Edward had given the beggar. He asked that when the pilgrims returned home to England that they give it to Edward with the message that he would be dead in six months.

The ring was one of many sacred relics that were kept from Edward the Confessor and were highly prized after he was made a saint 100 years after his death. The ring was kept at Westminister Abbey with other sacred relics. However, all the relics disappeared after the dissolution of the monastery in 1540. While the ring is lost, the sapphire that was in the ring is believed to be the center jewel on the cross atop the Imperial State Crown.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
One of the largest purported pieces of the True Cross rests at Santo Toribio de Liébana in Spain. Wikipedia

The True Cross

There are many churches claiming to have fragments of the True Cross. It is believed that the cross was lost until Constantine’s mother Empress Helena traveled to the Holy Land in search of religious relics in 326-328. She traveled to the place where Jesus was said to have been crucified to discover that a temple had been built over it. Helena ordered that the temple be destroyed and the dirt beneath the temple removed.

Beneath the temple three crosses were found, the crosses were believed to be those that crucified Jesus and two thieves, St. Dismas, and Gestas. In order to discover which cross was the True Cross, a lady of rank that had long been suffering from disease was called to touch the crosses. The instant the woman touched one of the crosses, her disease disappeared and she was healed. Thus, Helena believed that she had found the True Cross and the Holy nails.

The Holy Nails were sent to Constantinople where they were added to Emperor Constantine’s helmet and the bridle of his horse. Part of the cross was also sent to Constantinople, while the rest was covered in silver and then given to the bishop of the city who was asked to care for it carefully. The cross was cared for and taken out periodically for ceremonies until the fall of Jerusalem in 614.

The pieces of the cross in Jerusalem and in Constantinople were largely broken apart as both regions were conquered. Claims of splinters of the cross were found all over the world and men would wear small splinters in golden reliquaries around their necks. There are few who believe that most of these fragments are real, or that the story of Helena finding the cross is true. There is no definitive proof that the True Cross was ever really found, or that it survived at all.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
Picture of Joan of Arc from a 1505 manuscript. Wikimedia

Relics of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was nothing more than a peasant girl until she rose to fame as leader of the medieval French forces. Joan was found guilty of heresy and witchcraft and burned at the stake in 1431 at the mere age of 19. It was said that her heart and intestines would not burn in the flames and therefore it was ordered that all of the ashes and remains of the body be thrown into the Seine River.

For this reason, there are no verified first-class relics of Saint Joan of Arc. There is a jar of remains at the Chinon Castle Museum that is said to have been taken from the ashes at the stake of Joan of Arc, but it cannot be proven.

There are some other relics from Joan that survived for a time. There was a wax seal to one of Joan’s letters that she had placed one of her hairs. The hair disappeared during the second half of the 19th century and no one knows where it is now. There was also a grey hat that was owned by Joan and given to Charlotte Boucher. It was given to the Oratorian Order of Priests in the 1600s where it stayed until it was taken by revolutionaries and purportedly burned in 1792.

There was also a sword that belonged to Joan and was kept by the descendants of her brother Pierre until it was lost during the chaos of the revolutionary period in France. It was also during the height of the French Revolution that Joan’s standard was believed to be burned and destroyed. Joan also kept a ring that was described during her trial. This relic is claimed to have been found and now in the possession of a private collector but the ring does not match the description given by Joan at her trial.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
King David bearing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Getty Images

The Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant is one of the most famous relics of the Christian and Jewish faiths. The Ark of the Covenant was built by Moses according to a pattern provided to him by God. The Book of Exodus tells that the Ark was built while Moses was on Mount Sinai. The Ark was created to hold the Ten Commandments and was connected to numerous miracles, including clearing obstacles from their path and stopping the flow of the Jordan River so that the Israelites could cross.

In 597 and 586 BC, the Babylonian Empire conquered the Israelites. The Ark at the time was said to be housed in the temple of Jerusalem. After the Temple fell to the Babylonians, the Ark disappeared. There is no evidence as to whether the ark was destroyed, was hidden by the Israelites, or was stolen by the Babylonians.

There are several theories as to the fate of the Ark, and a few people have claimed to have found it. One theory is that the Ark was smuggled away to Ethiopia before the Babylonians reached Jerusalem. It is now believed by some to be at the St. Mary of Zion cathedral in Askum. Church authorities have only permitted one man, the guardian of the ark, to see it and have never allowed it to be studied for authenticity.

There was another theory that said that the Ark was hidden beneath the First Temple in Jerusalem before it was destroyed in 586 BC. The site is home to the Dome of the Rock shrine, and is sacred in Islam and therefore no digging to find the Ark is allowed. In 1982, Ron Wyatt claimed to find the Ark beneath the hill on which Christ had been crucified. The Ark was never seen again and Ron Wyatt was known for dubious archaeological finds.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
Statue of Saint Christopher with missing relic. Metmuseum.org

Relic of Saint Christopher

The missing relic of Saint Christopher is particularly interesting because there are some who claim that he never existed. Some people debate whether or not he was a real person or if the term “Christopher” or “Christ-bearer” was a general title that was given to several people. The story for which he is most known was that he carried a child across a river before the child was later discovered to be Christ.

Saint Christopher was later said to have visited Lycia where he tried to comfort the Christians who were being martyred. The local king attempted to get Christopher to make a sacrifice to pagan gods but he refused. Then the king tried to tempt him with women and riches, but instead, he converted the women to Christianity. The king then ordered that Christopher be killed, and the Saint was beheaded.

There is one relic that is said to be the gold-plated head of Saint Christopher that is kept at the Museum of Sacred Art at Saint Justine’s Church in Croatia. The head is rarely seen but church tradition tells the story of when the bishop showed the relics in 1075 in order to convince the Italo-Norman army to stop the siege on the city. That is the only recorded relic of the Saint, but a statue at the Metropolitan museum suggests that there have been more.

This elegant statue beautifully depicts Saint Christopher with Christ upon his shoulder. The statue also features the staff which was said to bring the miracle of Christ for when Christopher planted the staff in the ground, it bore leaves and fruit the following morning. At the base of the statue is the spot where a now missing relic once resided. The relic would have been placed in a small box of crystals so that the relic could be seen.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
Painting depicting Veronica holding her veil. Wikipedia

Veil of Veronica

The story of the Veil of Veronica was not recorded in its present form until the Middle Ages. The stories of Veronica and her veil began appearing in different forms in the 11th century, and the final Western version tells of a meeting between Saint Veronica and Jesus. Saint Veronica encountered Jesus along the Via Dolorosa and stopped to wipe the blood and sweat from his brow with her veil. When she did so his image was transferred onto the veil.

The veil was then believed to have mythical powers including heading the Roman Emperor Tiberius. It was said that it could quench thirst, allow the blind to see and even raise people from the dead. The veil then became a venerated symbol of the Church. There is written evidence that the Veil of Victoria was displayed through the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries.

The fate of the veil became shrouded in mystery following the Sack of Rome in 1527. Some writers said that the veil was destroyed. Others say that it continued to be a presence in the Vatican and a witness to the sacking recounted that the veil was not found. Still another account tells that the veil was stolen and made its way through the taverns of Rome.

The mystery over whether or not the veil survived led to numerous people making replicas and copies which were passed around. In 1616, Pope Paul V prohibited the creation of copies of the veil, and in 1629 Pope Urban VIII ordered that all copies of the veil be destroyed. Anyone who refused to have their copy brought to the church to be destroyed faced excommunication. The fate of the veil has not been mentioned since.

8 Missing Religious Relics That Have Never Been Found
Painting depicting the Holy Grail. History.com

Holy Grail

Few religious relics are as recognizable or as idolized as the Holy Grail. The cup is believed to have untold power and be the cup that caught the blood of Christ at the crucifixion. The Holy Grail was also the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and as such there are few religious artifacts with as much history to them. But there is no evidence the cup really existed.

The Holy Grail first started to be mentioned around the 12th century when it was presented as a divine object in “Perceval.” The poem “Joseph d’Arimathie” by Robert de Boron spoke of the grail being at the Last Supper and the death of Christ, which only added to the religious significance of the cup. After the cup grew in prominence, Knights such as Sir Galahad in the 13th century would set off in search of the relic. It was believed that anyone with a charitable spirit could set off in search of the Grail and have a chance at finding it.

There is no solid evidence that the grail was ever held in anyone’s possession. There are only written literary accounts of the grail and depictions of the grail in paintings and artwork. The mythology surrounding the grail and whether or not it ever truly existed have led numerous historians on a quest to find it.

There are some who believe the story of the grail emerged from Celtic mythology. Others attribute the grail to the sacrament of the Eucharist the medieval period believing that the story of the Grail might have been an attempt to renew the traditional sacrament. The story of the grail continues to be retold to this day and there are many who believe that the grail existed and is out there somewhere.


Sources For Further Reading:

Met Museum – Relics and Reliquaries in Medieval Christianity

Grunge – Christian Relics That Are Still Missing

Atlas Obscura – Where in the World Are Santa Claus’s Bones?

Buzzfeed – 11 Seriously Weird Facts About Jesus’s Foreskin

Esquire Magazine – The Very Holy and Very Lost Foreskin of Jesus Christ

CBC – How Jesus’ Foreskin Became One Of Christianity’s Most-Coveted Relics — And Then Disappeared

Westminster Abbey – Edward the Confessor and Edith

Church Pop – The Miraculous Story Behind the Discovery of the True Cross of Jesus

The Guardian – The Burning Mystery Of Joan Of Arc

History Channel – Fate of the Lost Ark Revealed?

Smithsonian Magazine – Keepers of the Lost Ark?

Ancient Origins – Adventist Adventurer Claimed to Have Found Ark of the Covenant Beneath Crucifixion Site

Express UK – Where Is The Ark Of The Covenant? How Holy Relic Could Be Hidden Below Jerusalem

Ancient Origins – The Mysterious Veil of Veronica: Masterpiece or Miracle?

Catholic Culture – Veronica’s Veil Found?

Bustle – Has The Holy Grail Been Found?

BBC Travel – The Home Of The Holy Grail

History Channel – Is the Quest for the Holy Grail Over?

History Collection – The World’s Grossest Catholic Relics