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Why Relics?

Relics and the Communion of Saints

It is not rare to honor remnants of relatives’ bodies, or those of notable people. Often parents will keep first teeth that are lost or save clippings of their child’s first haircut. We build monuments to great men and women, and set up grave markers to memorialize them. And so it seems almost second nature for us to honor members of our family and those dear to us as well as the objects that belonged to them.

And so why wouldn’t a similar reverence translate into our family of the Church? The saints are those men and women from our family who are deserving of our honor for their life of spiritual greatness. Moreover, they have put on Christ in baptism and beocme members of his body.

Catholics see the members of the Church as members of a family. Of course, as human beings — composites of body and soul — the Church honors their bodies after death. We, of course, do this as well in our families when we visit and decorate graves on birthdays, death dates or holidays. Made in God’s image and likeness, we recognize the dignity of the human person by honoring their earthly remains — that is why the Church demands of proper disposal of a person’s remains (burial of body or remains).

Within this context, then, we should understand that relics are meant to be honored and venerated, not worshipped. In fact, the saints lead us to fuller worship of God in spirit and truth. By honoring their memories, bodies and belongings, we give thanks to God for the saint’s holy witness. Relics are physical, tangible, concrete reminders that heaven is obtainable for us — so long as we recognize what made the saints holy and work to apply those qualities to our lives. When venerating relics we express gratitude to God for those members of our spiritual family. In the presence of the relics we recall their holy lives and we pray for the grace to achieve what they’ve achieved — eternity with God in Heaven.

Image by Michal Mrozek

The Brecbannoch Relics

The original reliquary which held the relics of St Columba is now kept in the National Museum of Scotland. The relic was known as the Breac Bannoch in early Gaelic ("the little peaked thing") because of its distinctly celtic style.  The reliquary was often venerated by Kings, Nobles, and common people throughout Scottish history, especially invoking their special intercession for the Church in our nation.

We hope to carry a reliquary with us that follows the shape and design of the original Brecbannoch. Much like those in the past, we hope that this reliquary will be a special source of refuge for our pilgrims, as we pray for the Church in Scotland. This is why the reliquary will contained Scotland's three patrons: St Andrew, St Margaret and St Columba.

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Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey, originally founded by St Columba, is the spiritual home of Scottish Christianity. It was here that Columba began his rather austere monastic order, where monks undertook a severe life of prayer and penance, while also sending out monks to spread the faith as far as the north and eas coasts of Scotland. In the middle ages, the Columban monks became Benedictines, meanwhile still continuing the celtic traditions and cult of St Columba that had vivified the Church in these isles for centuries before. The abbey fell into ruin after the reformation, but was restored in the 1920s by Rev. George MacLeod.

Image by Caroline Hall

St Andrew

St Andrew the Apostle became the patron of Scotland as a result of St Regulus' mission to Scotland, where he brought the relics of St Andrew to Cil Rimhinn in Fife. Not long after, St Andrew was declared the Patron Saint of Scotland following the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320. SInce then, St Andrew has played an important part in the life of the Scottish Church even to this day.

The relics of St Andrew that we will be carrying are both a piece of his bone, and a piece of the cross upon which he died for the faith.

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St Margaret of Scotland

St Margaret was Queen of Scots in the 11th Century, ruling alongside her husband, Malcolm Canmore. St Margaret's patronage of Scotland comes from her saintly life and her benevolent rule of the nation, making her intercession for our civil leaders, as well as as our shepherds, particularly important.

The relic of St Margaret that we will be carrying is a piece of her bone.

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St Columba of Iona

The reliquary will also contained what maybe a bone of St Columba of Iona - and if not him, then we know most certainly that it is taken from one of his fellow celtic saints.

Among the three patrons, the most ancient patron of Scotland is St Columba, who brought the Gospel to this part of the world in the 6th Century. It is his island that we return to, Iona, where pilgrims flocked for centuries before the reformation to ask for his special intercession.

As the first patron of Scotland, St Columba had various titles such as Spes Scotorum (Hope of the Scots) and Pater Patriae (Father of our Nation).

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