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Catholic relics of Christ’s crucifixion saved from Notre Dame fire


Notre Dame burning Credit: Olivier Mabelly/Flickr/Creative Commons

The world was captivated by the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris yesterday, April 15, 2019.  It is unquestionably one of the world’s most famous Christian landmarks and it was not lost on many that it burned during the start of the Roman Catholic Holy week leading up to Easter.

It is now believed that the fire was accidental, caused by the extensive renovations taking place in the Cathedral. But there was room for doubt because there have been dozens of attacks on churches in France in recent months including the setting of fires. In mid-March, 2019, a fire was purposely set at the Saint-Sulpice church shortly after morning mass. It is one of the largest churches in Paris, and the fire caused damage estimated at several million Euros.

Last year, nearly 875 churches were vandalized and it is continuing unabated in 2019. Perhaps the most vile, was the smearing of a cross made of excrement inside Saint-Alain Cathedral in Nimes on February 6th, 2019.

Aside from the burning of this historic landmark, there was great concern about the relics of the crucifixion and saints housed in Notre Dame. But it is now believed most were spared when  Father Fournier, the Chaplain of the Paris fire department, entered the burning cathedral to rescue the relics, three of which are associated with Christ’s resurrection.

This includes what is believed to be a piece of wood and a nail from the cross and its most famous relic, the crown of thorns that the Romans pushed on Christ’s head at his crucifixion, mocking the claim that people called him King of the Jews (Matthew 27:29). The Roman Catholic church does not believe it is the actual crown but that it contains elements from the original one.

Relics were a big business in the Middle Ages. There were literally truckloads of wood from the cross and it is highly unlikely that these are original, but the items are very old and at the very least stand as symbols of what Christ did for us on the cross.

The crown of thorns dates back to the 13th century when it was given to King Louis IX of France and the first written record of the nail was of Christian pilgrims, who had just visited Jerusalem, giving it to King Charlemagne in 799 AD.

Though these relics are sometimes mocked as frauds, there are historical records about Christ’s crucifixion that can’t be so easily dismissed. This includes the writing of Tacitus,  a reputable Roman senator, who was born in the first century 56 AD, about 25 years after Christ’s crucifixion. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica he worked for a group that monitored foreign cults in Rome, which may explain his familiarity to Christianity.

Before he died in 120 AD, he compiled the history of the Roman emperors in two books entitled Annals and Histories.

He was by all accounts a thorough and careful historian and was not prone to exaggeration. And, he was not a Christian and if anything had a distinct bias against the Christian faith that comes out in his books.

It is believed that the Apostle Paul died in Rome during the persecution of Christians under the Roman emperor Nero. And Tacitus described how Nero began persecuting Christians blaming them for setting fire to Rome, in order to defuse talk that he had set the fire.

The burning of Rome by Nero by Carl Theodor von Piloty (1826-1886)/Wikipedia

During that discussion in his book Annals, Tacitus mentions the crucifixion of Christ and Pontius Pilate:

“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration. Hence, to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome…”

Tacitus then goes on to describe Nero’s torture of believers:

Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

It was a brutal and some would argue a satanically inspired persecution.

Sources:

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