In case you don’t know, there is a relic of St. Thomas Aquinas’ fingerbone that’s kept in the Chapel of the Apostles at the School of Theology here in Sewanee. I went to look at it a few years ago with some friends of mine. Around that time, my student Clara interviewed Bishop Wright, who had donated the relic. Her notes on the conversation are below the pictures.
Michael Amelchenya is the Russian orthodox priest who is a former student of Rev. Dr. Wright’s.
Dean Lytle approached Wright and asked if he had an appropriate relic in his collection. Wright thought about it and decided that the Thomas Aquinas relic would be appropriate since he is the patron saint of theologians. Wright says that he follow the practice established in the Roman Catholic Church in that you can give relics away but you can’t sell them. However, there is a loop hole in this stricture in that you can sell the reliquary. He emphasized the fact that “I did not do this. I donated it.”
He also talked about how when he donated it, several articles came out in student publications that were “disrespectful, not of me, but of the relic.’ He said he was “kind of insulted’ by the response. He said he thought the response was a ‘disgrace to Sewanee students’ who sounded quite frankly like ‘uninformed Protestants.’ At the end of the interview, he again returned to the subject of the ‘smart alec little brats’ at Sewanee.
There are two types of relics–ones that have a certificate of authentication and those that don’t. The one for the relic of St. Thomas Aquinas was lost long before Wright ever had it. The certificate states that the bearer is authorized to keep it, expose it to veneration by the faithful, or to pass it on. As an example, he mentioned a ‘batch of relics’ which he obtained from a Roman Catholic convent. Vatican II which had caused many convents to ‘renew itself out.’ This one only had one nun left, the mother superior who taught a class at GTS in NY. She had a ‘suitcase full of saints’ that she didn’t know what to do with. Some people told her to give them to Wright as he would know what to do with them. Some of these had certificates of authentication and others didn’t. He kept some and gave others way to “priests whom he knew and thought he or she would appreciate having one.’
He talked at greater length of the significance of the certificate of authentication which describes the relic and sometimes goes back hundreds of years.
A few places that are unrelated to the Catholic Church sell relics. He emphasized the need for respect for the relics as a ‘remainder of a holy person.’ A respect which was not given by those ‘smart alecs at Sewanee’
He then went on to describe a place in New York where you used to be able to buy relics. When his students ask him where they can find the relic, he tells them that Ms. Broomer’s used to be the place but now it is out of business. It is owned by Amanda Broomer who he described as a ‘pious Jewish woman.’ Thus, she is not interested in relics as holy objects, but rather in making a profit from them.
He then talked some about buying an unauthenticated relic. Either the relic is very old or the saint might be recently deceased.
He told me another story about obtaining some relics. He is involved in encouraging ecumenical dialogue and so he goes to Vatican City quite often. Once several years ago, he wandered into a little shop where he found some unauthenticated relics from Pope John XXIII. They were only 50 cents apiece so he bought 50-60 of them and distributed them to any of his students who were interested, telling them that they were unauthenticated relics of an canonized person who was a ‘very holy person’ He said that Pope John is recognized as a saint by the Canadian Episcopal Church and the process of canonization has been started for him in the Catholic church. If you look at the Canadian Book of Common Prayer, you can find him under their list of saints.