CANTERBURY, England (RNS) Relics of British Christianity now in the hands of the Vatican will be flown to England, where they will be displayed at Canterbury Cathedral just ahead of an important summit that may decide the fate of the Anglican Communion.
The first item to arrive is an ivory handle of a staff, or crozier, used by St. Gregory, the pope who helped establish Christianity in England in the sixth century. It was Gregory who sent St. Augustine to England to help convert the Anglo-Saxons.
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Valued at $365,505, the handle will be on view to the public and the 38 Anglican prelates gathering this weekend to attend a make-or-break meeting of the 80 million-strong Anglican Communion, which is bitterly divided on the subjects of full rights for gays, the ordination of women as priests and their consecration as bishops.
The idea of the two Christian churches temporarily exchanging relics came after a cricket match between Catholic and Anglican priests in 2014.
In December, a much more eye-catching “holy” relic will be flown in from Rome –- the bloodied vestment worn by St. Thomas Becket when he was beheaded at the high altar of Canterbury Cathedral by four armed knights loyal to King Henry II, after a quarrel between the king and his archbishop.
The summit will take place here Jan. 11-16.
“At a time of intense crisis in the Anglican Communion, the handle is a sign of prayer and a support from our fellow Christians,” a Church of England source told The Times on Wednesday (Jan. 6).
The crozier handle will be on display in the Canterbury Cathedral Crypt from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Jan. 9 and 16, and from noon to 2 p.m. on Jan. 10 and 17.
(Trevor Grundy is a contributor to RNS based in Britain)