Vatican relics headed to Anglican cathedral for display as pivotal summit nears

Print More
The ancient crozier head, an historic object traditionally associated with sixth century Pope, St Gregory 1, is being put on display at Canterbury Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Canterbury Cathedral

The ancient crozier head, an historic object traditionally associated with sixth century Pope, St Gregory 1, is being put on display at Canterbury Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Canterbury Cathedral

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.

RELATED STORY: Texas bishop rips ‘cowboy mentality’ against gun control

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)

  • Fran

    What do “holy relics” have to do with the true worship of God? Faith is based, not on the things seen, but on the things unseen (Hebrews 11:1; 2 Corinth. 4:18).

  • Deacon John M Bresnahan

    What person would throw away a cherished memento of a deceased beloved family member?? No! people hold onto precious family memories through recalling the events surrounding such mementoes.
    The Catholic Church ideally is a huge family of love—and it is customs such as honoring relics of our beloved dead that helps humanize the Church and keeps her from being just a soulless institution.
    Miracles sometimes associated with relics of saints are just frosting on the cake–so to speak.

  • Pingback: Calls for prayer, as 38 Anglican primates meet at Canterbury | Episcopal Cafe()

  • Dan

    I do not think Becket was “beheaded”. Edward Grim’s contemporary account puts it quite differently, that the crown of his head was cut off by a sword stroke.

  • Jose


    You are quoting “Hebrews 11:1; 2 Corinth. 4:18”

    These words itself are holy relics handed over -first orally and then writings – by generations of people. If those people had your beliefs “Faith is based, not on the things seen”, you would not have the Bible to quote for

  • Father John George

    Beheaded or crown of head sliced off and debrained is academic-blood everywhere
    Eyewitness Grim recorded beneath bio :
    Edward Grim was a clerk from Cambridge who was visiting Canterbury Cathedral on Wednesday 29 December 1170 when Thomas Becket was murdered. He subsequently researched and published a book, Vita S. Thomae (Life of Thomas Becket), published in about 1180, which is today known chiefly for a short section in which he gives an eyewitness account of the events in the Cathedral. He himself attempted to protect Becket, and sustained a serious arm wound in the attack.
    …The wicked knight leapt suddenly upon him, cutting off the top of the crown which the unction of sacred chrism had dedicated to God. Next he received a second blow on the head, but still he stood firm and immovable. At the third blow he fell on his knees and elbows, offering himself a living sacrifice, and saying in a low voice, ‘For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace…

  • Father John George

    Continuing the eyewitness account
    ” I am ready to embrace death.’ But the third knight inflicted a terrible wound as he lay prostrate. By this stroke, the crown of his head was separated from the head in such a way that the blood white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral. The same clerk who had entered with the knights placed his foot on the neck of the holy priest and precious martyr, and, horrible to relate, scattered the brains and blood about the pavements, crying to the others, ‘Let us away, knights; this fellow will arise no more”

  • Father John George

    The Letter of William, archbishop of Sens, to our lord the pope, against the king of England, in relation to the death of the blessed Thomas.
    “This priest of the Most High, standing before the altar, and embracing in his arms the cross which he had been accustomed to have carried before him, and praying, voluntarily offered himself as a peace. offering to God between the cross and the horns of the altar. For the hour of his passion was drawing nigh; on bended knees, with throat extended, and neck bowed down, he received the cup of salvation, and was beheaded by the three executioners above-named,”

  • Father John George

    King Henry performed a public act of penance on 12 July 1174 at Canterbury, when he publicly confessed his sins, and then allowed each bishop present, including Foliot, to give him five blows from a rod, then each of the 80 monks of Canterbury Cathedral gave the king three blows. The king then offered gifts to Becket’s shrine and spent a vigil at Becket’s tomb.

  • Fran


    Yes, the those Scriptures are “words” inspired by God that guide our lives, which move us to give our whole-hearted and whole-souled worship and honor only to God (Matthew 22:37, 38).

    Hebrews 11:1 states that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Through God’s Word, the Bible, we can have assured faith that all unfulfilled promises of God or things unseen at the present time will be fulfilled (Revelation 21:3,4) in the near future.

    We are instructed by God not to give reverence or undue attention to material things or images that can be venerated (Exodus 20:4,5; Leviticus 26:1; 1 John 5:21). God deserves our exclusive devotion.

  • Blood-stained vestments may be a fitting symbol of the London meeting.

  • Ed stafford

    What means”full rights for gays”?

  • Timothy Scott

    How on earth could a priceless relic be valued at “$365,505”. Did somebody buy it?

  • Mike Donohue

    A fine story, but why the scare quotes in the 5th graf? — (In December, a much more eye-catching “holy” relic will be flown in from Rome…)

  • Is there a subtle reminder of England’s once treasured relationship with the See of Peter? Pope Gregory the Great had sent Augustine :”the Apostle to England” to establish the Church.
    Venerable Bede recorded a famous story in which Gregory saw fair-haired Saxon slaves from Britain in the Roman slave market and was inspired to try to convert their people. Gregory had inquired about who the slaves were. He was told they were Angles from the island of Great Britain. Gregory replied that they were not Angles, but Angels [ Bede History of the English Church and People pp. 99–100]

  • Due regard must be given to pockets of persecuted Christianity under the Romans in Britain
    The first archaeological evidence and credible records showing a community large enough to maintain churches and bishops dates to the 3rd and 4th centuries, but it started from a small base: the British delegation to the 353 Council of Rimini had to beg for financial assistance from its fellows in order to return home.[