Shrine conveys relics to Holy Family Church
February 1, 2013
The Rev. Richard Fragomeni (left), rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, transfers the liturgical vessel containing relics of the Holy Family to the Rev. Jeremiah Boland, administrator of Holy Family Parish. (Photos by John White, courtesy Holy Family Parish)

The Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii has given three rare relics to Holy Family Church to honor the church’s 155th anniversary. The gift consists of a reliquary containing a fragment of the manger in which Jesus lay in Bethlehem after his birth, a fragment from the veil of his mother, Mary, and a fragment of a thread from the cloak of his father, Joseph.

The Rev. Richard Fragomeni, rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii, 1224 W. Lexington St., said it is “only fitting” that the relics associated with Jesus’s birthplace should reside permanently in Chicago’s original Jesuit church dedicated to the Holy Family.

Located at 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd., Holy Family Church celebrated its anniversary Dec. 30 with a Mass. The relics, authenticated by Vatican documents, were released by the Vatican and acquired by the Shrine of Our Lady of Pompeii in 1972. The fragments originally were venerated, beginning in the fifth century, in the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), chose that church to celebrate his first Mass on Christmas Day 1538 because it housed the relic of the manger now at Holy Family.

Close up of the reliquary containing relics of the Holy Family. The top item is a fragment from Jesus’s manger in Bethlehem; the middle item is a fragment from Mary’s veil; and the third is a fragment from Joseph’s cloak.
“In the Middle Ages, one’s possession of relics often determined how wealthy a person was,” explained the Rev. Jeremiah Boland, administrator of Holy Family Parish. “This practice often led to many abuses. Often the bodies of saints were hidden to protect them from relic traders. Relics can be from a saint’s remains, their personal effects, or holy objects.

“Over the years to combat the abuses, the Vatican” decided to “not sell relics, for they are considered to be part of the patrimony of the church,” Fr. Boland continued. “That’s why they’re released to the custody of someone. One must appeal in writing to the Vatican for a relic, most often to be placed in an altar stone. In our tradition, relics invite us to deeper reflection on our faith and the call to holiness.

“These relics of the Holy Family are obvious objects of devotion. One could argue how real the relics of Mary or Joseph are, but there were all sorts of objects over the centuries that have been venerated and are based on faith
rather than scientific explanation.

“The manger fragment, now in Holy Family’s custody, has more authenticity because of the historical reality that St. Helena of the Cross, the mother of [Roman Emperor] Constantine, brought many sacred objects from Jerusalem to Rome in the 5th century,” Fr. Boland said.

“During that same century, pilgrims also brought fragments of the original crib to Rome, and Pope Sixtus had them preserved.”

For more information, call (312) 492-8442.