How can an ancient object connect Catholics to the sacrifice of Jesus? Why does the Catholic Church venerate and safeguard these objects with such care? These questions begin “Mysteries of Faith,” a Netflix series that explores the history and meaning of the relics of the saints and the passion of the Lord.
In a four-part series, some of the most important relics for Catholicism are presented due to their direct relationship with the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus: the crown of thorns, the holy grail, and a fragment of the holy cross that is preserved in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Additionally, the last episode of the miniseries focuses on the importance of the relics of saints, especially the bloody shirt of Blessed Rosario Angelo Livatino, an Italian judge murdered in 1990 by the Sicilian Mafia.
Although some of the academics who speak about the relics question their authenticity, describing their stories — duly documented and proven by the Church throughout the centuries — as “legends,” each episode also gives prominence to various Catholic voices with a connection to the holy objects.
Such is the case of Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Causes of Saints, who was in charge of officiating the beatification ceremony of Livatino in 2021. In the last episode of the series, the Italian cardinal summarizes the purpose of the Catholic Church in preserving and venerating the relics of the saints.
“Relics carry us away to stories of holiness, stories of men and women who let themselves be sustained by God. We need relics because without memories we would have no hope,” he said.
Regarding the relics related to Jesus, the series gives special attention to the 2019 fire that gutted Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris where the crown of thorns that the Roman soldiers placed on the head of the Lord was almost lost.
The miniseries shows images from April 15, 2019, in which Parisians cried as they watched the iconic church burn. There the crown was kept in a secret place to protect it from the anti-Christian violence unleashed during the French Revolution. Since the revolution, the relic is only displayed once a year, on Good Friday, to be venerated by faithful from all over the world.
The firefighters didn’t know where the crown was kept, and it was due to the efforts of Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain of the Paris firefighters, that the precious relic could be rescued.
After a few moments and “to preserve the relics, a team of firefighters was obliged to break the reliquary, unfortunately pulverizing it,” he said in a 2019 interview.
“The holy relics could be removed and preserved in a safe place under the protection of law enforcement — in this case the officials of the police prefecture,” Fournier explained.
Why do Catholics venerate relics?
The first season of “Mysteries of Faith,” released in November 2023, has an audience score of 70% on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Despite the mostly positive reviews, some comments on Reddit said the series implies that Catholics “worship” relics.
Regarding this, in the last episode of the miniseries, Cardinal Semeraro also summarizes the teaching of the Catholic Church on images and sacred objects, referring to the historical veracity of the relics that have been safely protected for many centuries.
“Let us say that the authenticity of relics is considered an important issue, but it’s not considered an absolute. The object itself is not the most important thing but the reality it represents,” he pointed out.
In this way, Catholics have venerated relics of saints since ancient times (second century), explained Father Carlos Martins, custodian of relics and director of the Treasures of the Church ministry, in a 2019 CNA interview.
The priest noted that relics “are physical objects that have a direct association with the saints or with Our Lord” and explained that the word relic means “fragment” or “remnant of a thing.”
He also pointed out that “the relics are not magical. They do not contain a power of their own, a power separate from God” and said that the Lord uses them as a means to perform his miracles because “he wants to direct our attention to the saints as ‘models and intercessors.’”
This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.