From as far back as history can take us humans have held on to objects as a way of remaining connected to the past, particularly people who have past from this earthly life. The simple act of holding something that belonged to the person can reconnect us in a way that memory alone cannot. Portraiture as an art form developed and a next generation could connect to a person they had never met.
It seems, therefore, not surprising that the early Christians held on their loved ones, the holy ones through keepsakes, relics. The word relic means literally “to leave behind.” And with time came iconography - communicating with pictures, instead of words.
To our modern sensibilities, the keeping of bones and other body parts mays seem strange. It’s not what we would do, but it is how people in an earlier time held onto loved ones.
In around 327, the Emperor Constantine ordered excavations around Jerusalem to ascertain the location of the place of the crucifixion of Jesus. Church were then erected at Mt. Calvert and the Holy Sepulchre . The recovered remains of the cross were divided. Part remained in Jerusalem and part was sent to Rome.
As with all things, people have a tendency to go to far and so for a time all veneration of sacred relics and icons was outlawed.
Then in 787 at the Second Council of Nicea, the Church defined clearly the distinction between “respect and veneration” and “true worship.”
Worship belongs only to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The most we can give to any created things or persons is “respect and veneration.”
Today the. Church venerates the cross on which Jesus have his life for the salvation of the world. That simple, rough piece of wood was transformed by the blood of Jesus. That place was forever marked by his death. What Christian has visited the sites and not been moved ?
There and in so many other holy places, we find ourselves speechless. That is the essence of respect and veneration.
Today let each of us take a moment to look at a crucifix or a cross and mediate upon its meaning.