Say hello to Saint Mundita: 2nd century Christian martyr and patron saint of single women. Given our 21st Century sensibilities, this relic in Munich’s St. Peter’s Church clearly fits into our “Weird and Wonderful Series” … definitely a bit on the weird side.
But in the Middle Ages this relic would have been a perfectly natural (or should I say supernatural) sight in any cathedral. In fact, any cathedral would have been proud to have a relic like St. Mundita because pilgrims from all over Germany would flock to their doors, filling the coffers of both the church and the town’s businesses. In Medieval Europe, relics were a big deal for the Roman Catholic Church.
Little is known about St. Mundita, but most sources say she was dispatched with a hatchet by a Roman executioner around 300 AD. And while not as important as the the bones of St. Peter, the head of St. John the Baptist, or The Tongue of St Anthony of Padua (I’m not making this up.), she’s doing OK for herself – she has her own Facebook page!
Relics are religious objects generally connected to a saint, or some other venerated person, and they aren’t necessarily just bones.
They might be a body part, a saint’s finger, an article of clothing, or a piece of the True Cross. And the most important ones were involved in the life of Jesus.
In addition to St. Mundita, we saw another important relic on our recent trip to Germany: the Shrine of the Three Kings which is in the Cologne Cathedral. This beautiful 7-foot gilded reliquary is said to contain the bones of the Biblical Magi.
Relics and pilgrimage churches played a large role in religious life in the Middle Ages, and had a significant economic impact on both the church as well as the city where it was located. Towns that possessed important sacred relics were popular destinations for spiritual tourism, and the offerings these pilgrims made to the church as well as the money they spent at local businesses made relics an important commodity.
The competition to obtain relics quickly lead to merchants and agents who located, bought, and sold them. And as inevitably happens, most areas had a network of unscrupulous riffraff who dealt in counterfeits.
In those days it was impossible to tell if you had the skull of Saint Bernard or Bernard the bartender. Protestant theologian John Calvin famously remarked that there were enough pieces of the True Cross to build a ship.
Authentic or not, relics have a long tradition in the Catholic Church. They’re an intriguing part of the history of the church, and they continue to inspire the faithful to this day.
James & Terri
6. Derepus via Wikimedia Commons