Physical objects held to have religious significance. In general the use of relics in religious ceremonies is an aspect of folk or popular religion rather than official theology and is similar to the worship of icons or images, although in Roman Catholic Christianity and Buddhism a theology and tradition of relics has arisen. In Roman Catholicism, relics are usually associated with the saints, either objects thought to have been owned or used by a saint or pieces of his or her physical remains such as bones. The first mention of them in Christian history is of handkerchiefs taken from the body of Saint Paul and used to heal the sick.
During the Middle Ages, a substantial market in (often false) relics arose as devotees sought closer physical identification with the saints as well as the hope that relics could encourage miracles. At the sixteenth-century Council of Trent Catholic officials made legitimate the veneration of relics, provided their authenticity was verified by the church. Among the most prized relics in years afterward were alleged fragments of the true cross or other objects not connected with a saint but with Jesus Christ himself.
Among the most famous of these is the Shroud of Turin, alleged to be Jesus' burial cloth but proven by recent scientific investigation to be less than a thousand years old. In Buddhism, relics are generally physical remnants thought to come from the Buddha himself. Often temples or stupas were built around these relics, which might range from bones to teeth to even the ashes from his funeral pyre.
A Temple of the Tooth at Kandy, in Sri Lanka, supposedly contains one of the Buddha's canine teeth. Even alleged footprints of the Buddha have been the source of veneration and stupa-building. Similarly to Catholic veneration, Buddhists also revere the relics of saints, heroes, and bodhisattvas.
SEE ALSO: iconoclasm; pilgrimage relics returned remembrance of saints past | Fr. Z's Blog.