What a brew! Catholic cathedral relics and bones found in coffee jars

Ancient holy relics and bones have been unearthed by demolition workers at Christchurch’s Catholic cathedral.

The treasures had been stored in two Greggs coffee jars that have remained undisturbed beneath the building for more than 40 years.

The relics and bones are purportedly from saints and apostles of Jesus. They were put in the coffee jars, enclosed in a metal container and buried under concrete in on of the cathedral’s chapels in April 1975.

They were purchased in the 19th century by Bishop John Grimes, Christchurch’s first Catholic bishop. He bought them during his travels in Europe to raise money for a new cathedral.

The relics were on display in the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament until the 1970s.

At that time, holy relics were out of fashion in the Catholic church. They were buried under the cathedral chapel as they had to be buried in sacred ground.

Catholic Diocese of Christchurch archivist Triona Doocey was expecting the relics to be found as their location was well known.

She had not, however, expected them to stored in coffee jars.

One large coffee jar was full of bone fragments. Another smaller jar was full of small metal containers for holy relics, known as reliquaries.

Yet to be fully examined are a bottle containing a piece of paper and another jar containing a statement from 1975 describing the objects.

“To see actual fragments and the little reliquaries, to see a jar of them, and a coffee jar of all things [was unexpected],” Doocey says.

She will now carefully unpack all the items and identify them using a book of certificates for the relics compiled by Grimes.

Unfortunately during the demolition process, water got into the metal container and damaged some objects.

“We will tidy them up, clean them up and then repackage them safely so, no matter what gets thrown at them in the next cathedral, they will hopefully survive,” Doocey says.

“It gives us an opportunity to classify and catalogue everything and capture that information for the future, so in 300 years time the archivist will know exactly what is there.”

Long terms the relics will be reburied at the new a new cathedral planned for the corner of Armagh and Colombo streets in the city centre.

Doocey says the relics are meaningful because they representa tangible connection with significant figures in the Catholic faith.

“We have a connection to the apostles, who were contemporaries of Jesus and went out and evangelised afterwards.

“It is incredible, in little old New Zealand, to have that connection to those original apostles.”


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News category: New Zealand.

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