Most Fascinating Christian Relics Around The World

Religious items associated with Jesus and the Saints are housed in churches across the globe

By Lyn Mettler,

Every year, tens of thousands of faithful Christians travel to see the cherished relics of Jesus and the saints. These artifacts are up to 2,000 years old, and are housed and revered across Christendom, from Rome to the Holy Land.

Here are some of the most iconic relics to inspire your own pilgrimage.

Scourging Pillars of Saints Peter and Paul — Photo courtesy of Kenneth Nowell

Scourging Pillars of Saints Peter and Paul

When in Rome, don't miss the Scourging Pillars. Displayed on each side of the altar of Santa Maria in Traspontina, these partial pillars are said to be those to which Peter and Paul were bound and scourged before they were killed. Located close to St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, you can easily see both in one day. The current church structure was built in 1566. 

Head of St. John the Baptist

The Bible says that St. John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus Christ, was beheaded by King Herod, and Rome's San Sylvestro in Capite claims to have his head. Today, the church displays this crowned head on an altar built by Michelangelo within a gold and silver bejeweled reliquary.

Other churches dispute the head's authenticity and claim they have the true head - although Pope Benedict XVI did tacitly endorse San Sylvestro in Capite's relic's authenticity.  

St. Paul's Chains — Photo courtesy of Kenneth Nowell

St. Paul's Chains

At San Paolo Fuori Le Mura (St. Paul Outside the Walls) you can see the chains that bound St. Paul before his martyrdom. They are publicly visible, encased above his sarcophagus. The church is one of the four major papal churches in Rome, and was originally built in 324 by order of Emperor Constantine. It burned in 1823, but was rebuilt as it stands today. 

Beheading Column of St. Paul

San Paolo alle Tre Fontane, located in the outskirts of Rome, is built on the actual site of St. Paul's martyrdom where he was decapitated. According to Nowell in Rome and the Vatican, when he was decapitated, his head bounced three times. From those spots, springs began to flow, which visitors can see from behind metal grates in the church. Inside, ancient stone pavers that St. Paul would have walked are preserved, as is the base of the column on which he was beheaded.

Shroud of Turin — Photo courtesy of ©1978 & 1998 Barrie M. Schwortz Collection, STERA, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Shroud of Turin

Thought by many to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, the Shroud of Turin is a linen sheet, which bears a striking, ghostly image of a man. The shroud has been kept in Turin since the 16th century and is now in the custody of the Vatican. It is not generally viewable by the public and is only available for viewing during expositions set by the Vatican.

"The shroud draws our attention to the tormented face and body of Jesus and, at the same time, directs our attention toward the face of every suffering and unjustly persecuted person," said Pope Francis during a public exposition in June 2015. 

St. Thomas' Finger

The Bible says that St. Thomas, for whom the modern phrase "doubting Thomas" refers, doubted Jesus' resurrection until Jesus allowed him to actually stick his finger into his wounds.

The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem, located in Rome, claims to have one of Thomas' fingers, perhaps the very one that touched the resurrected Jesus. The church also houses a fragment of Jesus' cross found by St. Helen in Jerusalem, a nail used in his crucifixion and two thorns from the Crown of Thorns.

Jesus' Crown of Thorns

The famous Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris houses several relics from Jesus' passion, including the Crown of Thorns placed upon his head, as well as a piece of Jesus' cross and a nail used in the crucifixion.

The Cathedral notes that despite numerous studies and research, the crown's authenticity cannot be certified, though it has been revered for more than 16 centuries.

The crown is made of canes bound with gold threads, which once held the thorns. It is on public display the first Friday of each month and on every Friday during Lent. 

Anna Maria Taigi — Photo courtesy of Kenneth Nowell

Incorrupt Bodies

The Catholic Church declares as miracles the lack of decomposition experienced by many bodies of those considered to be saints. Such "incorrupt" bodies either entirely or partially lack decay, some in part preserved with wax.

One example is Blessed Anna Maria Taigi, whose remains are displayed at San Crisogono Church in Rome.

Other incorrupt saints include St. Catherine of Bologna, St. Francis, St. Bernadette and St. John Vianney. 

Scourging Column of Jesus Christ

St. Helena, the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire, is credited with saving and bringing many Christian relics from the Holy Land to Rome in the 300s.

A fragment of the marble scourging pillar of Jesus Christ is one such item and is kept in Santa Prassede Basilica in Rome where it has been housed since 1223.

The Byzantine church is also the burial site of some 2,000 saints, including two early church saints who were sisters, Saints Prasede and Pudentiana, and was a popular pilgrimage stop in the Middle Ages.  

Holy Sepulchre — Photo courtesy of Israel Ministry of Tourism

Burial Slab of Jesus Christ

In Jerusalem, tourists flock to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site where St. Helen is said to have discovered Jesus' cross. Christians thus revere the church as the site of his crucifixion.

According to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, Jesus' tomb was on the site, though it was largely destroyed in 1009. There are now just a few surviving portions, concealed from public view. Also inside is a slab, on which Christian tradition says Jesus' body was prepared for burial, as well as the cave tomb of Joseph of Aramathea.