In our time everyone has to keep his eyes open continually because the risk of alteration is always around the corner. In institutional Churches it’s now difficult to find rest, spiritual peace, since they are too much invaded by strange things ...
A recent great "inter-confessional" new – that concerns both Catholicism and Orthodoxy - was the translation of St. Helena Empress’ relics from Venice, where they were guarded, in Greece. Relics remained in Greece from May to June (2017) and then returned to the lagoon town.
If this is made to honor to a Saint who ideally unites Christianity, I will certainly not object to it.
And I do not oppose or contradict the popular spontaneity that sees in the relics a way to relate to God who sanctified the Saint of which we have the mortal remains.
The point is not here. The point is another that I summarize in the title of this article: in the case of St. Helena relics there was speculation?
The lower clergy and the people can not, in fact, know the truth about St. Helena's Venetian relics, but how high prelates and organizers may not have known at least something? If they did not even know it, how could they have immediate faith in the Venetian relics of this saint?
The truth is that these relics, which have had a triumphal reception in Greece, for which various events have been organized (and events are expensive especially in crisis’ time!), are very dubious, indeed very likely false.
The alleged remnants of Saint Helena were honored by State honors, such as the mummy of a pharaoh brought to Paris for scientific examinations, years ago. The difference is that while the mummy was authentic, the body of St. Helena is probably not at all.
I wish nobody, though informed about this, considered it pointless, since it was now important to start the organizational machine with the inevitable practical benefits (let us think about, for instance, the "ecumenical" benefits between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, just not to think of other very practical benefits ...). Oh yes, all right but ... can this be done with relics that are most likely false? If the end justifies the means, yes. But can the Church ever use this machiavellian system?
I have informed someone in the high ranks of clergy about this question. I only had silence as response. I felt a lot of shame and embarrassment, a shame and embarrassment that, however, other people should have felt ...
I detect the overwhelming evidence of all this from a report on the remains of Saint Helena, drawn by two scholars of great scientific reliability: Corrain and Capitanio. I quote the report’s text in the essential part:
«The urn [of St. Elena] is in the Borromeo chapel, under the altar, with a glass lid, simply leaning (the hooks are broken or missing). A reconnaissance had been made by dr. Ulisse Canziani on October 22, 1929. The following inventory was made: a skull in a bad conditions, 5 vertebrae and fragments; 4 ribs and fragments; handlebar and sternum; bone sacred with sacralization of the fifth lumbar and iliac bones; the left and right scapula; omers; the left and right radio split into two halves; the left ulna and the upper third of the right; 6 bones of the carp and 4 phalanxes of the hand; the femurs and the roots; the left tibia; the heels; an astragalo; a scaffold and a phalanx of the foot.
The doctor measured the length of the six long bones of the limbs, obtaining a height of 153 cm, modest but not too much, for a woman. By reviewing the figures of the individual pairs of bones, we have come to notice the low variability between these pairs with regard to stature data (151,2 - 152,7 cm): belonging to the same subject».
The report, therefore, indicates in the beginning what had been discovered in 1929: a skull and some bones. The situation recently observed is very different. The report, in fact, continues as follows:
«Compared to the inventory of a time, we have the only remains of the skull enclosed within a mask, silvery, that we opened with difficulty; the rest of the skeleton was enclosed in a pewter container with thick boards. A beautiful brocade dress could hide the misfortune long enough, that is until our reconnaissance. The pewter container of elongated shape almost to simulate the body of the saint had been (perhaps recently) torn from the feet. There was nothing inside it!».
So now only a skull remains of the alleged relics of Saint Helena; everything else has disappeared long ago! The so-called "body" made up in the venerated urn in Greece must have been a coated doll! The veneration to Saint Helena's body turned to a doll packed with precious (and expensive!) clothes.
But let's see the scientific observation on the skull, the only thing left:
«Let's say something about the remains of the skull in bad conditions, which we have discovered. Mummified skin covers a part of the face. The age of death could be senile: dental wear to the pulp cavity of the M2 and M3 left; completely missing sutures, even internally. There is some doubt about the feminine gender: small face, infantile, with a front probably bent. But we recognize that the supraorbital edge is coarse, that the skull is rather thick and that the nuclides and the inion are more than discrete [...]».
(C. Corrain-M. A. Capitanio, “Ricognizioni di alcune reliquie, attribuite a santi orientali, conservate in Venezia”, in Quaderni di scienze antropologiche 21 (1995), pp. 43-45).
The scholar Corrain preferred to blur very much his statements but from another member of the same recognition commission at the time when the skull was examined, I know that the skull attributed to Saint Helena is male with probability 70-75% because the front is not bent, as it is in the opposite female case. The scholar, in fact, does not say that the skull is bumped but that "probably" should have been, if it was female.
In the Middle Ages there was a lot of pseudo-relics, and everyone ought to know this. Similarly, a little bit of caution should be exercised when a certain identity is attributed to mortal remains, especially when these remains have had a very tumultuous historical path, such as the supposed relics of Saint Helena (1). To give this kind of assurance, selling to the people the idea that what is being seen is surely the body of Saint Helena (when most probably the only thing left, the skull, is not authentic) leads us to suspect a certain simple-mindedness a lot of naivety and perhaps somebody with bad faith. If there is bad faith there may be someone who has taken advantage of it.
The will to promote "ecumenism among Churches" with probable false relics really makes us think about speculation.
Of course, in a "plastic era" like ours, no one is surprised that pseudo-reality and pseudo-truth can be found everywhere.
But if we are forced to see it in the Church, it is always a trauma and we are not happy at all!
1) Concerning the relics of oriental saints kept in Venice, Corrain confessed that, at least, half of them are very dubious, that is, false. Another example: the relics of Saint Tharasios, which the venetian Catholic Curia considers as those of the patriarch of Constantinople, actually belong to a simple monk. These relics (fake!) were given to the patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew (in the framework of friendly Catholic-Orthodox ecumenical relations), as if they belonged for sure to the Patriarch of Constantinople saint Tharasios. Even in this case there are specific studies that prove what I just said.