Religious relics, defined as "either portions of or objects connected with the body of a saint or other holy person," are among the most revered items in the world. Christian relics such as the Holy Grail, the True Cross, and the Lance of Longinus are also the source of limitless controversy. Such items have incited people to bloodshed and, some say, have been a source of miracles. Relics inspire fear and hope among the faithful and yet are a perennial target for skeptics, both secular and Christian. To research the authenticity of numerous Christian relics, Joe Nickell takes a scientific approach to a field of study all too often tainted by premature conclusions. In this volume, Nickell investigates such renowned relics as the Shroud of Turin, the multiple heads of John the Baptist, and the supposedly incorruptible corpses of saints, first examining the available evidence and documented history of each item. From accounts of true believers to the testimony of the relics' alleged fabricators, Nickell then presents all sides of each story, allowing the evidence to speak for itself. For each relic, Nickell evaluates both the corroborating and contradictory bodies of evidence and explores whether the relic and attributed miracles can be reconstructed. In addition to his own experiments, Nickell presents findings from the world's top scientists and historians regarding these controversial objects of reverence and ire, explaining the circumstances under which each case was examined. Radiocarbon dating and tests to determine the validity of substances such as blood or patina indicate a variety of possible origins. Nickell even reveals some of the techniques used to create archaeological forgeries and explains how investigators have exposed them. Each relic is a mystery to be solved; guided by the maxim, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof," Nickell seeks only the truth.
Christian communities all over the world hold sacred material artifacts that supposedly date to early Christianity baby Jesus' swaddling clothes, pieces of the sponge from which the dying Jesus drank, even a tear Jesus shed at Lazarus's grave. In this quirky little book, Nickell (author of more than 20 books and columnist for Skeptical Inquirer) debunks those relics. Nickell examines the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns, chalices that people have identified as the Holy Grail and so on. Could any of these objects be what Christian enthusiasts claim? In Nickell's view, the answer is a simple no. He concludes that "not a single, reliably authenticated relic of Jesus exists." For example, a 2003 scientific examination of the so-called "Holy Lance," purported to be the spear with which Jesus was pierced on the Cross, found that the gold sheath dated to the 14th century. Nickell includes a bibliography, but footnotes, directing readers to the specific scientific research on which he relies in each chapter, would have been appropriate as well. One of the most interesting passages comes in the epilogue, where Nickell notes that some defenders of relics are sincere believers. A longer discussion of people's experiences with relics would have rounded out this book.