Relic goes on sale Church protests auctioning pieces of 'Jesus' cross'

May 13, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PARIS -- Despite warnings by a Vatican official that it is a sin to trade in relics, two slivers of olive tree said to come from the cross on which Jesus was crucified were sold for more than $18,000 in a crowded auction house here yesterday.

Accompanying the bits of wood were two certificates, one dated 1855 from the Vatican apparently authenticating the wood as part of Jesus' cross and the other dated 1856 recording that it was a gift from the patriarch of Jerusalem to Edouard Thouvenel, at the time France's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor of present-day Turkey.

The wood was put up for auction by Mr. Thouvenel's heirs, who stipulated that proceeds should go to an association for autistic children in Paris. The auctioneer and the Drouot auction house waived their fees.

The auctioneer, Marie-Francoise Chochon, placed the opening price at 10,000 francs, or $1,858. Higher bids quickly followed, with the sale completed 90 seconds later when an unidentified, middle-aged woman sitting in the front row of the auction room offered 100,000 francs, or $18,587.

The two pieces of wood, just one-tenth and two-tenths of an inch long, lie in the form of the cross inside a tiny oval-shaped box with a crystal cover, itself only six-tenths of an inch long. The back of the bronze box carries the Vatican seal.

Wood supposed to have come from Jesus' cross can be found in many European churches and convents as well as in Rome, but there is no record of any having been sold before.

Vatican experts have often remarked that the cross would have been huge if all the pieces of wood claimed to be relics were authentic.

The Vatican certificate accompanying the wood is a form prepared to authenticate all relics, with sections filled in by hand stating that this relic is wood from Jesus' cross and describing the box in which it is kept.

The certificate carries the signatures of Constantin, vicar general, and Carolus, guardian of holy relics.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Divine Cult and the Discipline of the Sacraments has said that it can neither confirm nor challenge the document's authenticity, but it has argued that there is nothing to prove that this certificate relates to the object put up for auction.

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