While reading The Innocents Abroad it's obvious Mark Twain was not impressed by the religious relics he saw in his journeys. He mentions a fragment of, and nails from, the True Cross, part of the crown of thorns, a marble chest containing St John's ashes and a length of chain used to confine him in prison, portraits of the Virgin Mary painted by St Luke, various saints' fingers (not to mention one of Judas Iscariot's bones), and a stone from the holy sepulchre.
As he put it:
But isn't this relic matter a little overdone? We find a piece of the true cross in every old church we go into, and some of the
nails that held it together. I would not like to be positive, but I think we have seen as much as a keg of these nails. Then there is the crown of thorns; they have part of one in Sainte Chapelle, in Paris, and part of one also in Notre Dame. And as for bones of St. Denis, I feel certain we have seen enough of them to duplicate him if necessary.
Obviously not everyone would agree, for such relics have been revered from the earliest days of the church. Forged relics, of course, were not unknown.
Constantinople during the period in which we write held numerous relics of saints and martyrs and we specifically mentioned one in an earlier entry in our historical mystery series when in Five For Silver a holy fool attempts to steal the piece of the column of flagellation to which Christ was bound for his scourging. It was in the care of the Church of the Holy Apostles, which also possessed relics of Andrew, Luke, and a number of other saints and martyrs.
Naturally, relics of the Holy Family were particularly important. When we set out to write Ten For Dying we decided the item stolen from the Church of the Holy Apostles would be a piece of the shroud of the Mother of God, a relic currently said to be held by Aachen Cathedral. We based this on a fifth century history that relates Mary's shroud travelled from the Holy Land to the Church of the Virgin in Blachernae in Constantinople in the mid-400s.
Although one source terms it the Virgin's robe, as we state in the novel's afterword we took advantage of our literary license to subscribe to the view of Cyril of Scythopolis, who described the relic as Mary's shroud.
Thus as Ten For Dying opens, two demons run off with the piece of this shroud while a dark ceremony is in progress at the tomb of the recently deceased Empress Theodora...
Mary Reed and Eric Mayer co-write the John, Lord Chamberlain series, set in and around the sixth century Constantinople court of Justinian. The tenth entry, Ten For Dying, will appear from Poisoned Pen Press in March 2014. Information on this and their other fiction can be viewed on their website at http://home.earthlink.net/~maywrite/