The Maitreye Project Heart Shrine Relic Tour hits Saskatoon Public Library

September 9, 2011

In case you’re in or around Saskatoon this weekend and want to pop in:

Friday: 10am to 5pm
Saturday: 10am to 5pm
Sunday: 1pm to 4pm

Downstairs in Room 3 and the theatre at Frances Morrison Library, 311-23rd Street East.

What the hell is it? That’s a good question, and the same one I asked when I found out this was happening. The Heart Shrine Relic Tour offers the public a look at some of Buddhism’s cherished religious relics. As an atheist, and one who finds the notion of relics to be fascinating, I feel compelled to go.

A unique and precious collection of more than 1000 sacred Buddhist relics will be permanently displayed in the Heart Shrine of the completed Maitreya Buddha statue in Kushinagar. Meanwhile, it is the wish of the Spiritual Director of the Maitreya Project, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, that the collection should travel throughout the world to bring the blessings of the relics and the message of loving-kindness to people everywhere.

Most of the relics — those found among the cremation ashes of Buddhist masters — resemble beautiful pearl-like crystals. Buddhists believe these relics are produced as a result of the master’s spiritual qualities of compassion and wisdom. Since we can all develop these qualities, the relics are a reminder of our own essential nature of purity and our inner potential to manifest that.

Skeptics should be open minded so I’ll go and have a look at these leftovers from the cremation process and see if I’m moved to be more compassionate and wise because of them. Failing that, I think I’ll be interested in the spectacle and beauty of the Shrine itself. When people really care about something, they do a fantastic job of showing it.


Thief caught attempting to sell rare Jesus art

August 6, 2011

“Frosty” had been storing the linen painting in a cupboard in his motor home, wrapped up in a bag. It had been a gift twenty years previous. His caretaker, Kelly Ghormley, learned of it somehow, knew it’d be worth a few bucks to the right buyer and decided to steal it from the 73 year old man. Ghormley then attempted to sell the cloth to Saint Joseph the Worker Church in their town, Madisonville, Tennessee, but those at the church realized what it was right away and alerted police. The painting

is actually believed to be a portrait of Jesus that was taken from the Veil of Veronica. Although not mentioned in the Bible, Roman Catholic tradition believes Veronica wiped Jesus’ face with a cloth, and the imprint of his face was kept on the veil. The painting contains the seal of Pope Leo XIII.

Which makes the art around 150 years old. Those in the know are unsure of how many cloths like this were produced but it’s still something of a rarity and valued in the range of $60,000 or more, going by the charge laid on Ghormley.

The Daily Mail has a picture of the thing and credits God moving in mysterious ways for why this lost piece of art “miraculously” came to light.

Ordinary human greed seems to be the more likely suspect if you ask me. Neither article includes information about what “Frosty” plans to do with his art now. Maybe he’ll sell it off legally now that he has a better idea of its worth. Time will tell.

“I love cannibals!” I mean, Catholics…

April 29, 2011

Eat of my body, drink of my blood… The whole mass tradition winds up sounding kind of creepy. Cannibalism has an interesting history though and remains a fascinating intellectual exercise. For some other time, though.

When Catholics aren’t symbolically eating Jesus, they’re revering pope blood. John Paul II is on the fast track to beatification and part of getting him there has justified hanging onto his blood “donations.” They will be used as part of the ceremony and then kept among the collections of holy relics the Church already covets around the world.

The Vatican made the announcement Tuesday, putting to rest questions about what relic would be presented during Sunday’s beatification.

In a statement, the Vatican said four small vials of blood had been taken from John Paul during his final days for a possible transfusion, but were never used. Two of the vials were given to John Paul’s private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and another two remained at the Vatican’s Bambin Gesu hospital in the care of nuns.

One of the hospital vials will be placed in a reliquary and presented Sunday; the other will remain with the nuns.

I wondered if there were other blood relics anywhere and found one at the basilica Saint-Basilius, AKA The Holy Blood of Bruges (in Bruges, naturally) where the faithful can gaze upon and venerate the relic every Friday.

According to the old tradition, Derrick of Alsace, Count of Flanders, brought the relic of the Holy Blood with him after the second crusade, having received it in the Holy Land (1150).

Because of his exceptional heroism during this crusade, Derrick received this relic, with the approval of the patriarch of Jerusalem, from the hands of his brother-in-law, Baldwin III of Anjou, King of Jerusalem.

Arriving in Bruges on april 7th 1150, Count Derrick, accompanied by his wife Sybilla of Anjou and Leonius, abbot of Saint Bertin’s abbey of Saint Omar, brought the relic to the Basilius chapel on the Burg, a chapel which he himself had built.

According to legend, some Templars had found a stone jar in the “Holy Grave” in Jerusalem on Christmas day and became convinced it held Christ’s blood. It held a liquid of some kind, for certain, which they poured into an octagonal bottle they had on hand and sealed the liquid inside it.

Sybilla of Anjou was a leper who suffered from terrible attacks of fever. After the sealing of the bottle, she held the precious Relic in her hands for just a moment, triggering in her a vision of “a New Jerusalem of the West”: the city of Bruges. In the same moment Sybilla and all lepers surrounding here had been miraculously cured.

If you can’t get to Bruges, there’s always the option to buy something that supposedly touched the blood itself, a bargain at ten dollars.

We will send you this very special package. Inside you will find a very special piece of material that has been touched to this rare Holy Blood relic that was preserved by Joseph of Arimathea.

Your package will come with a piece of material in a package that was touched to an authentic piece of Joseph of Arimathea’s cloth, certificate of authenticity, a history sheet, and a Holy Relic card.

And if this doesn’t interest you, they also sell tea.

Christ’s crucifixion nails have been found (again)

April 13, 2011

I know, I know. Just in time for Easter, right? Must be true then.

an Israeli television journalist has produced a pair of nails he says may have been used to crucify Jesus Christ. “We’re not saying these are the nails,” says Simcha Jacobovici, holding aloft a pair of smallish iron spikes with the tips hammered to one side. “We’re saying these could be the nails.”

This could also be conjecture in action and the nails could have been used for just about anything at one point or another.

When a tomb was discovered in 1990, bones were found in a box and it’s been assumed it marked the final resting place Caiaphas, the priest and juror who helped seal Christ’s fate.

Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) listed everything found in the cave, including two Roman nails. But unlike everything else in the grave, the nails were otherwise unaccounted for. They were not measured, sketched or photographed, and nowhere to be found in the IAA’s vast collection.

It’s being assumed the nails were snuck out of the tomb at some point because a pair wound up at the Tel Aviv University laboratory for analysis later. Interestingly, Professor Israel Hershkowitz already had a nail from a different tomb on the premises. Maybe it’s the one the Telegraph reported on the year before, in an article headlined — you’ve probably already guessed this — “Nail from Christ’s crucifixion found?”

Bryn Walters, an archaeologist, said the iron nail’s remarkable condition suggested it had been handed with extreme care, as if it was a relic.

“It dates from the first to second centuries,” he told the Daily Mirror.

While one would expect the surface to be “pitted and rough” he said on this nail the surface was smooth.

That suggested that many people had handled it over the centuries, with the acid on their hands giving it a “peculiar finish”.

Christopher Macklin of the Knights Templar of Britannia said the discovery was “momentous”.

He said the original Knights Templar may have thought it was one of the nails used in Christ’s crucifixion.

Doesn’t mean the knights were right, obviously. At some point I’m going to really have to research this relic business. I’m forever fascinated by it. I’m guessing forgeries (or at least mistaken identities) must have be a constant threat to those who wanted to believe they possessed originals. And today it seems every find from that area of the world is assumed to be a direct link to biblical history, as if no other people beyond those actually named in the bible would have been living there at the time. Always the search for physical proof that their religions aren’t a made up lie.

On the topic of lies and forgery, I’ve started reading a different book now, Forged: writing in the name of God–why the Bible’s authors are not who we think they are by Bart D. Ehrman. I think it’s going to be enlightening and quite enjoyable. It’ll definitely generate a blog post or two once I’m further into it.

Back to the Time article:

the case arrives with no shortage of loose ends. The IAA’s inventory states that one nail was found on the floor of the tomb, or cave, and another was found inside an ossuary. But there were 12 ossuaries in the tomb, and there is no record of which one it was in.

Nor is it clear which box most likely contained the bones of the priest the Gospels say pushed Jesus toward death. Caiaphas is an unusual name, not found in any of the other 2,000 ossuaries recovered so far around Jerusalem from roughly the time of Christ. But in this tomb, the name shows up twice. Scholars have focused on an ornate box labeled “Joseph, son of Caiaphas,” but Jacobovici suggests the priest’s bones were gathered in a simpler one labeled only “Caiaphas.”

Last names really were a terrific invention. What country gets credit for coming up with that way to keep families sorted? The following has nothing to do with this but I’m reminded of something I read (forget where, sorry) that “son” wouldn’t have necessarily meant direct descendant at this point in history, but any boy child from that genetic lineage, no matter how distantly related. I also wonder if this habit of calling everyone a son is what led people to call their priests Father. End of digression.

Gaby Barkay, a professor at Bar Ilan University and probably the most prominent archeologist in Israel, offers another explanation. Jews at the time of Christ “were impurity freaks,” Barkay says. Anything in the vicinity of a corpse was thought to be contaminated by death, even a nail stuck in a nearby wall. “Therefore it would probably be removed and put into the grave,” he says.

Documentaries of the kind Jacobovici has produced exist for entertainment. Barkay admits that they’re interesting to people but says, “This is not the way to draw conclusions in science,” and he’s right. You can’t just jump to a conclusion and ignore due process if you want to be taken seriously. But the media likes a conclusion to jump on, the sooner the better, so researchers oblige and share amazing results of discovery a lot earlier than some of them should. Especially when said results are soon falsified or challenged by other research in those fields. Fewer people are likely to see those headlines, though.

I’d love to see the Treasures of Heaven exhibit in London

March 24, 2011

I’m fascinated by the concept of religious relics. I doubt the validity of any claim put to them about their origins but I love the fact that people have hung onto an old thorn simply because they thought Jesus bled on it at some point. The thorn in question is just one part of a new display at the British Museum. Rumoured to come out of Constantinople, the supposed “Crown of Thorns” wound up in the hands of King Louis IX of France during his time in Venice. Louis pulled the thing apart over the years for wedding presents, the cheap bastard.

The thorn at Stonyhurst College – a 400-year-old Jesuit boarding school – was said to have been given to Mary Queen of Scots who married into the French royal family and she took it with her to Holyrood in Edinburgh.

And following her execution in 1587, it was passed from her loyal servant, Thomas Percy, to his daughter, Elizabeth Woodruff, who then gave it to her confessor – a Jesuit priest – in 1600.

The Jesuits brought it with them to the college and it has been kept at the Ribble Valley college every since.

It sounds like they’ve got a hell of an exhibit set up, with a Roman sarcophagus and pieces from the Vatican on loan, too. Sometimes I really wish I was a trendy jet-setter instead of a cheap Canadian…

Italian scientists prove Turin shroud could be duplicated

October 7, 2009

which just goes to show that the “original” might also have been a fake.

Results from carbon dating and other tests done over twenty years ago showed that the fabric likely originated from sometime around the 14th century. For this experiment, researchers looked into exactly how the face effect might have been achieved.

They placed a linen sheet flat over a volunteer and then rubbed it with a pigment containing traces of acid. A mask was used for the face.

The pigment was then artificially aged by heating the cloth in an oven and washing it, a process which removed it from the surface but left a fuzzy, half-tone image similar to that on the Shroud. He believes the pigment on the original Shroud faded naturally over the centuries.

They then added blood stains, burn holes, scorches and water stains to achieve the final effect.

The Catholic Church does not claim the Shroud is authentic nor that it is a matter of faith, but says it should be a powerful reminder of Christ’s passion.

Interesting. But, it’s a piece of cloth that’s caused no end of strife, so they’re probably just covering the bases here. Who knows how much they really know about its origins.

Of course, the truly devout pay no attention to what science comes up with, even if science is dancing around like it’s won. And it kind of has, at least in demonstrating, yet again, that miracles aren’t always miracles. There can be practical explanations for pretty much everything, if the desire and ability to figure it out is there.

That said, I have to agree with Carl from Reasonable Dissent in his complaints about this. The funding for the research came from an atheist/agnostic group in Italy. Was this the best use of their fund-raising? Hardly. They could have put it into promoting the atheist alternative lifestyle instead, host some programs, get some speakers in, whatever.

Research like this probably won’t change many minds. Gloating over research like this isn’t going to endear us to our superstitious friends who do think the cloth is somehow marked by the divine. It wouldn’t matter how many cloths we painted, the first would still be the One and all of ours would just be pale imitations unworthy of note.

Garlaschelli expects people to contest his findings.

“If they don’t want to believe carbon dating done by some of the world’s best laboratories they certainly won’t believe me,” he said.

And that’s all there is to it.