Visiting Relics in New York City

shrine ceiling holy redeemers

(The ceiling of the relic shrine)

I had a bit of an adventure today. For quite a few months I’ve been wanting to visit the Church of the Holy Redeemer (173rd E. 3rd Street, between Avenues A and B in Manhattan). I found out that this is one of the very few churches containing a saint’s body in the US. I have an interest, both academic and personal in relics, bones, ossuaries and the like, but they’re rare commodities in the United States. Such things are, for the most part, a Catholic phenomena and the United States was predominantly settled by Protestants. By the time we gained a substantial Catholic population, elaborate relic chapels were falling out of favor even amongst European Catholic communities. So I was, needless to say, very excited when I found that there was a full body relic (as well as 104 smaller relics) right here in New York City.

It’s bitterly cold here in New York today, so I almost cancelled my outing but I’m so glad I didn’t. I met up with two good friends after work (I teach on Friday mornings in the Bronx), MAG and FMF and we braved the cold to go look at some bones. It was awesome.

most holy redeemer

(The relic shrine with the body of St. Datian)

St. Datian was an obscure Roman martyr. His relic – in this case the saint’s complete body encased in wax—was translated to the US in the late 1800s and rests in the church with over one hundred other relics (bits and pieces, not full bones or bodies). He was apparently a one time persecutor of Christians who converted. Little else is known about him. In addition to St. Datian, the small relic chapel (gone are the days when a body of a saint would take pride of place near the main altar) holds over one hundred other, small relics. The church itself, though relatively plain on the outside is more ornate German baroque style. It’s in some disrepair, but still quite lovely inside (though it doesn’t hold a candle to a European Church of the same caliber). According to what I was able to find on the net, the church is open until 8pm, but they closed up around 4pm, almost chasing us out.

So we got there and found the relic shrine, away from the main altar in a nook on the right, one of several devotional nooks lining either wall. The shrine is lovely and it was a shame that it wasn’t well lit (though this may have been because the church was getting ready to close for the day. The only shrine well lit was Our Lady of Perpetual Help, which I’ll talk about in a moment). St. Datian is small—it always surprises me how small the bodies of some of these saints are. I’ll bet he’s barely over five feet!) but the design of the shrine was quite aesthetically pleasing.

sleepy saint datian

(not the best photo: it was very, very dark and he was behind glass)

A completely unexpected surprise was the shrine to Mary. Apparently, this church is a recognized, official pilgrimage site dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and Her shrine was beautiful (though the sign, informing devotees that the candles were electric and we should not use matches to light them had me chuckling a bit). I think this was the most beautiful part of the entire church. The stained glass above and around the icon of Mary was breathtaking.

shrine holy redeemer

(the Mary chapel)

All in all it was a most satisfying visit, though I do want to go back when the Church is well lit.

mary shrine holy redeemer church

(the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help)


(all images are mine. Please do not use without permission.)






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