Thomas Becket is getting a tiny piece of his elbow back, after it is paraded around the UK for a bit. The bit was in Hungry, probably since his re-interment in 1220.
Ah, but for those of you who are Religious History Challenged, who was Thomas Becket?
I am more interested in the very concept of relics. The veneration of relics is based, in part, on 2 Kings 13:20–21, where a dead man comes to life when coming into contact with Elisha's bones, and in part on Acts 19:11–12, in which Paul's handkerchief is seemingly imbued with power. By 400 the veneration of relics is taken for granted by writers like Augustine. Although officially the veneration of relics was not directed at the object, but rather at the holy person and ultimately at God, for the average person the relic became a kind of magical object. In the great Economy of Grace it was another means for the transference of God's power. Rome, and later the Holy Land, became a destination for pilgrimages to venerate the objects. By the Crusades there was a thriving parallel economy, this one in gold and favors traded for objects purported to be connected to saints.
The Catholic church divides relics into three classes:
First-Class Relics: items directly associated with the events of Christ's life (manger, cross, etc.) or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, skull, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr's relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints. Parts of the saint that were significant to that saint's life are more prized relics. For instance, King St. Stephen of Hungary's right forearm is especially important because of his status as a ruler. A famous theologian's head may be his most important relic. (The head of St. Thomas Aquinas was removed by the monks at the Cistercian abbey at Fossanova where he died.) If a saint did a lot of traveling, then the bones of his feet may be prized. Catholic teaching prohibits relics to be divided up into small, unrecognizable parts if they are to be used in liturgy (i.e., as in an altar; see the rubrics listed in Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar).
Second-Class Relics: items that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, rosary, book, etc. Again, an item more important in the saint's life is thus a more important relic. Sometimes a second-class relic is a part of an item that the saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) and is known as ex indumentis ("from the clothing").
Third-Class Relics: any object that is touched to a first- or second-class relic. Most third-class relics are small pieces of cloth, though in the first millennium oil was popular; the Monza ampullae contained oil collected from lamps burning before the major sites of Christ's life, and some reliquaries had holes for oil to be poured in and out again. Many people call the cloth touched to the bones of saints "ex brandea". But ex brandea strictly refers to pieces of clothing that were touched to the body or tombs of the apostles. It is a term that is used only for such; it is not a synonym for a third-class relic.
As a Protestant,a Low Church one at that, and something of an occult scholar, academic non-practicing, I see the Law of Contagion at work in these beliefs (if you want an explanation of the relevant laws of magic from me you can buy Imperial Age Magick and ignore the game material or for a more official take try Issac Bonowits' Real Magic).
So I don't give it much credence. On the other hand I am more and more open to different ways to experience God in life so who knows.