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Catholic Diocese of Christchurch archivist Triona Doocey has been carefully unpacking all the items and identifying them using a book of certificates compiled by Bishop Grimes.
She told RNZ reporter Ella Stewart that finding these relics has been a once in a life time experience:
“When you think of the reverential objects that they contain, these holy relics, and they’re in a Greggs coffee jar. Only in New Zealand!” Doocey said.
She said the containers were a pragmatic, reasonably watertight choice. “That was the 1970s,” she said.
“People were very practical.”
The jars held fragments of bone, including one vertebra, and reliquaries – small metal containers that hold relics.
Holy relics like these were once a core part of the Roman Catholic tradition.
In the first century, church authorities had decreed that the altar of every church should have a relic – a ruling that officially lasted until Catholic leaders discarded it in the late 1960s.
These had been displayed in the Christchurch Cathedral until the 1970s, when relics went out of fashion. At that point, they were buried in consecrated ground beneath the chapel.
Doocey was in the process of identifying which saints the relics belonged to – some names she’d identified were Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Vincent.
They had been brought to New Zealand by Bishop John Grimes, and Doocey said the collection included some “quite obscure” and unusual saints.
She said the church had old authenticity certificates for some relics, and hoped to connect with the Vatican archives to get more information.
-Additional reporting RNZ