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August 29, 2006


Philip Howard

Hmm... But often they're not canonized until way after death?! And, if the Church is unsure, are we supposed to create crypts or holding areas for all potential saints? - PH

Brother Robert

Just curious: from where/whom did you learn this yesterday?

I'll skim the CIC in my spare time, but at first glance it seems against common sense.

Dan Crawford

Damn, something else to worry about.

Old Zhou

From American Catholic "Ask a Franciscan" column:

- folks can be buried before they are canonized

A person with an unknown grave can be beatified or canonized. There is no grave, for example, for St. Maximilian Kolbe who was murdered at Auschwitz in 1941. If the place of burial is known, there is a “public recognition of the body” before the beatification.

I suppose that after canonization, any available "relics" from the bodily remains of the saint should not be buried.

From Catholic Culture:

Relics include the physical remains of a saint (or of a person who is considered holy but not yet officially canonized) as well as other objects which have been "sanctified" by being touched to his body. These relics are divided into two classes: First class or real relics include the physical body parts, clothing and instruments connected with a martyr's imprisonment, torture, and execution. Second class or representative relics are those which the faithful have touched to the physical body parts or grave of the saint.


The veneration of relics of the saints is found in the early history of the Church. A letter written by the faithful of the Church in Smyrna in the year 156 provides an account of the death of St. Polycarp, their bishop, who was burned at the stake. The letter reads, "We took up the bones, which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom." Essentially, the relics — the bones and other remains of St. Polycarp — were buried, and the tomb itself was the "reliquary." Other accounts attest that the faithful visited the burial places of the saints and miracles occurred. Moreover, at this time, we see the development of "feast days" marking the death of the saint, the celebration of Mass at the burial place and a veneration of the remains.

After the legalization of the Church in 313, the tombs of saints were opened and the actual relics were venerated by the faithful. A bone or other bodily part was placed in a reliquary — a box, locket and later a glass case — for veneration. This practice especially grew in the Eastern Church, while the practice of touching cloth to the remains of the saint was more common in the West. By the time of the Merovingian and Carolingian periods of the Middle Ages, the use of reliquaries was common throughout the whole Church.

....the Council of Trent (1563) defended invoking the prayers of the saints, and venerating their relics and burial places: "The sacred bodies of the holy martyrs and of the other saints living with Christ, which have been living members of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit and which are destined to be raised and glorified by Him unto life eternal, should also be venerated by the faithful. Through them, many benefits are granted to men by God."

Since that time, the Church has taken stringent measures to insure the proper preservation and veneration of relics. The Code of Canon Law (No. 1190) absolutely forbids the selling of sacred relics and they cannot be "validly alienated or perpetually transferred" without permission of the Holy See. Moreover, any relic today would have proper documentation attesting to its authenticity. The Code also supports the proper place for relics in our Catholic practice: Canon 1237 states, "The ancient tradition of keeping the relics of martyrs and other saints under a fixed altar is to be preserved according to the norms given in the liturgical books," (a practice widespread since the fourth century). Many Churches also have relics of their patron saints which the faithful venerate on appropriate occasions.

So, I suppose that the body of a canonized saint is a relic (or bunch of potential relics), and hence it would be "illegal" to bury it/them in the ground (and they would probably be subject to being dug up anyway).

Brother Robert

I'm copying the sections of canon law that seem (to my untrained eye) to be relevant. I see nothing about burying a saint underground. Might this be a civil law in some Catholic country?

The Code is easily available at www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_INDEX.HTM.


Can. 1186 To foster the sanctification of the people of God, the Church commends to the special and filial reverence of the Christian faithful the Blessed Mary ever Virgin, Mother of God, whom Christ established as the mother of all people, and promotes the true and authentic veneration of the other saints whose example instructs the Christian faithful and whose intercession sustains them.

Can. 1187 It is permitted to reverence through public veneration only those servants of God whom the authority of the Church has recorded in the list of the saints or the blessed.

Can. 1188 The practice of displaying sacred images in churches for the reverence of the faithful is to remain in effect. Nevertheless, they are to be exhibited in moderate number and in suitable order so that the Christian people are not confused nor occasion given for inappropriate devotion.

Can. 1189 If they are in need of repair, precious images, that is, those distinguished by age, art, or veneration, which are exhibited in churches or oratories for the reverence of the faithful are never to be restored without the written permission of the ordinary; he is to consult experts before he grants permission.

Can. 1190 §1. It is absolutely forbidden to sell sacred relics.

§2. Relics of great significance and other relics honored with great reverence by the people cannot be alienated validly in any manner or transferred permanently without the permission of the Apostolic See.

§3. The prescript of §2 is valid also for images which are honored in some church with great reverence by the people.

and maybe:


Can. 1240 §1. Where possible, the Church is to have its own cemeteries or at least areas in civil cemeteries that are designated for the deceased members of the faithful and properly blessed.

§2. If this cannot be achieved, however, then individual graves are to be properly blessed.

Can. 1241 §1. Parishes and religious institutes can have their own cemetery.

§2. Other juridic persons or families can also have a special cemetery or tomb, to be blessed according to the judgment of the local ordinary.

Can. 1242 Bodies are not to be buried in churches unless it is a question of burying in their own church the Roman Pontiff, cardinals, or diocesan bishops, including retired ones.

Can. 1243 Particular law is to establish appropriate norms about the discipline to be observed in cemeteries, especially with regard to protecting and fostering their sacred character.

Samuel J. Howard

From the Catholic Encyclopedia article on relics:

" in the earlier forms of canonization Bulls it was customary to add a clause directing that the remains of those whose sanctity was thus proclaimed by the head of the Church should be "elevated", or translated, to some shrine above ground where fitting honour could be paid them."

Michael Tinkler

Eh--whatever the current canons, pracctice has varied. The public display above ground really got underway in the 11th century (there are earlier examples, but they were pretty tentative. There's a lot to be said for understanding the design of the east end of Romanesque churches (hence most stuff north of the Alps after 1070 or so) as vehicles for the DISPLAY of relics -- raised choirs, raised altars, etc. That practice certainly continued, but I am not aware of any canon requiring the display or forbidding the burial - unlike the canons demanding that every altar contain a relic.


"to bury a canonized saint underground"

I think the statement is confusing? since no one is made a saint before they die, then all future saints are buried underground? i guess this means they are not re-buried ..... in modern times the bodies are usually dug up to be inspected during the long process and if they are finally proclaimed a Saint it would make sense to have them above ground for easier veneration?

(i read once that the lack of having a body can complicate things....as in the case of Edith Stein. there could be some very slight chance that a person escapes....with no witness of the death or burial they might just be in hiding or whatever. i know that sounds crazy but all possibilities have to be covered?)

Fr. J

They dig up the body to confirm the one buried there is indeed the one to be canonized. Sort of a truth in advertizing thing. Usually they also take relics and record any evidence of sanctity ie. incorrupt. They may then rebury the body or place it somewhere for veneration (according to the norms of law). So yes, the body can be buried underground. There is no law against it as for as I know.


Slightly off tangent, but the body of Mgr Oscar Romero was transfered to a ornate bronze tomb not so long ago. Does anyone know if this had anything to do with his beatification process?

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