Relics of Saint John the Baptist discovered in an ancient commandery

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It was in a small church in Auvergne that relics from the Holy Land attributed to Saint John the Baptist, undoubtedly brought by Hospitallers of the Order of Malta, were rediscovered. An official municipal and religious ceremony celebrated the reinstallation of the relics in the restored reliquary.

This Sunday, September 10 took place in Tortebesse, a small town of 80 souls (Puy-de-Dôme), an event certainly modest, but whose singularity deserves to be recounted and meditated on. A year ago, a public commission in charge of heritage and sacred art discovered, buried in a drawer in the sacristy of the small church dedicated to the Nativity of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, a box containing relics of the saint as well as Saint Blaise . The reliquary is in poor condition but experts quickly understand that it is a little gem which could regain all its splendor and also its place in a more enviable place in the church.

This relicwas not there by chance because Tortebesse was, from 1189 until the French Revolution, the seat of a commandery of the Hospitallers of the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, founded a century earlier in Palestine by Blessed Gérard under the protection of Saint John the Baptist. The church, the oldest parts of which date from the same period, once included other remains left by the Hospitallers such as the tombs of commanders and a knight’s sword which unfortunately disappeared over time. All that remains in the cemetery is a monument to the arms of Raymond de Foudras de Coutenson, commander from 1661 to 1680, surmounted by the famous eight-pointed cross characteristic of the Order of Malta, the name commonly given to the Order of Saint- John of Jerusalem since his long installation on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean.

Silver reliquary containing the relics of Saint John the Baptist.

Fabrice de Chanceuil

In agreement with the town hall and the parish, the silver reliquary, which does not reveal the quality of its metal due to its blackness, is entrusted to a restorer from Lyon who, upon examination of the hallmark, allows us to attest that it It is a 17th century piece made by Antoine Neyrat, a renowned master goldsmith from Clermont-Ferrand. Thanks to funding from the Association of Friends of the Clermont-Ferrand Cathedral , the reliquary was restored and it was an unrecognizable object which returned to Tortebesse on September 10.

At city hall

To give full meaning to this return, it was necessary to organize a ceremony worthy of the event. In these times of cautious secularism, the town hall had made it clear beforehand that it would be an “official Republican and Christian ceremony”. In fact, the demonstration began at the town hall where the mayor welcomed the vice-president of the Association of Friends of the Cathedral for a very comprehensive presentation on the history, placed in context, of the reliquary and the restorer for the presentation of the work carried out on the box. The ceremony continued at the church where Mgr François Kalist, Archbishop of Clermont, proceeded, with the parish priest, to the reinstallation of the relics in the reliquary and the installation of the seals, the latest dating back to 1809 when the bishop of the time,

The continuity of worship

In his homily, Mgr Kalist, clearly very touched to be present, developed a true theology of relics. Former bishop of Limoges, in a region very sensitive to the cult of saints, he insisted on the fact that beyond the beauty and value of the reliquaries, the important thing lies in the relics themselves. To strong minds, according to his expression, who have no trouble doubting the authenticity of certain relics, the Archbishop of Clermont opposed the continuity of worship reflecting a fidelity transmitted by oral tradition and attested by regular pose sealed by ecclesiastical authority and, on the other hand, the proximity allowing the faithful, by approaching the relics, to go towards the one for whom the saints thus venerated devoted their entire existence, Christ Jesus, Savior of the world. This is indeed why Saint John the Baptist and Saint Blaise, protector of the flocks, deserved to have a beautiful reliquary shining with a thousand lights, in the image of their sparkling apostolate and their life given to leading souls towards the light.

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