The mystery and controversy of Christian relics – Today on CNN

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By Drew Kann, CNN

Investigate the relics of Christianity and discover new insights into the historical Jesus on the CNN Original Series “Finding Jesus,” Sunday nights at 9 ET/PT.

Remember how Hollywood portrayed the supernatural powers of the Holy Grail in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”?

Or the time-traveling adventures of Kevin and the dwarves in Terry Gilliam’s “Time Bandits”?

Dr. Georges Kazan does.

Kazan, who is co-director of Oxford University’s School of Archaeology relics cluster and a collegium research fellow at the University of Turku, first got hooked on the mystery and intrigue of Christian relics by watching films like that.

“Since I was a child, I’ve been curious about relics, physical objects believed by so many people to be imbued with holy power, offering insights into the nature of mortality and the divine,” Kazan said in a recent phone interview.

From the bones of early saints to holy burial shrouds, various Christian relics are scattered across the globe. They have played a critical role in spreading Christianity, which is now practiced by 2.2 billion people.

Some relics inspire pilgrims to undertake long journeys so they can see these powerful objects, giving 21st century believers a tangible, physical connection to the origins of their deeply held faith.

Now, with the help of technology, researchers have new tools that may cut through some of the mystery surrounding relics. Given the devotion they inspire in many Christians, here’s how archaeologists and scholars wade through the history, science and controversy to explore these objects of faith.

Making the past present

Though some of the world’s most famous relics are venerated by Christians — like the Shroud of Turin and the bones of Saint Peter — Christianity is hardly the first religion in which relics are important, Kazan said.

So why have these ancient objects endured over the centuries, and why are they revered by so many?

Dr. Robert Cargill, author of “The Cities That Built the Bible,” said it comes down to our fundamental need to connect with the past, a desire that isn’t actually exclusive to religion.

“I can read all the books I want about the Eiffel Tower, but if I go to Paris and climb the Eiffel Tower, all of a sudden that history becomes real to me,” said Cargill. “That becomes something that’s going to be carved into my brain.”

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A picture of the shroud of Turin

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