Cloth relics of the Virgin Mary

It is perfectly reasonable that the Church of Jerusalem, and later the universal Church, held in special honor and preserved the material memories of the mother of Jesus the Redeemer.

It is of course possible that, in a loving spirit, a little legend was added to reality in some cases.

The preservation of cloth relics began in the East, then spread to the West.

The relics of Mary's funeral clothing (cloak and belt)

In the middle of the 5th century, "the sovereigns [of Constantinople] asked the Archbishop [of Jerusalem] Juvenal to send them the funeral clothing of the glorious and all-Theotokos Mary that were there in this holy coffin duly sealed. Having received them, they deposited them in the shrine built at Blachernae in honor of the Theotokos."[1]

Thus the Church of Mary of Blacherna (Constantinople) housed the relics of Mary’s cloak, until the plunder of the city by the Crusaders, in the year 1204.

The Church of Chalcoprateia (Constantinople) preserved Mary’s belt until the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.

Other relics of the Virgin Mary

Long before the fall of Constantinople, Charlemagne received three veils from the Eastern emperor that had belonged to Mary, and which he kept in Aachen.

His grandson Charles the Bald sent two of them to France:

-     A silk veil was given to the Chartres cathedral in the year 876. In 1793, this veil was cut up and smaller relics sent to other cathedrals.

-     A linen-look veil was given to the Abbey of Saint-Corneille in Compiegne, in 876, where it is still today.

The third veil is still in Aachen.

The Tunic of Chartres [2]

In the 10th century, people didn’t so much speak of Mary’s veil, but of the Tunic or the Shirt she was wearing at the Annunciation, when the Word was conceived.

That is why pregnant women were given shirts that had been put in contact with the reliquary. And in the 17th century queens and dauphines of France received the same third-class relics, during a novena prayed on their behalf for a happy delivery.

In 1194, a fire raged for three days and destroyed most of the cathedral. Towards the end of the blaze, some clerics who had survived the fire by taking refuge in the crypt came up the staircase leading to the choir, with the precious relic saved from the fire.  This miraculous rescue probably explains the enthusiastic effort to rebuild the cathedral.

During the French Revolution, in the year 1793, the reliquary was opened and the veil cut up. Some small pieces are venerated in Rouen, and other places…

The veil of Compiègne

At the Abbey of Saint-Corneille, in the center lower side of the altar, is displayed in a magnificent champelve enamel encasing, as a priceless treasure, the "Virgin’s Veil" also called "the Veil of Compiegne."

The current encasing dates from 1930, but a 1666 inventory states that the veil was given to the abbey by the emperor Charles the Bald.

The veil is described as a very light color linen-like veil, with some old stains and the letters IPMINIRV - (Id Proprium Matris Jesu Nazareni Judaeorum Regis Velum: This is the veil of the Mother of Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.) It is 13 ft 9 in long.[3].

It can still be seen today. A border measuring 4 ½ yards in length, having neither an end nor a seam, shows that the veil must have been in the form of a cylinder and was meant to be folded double, or with a part resting on the head, and the other, on the shoulders. And "one can see, very clearly, two brown spots" that have always been believed to be the blood of Jesus, fallen on the veil of Mary, at the foot of the Cross"[4].

Each year the precious relic is solemnly carried in procession on Assumption Day, and every day many faithful come to place themselves under Mary’s protection.


 [1] Saint John Damascene, excerpts from the "Second homily on the Dormition of Mary."

[2] André Trintignac, Découvrir Notre-Dame de Chartres - Ed. du Cerf, Paris 1988

[3] Archives of the department of Oise. H.2168: "Minutes of the translation of the Veil of the Virgin, August 15, 1666" and Canon Morel: "The Holy Relics venerated in the Church of St Jacques de Compiegne," p. 21

[4] "Description History of the Relics and Reliquaries of Saint-Corneille," 1770 - Canon Morel: "The Holy Relics venerated in the church of Saint-Jacques de Compiègne," p.25.