Pilgrimages and Relics

Pilgrimages and Relics

The attention paid to the bodies of "dead" saints is also familiar to Jews and to the Jewish scriptures. The burial site of the three Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has been venerated continually by Jews since their deaths about four thousand years ago.


As Catholics make pilgrimages to the tombs of "dead" saints (sometimes enclosed in churches) to pray, so do Jews, both in Biblical times and still today. Today it is sometimes at the risk of their very lives, yet they continue.


Other tombs of Old Testament saints to which Jews go to pray include those of Joseph, Rachel, King David, and of the prophets Haggai, Malachi, and Samuel, all of which have been venerated for millenia.


We know that the tombs were held in great respect at the time of Jesus, for he himself mentioned that the Jews "build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous" (Matthew 23:29).


Jews make also pilgrimage to the tombs of many post-Biblical Jewish "saints", too. These are typically the great Jewish rabbis of the past two thousand years, such as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, Rabbi Akiva, the great medieval Jewish scholar and rabbi Maimonides, and on and on. Thousands of Jews from around the world visit these sites, year after year, to pray, make petitions, and pay their respects.


No, although there were many new aspects which I had to get used to when I embraced the Catholic faith, praying at the tombs of saints was not one of them!


The Catholic use of relics, too, is sometimes accused of being "idolatrous" and "non-Biblical", but in the Old Testament mere contact with the bones of the great prophet Elisha—without any prayer—brought a dead man back to life:

"So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha; and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet." (2 Kings 13:20-21)

Catholics are also sometimes criticised for praying to "dead" saints for their intercession. Yet the Old Testament is full of cases in which God granted special favors through the intercession of saints which He would not have granted the petitioner directly.


  • Abraham petitioning for God to spare Sodom if just ten righteous men could be found (Genesis 18), 
  • Moses interceding with God not to destroy the Jews for their worship of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32), 
  • and Elijah praying to bring a dead child back to life (1 Kings 17).


In fact, Elijah is a particularly interesting example, because according to Scriptures, he never died, but went up to Heaven alive (2 Kings 2), from whence he will return just before the end of the world (Malachi 4). So the question is: If Elijah was willing to intercede on behalf of a petitioner before he was taken up to Heaven, and his prayer was particularly effective, would he not be equally willing, and even more able to, now that he is in heaven in the presence of God ? He is not even dead! And it cannot be that he no longer has any interest in affairs on earth, because we know that he will return in the last days to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest [God] come and smite the land with a curse" (Malachi 4:5)


Roy Schoeman