Pope gives away Peter’s bones.

The Ecumenical Patriarch was first to announce on July 1 that Pope Francis gave the reliquary containing the bones of Peter, separated from the basilica’s confessio by St. Pope Paul VI, to Constantinople. According to the testimony of the delegation of the Patriarch, the donation seems to have been impromptu, unscripted, and perhaps insensitive to Roman Catholic sensibilities; The Bishop of Rome is said to have explained that “I” no longer use the apostolic palace, and “I” no longer use the pontifical chapel. Francis who at times seeks to empower local churches has perhaps acted rather autocratically. Under the terms of international heritage and patrimony law the transfer would likely be judged as an invalid transfer or destruction of universal patrimony by an improper authority. The relics of Peter since time immemorial belong to the spiritual patrimony of Rome and the Church universal, not to a given pope in any historical moment to dispose of as he wishes. In fact, the papal donation seems to evidence the problematic practise of the contemporary papacy that Orthodoxy critiques.



  1. From what I have read, so far, i’m Inclined to disagree with your interpretation of this significant event.
    1. The relics of St Peter remain in the shrine under the main altar of the Basilica. They are still there and Pope Francis hasn’t given them away.
    2. During the 1960s, Paul Paul VI had nine chips taken from the bones of St Peter’s remains which he had placed in a reliquary kept in the private chapel of the Apostolic Palace. He said he wanted to be close to Peter and pray before them daily.
    3. Since Pope Francis doesn’t live in the Apostolic Palace, he presented the relics to be gifted to the Patriarch of Constantinople. He says this was a spontaneous gesture and a sign of the Christian unity.

    I think it’s wrong to skew and twist Pope Francis’ actions and motives here. He certainly hasn’t betrayed the “tradition” and carelessly given away our patrimony as is being suggested. Nor is the Church doomed because Peter has left Rome as I’ve read on one conservative website. The relics of St Peter remain where they have always laid. However a few small pieces from his bones have been shared with the Head of our sister Church. This is an act of pure genius by Francis – realities are greater than abstractions – pure theology in the making! What greater sign of unity could there be than both the Patriarchs of the West, and the East, praying before Peter upon whose rock I build my Church!

    1. Although in the East, as with the Church Fathers, the ‘Rock’ was Peter’s Faith, not the person of Peter.

      1. I’m sorry it was both Peter and his faith. He was referred to as the head of the choir of apostles.

  2. What on earth is Pray Tell doing hosting an article like this one? Why not just link to LifeSiteNews? Their headline is as fatuous and insulting as the one given here.

    Sharing a precious relic with the Ecumenical Patriarch is a profound and moving gesture in the cause of unity. You need to be malicious or dim-witted to think this is “giving it away”.

    Did Pope St Paul VI “give away” his papal ring when he presented it to Archbishop Ramsey in 1966, and what did that say about his regard for the papal office?

  3. He did give a reliquary with *some of* the relics, yes, but the majority remain as they have for decades in Rome. This makes it sound like he gave them all away without any sense of their value, when, in fact, it is a profound gesture of generosity precisely because of his awareness of their value that is meant to foster the unity that only human sin and failing prevents.

  4. I read the linked article and I must say I agree that the facts are not nearly as alarming as the post suggests. An astonishing gesture, to be sure, but also an inspiring one. I never even knew that Pope Paul had set these apart a small portion of these relics for his personal prayer, which is what seems selfish to me, not Pope Francis’s gesture. If a few tiny fragments of bone (which, despite the article’s assertion, can never be fully authenticated) can help to mend a thousand year division within Christianity, they are on an important mission. Godspeed!

    1. The relics were displayed once at the end of the Year of Faith. Having studied Christian archaeology in Rome I am firmly convinced that the structural memory of the built environment of Christian Rome is a testament to the authenticity of the ancient relics of the city. Centuries of buildings and pilgrimage do not make mistakes. Its a long discussion…

      1. They discovered several sets of bones. The archeologist who did the excavations had doubts. Pius XII said we could never be certain. Frederico Lombardi said the same thing (on behalf of JPII, I believe) decades later. Paul VI believed it and you believe it, but not everyone is convinced.

  5. Interesting reactions. The fragments separated from the Trophy of Gauis are being characterized in some comments as somehow less important. Indeed, all of relics at the Trophy, or in the papal apartment are bone fragments of the same source, so its a relative retort. The fact is, the Bishop of Rome has given away some of the relics most precious to the history of Western Christianity and certainly of Rome. The point of the relics are not their size, but the faith and patrimony that they represent. The decision *was* an impromptu and personal decision of Francis as the Patriarch’s office reports. While it may have been a significant gesture for the Orthodox (a point not in dispute), the action, it seems to me and many others, is at least tone deaf to the gesture’s reception of many Christians in the West. As Ut unum sint itself says: “By a mysterious design of Providence it is at Rome that [Peter] concludes his journey in following Jesus, and it is at Rome that he gives his greatest proof of love and fidelity. Likewise Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, gives his supreme witness at Rome. In this way the Church of Rome became the Church of Peter and of Paul.” I find it ironic that relics, which were only put on display by the Vatican once for the faithful who travel to Rome to venerate, were thought to be so out of sight and out of mind, they were gifted to Constantinople. As reported, I find the event is based in an ecclesial understanding indicative of immediate, absolute, and universal jurisdiction, that Ut unum sint recognizes as being “a difficulty for most other Christians.” Hence this symbolic action turns in on itself: to adapt the sentiment, Rome makes the Pope, not the Pope Rome.

  6. They literally are his to give away. The bone fragments (by definition, “non-significant relics” [cf. Congregation for the Causes of Saints, “Instruction: Relics in the Church; Authenticity and Conservation, 8 December 2017]) were once separated by a Successor of Peter for his own private devotion. Pope Francis, a later Successor of Peter, chose to gift this object of private devotion to an Eastern Patriarch in a magnanimous and public gesture of unity. According to the same instruction, it is the bishop’s right to do so. So, if not the Bishop of Rome, then who?

  7. I still don’t understand why you are so upset by this, especially since the vast majority of Peter’s relics remain where they always have been: under the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. But since you brought up “Ut Unum Sint,” don’t forget it also says: “With the power and the authority without which such an office would be illusory, the Bishop of Rome must ensure the communion of all the Churches. For this reason, he is the first servant of unity. This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church’s mission, discipline and the Christian life. It is the responsibility of the Successor of Peter to recall the requirements of the common good of the Church, should anyone be tempted to overlook it in the pursuit of personal interests” (no. 94). To me, that’s exactly what Pope Francis did: he put aside his personal interest of maintaining ownership of a small object of the pope’s private devotion and, in gifting it to the Eastern Patriarch, accomplished a grand gesture in service to the unity and common good of the entire Church.

  8. Pretty sure you can replace these bones with some others. You want some bones? I can get you some bones. Hell, I can get you some bones of Peter by 3 o’clock this afternoon.

    1. It reminds me of the relic-trafficker of Chaucer’s ‘The Pardoner’s Tale.’

      And how many heads did John the Baptist possess?

      Seriously, I also would feel that Paul VI should be criticised for disturbing the relics in the first place. It seems a misplaced act of personal devotion by one who is the guardian of these precious things for the whole Church, East and West.


  9. By tradition, the Church observes classes of relics. To a great degree, size does matter. More “value” is attached to relics that are identifiable as a whole object or significant part of one. A small fragment marked as “ex corp.” could be part of a bone, a tooth, or even a bit of hardened or desiccated flesh. Such items, divided up from a larger whole, are not licit for public veneration. The Church no longer approves of chopping up larger relics for the purpose of distribution.

    These relics of St Peter were for the private devotion of Pope Paul, it seems. They have no public value for the Roman Catholic faithful unless we reject a “by the book” approach. Clearly, they have great symbolic value given the amount of praise, skepticism, and derision placed on this news. If it were to take a full exchange of relics between Rome and Constantinople for unity between East and West to be restored, I am sure it would have detractors. People would complain about “having” to go to Turkey instead of Italy. Or vice versa. The value of Orthodox and Catholics sharing in Communion regularly would be well worth it, in the view of many others.

    Previous popes seemed to divide human beings between the faithful and the faithless. Pope Francis seems to elicit cracks around the quality of generosity. This is a struggle for some who saw themselves as fully ensconced in heaven on Earth. And yet, it appears that all of us, even those closely attached to Rome and its trappings, have a long pilgrimage ahead of us. I fully approve of this latest gesture by the Bishop of Rome. I hope it’s not too late.

    1. Thanks for your comments @Flowerday. I am wandering if relics of Peter were included in your sense of “trappings”. For me, who spends my days thinking and working with cultural heritage and the like, “trapping” is a very loaded word, as our lives and the meaning we take from them are produced in part by material culture. One man’s “trappings”, are another man’s “meaning”. Without metanarratives and shared convictions about “what is important” conflict is inevitable.

      1. Not particularly included. First names okay with me, btw.

        I think there was attachment, and even meaning connected with the dividing up of ancient relics. You relate something of the 6th century 1% wanting to have something for their “new Rome.” Several centuries hence, do we know: was it political, part of personal devotion, or saving pieces of an ancient patrimony only barely held by the Byzantine Empire?

        According to the liturgy documents (the Roman Pontifical and the Directory for Popular Piety and the Liturgy) these relics in question would not be appropriate for public veneration. It would seem they are a personal gift, Peter to Andrew, brother to brother, as it were. That the gesture has stirred up much pro and con seems to verify it is very significant. Like Communion under both forms, or certain genres of music or architecture. That’s a good thing, worthy of reflection. Disagreement may be inevitable, but stirring up passions to raise it to the level of conflict troubles me. That conservative news outlets are raising an alarm suggests there’s too much focus on small things and not enough on big ones.

        If a person were praying daily and openly for Christian unity and had reservations, that would be one thing. People who seem to foster disunity within Roman Catholicism? Christian credibility is lacking. As is their commentary on this issue. That you, James, have raised the point gives me much more concern than LifeSiteNews and others. But for me the bottom line is that these are private relics in practice and by theological and liturgical definition.

  10. PS. Just as an historical footnote, the Emperor Justinian asked the Pope Hormisdas in 519 for relics of Peter, Paul and Laurence and was refused, as was the Empress, who in 594 asked Gregory the Great for relics of Saint Paul. Additionally, Pope Gregory the Great, if we want some historical perspective, considered contact relics to be just as valuable as corporeal relics, hence exhibiting an understanding antithetical to the later development of “classes” of relics.

  11. I think it is just terrible that the Pope has seen fit to make an ecumenical gesture and share some relics with other Christians! These are our relics by golly; let them get their own.

    Hopefully, you know I am kidding. 🙂

  12. The People of God take no enjoyment, nor do they care about, any of this esoteric, theological clap-trap. Forget these “angels on the head of a pin” arguments. Give us something to bolster our faith in these stressful times, before we all head for the door.

  13. View from the Pew
    Regarding: “Pope gives away Peter’s bones”
    – It does make sense that the churches at Antioch, or even Jerusalem would have priority in the reception of Peter’s remains. No doubt the several Patriarchs of Antioch, and those of Jerusalem could reach a consensus and have the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople translate Peter’s bones to the appropriate patriarchate.
    – Sensibly it follows then that all of the bits of the True Cross held by local churches throughout the world, be returned to Jerusalem. That is to a patriarchate in Jerusalem to which the several Patriarchs of Jerusalem agreed.
    – Archbishop Francis of Rome works hard to maintain dialogue that aims at unity that values differences, orients to action that is not hobbled by a future ideal that by its own futurity is untested and therefore not grounded in present reality of separation, and affirms that which is shared, such as one faith, and one Lord.
    – Interestingly Archbishop Francis’ act of fraternity succeeds the Patriarch of Moscow’s contretemps with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople over the establishment of the Kiev Patriarchate (Ukraine). As well, it precedes his meeting with President Putin, and then with the Ukraine’s Greek Catholic Synod. In retrospect all of this seems logical and linear. More than likely, through the context of faith, the fraternal gift was the result of an organic unfolding; occurring amidst a swirl of actions and possibilities; that Archbishop Francis apprehended by attention to the holy spirit.

  14. What is the status of the most recent verification of the putative bones of St Peter in the confessio of the basilica?

    1. Scholars debate whether S. Peter was bishop of Rome or even lived in Rome, and folks are criticizing His Holiness for making a kind gesture with so-called relics?

      As Reggie used to say the world’s in flames and you’re worried about what!

  15. George Demacopoulos’s excellent article in Commonweal is most helpful in setting the “relic diplomacy” question in historical context. I recommend it! Here is a snip:

    “Pope Francis’s gift of bodily relics of St. Peter is so remarkable because, unlike the other recent relic exchanges, this is not a righting of a previous wrong, not a return to the Orthodox of something that was historically theirs. Rather, Francis’s gift of Petrine relics to the Ecumenical Patriarch is significant because it is an unfettered divestment of a portion of what is arguably the Vatican’s most precious religious treasure—the very foundation of its symbolic authority in the Christian world.”


  16. The Holy Father should hang onto those precious bones. He needs them to drive the barque more than anyone else.

  17. “The Holy Father should hang onto those precious bones…”

    My sense is that the Church is enriched by the gifts it gives…and receives. Christ happily doesn’t ‘hang on’ to His body and blood in the Eucharist.

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