The bogus “seamless tunic” of Trier, Germany and a 19th-century religious Woodstock

Most everyone is familiar with the bogus “Shroud of Turin,” the alleged burial shroud of Jesus displayed at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy. But few are aware of the extremely large number of other purported “relics” throughout Roman Catholicism. Catholics define relics as the body parts or personal effects of canonized “saints” and even the alleged body parts and personal effects of Jesus Christ, including his infant foreskin and crib!

Catholics of yesteryear made difficult pilgrimages to often faraway churches that displayed a relic in hopes of receiving answers to prayer, physical healings, or indulgences from time spent suffering in purgatory. Unscrupulous relics merchants made fortunes hand-over-fist during the Middle Ages as churches competed against each other for a chance to attract pilgrims and their money. Given the proliferation of these faux artifacts, multiple churches boasted of having the same exact relics. One might think such pilgrimages are a thing of the past, but news sources still report on Catholics thronging to traveling exhibits of relics in the U.S. and Canada.

A short time ago, I was reading a book about the First Vatican Council (1869-70), which mentioned the exhibit of Jesus’ alleged seamless tunic:

“In 1844, in response to critics of a large and well-publicized group of German pilgrims that converged on Trier to view and venerate the famous relic there – the robe supposedly worn by Christ just before his crucifixion…” – p.71, “Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church,” by John W. O’Malley

Hmm. Interesting. I’ve heard about many of Romanism’s bogus relics before, but not this seamless tunic. We read about Jesus’ seamless tunic in Scripture:

“23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24 so they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.’ This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, ‘They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ So the soldiers did these things.” – John 19:23-24

The history of the tunic of Trier, Germany goes back no farther than 1196 when it was first displayed at the High Cathedral of Saint Peter in that city. Church officials claimed the tunic had been originally recovered by Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helen, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 326-28. Many other such relics are attributed to Helen’s trip. She would have needed a modern Hong Kong ocean container vessel to transport all the artifacts back to Rome that are credited to her.

The previous reference to the event at Trier in 1844 led me to some interesting historical information. Following the anti-religious excesses of the Enlightenment, many European Catholics welcomed a return to pious religious superstition including pilgrimages to churches with relics. Such pilgrimages were the “rock concerts” of their day and emotions ran high. The tunic at Trier was displayed to the public only at lengthy intervals, so when the bishop of Trier, Wilhelm Arnoldi, announced in 1844 that the tunic would be put on display for public viewing, a half-a-million excited German Catholics responded by thronging to the city for a chance to catch a glimpse of the “holy” relic. The 19th-century religious “be-in” was of Woodstock-like proportions. The “happening” was subsequently exploited for political purposes. Catholic author and activist, Joseph Gorres, “portrayed the event as a manifestation of the collective power of Catholics in Germany, a warning to the Prussian state not to take that power lightly” (p.71, “Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church”). In reaction to the religious mass hysteria and excesses of the fervent pilgrims at Trier, less superstitious, sober German Catholics founded a more stoic sect called the New Catholics (see link below).

Beginning in 1959, the Catholics of Trier began inviting the Protestants of the area to join them in the Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe. The bogus “seamless tunic” of Trier is now promoted as an ecumenical symbol for the eventual reunification of all Protestants with the Catholic church. To date, the seamless tunic has not undergone scientific testing to verify its age.

Origin of New Catholics (German Catholics) sect due to excesses at Trier in 1844 – Wikipedia article

Seamless robe of Jesus – Wikipedia article

Postscript: While visiting Germany and our German daughter-in-law and grandson at their home near Ramstein AFB in 2007, my wife and I were contemplating a few side-trips. Our son’s German father-in-law suggested we visit the city of Trier, about 70 miles away, although he didn’t elaborate on why Trier would be a good destination. With our rented car, we set out for the city not knowing what to expect. When we arrived at the outskirts, it didn’t look like much. I wondered out loud somewhat frustratingly why he had directed us there? Fortunately, I soon spotted a sign pointing to the city center and drove in that direction. Wow! Were we ever surprised! The center of the city was FILLED with ancient Roman buildings and ruins! We learned later that Trier served as the capital of the northern territories of the Western Roman Empire for over 400 years. In our walk through the city center, we saw the exterior of the High Cathedral of Saint Peter, where the alleged tunic is stored, but I had no desire to go inside.

The Porta Nigra (Black Gate), one of the former gates to the city, is one of MANY old Roman structures in Trier
An 1844 German lithograph mocks the enormous mass-pilgrimage to see the “seamless tunic” at Trier as a money-making enterprise.

13 thoughts on “The bogus “seamless tunic” of Trier, Germany and a 19th-century religious Woodstock

  1. Very interesting, Tom. That mocking lithograph is worth a study all in itself. Thanks for the context about the particular relic. I’m intensely curious about what the lithograph artist meant by each of the images he employed. Some are obvious, such as the confessional in the upper left and the spider and her web hovering over Rome, Italy. But others, such as the use of animals as the papist figures, the use, in particular of the owl and other birds, and what looks like a nun hovering over a stabbed infant!

    Is there an article online associated with this graphic which may explain all the symbolism? Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such an outrageous hoax! Several churches not only claimed to possess Jesus’ foreskin, the “Holy Prepuce,” some also claimed to possess Jesus’ “Holy Umbilical Cord.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s such a different culture today with the RCC having a hard time getting its members to show up for obligatory Sunday mass, but back in the day those relics were a HUGE $draw$ for the church with pilgrims coming from far and wide. I’m guessing most of the prelates knew the relics were fakes but they weren’t about to upset the apple cart.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I wish I could find a long listing of all of Catholicism’s alleged Jesus relics and the churches that claim them. Of course in several cases multiple churches claim to possess the same relic. Relics are a good example of what Catholicism is all about; the physical takes the place of genuine spirituality.

      Liked by 1 person

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