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Theodoric of St. Eucharius: Discovery of the Relics of St. Celsus

Archbishop Egbert of Trier reformed the abbey of St. Eucharius, located in the suburbs of Trier, in 978. As part of the reform, the church--which was located over a paleo-Christian cemetary--was rebuilt. In the course of construction, a sarcophagus was discovered which was thought to bear the relics of a previously unknown saint. This text describes the rituals of commencing the cult of this newly discovered saint. This may be the first instance in which a version of the judicial ordeal by fire was used to authenticate relics of saints, but that ritual became relatively widespread in Europe over the next two centuries, before disappearing from use in the thirteenth century.

(1) In the year of the Lord's incarnation 978 when Prince Otto II--father of the Otto, emperor and monarch of Rome, who now actively holds the crown--held the scepter, Archbishop Egbert ruled over the holy church of Trier, which is preserved by God. He was a man of blessed memory and a lamp of virtue, of high standing due to the generous bequest of his deceased parents, but of even higher standing due to the priceless dowry of complete uprightness. His reverance surpassed that of all the bishops and magnates of the kingdom [and] . . . he was the principle teacher and sustainer of monks, a special lover of the discipline of the Rule [of St. Benedict]. The humble heart of a devoted monk hid under the costume of a bishop, as if he frequently paraded with Martha in public in order to carry out the ministry of God, but nevertheless turned himself with Mary completely over to the study of the divine word. He made of himself a free sacrifice to the Godhead, in practical matters like a small bird, but in contemplative matters like a turtle-dove. . .

[Archbishop Egbert undertook the reform of several monasteries in his diocese. In time he turned to the abbey of St. Eucharius, who was celebrated as an early archbishop of the city. He installed a man named Gotherius, who had previously reformed a monastery in Ghent, as the new abbot. With the permission and support of Emperor Otto II, they undertook to rebuild the monastic church.]

(5) The glorious bishop was inspired by imperial support and accompanied by divine assistance. When he sought to implement the plan he had in mind for the church, however, his work met with a snare, for the place was strewn with many hard and sharp stones which hindered the digging of trenches. For many days the workmen labored at digging. Suddenly, on the third or forth day, a lucky blow in the trenches unearthed the grave of blessed Celsus, as was pleasing to God. As is is read in the book of Job [5:6], nothing is in the ground without cause. For it must be believed that it was not according to fate (which is abhorrent to Catholic ears), but according to divine providence that this discovery occurred, despite what was intended. For if blessed Celsus had not been buried in that very place, he would not have been found by any manner of excavation; also, if the workmen had not torn up the ground, the tresure would never have been found. . .

(12) The sarcophagous, in which the naked seed lay awaiting for all time its flowering the the grace of the resurrection, was stone of dazzling whiteness, which is called in the vulgar tongue creta [i. e. Cretan earth or chalk]. On it lay a marble tablet on which an inscription concerning his sanctity was engraved. The funerary inscription ran thus: "To whomever anxiously wishes to learn about this tomb. Here lies the man Celsus [i. e. noble one], who lived up to his name not only in word, but in deed. God has certainly inscribed this man in the roll of honor [in heaven], a man who was not lazy, but ever vigorous in his quest for his true fatherland. He drew his family and his birth from a distinguished lineage; he has been buried in this tomb with pious affection." . . .

When the happy rumor of this discovery came quickly to the attention of the pious archbishop, he blessed God by rendering much praise for the graces which had been granted by the giver of all good things. . . He did not presume to move the coffin holding the sacred relics from the spot of its burial, but sought to place some sign of his authority on the watch kept over them. He brought together some monks who would unceasingly chant praises to God in thanks for the merits of such a just man. He also very much wished to learn the advice of his fellow bishops as to what ought to be done concerning the discovery; he had the matter written down in a book and sent his treasurer as a delegate. . . Not much later, a synod of many bishops and abbots, including all the fathers of Belgium and Germany, was convoked by imperial edict at the royal palace, which is called in the vulgar tongue Engilenheim. . . Many matters were discussed there on which the synod promulgated edicts. Later, when time had been set aside for him, the Archbishop, who held a high place among all those men, sought to speak, having brought forth a piece of parchment on which was written the inscription from the sarcophagous of blessed Celsus, as well as the story of how the relics had been found. Speaking before all with Ciceronian eloquence, he told what things divine grace had brought to light through the work of human hands in his city. When the emperor heard this, he was filled with a great joy and he spoke to the holy conclave dedicated to God . . . After this the emperor promulgated a decree, accompanied by the bishops who provided their unanimous consent, that it was pleasing to the holy council that the Archbishop of Trier ought to return to his see. There, along with his gathered clergy, he was to raise up the remains of blessed Celsus from their tomb; then he was to enclose them in a shrine, as if in a treasurechest of divine works; and finally he was to place the reliquary on the altar to receive the cult of full sanctity, as if it contained nothing less than the limbs of the highest king.

When the mandate [of the synod] and the order [of the emperor] had been received, Archbishop Egbert, like a prudent animal, had obtained for himself the blessings and prayers of his fellow bishops, and steadfastly joined to them a sign of imperial favor. Thus he prepared the way for favorable success, with divine patronage over his head and a crowd of important people at his side. After an interval of a few days, he called to his see all the leading abbots and monks, priests and clerics of his diocese. When he found that they all consented to the decree of the synod, he immediately arranged a festive procession with crosses, candles, censers, gem-encrusted Gospel books, and all ecclesiastical pomp, along with monks singing a sweet hymn to the Lord. The procession made its way step by step to the monastery of St. Eucharius, filled with happy tears. After the bishop had simply commended himself and his vow to the holy confessors of Christ, he went trembling to the tomb, while the voices of all assembled gave praise which reached up to heaven. At the tomb, the bishop solemnly made supplication to God, that he be allowed to carry out his vow, in as much as it was not at odds with God's holy desires.

Since "in everything God works for good with those who love him," [Romans 8:28] after the bishop had brought this prayer to an end, this important task was undertaken in faith as a token to God. Having removed the seal, the bishop drew back the bolts from the sacred mausoleum. When it was opened, such a marvelously sweet odor escaped and such a fragrance of heavenly nectar came forth that all those who were present thought that they had come into the presence of God and entered into the delights of paradise. Thus struck with both fear and joy, they burst forth in praise of God as follows: "Blessed is the Lord of Israel, who never fails those who place their hopes in him. God has decreed that his servant, who is Celsus [i.e. noble one] in both name and deed, should be revealed in our days through the blessed efforts of our bishop. Blessed also, o Lord, is he whom you have chosen and taken to yourself. You have appointed him to be a faithful guardian over all your goods and provided his most pious patronage to us in our poverty."

In the midst of these chants of sacred melody, Egbert reverently emptied the tomb, taking the dry, pale bones forth and placing them in shining white, clean linen. He sang out, accompanied by all the clergy, a verse most apt and fitting for this occasion: "The saints exult in glory, they give praise in their chambers." Who is able to say how many tears, not of sadness, but of spiritual happiness then flowed? The archbishop was unable to restrain himself in the midst of the chanting voices and he devoutly watered his face with floods of tears in praise of the redeemer. Among the joyful songs of the monks and the glad responses of the clerics, the voice of the crowd was everywhere mixed in, making a great and noisy song. Nothing was able to be heard in that large assembly of the faithful, other than the Kyrie Eleison and the Gloria. After having lain humbly hidden for so long, the bones of blessed Celsus were now gloriously revealed by the Lord. The eager servants of the bishops were employed to carry the coffin; so it was born in honor from its place of burial by God-fearing men and placed with the greatest reverence in the church of St. Eucharius. When the archbishop, adorned with this dowry from heaven and surrounded by a great throng of believers, entered the monastery, he began to chant the first verse of the paschal hymn of joy, Te Deum Laudamus, and all those gathered there completed it in a glorious din. There were candles burning, church bells ringing, thuribles giving forth the fragrant scent of insence; all were agreed that in this procession of great joy the singing of angels as well as of humans was to be detected in the midst of that sweet odor of divinity.

After the most seemly procession of the blessed relics had been completed, they were reverently placed on the altar of St. Eucharius by the blessed archbishop, accompanied by grateful applause and gushes of sweet tears on the part of all who were gathered giving thanks in common. Great and ineffable indeed was the cause of this joy, for the people of Trier had through divine grace acquired for their patron a citizen in the heavenly city. When the archbishop, surrounded by a crowd of priests, proceeded to the solemnities of the mass, the devout congregation began to cry out sweetly to the Lord. Fear and reverence towards blessed Celsus swelled in the hearts of all those present. Earnestly entreating divine grace, they hoped that they might acquire some sign of his sanctity on that day. And their prayers were answered. After the passage from the holy Gospel had been read out, the bishop of the church spoke to the people in an admonitary manner. Just as nard gives off its odor, he told to all the story of the discovery of the holy relics. He exhorted the people that they not refrain from visiting blessed Celsus frequently and that in each future year they should celebrate the day of his birth, which happened to be January 4, with the greatest honor, as was ordered by apostolic authority.

When this sermon of doctrine was finished, Egbert returned from the pulpit to the altar in order to offer the host of our redemption up to God the omnipotent both for the honor of blessed Celsus and for the salvation of all Christian people. When the offertory chant was finished with great jubilation, he began the preface. At that point the priest of the Lord presumed to undertake an examination as to whether one could say that these relics seemed to be from blessed Celsus, lest the matter by chance seem to take place, or to have taken place, in a vacuum. In the eyes of all the clergy, he took a small piece of very thin cloth and he wrapped a piece of a joint from the saint's finger in it. He placed it in the live coals of the thurible, in which incense was burned, for the space of an hour, during which time he recited the mystical canon in its entirety. The relic remained intact in the fire. Since "the fire will test what sort of work each one has done," [1 Cor. 3:13] the degree to which there was apostolic character in blessed Celsus became most evidently clear through the material fire, which is generally predicted for all in the time of purgatory.

Behold! the one who provided solace to the three boys in the fiery furnace [Daniel 3], that same one, in order to declare the merits of Celsus, has now removed from the coals the power to burn, lest the wrapping of the relic be consumed by fire. It is he who always was, always will be, and never will change, from whom nothing is hidden. . . If the violence of material and extinguisable fire did not have the power to harm the wrapping, due to the magnitude of such merits, is it possible that on the day of the passion of the Lord, when the elements are aflame, the purgatorial fire will receive the power of doing any harm to blessed Celsus? For Celsus is the son of the resurrection, who did not fail to build on that foundation over which the architect Paul placed "gold, silver, and precious stones" [1 Cor. 3:13] and who, as long as he was in the flesh, lived contrary to the flesh.

After this miracle had been witnessed and the chanting of the mass completed, the archbishop placed that relic, [now shown to be] acceptable to God on the altar along with the remaining bones in a seemly fashion. Having made a benediction, he dismissed the congregation in peace, giving praise to God, and saying, "Now we know what we have [in these relics]! How good is God! How great is his mercy for us in this world!"

Source: Source: Theodoric of St. Eucharius, Inventio s. Celsi, chaps. 1, 5, and 12-24 in Acta Sanctorum quotquot toto orbe coluntur, eds. Jean Bolland, et al., (Antwerp and Brussels, 1643-present), February III, pp. 402-6. Date: after 1006. For a complete discussion of the event and its context, see Thomas Head, "Art and Artifice in Ottonian Trier," Gesta, 36 (1997), pp. 65-82.

This translation by Thomas Head has been made available to fellow students and researchers for private or classroom use. All other rights are reserved. Duplication for any other purpose, including publication, is prohibited. This translation was last updated on June 10, 1997.

From Thomas F. Head, An Anthology of Translated Texts Illustrative of the History of the Cult of the Saints (c 2000). [Link is to Internet Archive]. Thomas Head prepared these texts as part of the now defunct ORB: Online Reference Book for Medieval Studies [Link is to an archived and non-maintained version]. Dr. Head died on Nov 12, 2014 after an extended illness. I believe that he would have wanted his translated texts, marked for free personal use, and bibliographies to continue to be available and not just through the sometimes slow operation of the Internet Archive. They were marked "They may be reproduced for private use, but may not be reproduced for publication."


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