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Worship of relics was not a universal trait

Published 08/08/2016

DC Armstrong (Write Back, August 4) makes some interesting observations about the role of relics during antiquity.

However, the reverence of relics was not a universal trait at that time.

I analysed some 47 early Byzantine Christian Church excavations for a PhD in history from QUB and found that relics were often placed in positions of reverence beneath altars in churches with a Roman church plan that appear to have some relation to the Roman patriarchate and the early liturgy of Ordo Romanus I.

In the sixth century, these tended to be triapsidal and often displayed evidence for an altar table along the chord of each apse and so could have three reliquaries.

These church plans tend to have a chancel barrier that stretches across both side aisles to prevent the laity accessing the apsidal end of the church building.

However, this was not a universal practice and was rare in churches with either a Constantinopolitan or a Syrian church plan.

It should also be observed that early churches were often built at sites that were revered because they were connected with celebrated individuals, or events.

BERNARD J MULHOLLAND

Belfast

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