Friday, 12 January 2018

Relic Documents

The arm of St. Francis Xavier arrived in Toronto today as part of a 15-city Canadian visit. We got a sneak peek at the relic this morning at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica.

ARCAT Staff photo

D'Arcy Murphy, Guardian for the St. Francis Xavier relic during its time in Canada, polishes the reliquary at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica this morning before public veneration begins.  The relic will be in the archdiocese this weekend as part of its Canadian tour. The 500-year old forearm rarely leaves Rome.

St. Francis Xavier is one of the great missionary saints of the Church and co-founder of the Jesuit order. This arm - an incorrupt, first-class relic - is venerated as one that blessed and baptized an estimated 100,000 converts. It is rare to see such a large relic outside of a saint's cult site; most first-class relics contained within church altars and reliquaries are tiny fragments of bone or flesh.

The famous relic of St. Francis Xavier will be in the Archdiocese of Toronto for three days, hosted at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica (Jan. 12), St. Francis Xavier Church, Mississauga (Jan. 13) and Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Toronto (January 14). More information about the visit and a full schedule of events can be found at:

For a firsthand account one person's encounter with this remarkable relic, read this CBC article by our colleague, Wanita Bates, from the Presentation Congregation Archives in St. John’s, NL.

Authenticating Relics
Relics have been venerated by the faithful since the earliest days of Christianity and are known for their association with healing and other miracles. Every Catholic church has a relic sealed in its altar as a sign of honour to the saints.This practice evokes a time when Mass was celebrated in secret, over the tombs of martyrs.

Photo courtesy of Catholic Christian Outreach

Regardless of the type of reliquary encasing the relic, it must be sealed with string or wire threaded through the container and stamped with wax, to prove it has not been tampered with.
Notice the seal on the acrylic reliquary containing the arm of St. Francis Xavier, above. 

A diocese may acquire relics directly from the Holy See, from a religious community, or from the cult site where the saint’s body is located. The issuing authority is responsible for securing the relic in a reliquary - often a small metal container known as a theca - with string or wire and a wax seal. The issuer also creates an accompanying relic document that must include the following elements:
  1. The name and authority of the person issuing the relic (either of a bishop, of a religious superior, or of a postulator)
  2. The crimped or stamped seal of the issuer and the date of sealing
  3. The signature of the issuer
  4. A description of contents: type of particle (which determines the relic's class) and name of saint.
  5. The shape of the theca (round, oval, cross shaped, etc.)
At the archives, we house a small collection of relics on behalf of the chancery, which may be distributed to parishes for dedicating a new altar, or for displaying in devotional reliquaries. In order to be considered fit for distribution, the relic's authenticity and integrity must be verified. We do this by checking that the wax and string of the reliquary are intact and that the seal impressed in the wax matches that on the relic document. The description of the relic and its container must also match the actual relic.

First-class relic of St. Catherine Labouré and accompanying relic document, Relics Special Collection

This relic is a particle from the bones (ex ossibus) of St. Catherine Labouré who was a member of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. The document was issued by the superior general of the Congregation of the Mission in 1953.  The string threaded through the theca is intact and the wax seal matches the stamp on the document.
Red wax is a good indicator of authenticity because the colour fades with age at a regular rate, it always holds the shape of the seal, and it becomes brittle and tamper-proof immediately upon cooling.

First-class relic of St. Maria Goretti and accompanying relic document, Relics Special Collection

This relic is a particle from the bones (ex ossibus) of St. Maria Goretti, virgin martyr, issued by her postulator, Maurus ab Immaculata, and enclosed in a round metal theca. A postulator is one who collects evidence and presents a case for the canonization or beatification of a person.

First- and second-class relics of St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus and accompanying relic document, Relics Special Collection

These three relics are particles from the bones (ex ossibus), hair (ex capillis) and garment (ex veste) of St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus, virgin martyr, issued by her postulator in 1929. 
The bone and hair fragments are considered first-class relics because they come from the body of the saint; the garment is a second-class relic, from an object the saint personally owned. Also included in this category are instruments used to inflict death on a martyr.
Third-class relics are those items that a saint touched or that have been touched to a first-class relic of a saint. 

As an archivist in a modern, corporate archives, there is something very gratifying about having to rely on wax seals and Latin records to serve contemporary needs!

To learn more about the role of relics in the evangelization of the Church, visit Treasures of the Church.

Read our previous post about relics in Archiving Altar Stones.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Writing in the New Year

It is hard to believe we are already several days into 2018!

To mark the beginning of a new calendar year, our blog post this week looks back to one man's start to a new year in Toronto 120 years ago.

Matthew O'Connor Daily Journal, 1898
DC Item #53
ARCAT Desk Calendar Collection

ARCAT holds almost 30 years worth of personal diaries of Matthew O'Connor, a prominent Catholic layman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in Ireland in 1825, Matthew O'Conner moved to Toronto in 1840, making a name for himself as a plate glass manufacturer and also an artist. He was a parishioner of Our Lady of Lourdes and was an active member of many church organizations. 

He was also an avid diarist, writing entries every day.

By his accounts, 1898 was off to a bitterly cold start (something we can certainly relate to in January of 2018.)  By Wednesday, the opportunity to sleigh was nearly gone but fine winter days continued all week.

On January 1st O'Connor attended mass at Our Lady of Lourdes and wrote: "Very Very Cold ... Frost Causes Pipes to Burst at 106!!"

Matthew O'Connor Daily Journal, 1898
DC Item #53
ARCAT Desk Calendar Collection

O'Conner notes how John Shaw won the municipal election on January 3rd.

Matthew O'Connor Daily Journal, 1898
DC Item #53
ARCAT Desk Calendar Collection

So there you have it, a look into how one Torontonian started his new year one hundred and twenty years ago. Let's hope we can be as organized as Mr. O'Conner as we plan for the year ahead of us!

Friday, 29 December 2017

From Atlantic to Pacific, Gee the Traffic is Terrific

We have heard it said that for the holidays, you can't beat home sweet home, so we know lots of our readers have been on the road this week.

For a local trip, perhaps you took the Harbourfront streetcar past the site of the old Maple Leaf Stadium at Lakeshore and Bathurst? Or maybe the Wellesley bus to Castle Frank Station?

Cardinal McGuigan in a procession for Rosary Hour at Maple Leaf Stadium in 1947.

ARCAT Photo Collection

A TTC bus helping to shuttle crowds during the 1984 papal visit.

ARCAT Photo Collection

For journeys a little farther afield, why not take the train? You get to relax instead of dealing with highway traffic. 

This photo of men beside a train engine originally belonged to Archbishop McNeil.


PH 08/05P
ARCAT Photo Collection

Cardinal McGuigan steps down from a sleeping car on the Canadian National Railway with J.P. Johnson, the railway vice-president.


ARCAT Photo Collection

Cardinal McGuigan accompanied some visiting bishops on a train tour of Canada in 1947. This photo would have been taken somewhere in British Columbia or Alberta.

ARCAT Photo Collection

Maybe you could take the train to the city where you meet the boat for your cruise vacation. It's a nice time of year to be in the tropics!

Cardinal McGuigan and Bishop Allen socialize in the posh lounge on board the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth. At the time, the boat was the largest ocean liner, operating between New York City and Southampton, England.


ARCAT Photo Collection

Or perhaps you're going to ring in the New Year in style somewhere overseas. Probably best to fly in that case.

Pope Saint John Paul II touches down at Pearson Airport during his 1984 visit and is greeted by Cardinal Carter.

ARCAT Photo Collection

Wherever your holidays take you (Penetanguishene for some homemade pumpkin pie?), and whichever method you choose, safe travels!

Friday, 22 December 2017

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

The ARCAT family wishes your family a very merry Christmas filled with lots of time to relax and unwind. This will be us next week!

Monsignor Hugh J. Callaghan opening presents on Christmas Day at Blessed Sacrament Parish rectory.

December 25, 1957

PH 24C/06CP

Friday, 15 December 2017

Noël à Montréal

At the end of November, one of our archivists visited Montreal for some professional development. It was a little too early for all the Christmas events and markets, which was unfortunate because Montreal is a festive place to be during the winter season.

Undeterred, our stalwart staff member was determined to gather some Catholic Christmas souvenirs for this blog post and here are the results:

A year ago, The Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to mark the beginning of the city's 375th anniversary. Housed within is a major donation of Old Masters by the eponymous benefactors, which includes many paintings of the Madonna and Child, the Holy Family, and the Nativity.

ARCAT Staff Photo; Canada Post

Virgin and Child by the Master of the Castello Nativity, ca. 1460. Hornstein Collection, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

In this painting, the Infant Christ hold a goldfinch. As this bird eats thistles and thorns, it is a common allusion to Christ's crown of thorns and his Passion.
This painting was chosen by Canada Post for the 2016 Christmas stamp.
See another Christmas stamp from St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica in Toronto.

ARCAT Staff Photo

The Holy Family with the Adoration of the Child by Mariotto Albertinelli, ca. 1505. Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

This round format or tondo is typical of the High Renaissance. The meadow setting suggests that the Holy Family is taking a moment of respite on their Flight into Egypt. Note that the Christ Child is missing a toe on his right foot. 

Keeping with the theme of the Holy Family, the next stop was St. Joseph's Oratory, the largest shrine in the world dedicated to Canada's patron saint.

ARCAT Staff Photo

Views to and from St. Joseph's Oratory with a festive (and trecherous!) dusting of snow and ice. 

ARCAT Staff Photo

The Oratory Museum has two current exhibitions: St. Joseph Likes Montréal and A World in a Crèche

ARCAT Staff Photo

A World in a Crèche
exhibition features a collection of small nativity scenes from around the world, grouped geographically.

ARCAT Staff Photo

The crèche form the United States offers commentary on contemporary American priorities.

ARCAT Staff Photo

The Oratory's Outdoor Crèche by Joseph Guard, 1951; Costumes by François Barbeau, 1980

This life-size polychrome plaster nativity scene was commissioned by the Oratory in 1951 as an outdoor display to be exhibited during the Christmas season. After 30 years of exposure to the elements, a costume designer was hired to make clothes for the statues. They are now part of the Oratory Museum's permanent collection. 

ARCAT Staff Photo

Though Montreal's outdoor Christmas markets were not yet open for shopping, we got to see what the original Christmas gifts would have looked like.

Finally, right beside the Montreal Central train station, some Christmas lights had just gone up at Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde. When it was inaugurated in 1894, Montrealers could proudly boast that they had the only replica of St. Peter's Basilica in North America.

ARCAT Staff Photo

Mary Queen of the World Cathedral, Montreal, was modelled after St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City 
And on that Christmassy note, it was time to bid adieu to the City of a Hundred Steeples and catch the train for Toronto.

Friday, 8 December 2017

The Hand of God Has Been Laid Heavily Upon Us: 100 Years Since the Halifax Explosion

100 years ago this week, Halifax was devastated after a collision in the harbour sparked a fire aboard a munitions ship. The resulting blast was the most powerful explosion in history before the Second World War. Approximately 2,000 were killed, 9,000 were injured, and 1,249 buildings were destroyed. Windows were shattered up to 100 kilometres away.

In the following weeks, Archbishop McNeil (who was originally from Cape Breton) received letters describing the destruction. Archbishop Edward McCarthy of the Archdiocese of Halifax sent the following after receiving a $2000 donation from the Archdiocese of Toronto:

Letter from Halifax Archbishop Edward McCarthy to Archbishop McNeil describing the devastation of the blast.

14 December 1917

MN TA01.20
Archbishop McNeil Fonds

"Halifax, Dec. 14th 1917

"His Grace - The archbishop of Toronto

"My dear Lord Archbishop,

"How shall we ever thank you sufficiently for your kind words of sympathy, and still kinder deed in sending us $2000 for the relief of the sufferers in St. Joseph's parish? They were both sorely needed. No one can have any idea of the extent of the calamity or of the gruesomeness of the sights but those who were eyewitness of the scene. I shall never forget it as long as I live. It simply baffles description. St. Joseph's parish is almost wiped out. Church, presbytery, Convent, two parish halls and schools, all destroyed beyond repair. St. Patrick's Church, with its beautiful Munich windows, is badly damaged. The whole roof will have to come down. In the Cathedral there is not a pane of glass left, and the worst of it all is, we can claim no insurance. Every Catholic Institution - the orphanage, seminary, Home of the Good Shepherd, Infants' Home, St. Teresa's Home for servant-girls out of employment, Sacred Heart Convent, Infirmary, all have been badly riddled though not beyond repair. Certainly for some strange purpose, which we cannot understand, the hand of God has been laid heavily upon us. About 6000 houses, they think, have been either leveled to the ground, or impossible of repair. This, of course, means that 20,000 people are left homeless, and that we will have to clothe, house and feed them for the winter. The number of dead is estimated at 2000, and the wounded are nearly 3000. We beg your Grace to be good enough to convey to the good people of your Archdiocese our hearty thanks for the very substantial and generous help they have sent. May God reward you and them a thousand fold for it all.

I am, Your Grace, Most gratefully yours in Xto.
+Edward McCarthy"

Archbishop McNeil's uncle wrote to him from Halifax on January 6, 1918:

"My Dear Nephew,

"My first word is to wish your people and diocese, your clergy and yourself a very happy New Year in the best sense of the term. We are in a mess yet in this city. I drove through the ruined district today and am convinced I understated the situation in my letters to you and Mary. How any escaped from the destroyed and wrecked houses it is difficult to explain from any human point of view. It is known that in some instances parties living in flat roofed two storey houses made their way to safety through breaks in the upper floor and the roof which was down so near the ground that they were able to step from the roof on to the adjoining street. All school houses suffered severely, and several have been condemned - others are so much damaged that the restoration will cost almost as much as rebuilding. Several churches are beyond repair too...

"The chair I sat in when the explosion occurred was cut by glass an inch long and nearly a quarter deep and that across the grain too, right back of where my head was. Mrs. M is well otherwise than in her eyesight which has grown so dim she cannot come down stairs without help and guidance. About the end of the month she will be surgically healed and we are all hopeful of best results - though at her age success does not always follow.

"Annie's sister ... is recovering the last few days nicely but will feel the loss of her eye and the cuts on her nose and brow keenly. Her son Dick has no doubt a sightless eye - besides a loss of over $3000 in property. His elder brother is laid up from a blow received in the explosion which he did not feel at first and Dick's 9 year old boy had an eye removed. The incidents make us more thankful for the protection God accorded us." (MN AA03.37A Archbishop McNeil Fonds)

It is difficult to imagine what Haligonians went through that day and in the months that followed, but many institutions have produced resources to help us remember them. For more information, check out the website of the Archives of the Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth dedicated to remembering the explosion. The Nova Scotia Archives has many online resources available, and CBC has an interactive website telling the story of the accident.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Can anyone identify this object?

You might say that our post this week is a little bit out of the ordinary.

This week, instead of featuring something from our own Archives, we are excited to feature an item from the Archives of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.

And the object itself is an unusual one.

Part of the CCCB Archives, Provenance and date unknown.

It is made of wood, possibly maple, and is 36.5 cm high. At its widest point, it is about 25 cm wide.

The metal lettering reads “Veillez et priez” (it is missing the “t” in et). These are the instructions given to the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26:41:“Stay awake and pray.”

Close up of the painting . The bottom of the metal frame around the image has broken off.
The text beneath the image reads “Mon Ch. Letaille et Fils. Edit Pontifx sucr Paris, Pl 827".

Part of the CCCB Archives, Provenance and date unknown.

The painting shows Jesus and a sleeping apostle in the Garden of Gethsemane. The caption reads “Celui qui doit me trahir approche. Et tu dors.” Literally, “He who is to betray me is approaching, and you are asleep.”

A demonstration of how individual balls are manually dropped into the instrument, facilitating wakefulness and mindfulness in prayer.

Part of the CCCB Archives, Provenance and date unknown.
It includes 8 balls, approximately 2 cm in diameter. They have numbers and letters and in fact appear to be bingo tokens. One drops the ball in at the top and it comes out at the bottom. The thought that they may have replaced a lost set of 10 black balls and 1 white one, suggests that it may be an instrument for praying the rosary, one that forces the praying person to keep awake by the physical movement of taking a ball from the bottom and putting it in the hole at the top.

Special thanks to CCCB Archivist Bruce Henry, who piqued our interest and allowed us to post his photographs and description.