Although a majority have been lost to history, some of the earliest relics of the Church still survive to this day. Those associated with Jesus Christ and Mary have been the most studied and fascinating of them all.
The Virgin’s Girdle
At the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken into Heaven corporeally, meaning relics available for veneration must come from before the Assumption.
“The Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church 966
According to pious tradition, Saint Thomas the Apostle was traveling back from India at the time of the Assumption. Not only did he miss the post-Resurrection appearance of Jesus to the other apostles, he missed the Assumption.
Aware of his skeptical nature given the doubting Thomas episode, Mary appeared to him personally and dropped down from the skies the girdle she was wearing as physical proof of what he had witnessed, evidence for the other apostles.
The account is testified to in the Golden Legend, by Blessed Jacobus, written around 1260 A.D.:
“And St. Thomas was not there, and when he came he would not believe this. And anon the girdle with which her body was girt came to him from the air, which he received, and thereby he understood that she was assumpt into heaven.”
During the 14th century, the Prato Cathedral nearby the city of Florence of Tuscany came into possession of the Virgin’s Girdle, also known as the Girdle of Thomas, Holy Belt, or Sacra Cintola.
Afterwards, the relic became a key feature of Florentine art, especially depictions of the Madonna del Parto, depictions of pregnant Mary from the Tuscany region popular during the 14th century.
Today, the Holy Belt is held in the Cappella del Sacro Cingolo, Chapel of the Sacra Cintola, in the Prato Cathedral, folded in reliquary. It is exhibited five times annually: on September 8th, the birthday of Mary and during other feast days.