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Bone Voyage: A Relic's Journey

Creator:
Published:
June 14, 2024
June 12, 2024
Watch this documentary about a man's journey to transport Catholic relics and what he realizes in the process.

Evan Gage has transported a lot of goods for his business, but relics were a first. When 40 neglected saint relics were recovered and needed a new home, Sacra: Relics of the Saints director Sean Pilcher asked Evan if he could help get them from Ohio to Sean’s home in Minnesota. Evan set out on the journey — and had a lot to reflect on along the way.

Evan shares, "I want to live in a world where people don't give death too much agency. And I feel like treating these saints with respect and bringing them to a new home feels like something I would do for a friend, so might as well do it for these friends, you know?"

Video Transcript

Sean Pilcher: It's very small, which you'd expect, because they're not just going to go giving out large pieces of the Holy Cross. Relics, they're objects of prayer and devotion. But sometimes if a church closes, these relics get sometimes misplaced, and this has happened a lot like in the last half-century. And so it's important to get these back to places where they can be loved and appreciated. These ended up in dubious circumstances and ended up just kind of sitting unused. And so the goal of this kind of cross-country, ecumenical, East-West saga is to get them back into the hands of people who will pray with them, and who will love the saints, and want to learn about them, and teach their children who these people were and what they did for Jesus, and what they can...in heaven, what they can do for us in our life of faith.

Two weeks earlier

South Bend, IN

Sean (on the phone): Gage!

Evan Gage: Hi, Sean. How's it going?

Sean: Good, how are you?

Evan: I'm good. So-

Sean: So, as far as the hand-off.

Evan: Yes.

Sean: So my priest friend, he is the one who's going to bring the relics and he wanted to make sure that the, quote, "Orthodox hired man," was... I think in his mind he conjured up like some guy named Boris wearing a wife beater, you know, with a gold chain. I figured you'd appreciate it. I told him your name is Evan, and he was like, "Oh, that's disappointing."

Evan: I know. It is, isn't it?

Sean: So he's going to bring them, I guess in his car, and he's really flexible. He's going to be at Steubenville.

Evan: My thought was that the easiest thing for me to do would be to go to Steubenville, pick up the stuff, and then head up that way midweek, maybe, if that works for you?

Sean: Yeah. I mean, it works great. The only huge major life-changing caveat is we're going to have a baby sometime.

Evan: Nice.

Sean: But insofar as we're not at the hospital giving birth, then there's no reason you couldn't stop by and have coffee, or have lunch, or a beer. Whatever.

Evan: Totally.

Sean: You're most welcome, and yeah, it'd be good to, I don't know, meet you.

Evan: Yeah. Totally. Totally. Yeah. Awesome. All right. Well, hey, we're going to make the magic happen.

Sean: Awesome. Thanks, man.

Evan: Cool. Yeah. Totally. I'll talk to you guys later.

Gage Goods is a business that transports rugs and antiques. He took on this job for free.

Well, originally, church altars would be over the grave of the dead, right? The church building would be constructed, or the shrine would be constructed, on the tomb of the deceased person. And this would make it very obvious, of course, that like, "All right," very famously like, "Saint Peter is here with us because we're serving the Eucharistic celebration at his tomb," right? But then, of course, as churches were founded, especially here in the United States, we don't have this very, very long history. We don't have local tombs of fourth-century saints. So the tradition began of including relics in altars. If you go to a Catholic church, you go to an Orthodox church, not everybody is knowledgeable of the fact that, yeah, there's some dead person right there. You are mystically communing with the dead. But we know.

We're currently en route to Steubenville, Ohio, where we are going to meet up with this priest who has for us a number of relics. The word was 40 relics.

Steubenville, OH

Priest: It's quite the workout.

Sean texted me this morning that their child was born.

Evan: Oh, great!

Priest: I guess it must have been yesterday.

Evan: That's so great.

(Evan and priest load up relics into van)

Priest: That's all.

Evan: All right, great.

I remember the first time I ever heard the Paschal troparion, which is, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life." And I remember thinking, "My uncle's dead and my grandparents are dead." And the feeling I have is one of rage. What? Are we born to die? The answer that the Christian tradition provides is, "No." Guess what? The God man also dies, but you join his death, and by joining his death, you live too. And it feels to me like an answer. So, you know. I want to live in a world where people don't give death too much agency. And I feel like treating these saints with respect and bringing them to a new home feels like something I would do for a friend, so might as well do it for these friends, you know?

Minneapolis, MN

(Evan arrives at Sean’s house with the relics)

Cool. It feels like we're about to announce something.

Sean: Hello.

Evan: Hi.

Sean: Hey. Come in.

Evan: Hi, Sean. I'm Evan.

Sean: Nice to meet you. Sorry for the mail and the delay.

Evan: No, don't apologize.

Sean: Welcome. I'm glad you made it. Do you guys want a coffee or tea or water? We have hard liquor. It's not even noon. It's noon in Turkey.

Evan: I'll have a coffee, and I will have a hard liquor right before I leave. Because I do feel like we should —

Sean: Yeah, that's important.

Evan: You know what I mean?

Sean: And for you?

Evan: Hi.

Meg: Wow, it's been a while. Here's the new child! Do you want to hold him?

Evan: Yeah, of course.

Meg: You got to have the baby. I know.

Evan: Oh my gosh.

Meg: There's that new baby smell. A week fresh.

Evan: Isn't it... It is so crazy how like...

Meg: It's wild.

Evan: ... you smell that smell, and obviously one loves the baby just for being a baby. But when you smell the smell, it's also like, "I love being a human."

Meg: I know, I know.

Evan: And I will die for you, you know?

Meg: Exactly.

Sean: My name is Sean Pilcher and I am director of Sacra: Relics of the Saints, an organization that helps to protect and restore the relics of the saints for people to use and appreciate in their devotion.

Evan: Here we go.

Sean: Gorgeous. Look at that.

Evan: Isn't that great?

Sean: Wow.

The relics... Yeah. The relics are in here.

Evan: Huh. Yeah. Isn't that cool?

Sean: Beautiful. So you can see, at some degree, what's written on there. Look at that. Beautiful. Saint Aurelius, Saint Timotheus, martyrs.

I've heard people compare it to genealogy. You have an opportunity to learn a lot about a saint's life, or a lot about a particular religious community, or a lot about someone's own personal story and testimony of faith. I was working with a gentleman whose family was persecuted during the Mexican Civil War in the last century. A priest gave them a relic of a saint that was important to them and this relic had been passed down. And so they have this important relic to them, which is... It tells the story of the life of a saint, but it also tells the story of the life of faith of these people. And now this story of the saint who lived at a different time and place, and this family, and me, who all have totally different backgrounds, are all woven together, and that's exactly the idea of the communion of the saints.

We have these people, totally unrelated, but who are all brethren in Christ and who all find their peace and their hope and their joy in this one thing. And this relic is this font of grace. It's got this kind of gravitational pull to pull all these stories together.

Also you're not going to have my address on here, right?

Producer Jane: Oh, yeah. I'll make sure to keep that out.

Sean: So all the crazy Catholics don't come raid my house for relics. And then who will be laughing about the Fourth Crusade then, huh?

Evan: Right.

Sean: It's not so funny when it's your house.

Evan: That would be so sad, Sean, if a bunch of strange Catholics showed up and took relics from your house.

Sean: Anytime there's been authentic apostolic Christianity, people have been caring for the saints. People would put themselves at great physical risk to go recover the bodies of the saints so they can appreciate them and love them, because these are our family, right? These are people who are alive in heaven. It's not just some old, dead thing, this is where we go to experience people who behold the face of the living God in heaven, and they have some attachment still to their body.

So from the Roman catacombs, in all likelihood, to the East Coast, to Culver's in Wisconsin, to here. Right?

Evan: Yep.

Sean: I mean —

Evan: That's right.

Sean: That's Christendom for you.

Evan: There it is. Yeah.

Sean: Wonderful.

Anthony Bourdain says a negroni is the perfect drink because it takes three things he doesn't like, Campari, sweet vermouth, and gin, and makes them into one thing that he does like. And I don't know anything about Anthony Bourdain, but I like what he said about the negroni.

Evan: That is good.

Sean: Blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church, but the negroni is something else…I don't know.

Evan: The seed of the sons of the Church’s subsequent conversation about the martyrs. Thanks very much.

Sean: Cheers.

Evan: Cheers. Yeah. Sean, it's so good to meet you.

Sean: Yeah, you too.

Evan: Now the journey's over. Almost over. I'm still going to get Tasty Taco. Something that the dead cannot do, but that surely, when we all rise again, we will enjoy Tasty Taco in paradise. You know?

Sean: Here we go, John of Damascus.

Evan: Oh, yeah. Wow. Wow.

Sean: So this is part of his skin right here. He has a really interesting East-West story too, because he's an eastern saint who was kept in Venice for a while, which, of course, is a western place. Here comes the cat. And then the Patriarch of Venice gave some of the relics back to the east. So he's kind of a nice East-West guy.

Evan: Yeah, yeah.

Creators:
Grotto
Published:
June 14, 2024
June 12, 2024
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