I want to underscore this point. The display of a relic at the Lirey cathedral was not unique. As a matter of fact, all Catholic cathedrals were expected to have a relic. And all of them believed their relic was genuine.
Inspired by this, the second Council of Nicea in 787 decreed that no altar could be consecrated without its own relics. A manuscript in the Fitzwilliam known as the Metz Pontifical, a book which details the various ceremonies to be performed by a bishop, shows the insertion of relics into a newly dedicated altar [MS.298.f.46r]. The ruling at Nicea still applies in the Roman Catholic Church today.
Given that the materials of most relics – bone, wood, cloth – often had little intrinsic value, the scope for forgeries was wide. A Church Council in 1215 tried to legislate against the trade in fakes, and decreed that henceforth all relics had to be authenticated by a bishop.
Over a hundred years later, Martin Luther complained about the profusion of relics and the absurd claims being made for them.
“What lies there are about relics! One claims to have a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel, and the bishop of Mainz has a flame from Moses’ burning bush. And how does it happen that eighteen apostles are buried in Germany when Christ had only twelve?”
In medieval Europe, relics of dead martyrs were the ultimate must-have, venerated by princes and paupers alike.
The medieval market for relics was big business – a huge industry with an infrastructure to match. From peasants to popes, all clamoured to see them – so much so that Charlemagne, the first Holy Roman Emperor, ordered relic veneration to be an integral part of Frankish canon law, directing every altar to possess its own relics.
It was in 1555 that the relic trade was officially banned.
In 1555 at the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church, responding to the accusations of the Reformation which rejected relics, forbade their sale altogether.
If relics were everywhere in medieval Europe, shouldn’t we also have textual records everywhere complaining to the Pope about forgeries?