Frederick the Wise, the Imperial Elector of Saxony, housed his relic collection in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Relics were holy objects, such as small bone fragments from deceased saints, articles of their clothing, or other objects. These items were considered holy and often displayed in ornate devices, called reliquaries.
Frederick's inventory of 1518 listed 17,443 items, including a thumb from St. Anne, a twig from Moses' burning bush, hay of the holy manger, and milk from the Virgin Mary.
Money was paid in order to venerate these relics and thus escape years in purgatory.
Frederick had received permission from the Church to issue an indulgence to pilgrims when they visited his collection. The indulgence promised to reduce their time in purgatory based on the number of relics they viewed in the collection. In total, pilgrims could receive 1,902,202 years and 270 days off of their time in purgatory!
Little has changed since ancient times. The Roman Catholic Church still showcases its collections of "first class relics." Altars at Roman Catholic churches still contain a relic within them, often a small bone fragment from a saint.
The devil tempts us to hope in things that we can do. We can collect relics. We can go to church. We can give money to the poor and into the offering plate. Yet chasing after these activities and things ultimately give us no certain end, no satisfaction, and leaves us empty.
God has given us something for our troubled consciences and our guilty souls. He has given to us His own Son as the angels announced to the shepherds that first Christmas morn. He, the one and only begotten Son, is the only Person worth worshipping, the only Saviour worth adoring, with the only blood that redeems the soul.
The Reformation definitely relocated man’s hope onto Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Gospel of complete salvation by grace through faith was restored. But the Reformers also highlighted the clear things Jesus has given us for our confidence and certainty. The Reformation restored the Word and Sacraments to their rightful place as signs of God’s favour, forgiveness and promise of eternal life.
Many today within the Christian Church still chase after fleeting and unsure signs of God’s grace instead of relishing the clearly-given gifts commanded by our Lord.