In the year 922, the remains of St. Adelbert were exhumed at his small church near Egmond-Binnen. The bones were brought to the abbey and are still kept and worshipped there. The bones of Adelbert are the oldest relics owned by the abbey.
Later in 975, the son of the Archbishop of Trier sent from Rome a large chest of relics in honor of the consecration of the first stone abbey church. “That is the basis of our reliquary treasure,” says Brother Adelbert, who manages the collection. The abbey possesses “souvenirs” of more than 600 different saints.
Earlier this month, the abbey donated a piece of St. Nicholas’ bone to the basilica of the same name in Amsterdam, for the celebration of the St. Nicholas year. It is not unusual for churches to donate relics to each other.
“This is also how the relic of St. Nicholas came here,” Brother Adelbert says. “The relic was brought from Turkey to Italy in 1087. That same year, our count was in Rome and obtained four pieces of St. Nicholas’ bone for Egmond Abbey.”
“We believe that the goodness that was in that person is still in the remains they leave behind”
Only on special occasions does Adelbert bring out the relics. “They are a direct tangible connection from us on earth to the one we know is in heaven. We believe that the goodness that was in that person is still in the mortal remains they leave behind,” the friar explained.
The preservation of relics originated in the first century when believers were persecuted and church meetings were held underground. After Christianity was elevated to the state religion, saints were venerated in churches. Their remains were distributed to churches throughout Europe.
Largest relic treasure
Egmond Abbey probably holds one of the largest relic treasures in the Netherlands. “Our abbey had prestige and benefited from it. One of our counts was a Roman king and the abbey always had a lawyer or an envoy in Rome, Paris and Trier. From there they were collected. The more relics the abbey had, the greater the status of the princes of the counts of Holland was.”
Next year, the abbey celebrates its 1100th anniversary and the relics are bound to show up a bit more often. “This also keeps it special,” says Brother Adelbert. “They are not just utensils, they are a sanctified thing. It has always been the custom to display them only on special occasions.”