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Relics refer to remnants, whether human, clothing, or items formerly in the possession of saints. In Germany, relics that are associated with Christ are usually referred to as “Herrenreliquien.”

Early devotion to martyrs and saints emerged at the tombs beyond the settlement areas. Beginning with the era of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, churches were dedicated to the most important saints. Many churches were built over the tombs of saints. As a result, the reverse - the translation of mortal remains from the saint to the church – was also possible. Starting in the Middle Ages, it was in this way that the connection to the altar came to exist. From then on, every altar had to include relics within it.

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A second dimension has been attributed to relics since Late Antiquity: healing, protective, or defensive qualities. Not only was it desirable to be buried near relics, but to own them was also worth striving for: Significant collections of relics by princes, bishops, and abbots soon followed thereafter. This inflated development resulted in a crisis of appreciation, starting at the end of the Middle Ages. Yet those who are aware of the human impulse to experience with all five senses can still find a connection to relics today. It is not the relic's historical authenticity that matters as much as its testimony to faith and its visual representation of God's mercy.

The tree holy hosts (photo by Thomas Schmidd)

The beginnings of the relics at Andechs can be traced back to the 10th century and are closely connected to the house of the Andechs counts. Its origin is shrouded in mystery. The legendary progenitor is Count Rasso. During a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he was said to have brought the first relics associated with Christ (“Herrenreliquien”) that became the foundation of the Andechs relic treasure: a twig from the crown of thorns, a segment of Christ's scepter of mockery, a remnant from the cross, as well as a fragment of the sudarium. Additional components of the relic treasury include, among others, precious textiles, St. John the Evangelist's tunic, and the belt worn by Mary Magdalene. The Golden Rose, belonging to the monastery's founder, Duke Albrecht III and Charlemagne's ”victory cross” are venerated in the same manner as the relics themselves. Moreover, relics belonging to St. Nicholas are also a part of the holy treasure (“Heiliger Schatz”), for as the patron of seamen and pilgrims, he – along with St. Elizabeth of Thuringia – is the patron of the present-day pilgrimage church. The so-called “Elizabeth Cross” as well as fragments of her bridal gown are also stored at Andechs.

“The Three Holy Hosts” comprise the heart of the relic treasure at Andechs. Authenticated by the pope in 1392, the three hosts are intended to demonstrate the transubstantiation of the eucharistic bread during the Holy Mass. Two hosts are said to originate from Pope Gregory the Great and display the blood-stained cross or a phalanx (finger bone). The third host, with the monogram of Jesus (IHS) written in blood, apparently traces back to Pope Leo IX.

Over the course of centuries, the relic treasure at Andechs was frequently expanded and altered. In 1755, the “holy treasure” contained 277 relics; following the secularization of 1803, only 40 articles were present at Andechs. In 1929, a skull fragment belonging to St. Hedwig of Silesia was presented to Andechs by Cardinal Bertram of Breslau. The mortal bones of Saints Paulina and Serena are laid in a glass cabinet at the upper high altar and in the Chapel of the Cross (“Kreuzkapelle”). Arranged within a glass vitrine in the Chapel of Sorrow (“Schmerzkapelle”) are four silver-plated bust portraits of St. Benedict, St. Scholastica, Pope Gregory the Great, and Pope Leo IX.

Former relics from Andechs are also located beyond the pilgrimage church. Now kept within the parish church at Forstenried, the romantic crucifix known as the Forstenried Cross evokes the Andechs counts. In addition, remnants of the Andechs relic treasure are also located in the treasury and relic chamber of the Munich Residenz.

At present, the relic treasure is kept at Holy Chapel and shown as a component of the authorized church tours.