Preparation of relics for Romero beatification

Jan Graffius, the Stonyhurst College Curator, has been invited to attend the Beatification Ceremony of Archbishop Oscar Romero, which takes place in El  Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, on Saturday 23 May. The invitation is in recognition of the work she has carried out over the last eight years preserving the relics of Monseñor Romero, in addition to those of the six Jesuit Martyrs and their companions, murdered by Death Squad troops in 1989.

In addition to attending the ceremony, she will be preparing a very poignant relic to be placed at the Beatification Altar during the ceremony. This is the blood soaked clerical shirt worn by Archbishop Romero (pictured below) when he was murdered while saying mass on March 24th 1980. The single bullet hole in the breast pocket bears powerful witness to the fact that the killing was carried out by a professional sniper. A specially designed reliquary has been built to house the shirt, weighing some 400lbs, and will be carried shoulder high by six deacons to the altar. Jan’s task is to prepare the support for the shirt, using museum materials, to ensure that the case has the correct light, temperature and humidity levels, and to supervise the placing of the shirt and the sealing of the reliquary. After the ceremony, the reliquary will be placed in the Cathedral of San Salvador, where Archbishop Romero is buried.

Romeros clerical shirtThe ceremony will be an extraordinary event, involving numerous Cardinals and Papal officials, Archbishops and Bishops, and over a thousand priests. Some quarter of a million pilgrims are expected in the capital, and there are feverish preparations to ensure that this deeply impoverished country can provide the welcome needed. Salvadorans are very warm and hospitable by nature, and the Beatification has been long awaited- there is no doubt that the country is rejoicing already, and by Saturday the atmosphere will be even more emotional and joyful.

In London, at the Jesuit Church in Farm St, the Stonyhurst triptych with a relic of Romero’s blood soaked alb, will be placed on the altar on May 23rd. The triptych is on loan to the Jesuit Province from the College, and was painted by Salvadoran artist Fernando Llort. It is inscribed with the readings from the mass Romero was saying when he was murdered, and some quotations from his sermon, seconds before his death. It was the gift of Rhetoric 2011, and after the Beatification it will return to Stonyhurst, and be placed in the College where it can bear witness to the bravery and holiness of this great 20th century martyr.

A  report of the ceremony will follow shortly.