ONE of Christianity's most ancient holy relics made a historical journey back to Reading.

Hundreds of worshippers gathered at St James' Catholic Church, Forbury Road, to glimpse the legendary Hand of St James at the weekend.

The mummified hand, stored in a glass box normally kept at St Peter's Church in Marlow, is believed to be of the Apostle James, one of Jesus' closest disciples, who was martyred in AD44 by King Herod.

It was delivered on Friday [22] by the Confraternity of St James - a charity made up of enthusiasts for the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela to his shrine in Spain - and loaned to the church for three days to mark the Feast of St James.

The relic's links with Reading stem from 1133 when it was gifted to Reading Abbey and used for healing ceremonies, attracting thousands of medieval pilgrims from around Europe. Monks hid it in the Abbey walls during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 before it was unearthed in 1786 by workmen building Reading Gaol.

St James' parish priest, Canon John O'Shea, receiving the relic in the town for the first time in 25 years, said : "We have been honoured and delighted. Large groups came to view it - many for the first time - and hopefully we have sown the seeds for a pilgrimage from Reading to Santiago."

The church, which welcomed 50 Confraternity members from across Britain and Europe, also hosted a historical lecture from Professor Emeritus Brian Kemp, singing workshops and a spectacular 'A Cantata' concert, plus tours of the Abbey Ruins and Reading Museum.

Rosa Vazquez Santos, 40, who travelled to Reading from Santiago said: "They've been very welcoming. It's a beautiful church and Abbey and hopefully we can have a closer relationship with the town."

Confraternity secretary Marion Marples from central London said: "Everyone has been very hospitable. Pilgrimage is living faith and is a way of deeper understanding."


640: Records first document the hand being stored by Bishop of Torcello, Venice

1133: Given to Reading Abbey by Henry V's widow Matilda, daughter of Henry I

1136: Henry of Blois (later Bishop of Winchester) [corr] borrows relic for prayer

1155: Returned to Reading Abbey

1220+: Used in healing miracles and dipped into 'water of St James'

1539: Monks stashed it in an old iron chest and hid it in the Abbey walls during the Dissolution of the Monasteries

1786: Unearthed by workmen building Reading Gaol and given to Reading Museum (private)

1840s: Sold to J Scott Murray placed in his private chapel at Danesfield House, Reading and Marlow.

1882: On his death left to St Peter's Church, Marlow, where it is stored today.