The news that the monks of Glastonbury made up the story about Alfred being buried at their monastery is hardly shocking. Pilgrimage was the tourism of the Middle Ages and cathedrals and monasteries competed to have the best relics which would create the most miracles. And thereby generate the most pilgrims and cash.
Typically Peterborough cathedral boasted bread from the feeding of thr 5000,a bit of Jesus’ swaddling clothes, a piece of Aaron’s rod and a piece from a dress worn by Mary. Way to go. These cathedrals could receive as much as 30% of their incomes from the gifts of pilgrims. The gifts were given to make sure the prayers were heard.
Elsewhere several European churches claimed to have pieces of the Jewish Jesus’ foreskin, there were vials of Mary’s ,milk. Luckily lavatory paper had not been invented! Turin famously claims to have Jesus’s shroud, Amiens the head of John the Baptist. It may well be that gullible crusaders and their priests were sold these phony relics by wily merchants as they crossed through Byzantium to the Holy Land.
Such was the power and economic importance of relics that they were often stolen. Typically Venice stole the remains of St Mark from Alexandria. But the whole thing became an enormous racket-as modern pilgrimages to Mecca must be today. So much so that the early reformers such as Calvin and Luther pointed out there were enough fragments of the cross on display to build a ship and ever y apostle had at least four bodies and every saint two or three.
Of course the Catholic church is not alone. In Kandy , Sri Lanka Buddhists queue up daily to venerate his tooth. When Leonard Woolf worked as colonial administrator in the early 20th century he had a look inside the reliquary and declared the tooth was suspiciously like a canine molar.
To the embarrassment of the Catholic Church it has recently been exposed that if you want your local hero to become a saint it costs around half a million. Its cheaper to get a seat in the House of Lords and at least there you can earn £300 a day.