According to wiki 

Roman Catholic tradition holds that the head on display in San Silvestro in Capite in Rome is that of John the Baptist, discovered for the second time, as also maintained by Pope Benedict XVI in August 2012.

What the Pope said:

The pope also spoke about a fragmented piece of St. John's head that is kept as a relic in the Church of Saint Sylvester in Rome.

“In the Roman Martyrology, reference is made to a second finding of the precious relic, transported, on this occasion, in the church of San Silvestro in Rome. These little historical references help us to understand how how and deeply St. John the Baptist is venerated.”

There is also some similar Islamic tradition about this relic mentioned there.

My question is what did Martin Luther think about the 'preserved head' and other equally impressive holy relics?

  • Hope you don't mind the edit, I had to Google that, I read vatican news, National Catholic Register etc... and never heard them talk about this extremely recent event mentioned in that wiki article.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 4:00
  • @PeterTurner - Thank you that's very helpful in making the question better.
    – Mike
    Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 4:29
  • @Mike: Out of curiosity: what's triggering this deep analysis of Luther's views? Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 3:02
  • @unregistered-matthew7.7 - Just something all the reformers had published a lot of material on but I have never read, now I am running out of subjects to read so am kicking the can around a bit. Luther seems the best on the topic and I am fascinated with everything about Luther. The more I read the more I want to read about him.
    – Mike
    Commented Sep 8, 2012 at 3:26

1 Answer 1


Luther clearly thought all relics were ridiculous nonsense and evidences of a very degraded sense of spiriituality.

 “It is claimed that the head of St. John the Baptist is in Rome, although all histories show that the Saracens opened John’s grave and burned everything to powder. Yet the pope is not ashamed of his lies. So with reference to other relics like the nails and the wood of the cross—they are the greatest lies.” (Martin Luther's Works, Vol 54.131)

Furthermore, at the time of Luther, the superstition surrounding relics seems to have really been highly imaginative that only an unspiritual mind could ever conjure:

“Certain men have impudently boasted that they possess a feather from the holy angel St. Michael. The bishop of Mainz claims to have a flame from the bush of Moses. So in Compostella the banner is exhibited that Christ had in hell, and likewise the crown of thorns, the nails, etc., and also some of Mary’s milk.” (Martin Luther's Works, Vol 54.247) 

  • Interesting - I didn't know those Luther quotes. I do think that "only an unspiritual mind could ever conjure" is not giving enough credit to the creativeness of some "spiritual minds" - as evidenced in your own question/answer by the Pope. Indeed, it would be harsh to suggest that the "bishop of Mainz" is unspiritual. Commented Sep 5, 2012 at 6:40
  • Are the feather and the milk still around? or the banner? Commented May 10, 2014 at 3:36
  • Those interested might want to read Umberto Eco's novel "Baudolino", which takes place during the Fourth Crusade. The title character makes his living selling relics, such as the nails from the Cross, and carries several heads of John the Baptist with him. Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 13:22

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