Holy Family Church relics on display Sunday

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Holy Family opens its vaults for Christmas. (WLS)

Holy Family Church on the West Side is one of the few buildings to survive The Great Chicago Fire. It also survived the wrecking ball 25 years ago and is now preparing for a very special Christmas.

Construction on Holy Family Church at Roosevelt and Damen began in 1857. It is a church filled with Chicago history from steeple to main altar. To celebrate the Christmas season the church is digging deep into its vaults to bring back the past. On the Sunday after Christmas all of Chicago is invited to an open house at the open church.

"We've taken out a lot of artifacts and vessels, chalices, vestments that were part of the church here in the 1800's and we're going to have them on display," Father Michael Gabriel, pastor at Holy Family Church, said.

Some of the items are from the first mass said at Holy Family 158 years ago. However, the most interesting of all the relics might be three protected in a reliquary. They will also be on display on Sunday, December 27th.

"In the reliquary we have a bit of the cradle of Jesus. We have a veil. Part of the veil of Mary as well as part of the cloak of St. Joseph," Father Gabriel said.

They're very hard to see because they are so tiny. But if you look closely, you find the wood from the cradle of Jesus on top, a thread from Mary's veil, and then a tiny piece of St. Joseph's cloak. All three have been authenticated by the Vatican, which says St. Helen of the Cross collected them all in the fifth century.

"When she was over in Jerusalem many of these artifacts and blessed relics were there and she brought them back to home base, which was Rome at the time," Father Gabriel said.

It's not easy being the devil's advocate when you're standing in church. But Frank Mathie is a journalist. So he had to ask: how does the Vatican know these relics are authentic?

"We know they were brought to Rome in the 5th century so right then and there they were authenticated as being the precious items," Father Gabriel said. And before that? "That's where faith comes in."

The relics are on display at Holy Family Church, 1080 West Roosevelt Road, on Sunday, December 27, 2015, from 9:45 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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