Holy relics and the tourism industry

September 21, 2009 - Graham

They say pilgrimages are the world’s oldest form of tourism promotion, and they have lots of useful by-products. Without pilgrimages we wouldn’t have the distinctly un-pious Canterbury Tales. We probably wouldn’t have Durham Cathedral, built to house the worldly remains of St. Cuthbert. We would be deprived of those fabulous be-jewelled reliquaries that contain the bones and garters of medieval saints and bishops.

Relics and visions are still strong draws on the continent; the infirm and hopeful flock to Lourdes, Fatima and Santiago. Knock’s airport and tourism industry is unashamedly built on an apparition of the Virgin Mary. But does this appeal hold in our country – steeped in Protestantism and post-Enlightenment secularism? Apparently so. We hear the thigh and foot bones of Therese of Lisieux, thought by many to have miraculous powers, are touring the country and drawing large crowds to Portsmouth Cathedral and 27 other ‘holy places’.

For destination professionals the success of this initiative throws up uncomfortable questions. Does it suggest new marketing opportunities for an age-old tradition? Or is it an outdated exploitation of the sick and credulous? Opinions about the tour are sharply divided. Therese’s bones are said to have powers to promote reconciliation; we shall see.

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