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Italian Martyr’s 1,600-Year-Old Remains Put to Rest

July 25, 1989 GMT

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ Relics of St. Justin the martyr have been laid to rest after 1,600 years in which they have been entombed in the catacombs, secreted away by Italian nobles and displayed in a Maryland church.

An urn containing 15 small, brittle bones believed to be St. Justin’s was buried Monday in a shady plot near St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church.

″We’ve finally put St. Justin to rest,″ said the Rev. John Murray, who found the bones in a church safe 20 months ago and conducted the funeral. ″It’s not every day that you get to witness burial of a 1,600-year-old martyr.″


After he found the relics, Murray pieced together their history, beginning in Rome in the 4th century A.D., when Justin was beheaded at age 26.

Justin was elevated to sainthood soon after his death, and his remains were buried in the catacombs, the caverns beneath the Appian Way in Rome used by early Christians.

Then, in 1757, archaeologists unearthed remains they identified as St. Justin’s, along with what they believed were the remains of two other martyrs, St Sergius and St. Nazarius, Murray said.

For the next 110 years, the three sets of relics were cared for by a series of noble Italian families and bishops. But in 1873, during a period of civil unrest in Italy, the church sent them to the Rev. Joseph Wissel in Baltimore for safekeeping.

Wissell kept the box containing the relics of St. Justin, which he displayed prominently in the church, and sent the others elsewhere. During renovations to St. Mary’s in the 1960s, priests put the relics, wrapped in yellowed paper, in a box in the church safe.

Murray isn’t at all sure the relics will remain in their present resting place, even though the burial was cleared by the local church hierarchy.

″The Vatican may want me to send the relics back to Rome,″ Murray said. ″If they want me to do that, then we’ll dig him up.″