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St. Thomas More's bone, half a tooth come to Los Angeles

Sir Thomas More, in happier days.
Sir Thomas More, in happier days.
Hans Holbein, the Younger/Google Art Project

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Imagine your father has just been beheaded for defying King Henry VIII, and his head has been placed on display on London Bridge. How much guts would it take to steal the head and take it home? Then, how awful would it be to cut out a piece of his jawbone, and wrench out a tooth?

But that's what Sir Thomas More's daughter did, and it's why the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles can display St. More's relics and a ring from St. John Fisher, who also defied Henry.

The relics are on a national Witnesses to Freedom tour, organized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and they're only at the cathedral until 3 p.m. Saturday.  (They also include St. Oscar Romero's microphone!)

I spoke with Joe Reed, assistant curator at Stonyhurst College in Manchester England which keeps the relics, and Elizabeth Harper, who writes about "Bodies, bones, relics, lore and oddities from the Catholic Church."

Listen to the audio to hear the full story, including the difference between first-class and second-class relics, and the remarkable story of a relic that resides here in L.A. full-time — near Gregory Peck's vault in the cathedral's crypt.