CHICAGO (AP) -- Brown-tinged bone fragments from a Roman Catholic saint who died in Spain 535 years ago are being displayed in a silver reliquary at a Loyola University chapel.
The relics of San Diego de Alcala are among almost 400 in the Chicago archdiocese and, to many devout Catholics, serve as symbols of their martyrs and saints -- in this case, a monk who nursed sick friars at an infirmary in Rome and who cared for the poor and hungry in Spain.
While perhaps disturbing to some squeamish souls, the tradition is not that different from more common practices today of cherishing a loved one's ashes or lock of hair, a Catholic official said.
The Rev. Richard Saudis, vice chancellor of the Chicago Archdiocese, also likened relics to visiting the Tomb of the Unknowns and other graves at Arlington National Cemetery. ``It's not morbid; it's stirring,'' he said Friday.
The practice of saving relics, like the two bone fragments from San Diego's shoulder, dates to the Middle Ages, ``a more earthy time,'' when people were much less squeamish than they are now, said Saudis.
Relics can include such things as bones, skin, clothing, crosses, objects used for penance, a letter written by the saint or holy person.
San Diego's bone fragments, displayed at Loyola's Madonna della Strada Chapel, are not Chicago's first such relics.
A bone from the right arm of Mother Cabrini, who died in 1917, is on display at the National Shrine to St. Frances Cabrini at Columbus Hospital. And at least three pieces of leg bone believed to belong to Saint Jude, one of Jesus' apostles, are encased at the national Shrine to St. Jude on the city's South Side.
The Rev. Thomas Paprocki, chancellor of the Chicago Archdiocese, said there are at least 378 relics in the archdiocese because every church in Cook and Lake counties would have one or more embedded under its altar stone.
Rather than being worshiped, relics act ``as a piece of memory'' for a tradition steeped in the past, said John McCarthy, chairman of Loyola's theology department.
Saudis believes relics can give people a sense that ``this is the person who walked and talked on the earth, and this is our contact with them.''
Such symbols remind Catholics that ``it's not just Jesus and me, that we are a family,'' said Saudis. ``These saints are relatives. We have a kind of a sense of companionship with them, with the people who are dead, people who are alive, people who are in heaven.''
The body of San Diego, who died in 1463, is preserved in a casket under glass in a cathedral in Alcala, Spain.
The Most Rev. Manuel Urena Pastor, bishop of Alcala, presented the saint's bone fragments to Loyola on Wednesday.
Loyola was chosen for the first known relic outside the saint's native country because the university will hold a conference next June on the ``Complutensian Polyglot,'' a pioneering four-language Bible published in 1517 in Alcala.