Now Oxford University is dispatching some of its most distinguished academics on the quest, setting up a new research unit - with expertise ranging from genetics to theology and much in between - dedicated to studying Christian relics.I grant you that any connection with ancient Judaism is tenuous and will probably consist mostly or entirely of debunking legendary links to traditional relics. But that's progress too.
The group, which looks destined to be nicknamed the "Da Vinci Code Department", will attempt to separate the myth from the reality of venerated items across Europe and beyond that have inspired devotion and macabre fascination in equal measure.
In what is thought to be the first research body of its type, the unit, based in Keble College, will bring together experts in radiocarbon dating, genetics, osteology - the study of bones - chemistry, geography and archaeology with leading authorities in ancient Greek and Hebrew, Byzantine studies, ecclesiastical history and theology.
Professor Tom Higham, deputy director of the Oxford radiocarbon accelerator unit and founder of the new relics research "cluster", previously worked in teams that established that a collection of bones found in Wales could not be those of St David, and that a fragment of wood venerated for centuries in Ireland as a piece of the "true cross" was about 1000 years too young to fit the bill.I bet.
The team has a waiting list of relics across Europe to be investigated.