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Understanding the tradition of burying prominent Catholics in church cathedrals

By Gardy Chacha | Published Sat, November 11th 2017 at 00:00, Updated November 10th 2017 at 22:39 GMT +3

The burial of Bishop Cornelius Korir is in line with long standing traditions in the Catholic church.

The world over many cathedrals have crypts holding remains of their bishops and cardinals.

In the book, Making Sense of Saints: Fascinating Facts About Relics, Patrons, Canonisation and More, authour Patricia Ann Kasten writes that the first churches erected after the early Christian house churches were built near or directly over the graves of martyrs.

Over the years there has been a close relationship between remains of saints and martyrs with the physical cathedral structure. In 787, the Second Council of Nicaea, a Catholic sitting, decreed all new churches would be built with relics of saints placed inside altars.

St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the capital of the Catholic Church, is often referred to as a necropolis. Human bones and remains have been found in several hollows in the foundation of the basilica. The most notable of these are the bones said to belong to the biblical Simon Peter, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ, and who is considered by Catholic faithful to be the first pope.

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The Nicaean decree continued for more than 1,000 years, until April 6, 1969, following the Second Vatican Council. The custom of placing relics of saints in new altars of churches is still considered desirable – though not compulsory. The decision to bury Korir inside the church cathedral was arrived at through a conference of Catholic bishops.

Nyeri Archbishop Anthony Muheria was given the task to identify the actual place inside the church where Bishop Korir’s remains will be interred. Other Kenyan clerics buried inside a church include former Nyeri Diocese Bishop Gatimu Ngandu (1987), his successor Nicodemus Kirima (2007), Tiberius Mugendi of Kisii diocese (1993) and Bishop Longinus Atundo of Bungoma (1996).

St Thomas Aquinas, back in the thirteenth century, said: “We should show honour to the saints of God. Wherefore in memory of them, we ought to honour any relics of theirs in a fitting manner.”