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Oil of Saints is described as:

  • an oily substance which is said to have flowed (or, in some cases, still flows) from the relics of burial places of certain saints;
  • the water that flows from the wells near their burial places;
  • or oil and/or water which have somehow come into contact with their relics.

In the first two cases, the "oil" is probably groundwater containing minerals that give it a smooth, oily feeling against your fingers. As for the last case, in the 4th century it was customary to pour oil over the relics or reliquaries of martyrs, and to gather the oil in vases or soak pieces of cloth with it. This oil was called oleum martyris, and was given to the faithful as a remedy against sickness. The Catholic Encyclopedia is very careful to point out that the cure was not believed to be wrought by the oil itself, but through the intercession of the saint with whom the oil had been in contact. Eventually, the custom extended to the relics of saints who did not die as martyrs.

The most famous of the Elaephori, or oil-yielding saints, is probably Saint Walburga, who rests under a stone slab in a church in Bavaria. The oil, which has been analyzed and shown to be nothing more than water, is caught in a silver cup and distributed in small vials by the Sisters of Saint Benedict who run the church.

Other well-known Elaephori (this is by no means an exhaustive list):

Webster 1913

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