A Lancashire church is celebrating a' surprising new connection' to its patron saint, after a step back into one woman’s family history brought about a rare discovery.

The Parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Gerard Majella in Lostock Hall has recently welcomed what is believed to be a relic of the 18th-century Italian saint, Gerard Majella, following its chance discovery at a home in Sheffield.

Nicky Woods came upon this rare find when looking through the personal items belonging to her late mother.

She explained: “My mother had been a widow for a very, very long time and she kept this little box of very special things.

"In it, there were letters from my father from when they were courting and such really little, personal things, which I always felt I couldn’t look at yet.

“Eventually, I braced myself to have a look, and, in the bottom, there was a small, circular box with this relic in.”

Thanks to a background in archaeology and an early childhood attending Latin Mass, Nicky’s grasp of the Latin label in the box enabled her to identify the item as a tiny piece of bone from 18th-century saint, Gerard Majella.

Nicky was then faced with the decision of what to do next, so began to explore how this curious item may have ended up in her mother’s possession.

Suspecting it was more likely to be a possession of her father’s than of her mother’s, Nicky began to research churches in the area her father grew up, near Brownedge, and came upon the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Gerard Majella’s.

Nicky then contacted the parish, wishing to rehome the piece that had been kept so carefully by her mother for so many years.

She explained: “For me, relics aren’t part of my own personal spirituality or devotion, so I thought I should put it in the hands of the Church and an appropriate parish where they will be good custodians of it for the future.”

Although impossible to trace the origins of the find or its connection to the church, parish priest Fr Mark Harold was delighted to hear from Nicky.

Fr Mark welcomed Nicky and her discovery to the parish with prayerful ceremony, where it will now be housed with hopes to invite people to pray in its presence in the future.

He said: “The tradition of keeping relics is about being in touch with holiness.

"If you think about it in terms of a loved one, we keep safe things belonging to our loved ones: something belonging to your grandma or grandad becomes precious.

“And so it is with saints. It was something belonging to them that reminded us of them, brought us closer to them, and closer to holiness, and that’s really special.”