Saints, Bones and Faith

Saints, Bones and Faith
27 June 2016 0 Comment

Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold; Ev’n them who kept thy truth so pure of old When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones Forget not.” It would seem John Milton was clearly at ease with the idea of the adoration of Saints bones, skulls, fibula’s and tibia’s that one stumbles across, scattered around the Catholic world as an expression of holy faith.

In churches around Europe you can find the miraculously preserved miracle-working relics of thousands of Christian martyrs and other saints. At least that is what devout Christians will tell you. According to many of these believers, saints’ bodies do not decay like ordinary human bodies. Their miraculous corpses stay fresh and sweet indefinitely. One of the most curious aspects of this is that all of the remains shown off as “perfectly preserved” are at best mummified, and more often than not are decomposed. Many of these “perfectly preserved” remains are skeletons with padded cloths, furnished with shoes, gloves and face masks to hide or disguise the rotting decay.

I’m still waiting to see the “perfectly preserved body” of St Cecilia. This young saint was found in Rome four centuries ago. The discovery was commemorated by a creepily realistic marble sculpture of the corpse by Stefano Maderno. This can be seen at St Cecilia in Trastevere, Rome, which also preserves her relics. While up in Padua some seven hundred and fifty years ago the tongue of St Anthony was found to be perfectly preserved – an incorruptible relic. St Anthony was a great preacher, his tongue apparently holy and obviously well used.

There are those dastardly clever cynics among us who describe Christianity as a sick Death Cult with a disturbing preoccupation for suffering, torture, death, a celebration of relics (human remains) and hell. Such people believe its central doctrines concern the torture and death of a man-god, and Roman Catholics still purport to eat his (real) flesh and drink his (real) blood. Its main emblem, the cross, worshiped like a holy saint, is an instrument of torture and death.

Whenever I’m confronted with the grisly, dusty remains of some wretch, saint or otherwise, in the shadows of a church in Italy I’m reminded of the inimitable words of Woody Allen, “I’m not afraid to die; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Now can someone hand me a duster, I see some fluff on this chaps lower lip!

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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