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“The Conversion of St Paul” by Parmigianino

Paul wasn’t one of the twelve – the Lord appeared to him “out of season” – yet he became the greatest, the pre-eminent apostle. John was called the Beloved; Peter, the Rock. But it was Paul to whom the task of institution-building fell. He was the architect, the prime theologian, the incandescent mind on a hill, the one whose light could not be hid. When snake-charmers overwhelmed the Cappadocian church, Paul was there in a week, wielding scimitars and amputating limbs. He was fluent in Latin, Greek and Aramaic. Once, he surprised the bishop of Antioch by delivering a sermon in Coptic without notes. Legend has it that he was ambidextrous. In Dürer’s famous painting he has a stylus in each hand and a smirking slave boy on his lap. He had two penises: phallus major, which was fully functional, and phallus minor, which was ornamental. P. major currently lies in a mislabelled jar at the Smithsonian. P. minor, after a brief career in Roman politics, disappeared from history.

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