Relics

Michelangelo_Merisi_da_Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_-_WGA04141
“The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” by Caravaggio

The Iron Crown of Lombardy contains no iron. The Sudarium of Oviedo is stained with goat’s blood. For three decades the Holy Prepuce of Calcata was attached to Eugenio Cialdini, a baker who died in 1540. The likeness of Christ on the Veronica was painted in 1369 by Pietro Varchi. Icons lie, relics deceive, heresies multiply and thrive. Paul knew this. His instructions were clear: “Burn my body.”

But the needs of the living outweigh those of the dead. He was buried. Elders came from Corinth, Ephesus and Galatia. When all their prayers were said and their eulogies read, the faithful dispersed. Two weeks later, Paul’s grave was empty.

Fragments of his skull turned up in churches across Asia Minor. A mummified testicle is venerated to this day in Limoges. The Bourbon kings held three of his ribs in their private collection. His sternum rests at the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. His left femur was passed down from one Carolingian ruler to the next. There are two right femurs in Spain, three scapulae in Turkey. There is more of him now than there was while he lived.

So it goes.

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