Of Ireland, at least, where a rash of thefts of saintly body parts has the police baffled.
The only thing creepier is imaging who might be buying them from the thieves, if the dean’s hypothesis is correct:
The latest in a series of such thefts involved the removal of the preserved heart of St. Laurence O’Toole, Dublin’s 12th-century patron saint, from the city’s historic Christ Church Cathedral. As there was no sign of forced entry to the cathedral itself, the dean of Christ Church, Dermot Dunne, initially believed the thief had probably hidden in the building when it closed on Friday evening, taken the artifact overnight and simply walked out the next morning.
“Maybe someone stole it to order; it certainly seems plausible,” Dean Dunne said Monday in an interview at Christ Church. “Or maybe a religious fanatic wants the relic and paid somebody to steal it.”
I know that (alleged) bits of Gautama Buddha are preserved in South Asia, but no one goes into keeping body parts like Catholic and Orthodox Christians. It’s all quite magickal.
The custom was well-advanced by the mid-fourth century, as Julian, the last Pagan emperor, was quite grossed out by it and often referred to Christian churches as charnel houses.
Aside from the Egyptians, most Pagan cultures of his day considered corpses to be polluting, full of miasma, and something to be gotten rid of — burned, buried, or sealed away in a sarcophagus (a word that literally means “flesh-eater,” since they were usually carved from limestone). And even the Egyptians did not stack mummies in their temples.
The last time I thought about saints’ relics was a couple of years ago when a priest was giving me and some colleagues a tour of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.
We had walked around into the apse, and while a certain Italian Catholic lawyer (scholars of new religions will know who I mean) dropped to his knees in adoration of the Sacrament, I was studying two reliquaries holding (alleged) bone fragments of Mary Magdalene.
Each one had a tiny bone fragment smaller than the nail of my little finger, encased in a glass capsule that was in turn decorated and encircled with gold. These inner cases, smaller than a lipstick tube, were then held in a larger, glass-walled box affixed to a wall. At least I remember there being two small capsules, although this website page speaks of one (larger?) reliquary.
There are more relics in the altar.
Irreverently, all that I could think of was some monk long ago sitting at a chopping block with a big knife or cleaver.
Behind him is the abbot, telling someone, “Brother Anthony’s knife skills are superb. You should watch him dice an onion or cut up a chicken. We will have plenty of relics to distribute to the faithful this way, and they will show their gratitude with generous gifts.”
Meanwhile, what are they doing with the heart of St. Laurence O’Toole?