Blogging the Age of Faith

Friday, February 02, 2007

Making a Relic Out of Jesus

Fore Shame! Did the Vatican steal Jesus' foreskin so people would shut up about the savior's penis?

By David Farley, Dec. 19, 2006

In 1983, as the residents of Calcata, a small town 30 miles north of Rome, prepared for their annual procession honoring a holy relic, a shocking announcement from the parish priest put a damper on festivities. "This year, the holy relic will not be exposed to the devotion of the faithful. It has vanished. Sacrilegious thieves have taken it from my home." Not since the Middle Ages, when lopped-off body parts of divine do-gooders were bought, sold, and traded, has relic theft been big news. But the mysterious disappearance of Calcata's beloved curio is different.
This wasn't just the residuum of any holy human—nor was it just any body part. It was the foreskin of Jesus Christ, the snipped-off tip of the savior's penis, the only piece of his body he supposedly left on earth.

Just what the holy foreskin was doing in the priest's house—in a shoebox at the back of his wardrobe, no less—and why and how it disappeared has been debated ever since the relic vanished. Some suspect the village priest sold it for a heavenly sum; others say it was stolen by thieves and ended up on the relics black market; some even suggest Satanists or neo-Nazis are responsible. But the most likely culprit is an unlikely one: the Vatican.

And why not? Protestant doubt ("They couldn't let Christ's body go without keeping a piece," John Calvin quipped) and the scientific revolution, which changed our thinking from superstitious to skeptical, have taken their toll on a relic that once rested high atop the pious pecking order of blessed body parts. It's understandable that the 20th-century church began feeling a bit bashful about the idea of its flock fawning over the 2,000-year-old tip of the redeemer's manhood. Still, when I arrived in Calcata six months ago, the idea of a Vatican theft of Jesus' foreskin sounded more like a ganja-induced brainstorming session with Dan Brown and Danielle Steele. But some transplanted bohemians, a deathbed confession, and a little historical context have convinced me otherwise.

Even before its disappearance, the relic had a strange history. It was discovered in Calcata in 1557, and a series of miracles soon followed (freak storms, perfumed mists engulfing the village). The church gave the finding a seal of approval by offering a 10-year indulgence to those who came to venerate. Lines of pilgrims stretched from the church doors to beyond the walls of the fortress town. Nuns and monks from nearby villages and monasteries made candlelit processions. Calcata was a must-see destination on the pilgrimage map.

That is, until 1900. Facing increasing criticism after the "rediscovery" of a holy foreskin in France, the Vatican decreed that anyone who wrote about or spoke the name of the holy foreskin would face excommunication. And 54 years later, when a monk wanted to include Calcata in a pilgrimage tour guide, Vatican officials didn't just reject the proposal (after much debate). They upped the punishment: Now, anyone uttering its name would face the harshest form of excommunication—"infamous and to be avoided"—even as they concluded that Calcata's holy foreskin was more legit than other claimants'.

But that wasn't the end of the holy foreskin. In the late 1960s, government officials, worried that crumbling cliffs and threatening earthquakes might doom the village, decided to build a new town. Hippies discovered the newly abandoned town, which was awaiting a government wrecking crew, and squatted in, then legally purchased, the vacated buildings. Some of the bohemian transplants were intrigued by Calcata's relic, which was now only shown to the public during the village's annual New Year's Day procession (even though the Vatican II reforms removed the Day of the Holy Circumcision from the church calendar). The new residents began writing about the quirky event and relic for newspapers in and around Rome, and Calcata's scandalous prepuce was isolated no more. And the church took notice.

Was this the reason Dario Magnoni, the local priest, brought the relic from the church to his home? Who knows. Magnoni refuses to speak about the relic, citing the 1954 threat of excommunication. Magnoni's predecessor, Mario Mastrocola, didn't want to talk about the relic, either, but when asked if he was surprised to hear it had been stolen, he shook his head. When pressed, he said, "The relic would not have been taken away from Calcata if I were still the priest there."

Mastrocola's ambiguous words—while not directly incriminating anyone—hinted at underhanded church dealings (interview requests with the Vatican went unanswered). And later, I found myself sitting in a wine cellar halfway up the hill between the old and new villages of Calcata. Capellone, the cellar's owner and a lifelong Calcatese, told me about his close relationship with a former local bishop, Roberto Massimiliani. Ailing in bed, the bishop told Capellone that when he was gone, so too would be the relic. Bishop Massimiliani passed away soon after, in 1975. Eight years after that, the relic disappeared. "To me, it almost felt like a confession," said Capellone. "Like he needed to tell someone before he died."

Could the "sacrilegious thieves" Magnoni mentioned in his 1983 announcement about the relic's disappearance actually have been Vatican emissaries? The thought of masked, black-clad Vatican agents on a mission to steal Jesus' foreskin does sound alluring. But for residents like Capellone, who swear the Vatican now has the relic, the thief could be Magnoni himself. Some locals claim they saw him go to Rome the day before he made the announcement, generating speculation that the Vatican asked for it and Magnoni not only failed to stand up to them, he delivered the relic himself.

Sold, stolen, or delivered to the Vatican—or even all three—the holy foreskin of Calcata is probably gone for good, even as some residents persist in the hope that it will return. And the church is certainly breathing a sigh of relief. While most of the other copies of the relic were destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution, Calcata's holy foreskin lived long past its expiration date, like a dinosaur surviving the meteoric blast of the scientific revolution.
But if it had survived, it would have been only a matter of time before someone wanted to clone it. And that could have given the Second Coming an entirely new meaning.


  • At 4:05 PM, Anonymous kisstheconcrete said…

    If the whole idea of Jesus' foreskin as a relic were possible I definitely think the situation of cloning would have eventually came up. In the readings of the course thus far we've discovered that the relics that came from Godly people were highly beneficial to those who possessed them. Many of these examples center around King Oswald. The cross he made healed the sickly and the dirt from the place of his death also created numerous miracles. I have no doubt that the foreskin of Jesus would have possessed just as much or maybe even more power. Perhaps by cloning the foreskin this power could be multiplied?

    The dirt and the chips from the cross of King Oswald were in high supply and many people could obtain them, while Jesus' foreskin is a single object and only one person can be its holder. The drive to possess this single relic lead to robbery. Cloning could possibly be a solution to this problem.

    However, questions about the significance of cloning such a powerful thing can be asked. Would the clones of this great object be just as great? Would they serve the same purpose? Would the foreskin of Jesus have such an influential effect if cloning it were possible? Perhaps, but the disappearance of the relic leaves these questions unanswered.

  • At 11:17 PM, Anonymous lovelikewinter said…

    Second coming by means of cloning is definitely an interesting twist even though I do not think that is quite how it will happen. Whatever happened to Jesus Christ coming down on His cloud, bringing his angels with him and the such? Sometimes I think science and technology gets the best of us. But if God did not mean for us to be this advanced, He would not have allowed.

    I believe that cloning Jesus using the foreskin would be something interesting. I most definitely am not saying that if we had the foreskin that we should try. I just think it would be interesting to see how many people would be for it. Anytime cloning is mentioned, even if it is in the context of stem cell research, a big uproar is started by conservative/religious groups. How would these groups feel about cloning their Saviour? I am sure many would still be against it but it would still be interesting to see if that had any effect on the scenario.

    Even if the foreskin was still around it would not be in very good shape? I mean, I know this is "Jesus' foreskin" we're talking about so it is holy and has wonderful properties but Jesus left it behind on Earth. Wouldn't it be subject to time? It seems like it would be so old that it would turn to dust when touched, not that I want to touch it.

    Another thing, just how much foreskin are we supposed to believe he had? There's pieces at the Vatican, there were pieces in the French Revolution and Reformation, King Henry V requested some, and it gave Saint Bridget orgasms. Where is all of it coming from?

  • At 7:25 PM, Blogger bcpcguy said…

    In a word, “wow!” I can honestly say that before this class I had never thought about or considered the miraculous power held by the foreskin of Jesus. In my opinion, I think it’s all a pile of rubbish. The idea that a piece of penis skin, even if it is Jesus’, can heal me or bring me closer to the one true God just seems bogus and totally irrational for a 21st century society. I realize that my opinion is definitely not the same of others, but I know God will listen to me (or heal me) regardless of how close I am to the holiest foreskin ever clipped.

    Just as I was recuperating from the concept of Jesus’ foreskin being stolen from a shoebox in a priest’s wardrobe in Calcata, the thought of cloning Jesus’ foreskin was mentioned! I, much like “lovelikewinter”, had envisioned Jesus descending from heaven with a host of angelic messengers surrounded by puffy clouds and majestic doves, not in a test tube in a laboratory somewhere.

    I am ecstatic that the foreskin is gone and I hope it has been destroyed because of the potential cloning. We do not need a test tube Jesus and I know that if a scientist with the capabilities gets his hands on it, that’s what we’ll have. Jesus will return to Earth when the time comes and not when our technology says so.

  • At 6:27 PM, Blogger Krangor said…

    Being an atheist I think I may be privy to a point of view most of the others in our class are oblivious to.

    It seems to be the general consensus of the modern Christians that the idea of relying on relics, especially Jesus’ foreskin, is ridiculous. My take is that, aside from the obvious stomach-turn factor of relying upon a part your departed savior's manhood as a medium through which you can communicate to your god, modern Christians are used to being able to pray to their God for what ever they like, whenever they like, regardless of their physical location or whether or not they have St. Paul’s wooden hip close on hand. As far as I can recall the Bible does not endorse the concept of relics (though I’m not sure if it actually denounces them either), so the modern Christian is perhaps right in their opinion.

    What I think we fail to realize is, as I heard in class “you have to figure it out for yourself (what you believe)”, this is what these people nearly a thousand years ago figured out for themselves. They would have seen the practice of “impromptu” prayer, and especially the eschewing of relics as ridiculous and possibly as heresy. Rather than assuming that it was “primitives” doing this, we need to remember that just because it’s not our way, it doesn’t mean it can’t be their way, or even The Way (Geeze, I’m stating to sound like a wishy-washy agnostic here).

    But as far as the actual disappearance goes, I wouldn’t doubt it having being stolen and/or pawned on the black relic market. As far as the possibility of cloning goes, I doubt this is possible. Lacking a miraculous preservation, a 2 thousand year-old piece of skin will doubtfully contain much useful genetic information, if any at all.

  • At 6:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The stories that are mentioned in this article that try to explain the disappearance of the foreskin, to me, are all lame. Not in the sense that everyone is trying to get their hands on this important relic of its time, but in the sense that if this relic is so important, why on Earth are people able to steal it? If I had, in my possession, something that meant this much to so many people, I would most certainly guard it with my life. Therefore, I think that Calcata could have created more ways to prevent Jesus’s foreskin from being stolen, or to reduce the risk of its disappearance. Obviously, it’s not enough just to create a new city of Calcata when storms are threatened, or to say “anyone who writes or speaks anything about the relic or the events surrounding it, will be excommunicated.”

    Another thing that after reading, I just can’t stop thinking about is the possibility that if the foreskin was still around, then the possibility of cloning it would probably exist. This doesn’t surprise me, that the scientific world would want to clone something this important to mankind. But, if you think about it, if this relic is so powerful and important, would it have the same power as the real thing? I don’t think so, a relic, an object esteemed and venerated because of association with a saint or martyr, could not be recreated. There’s only one foreskin of Jesus.

  • At 11:11 AM, Anonymous bittersweetaddiction said…

    Holy Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Saints Preserve Us. Jesus’ Foreskin! Imagine the possibilities….and the extreme disbelief. The foreskin would naturally be one of the highest held relics of all…that is if it even existed. The foreskin as a relic, producing “unnatural” instances to prove its power is all in the eyes of the beholder. If you seriously want to believe in something so bad, you will and you will find off the wall things of the like to support your decision to believe. How can they tell it was Jesus’ and not just some hobo off the streets? I know you have to believe to make it faith. But I don’t know if I necessarily want to embrace a faith that revolves around the saviors wang. My question would be, how can the foreskin survive 2000 years. I know there have been cavemen preserved to a tee in bogs and cold climates, but this isn’t happening here. It seems that the foreskin is getting man handled left and right with the changing of hands. With all the rough housing of it, I hardly believe that it can still exist.
    I simply cracked up to believe the heated rivalry between towns to see who’s in possession of the true Foreskin of Jesus, people even facing excommunication of uttering that one was the wrong one. That would be an amazing conversation for that person down in hell:
    “Hey I murdered church officials to get down here, what did u do?”
    “I denied Jesus’ true foreskin”
    Seems silly and messed up doesn‘t it. Just because it WAS a part of Jesus, doesn’t have any holdings that it still is apart of Jesus and has his holy standing. I used to be in my mother’s womb, but that doesn’t mean that I belong to her and have the same standing she does with the lord. What truly matters is a person’s connection with God on a spiritual sense. I don’t think God is specifically going to reserve special seats in heaven for people who have beheld his holy Sons foreskin. What I think is weird is that the majority takes place in the last 100 years, when relics aren’t held in such high esteem by the people and their cultures. Will the fight for the Foreskin ever just end?

  • At 11:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sadly there really was the thought of cloning from the foreskin of Jesus. I think it is kind of odd that people would worship such a relic as this. I understand the connection, if there was one, but there just seems something very wrong about that. I can't imagine how Jesus would feel if he could react to such a situation.
    In terms of deciding who it was that took the foreskin of Jesus, it is hard to really figure out who would have taken it and for what purpose. I have a hard time comprehending the reasoning for such a fight over a piece of skin, but I also do not use relics.
    The fact that the relic was in the priests house in a shoebox seems to miss the point. For one, a shoe box doesn't strike me as being a respectful place to hold a relic, if it is what they say it is.
    Depending on who ended up taking such relic, it's hard to understand why, in a case where there are so many slips and cracks occuring that there should be more worry about, people are worried, accusing, and obsessing over a part off a penis.

  • At 11:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    WOW! I thought that people in the middle ages were obsessed with relics not people who lived in the 1980's. However, I guess if I wanted to be popular I would claim to have Jesus's foreskin too......not. Thats not exactly the first thing I think of when I think of holiness. In fact I would probably prefer to think Jesus didn't have a penis (of course thats not true), as childish and stupid that may be. However, when people think of penises these days we think of sex and the male brain. Its also amazing that people actually think that a foreskin has power. So what if their were freakish storms... ever heard of El Nino?? And why would freakish storms and perfumed fog be considered a miracle? Neither of those seem to follow God's normal miracle pattern like water into wine, healing the sick, walking on water or raising the dead. Storms happen all the time. I don't think people have grasped the concept that you can create your own thoughts that may have no actually relevence to real life.

  • At 6:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    So his foreskin was the only thing Jesus left behind? What about some fingernail clippings or maybe some feces or something. As some others mentioned, the foreskin would have had to have been in pretty bad shape by now I would think, or perhaps one of its special powers is that it does not suffer the effects of time? Or perhaps it was preserved from the time it was removed? Personally it would not surprise me if the Vatican had a hand in the disappearance, maybe its just because I am not Catholic, but the entire Vatican type setup seems strange to me. I may be way off base here, but to me it seems like an elite democracy, in which the elite pick and choose who get to join their ranks, and its not exactly like they live the kind of lives the people they preach to live, meaning class, not whether they live by their teachings (although that is of course up for debate).

  • At 4:17 PM, Anonymous catface1 said…

    Well, I wanted to know what all of the fuss was about in class when Josh kept talking about Jesus foreskin and now I’m wondering...What the HELL?! Why would someone own Jesus foreskin in the first place and why was it put up on display, and most of all of these why would someone steal it?? Oh, and if you really owned something that sacred and valuable wouldn’t you keep it in a safer place than in a shoe box?...father, what were you thinking? And there’s a black market for relics? Honestly this just leads to more questions and makes me wonder what the world is coming to, I mean seriously! It became a relic based on freak storms and perfumed air? Then they changed their minds and said that no you can’t see it, touch it or even speak about it of else you’ll face excommunication. Okay so now we’re pretending that it doesn’t exist until some cooky priest steals it and keeps it at his home...right, and those practicing Islam are messed up! Later people from the Vatican flew in, Cardinals I would imagine (ha), and stole it back. And everyone is denying the other so the foreskin is no longer anywhere to be found, much less displayed to the general public. Okay I am now convinced that either I need to find a new religion or get that foreskin back to defend my religion...anyone up for a late night Vatican raid??


Post a Comment

<< Home