Blogging the Age of Faith

Friday, February 02, 2007

More on That Foreskin

Holy Prepuce
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Holy Prepuce, or Holy Foreskin (Latin præputium or prepucium) is one of several relics attributed to Jesus. At various points in history, a number of churches in Europe have claimed to possess it, sometimes at the same time. Various miraculous powers have been ascribed to it.

circumcision of Jesus
As a Jew, Jesus would have been expected to be circumcised on his 8th day after birth.
According to the apocryphal Infancy Gospels, after Jesus' circumcision in a cave, Mary's midwife placed the foreskin in an alabaster jar filled with spikenard, a preservative, which she gave to her son, admonishing him "Guard well this jar of aromatic nard and do not sell it, even when they offer you 300 denarii". [1]

According to legend, the prepuce was eventually given to St. John the Baptist by Mary Magdalene. [2]

Since the circumcision removed his foreskin, this raises the question of what happened to it once Jesus had ascended forty days after his death. Some ancient Christians believed that Jesus ascended bodily, hence implying that Jesus' foreskin would be one of the few physical remainders of Jesus left behind on Earth, unless it had been restored to him during his resurrection, and by the fourth century this became the traditional stance.

There was also some theological dispute as to whether Jesus can really be said to have ascended wholly into Heaven if this part of his body was actually missing. This was resolved by noting that his foreskin was no more an obstacle to this than the hair and fingernails that he had cut throughout his life or the blood he shed. The Jewish custom of burying the foreskin in the earth would, however, seem to argue against its preservation, and hence its ability to be a relic.
Some argue that when God achieves something by miracle, it is arbitrary to propose limits to what that miracle can restore. In Mark 12:18-25, Jesus responded to the Sadducees' question about marriage after the resurrection, saying that "For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven." (KJV) This suggests that the resurrected dead may have certain anatomical differences that may make the question irrelevant. But then again, he may have restored the foreskin in heaven without taking the discarded one away from earth.

The act of circumcision was a ritual of profound religious significance to Jews, and marked their membership in the covenant community. The New Testament contains extensive discussions about whether circumcision was needed for Gentile converts, and concludes that it was not; the position settled upon is that Jesus' crucifixion established a new covenant for Christians for which the rite was not necessary.

The modern, peri'ah style of circumcision did not become the standard mode until around the time of the revolt led by Simon bar Kokhba in AD 132–135, whereas the style of circumcision practised by Jews in Judea prior to bar Kokhba removed only the 'tip' of the foreskin, not all of it. Thus modern, and probably medieval, ideas of what Jesus'foreskin would be like were, and are, wide of the mark.

"Depending on what you read, there were eight, twelve, fourteen, or even 18 different holy foreskins in various European towns during the Middle Ages". [3] The relic was originally said to have been given to Pope Leo III on December 25, 800 by Charlemagne on the occasion of his coronation; he in turn is said to have claimed that it had been brought to him by an angel while he prayed at the Holy Sepulcher (although another version of the story says it was a wedding gift from the Byzantine Empress Irene). The Pope placed it into the Sancta Sanctorum in the Lateran basilica in Rome with other relics. [4]

In addition to the Holy Foreskin claimed by Rome, other claimants in history have included the Cathedral of Le Puy-en-Velay, Santiago de Compostela, the city of Antwerp, Coulombs in the diocese of Chartres, France as well as Chartres itself, and churches in Besançon, Metz, Hildesheim, Charroux, Conques, Langres, Anvers, Fécamp, Puy-en-Velay, Calcata, Santiago de Compostela, and two in Auvergne. [3]

According to legends of the village of Calcata, in 1527 a soldier in the German army sacking Rome looted the Sancta Sanctorum; when he was eventually captured in the village he hid the jeweled reliquary containing the Holy Prepuce in his cell, where it was discovered in 1557 and officially venerated by the Church since that time, offering a ten year indulgence to pilgrims. Calcata thus became a popular site for pilgrimmage.[4]

The abbey of Charroux claimed the Holy Foreskin was presented to the monks by Charlemagne. In the early 12th century, it was taken in procession to Rome where it was presented before Pope Innocent III, who was asked to rule on its authenticity. The Pope declined the opportunity. At some point, however, the relic went missing, and remained lost until 1856 when a workman repairing the abbey claimed to have found a reliquary hidden inside a wall, containing the missing foreskin. The rediscovery, however, led to a theological clash with the established Holy Prepuce of Calcata, which had been officially venerated by the Church for hundreds of years; in 1900, the Church solved the dilemma by ruling that anyone thenceforward writing or speaking of the Holy Prepuce would be excommunicated. In 1954, after much debate, the punishment was changed to the harsher degree of excommunication, vitandi (shunned); and the Second Vatican Council later removed the Day of the Holy Circumcision from the church calendar .[5]
In 2007 A headstone in the shape of a cross was noticed by a visitor to the Mount of Olives Cemetery. On the cross was written "To The God Jesus Christos" in Greek. Some think that this might be the burial place of the Holy Prepuce.

Most of the objects reputed to be the Holy Prepuce were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution. [5]

Calcata is worthy of special mention, as the reliquary containing the Holy Foreskin was paraded through the streets of this Italian village as recently as 1983 on the Feast of the Circumcision, which was formerly marked by the Roman Catholic Church around the world on January 1 each year. The practice ended, however, when thieves stole the jewel-encrusted case, contents and all. [5] Following this theft, it is unclear whether any of the purported Holy Prepuces still exist. In a 1997 television documentary for Channel 4, British journalist Miles Kington travelled to Italy in search of the Holy Foreskin, but was unable to find any remaining example.

According to 17th century theologian Leo Allatius (Leone Allacci), the foreskin may have divinely ascended to become the rings of Saturn.

Historical allusions and references to the Holy Prepuce
Apart from its physical importance as a relic, the Holy Foreskin is sometimes claimed to have appeared in a famous vision of Saint Catherine of Siena. In the vision, Jesus mystically marries her, and his amputated foreskin is given to her as a wedding ring. [6] However, this has not been traced any earlier than a seventeenth-century anti-Catholic parody, and as such is of dubious credibility.

Because the sweet scent that the relic was supposed to give off was reputed to enhance fertility and ease childbirth, when Catherine of Valois was pregnant in 1421, her husband, King Henry V of England, sent to Coulombs for the Holy Prepuce. According to this legend, it did its job so well that Henry was reluctant to return it after the birth of the child (the future King Henry VI of England).[6]

Saint Bridget was said to have received the Holy Prepuce from an angel, and would experience "orgasm-like sensations" when she would place bits of it on her tongue.[6]

During the late 17th century, Catholic scholar and theologian Leo Allatius in De Praeputio Domini Nostri Jesu Christi Diatriba ("Discussion concerning the Prepuce of our Lord Jesus Christ") speculated that the Holy Foreskin may have ascended into Heaven at the same time as Jesus himself and might have become the rings of Saturn, then only recently observed by telescope.
Voltaire, in A Treatise of Toleration (1763), ironically referred to veneration of the Holy Foreskin as being one of a number of superstitions that were "much more reasonable... than to detest and persecute your brother". [7]

Umberto Eco, in his book Baudolino, has the young Baudolino invent a story about seeing the holy foreskin and navel in Rome to the company of Friedrich Barbarosa.


  • At 7:12 PM, Anonymous kisstheconcrete said…

    I looked up the word relic & found it's definition to be an object associated with a saint, martyr, or Christ which is preserved and seen as worthy of special honor and reverence. Jesus' foreskin would definitely have been a relic if the concept were a plausible idea. According to Christian beliefs upon resurrection Jesus' body would have been made whole & intact so that he could serve as the perfect God. Therefore his foreskin would not have remained separated from his body, but would have reclaimed it's natural position. As a Christian I find the article to be both outrageous and humorous, but an idea that simply isn't believable.

  • At 7:53 PM, Anonymous lovelikewinter said…

    "Because of the sweet scent that the relic was supposed to give off...."
    Am I the only one here who finds it a little bit difficult to believe that foreskin that old, foreskin in general, gives off a scent that can be described as sweet by any stretch of the imagination? I guess that's part of the faith of believing in relics. To me, relics sound like something of sentimental value more than anything. People hold relics to such high value comparable to how some people refuse to get rid of even simple handwritten notes wrote by people they hold in high regard.

    So, Saint Bridget received the prepuce from an angel? Excuse me but I like to believe that God's Angels have more important work to do than providing orgasms for random women.

  • At 7:59 PM, Blogger bcpcguy said…

    So many disgusting parts in this blog, so little patience for it all…

    I can’t even begin to fathom that a two thousand year old piece of foreskin, excuse me, holy foreskin, can give off a scent, much less a sweet one! I would be remiss not to mention the luck lady in the vision of Saint Catherine that got to wear the holy foreskin as a wedding ring. What a lucky gal! Who could forget about Saint Bridget who was lucky enough to get the foreskin from an angel? Maybe the foreskin would still be around providing orgasms for women today if Saint Bridget hadn’t been eating it as fast as she could chip it off…

    It seems like people could have made (and still could make) better use of their time praying, reading the Bible, and/or attending worship services, instead of worrying about relics and trying to decide if a holy foreskin even existed. In my opinion, it’s not worth it! Faith alone is all we need and if a piece of penis skin is what you need in order to believe in a religion, maybe you need to look elsewhere for answers and piece within your life.

  • At 7:39 PM, Blogger smokeyjoe said…

    So first of all..... why would anyone put a foreskin (that is no longer attached to a penis) on their tounge?? Especially if its Jesus Christ's.... That is odd. Secondly, the story about the rings of Saturn is extremely out there. Trying to prove something is fine I guess, but not to the point to where you can come up with whatever you want and throw it out there. Then you just look like an idiot.
    I really don't understand why anyone would be concerned with Jesus's foreskin anyway. I realize that He is the son of God, but his foreskin is just like anyone elses. I am not denying that Jesus is holy, but the holiness doesn't come from his human form. Even if Jesus didn't come to Earth and die for the sins of man he would still be holy. The medieval obsession with relics is quite facinating, but the fact that the facination with this particular relic still persisted in the 20th century blows me away. Today we look to science for answers to questions like, how did the Earth come to be, and is God real? In the middle ages they didn't question the existence of God (out loud), they just searched for material things that they thought would bring them closer to God and perhaps bring them reassurance that their religous beliefs were correct.

  • At 10:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Rings of Saturn? A visioned wedding ring? "Orgasm-like sensations"? To me this article was really disturbing, but interesting. Who in the world would want Jesus’s foreskin wrapped around their left hand ring finger in honor of love and marriage? Even if envisioned a dream? Sounds to me more like a nightmare if anything. In all honesty, at first I did not, and really still do not, believe in the power of a relic, and yet still cannot imagine holding a piece of foreskin in such a high manner. I can understand, in a weird way, how relics can have such extreme power to some people. It just doesn’t make sense to me as to why people are worshipping a part of God’s male anatomy in a way that they should worship Him. All people were created in the image of God, if this is the case why not praise some other guy’s foreskin, foreskin is foreskin. Obviously, I would not be the first person to line up to see this foreskin being shown off in a celebration or parade. However, I do think it was interesting to see how many people, has supposedly, held this in their possession, and the great miracles that have succombed from its ‘powers’. This article how disgusting it may be, was interesting to read, it was like a horrible, but I just couldn’t turn away!

  • At 10:46 AM, Anonymous Pirate said…

    I will have to admit that it is hard to pass up an article about Jesus' foreskin. Its like a car know you shouldn't look but you just can't help yourself. Anyways, it amazes me how SO MANY people became wrapped up in this relic and continue to search for its existence. For example, in a small section of the article, it mentions how in 1997, a British journalist made a television documentary about his search for the Holy Foreskin. Wtf? Granted, I'm sure all of Britian watched it with great curiousity, but how about instead of "worshiping" weird and unrealistic objects, they could GO TO CHURCH or try to be a more "Jesus-like" person. I honestly don't believe that Jesus' foreskin ever had magical powers, nor do I believe that it has existed for this long. It could have very well been present on this Earth at one moment in time, but eventually discenigrated into nothing. This is just another way that people are trying to materialize Jesus and get more physically close to him. A relic (espcially one that was once attached to a penis) should not be their main drive for their faith but instead, prayer and worship.

  • At 11:30 AM, Blogger Krangor said…

    The list of allusions and references to the Holy Prepuce really took the cake for me. It’s wild to think that people really once believed these things. However, being outside the faith community, I find it rather close-minded of modern Christians to continuously denounce the relics of historical Christians. These people genuinely believed that either these relics granted them certain blessings or at least a certain advantage in praying for blessings, just as modern Christians profess their lack of necessity. I find it no more ridiculous that an object, even a foreskin, connects you to a divine being than that through prayer you can talk to your invisible sky daddy who is the omnipotent creator and ruler of all the vastness of the universe, and that this all powerful being takes a particular interest in your life out of the billions of other lives out there.

    Geez, what’s so far-fetched about the small fleshy foreskin of a God-babe cut off here on Earth ending up as a vast field of rock and ice orbiting a distant ball of gas anyway? I mean, he is omni-max, right?

  • At 8:32 PM, Anonymous bittersweetaddiction said…

    Who can adamantly say that they’ve had the actual Jesus’ foreskin. Is there something “special” that characterizes his that other mortal men don’t posses. Does it bask in an everlasting halo of goodness or how about it produces a sound of a choir angels when you are near it. NO. Nothing special can define the difference between Jesus’ and other mortal men’s. There is no record to factually back up this claim, thus keeping the thought as always an argument. It’s just like taking a game of telephone seriously, after all is said and done, the statement is a distorted and mutated from the original statement. And with seemingly how many hands have had it, it seems apparently Jesus’ foreskin most certainly gets around. It’s all just one big game of telephone over time. To extend on this, who’s to say that the foreskin, though might of existed at one time, maybe no longer with us. Nothing will keep forever, especially when it is fondled all the time. With all the exchanging of hands of ownership of the foreskin and what people seemingly alter it in their possession (not mentioning any names…Saint Bridget) on top of cells breaking down over time, I doubt that it even still is in existence. One can argue that the Vatican acknowledges the “right” Jesus foreskin. But to oppose this, it isn’t like the Vatican hasn’t been wrong before. For example when they mistook some Egyptian Mummy’s bones for Joan of Arc’s bones. Maybe it will never be known who owns the right foreskin or whether it even still exists or not. But when it all comes down to it, I will say that if you are relying on a Jesus’ foreskin relic to ultimately save your soul and bring you closer to God. You have bigger problems in the way of salvation to worry about.


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