The Bizarrely Beautiful World of Relics in Religious History

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One of the more controversial aspects of many religions is a history of preserving "relics," or pieces taken from the bodies of saints. Here are some of the most unusual examples of these macabre objects of veneration.

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The hand of a 16th century Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier (Il Gesu, Rome)

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His right hand was cut off the mummified corpse located in Old Goa, India in 1614 and kept in Rome.

Shortly after the first exhibition of the corpse, a Portugese woman bit off one of the Saint's big toes. The toe is now in a silver reliquary in another cathedral in Goa. One of St. Francis Xavier's (diamond-encrusted) fingernails is on display in a nearby village and his left hand is in Japan.

(via Iconic Photos, The Southern Cross and Romana Klee)

The Shroud of Turin with a mysterious image – the burial cloth of Jesus Christ? (Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Turin, Italy)

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The first photograph of the face, by Secondo Pia, 1898

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(Photo by Musée de l'Elysée and World Imaging)

The heart of Saint Camillus de Lellis, founder of the Order Of Camilians in the late 16th century

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Illustration for article titled The Bizarrely Beautiful World of Relics in Religious History

(via Catholic Voice Media)

Reliquary of the Foot of St. Blaise, the bishop of Sebastea in the early 4th century

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(via Cultural Heritage Fund)

The Blood of San Gennaro, Bishop of Naples around 300 A.D., now the patron saint of the city (kept in Naples Cathedral, in the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro, Naples, Italy)

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The blood miraculously re-liquifies three times a year. If this doesn't happen, bad things come: including the bombing during WWII, an earthquake, and the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

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(via brendo's blog and Italian/American Digital Project)

The head of St. John Chrysostom, the Archbishop of Constantinople in the late 4th and early 5th century

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(via Canons Regular of Saint John Cantius)

The Holy Right, the mummified right fist of the first King of Hungary between 1000 and 1038 (in the Basilica of King Saint Stephen in Budapest)

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Illustration for article titled The Bizarrely Beautiful World of Relics in Religious History

(via huns2huns and Magyar Kurír)

The Sacred Relic of the tooth of Buddha (Kandy, Sri Lanka)

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After Buddha died in 543 BC and cremated, his left canine tooth was retrieved.

(via Daladamaligawa and Sri Lanka Study Tour)

Footprint and a parts of Prophet Mohammed's beard in Turkey

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(via Bilkent University)

The tissue of the 16th century Italian priest Philip Neri, "The Apostle of Rome" surrounding his expanding heart (Santa Maria in Vallicella or Chiesa Nuova Church, Rome)

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(via Transalpine Redemptorists)

The Blessed Tongue and jaw of St. Anthony of Padua

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32 years after his death in 1263 a basilica had been built to his relics in Padua. When the crypt was opened, they found only dust and bones. And an intact tongue.

(via Communio and the Basilica of St. Anthony)

Bonus: The Holy Foreskin (or Holy Prepuce), a product of the circumcision of Jesus

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In the Middle Ages some churches have claimed that they have Jesus' foreskin, sometimes at the same time. Most of them were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and the French Revolution. The best known example, The Holy Prepuce of Calcata has been stolen in 1983.

(Painting by Friedrich Herlin, detail from Twelve Apostles Altar, 1466)

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DISCUSSION

I was raised Roman Catholic (my mom is Irish, my dad is Italian. SO MUCH CATHOLICISM) and while I'm no longer one (agnostic for the win), I have to admit that Roman Catholics have some of the most amazingly balls-out insane myths and legends. I've always been fascinated with saints and relics because they're just so BIZARRE. There's even a sainted DOG, for Christ's sake.

Have you lost shit recently? You need Saint Anthony. Patron saint of the internet? Isidore of Seville is your man. There is literally a saint for every single thing in the world. It's bewildering. The relics are even more fascinating because they're so crazy. Tongues, hearts, hands, ears, genitals... all loving preserved. And everyone is just cool with it! It's like "ah yes, here is our humble village church... and right there is the preserved severed foot of Saint John! Have you seen our stained glass?" It's so common! In some places they're even brought out for parades on feast days. Parades! With bits of old dead people!

(What else do you expect from a religion that had vampirism and zombism right at the get go?)

Sometimes I swear my love of science fiction and fantasy is due to my upbringing. If I can believe THAT stuff then hobbits and xenomorphs hardly seem far fetched!