Vatican Will Display Unauthenticated Bone Fragments It Claims Are Saint Peter’s

To cap the Year of Faith, the Vatican has decided to put some almost 2,000-year-old bone fragments on display that the Church says are St. Peter‘s.

Per the Guardian,

The decision to exhibit is controversial. No pontiff has ever said the bones are without doubt those of Saint Peter, and some within archaeological circles are fairly sure they are not.

But Catholics are taking it on — what else? — faith.

The remains have a checkered history, about which the paper goes into some detail.

In his book The Vatican Diaries, longtime observer John Thavis calls the affair “an embarrassment” for the church. “The supposed bones of Saint Peter had been surreptitiously dug up by a meddling monsignor when the archaeologists weren’t looking; then they were thrown into a box and forgotten for more than a decade; then they were rediscovered by accident and became the focus of a feud between church experts,” he writes.

“The whole affair did not inspire confidence in the Vatican’s ability to exhume its own history, and it is little wonder that none of it is mentioned in the Vatican guidebooks.”

But over time, the story of the bones, and their assumed provenance, became a poorly-kept secret. St. Peter’s supposed grave (from which the bones were collected after their discovery in 1950) is an international attraction to which 8.5 million Catholics have made a pilgrimage in the past 12 months alone, says the Vatican. The most deep-pocketed and least-busy of that crowd are now encouraged to buy another round-trip ticket to Italy, to venerate the sacred bone fragments.

While they’re there, they can also admire the forefinger of Doubting St. Thomas (shown above in Caravaggio‘s painting, poking said digit in Christ’s wound). The severed finger is on display in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, alongside with three pieces of the (ahem) One True Cross.

The Guardian has a companion piece that lists the Top 10 Catholic relics on display. Half-funny, half-gruesome, it might be best to avoid reading it over lunch.

(Thanks to David for the link)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.