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 and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Holytape

    As an expert in lost digits and limbs of patron saints, I can tell you that the Catholic Church has made a two-fold mistake in displaying the index finger of Doubting St. Thomas. First, it is not from St. Thomas the Doubter, but from St. Vinnie the Angry. Secondly, it’s not the index finger.

    • Randy Meyer

      Is this painting the original ‘pull my finger’ joke?

      • Holytape

        “Well, there’s your problem.” Said St. Adam the Savage.

    • Andreas Grann-Bach

      I like to think that the reason the poking finger has been found is that, right after the pictured poking, Jesus’ body bit it off, The Thing-style.

  • The Other Weirdo

    All else aside, how do you authenticate something like that?

    • primenumbers

      You can’t and you don’t.

    • Rationalist1

      Even if you did carbon testing on it and it came up with a recent origin, they’d deny it with some made up nonsense like they did with the shroud.

    • randomfactor

      Double-blind prayer.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Double-blind prayer. Interesting concept. So how would that work?

        You need:
        3 prayer groups. 1 group to do nothing, 1 group to pray in their hearts, 1 group to pray for real.
        2 researcher groups: 1 group to collate the results of prayer from all 3 prayer groups, 1 group to collate the collated results based on which prayer group did what.

        How does that sound?

  • Art_Vandelay

    Explain to me again how the RCC isn’t a cult?

    • The Other Weirdo

      In a cult, there is one person at the top who knows the whole thing is a scam. In a religion, this person is dead.

      • islandbrewer

        Are you certain that Frank doesn’t know it’s a scam?

    • Holytape

      Because the Pope, a charismatic leader who by the doctrine of the groups faith is both the voice of God on earth and Infallible, says so. D’uh.

    • DoctorDJ

      Because they have one or more universities.

      • randomfactor

        So does the Maharishi.

    • joey_in_NC

      What is your definition of a “cult”?

      • randomfactor

        Mine is “a religion the majority of whose members joined as adults rather than being born into.”

        • Sweetredtele

          Isn’t that the beginning of Christianity?

          • C Peterson

            Probably not. Christianity didn’t just spring into existence, it evolved out of existing Jewish sects over several hundred years. So you didn’t necessarily have people exposed to radically different ideas, jumping from one religious belief system into something completely different.

      • Art_Vandelay

        I guess an organization that convinces people to adhere to their demands by promising some type of escape from mortality is a start but then having bones put on display for your adherents to see because you think they might be the bones of a dude that performs miracles from beyond the grave would qualify and I’m gonna go ahead and throw in any organization that thinks drinking the blood and eating the flesh of a 2000 year old Canaanite Jew is somehow a get out of eternal torture for free card.

        • joey_in_NC

          Oh, okay. Well, at least according your above description, the RCC is not a cult.

          • icecreamassassin

            Clarity needed – what part of that description does not match with the doctrines and behavior of the Catholic church?

          • Mario Strada

            joey, around here we try to explain our position before making sweeping statements.

          • Glasofruix

            A religion is just a successful cult.

      • C Peterson

        What is your definition of a “cult”?

        I’d go with an organization that uses non-reality-based dogma to manipulate the beliefs and actions of its members.

        All religions are cults, it’s simply a matter of the degree to which they employ manipulative techniques.

      • 3lemenope

        “Easy to join, hard to leave.”

    • Rain

      It’s not a cult if it has more than 1.199999999 billion people in it. Missed it by that much.

      • Rain

        Okay, who’s they wise guy thumbs-downer Debbie Downer.

        • flyb

          Someone who really, really, really hates the number 9.

          • Holytape

            well, 999 is just satan standing on his head.

            • sane37

              Or visiting Australia

  • Rationalist1

    Many Catholics I know, including priests, are embarrassed about this sort of thing, but this practice is part of the Catholic Church history and still appeals to many Catholics. Thank Reason I am no longer a Catholic.

    • atheismFTW

      And then you have Catholics like my MIL who turn into drama queens at anyone who dares place doubt in things commanded by the Church to be holy and true. To these Catholics, we are going straight to hell. And the crime? Refusing to be gullible.

  • M. Elaine

    Prior Philip up to his old tricks again?

  • Sven2547

    After the profound embarrassment the Roman Catholic Church suffered when the Shroud of Turin was shown to be a relic from the Middle Ages, it’s hardly surprising that they don’t want their other relics examined scientifically.

    • C Peterson

      They suffered no embarrassment because they chose to ignore the evidence and continue passing it off as something it isn’t.

      • GubbaBumpkin

        The Church itself does not officially flout the radio isotope findings (although individual pro-gullibility researchers do), but they continue to display the Shroud publicly and accept money from the tourists who line up to see it.

  • SeekerLancer

    When I was a young Catholic I thought it was cool that they had all of these interesting artifacts. For someone who’s none-the-wiser it does make the bible seem more historical and real.

    However I got older and started to question and realized most of these artifacts are complete BS. Still I’m not shocked they try, because the idea of these things existing strengthens some people’s convictions. Though it does have the opposite effect once you realize it’s all a sham.

  • GubbaBumpkin

    I love it when Catholic apologists claim the the Holy Roman Catholic Church is modern and sophisticated, not like those Creationist protestant sects. That’s when it’s time to bring out the relics, and the exorcism rituals, and the transsubstantiation.

  • Fentwin

    Bones ain’t nuthin’, how about Jesus’ foreskin?

    • busterggi

      As the moil told the prostitute, “Keep the tip.”

      • Fentwin

        Badda boom. :)

  • katiehippie

    All of that is just ewwwwww to me.

    • Rationalist1

      You need faith, and a strong stomach.

  • Lauryn

    That painting is hella creepy.

    • The Other Weirdo

      Tell me about it. My thought was, “Dude, WTF? What are you doing with that finger? You don’t know where that finger has been.”

      • Holytape

        Well, Jesus died on the cross, was risen, poked by Doubting Thomas, and died again three days later to septicemia.

  • Lando

    I have the skeletal remains of Jesus’ pet ocelot in my basement. If anyone’s interested in a pilgrimage, I’m available to give a history lesson.

  • Sean Clark

    Going to Rome as a religious Catholic was one of the fundamental things to aid in unraveling my Roman Catholicism…and eventually theism generally speaking. I remember walking all over Rome and visiting all those relics of saints, some of which seemed very dubious. I specifically wondered how in the hell they knew about Peter’s fragments while visiting the tombs of the Pope underneath the Vatican.

  • Fred

    Who is that really really white guy with the hole in his side?

  • DonnaCM

    I was in Rome in March (during the Conclave, actually, and because they were trying to pick Pope Ratburger’s successor I didn’t get to see the Sistine Chapel, the bastards!) But I digress. I did go on the Vatican’s Necropolis tour. Our tour guide was a little … odd. The oddness got more pronounced as the tour progressed, until we got to the last room and she crossed the line into utter batshit crazy. What she said went something like this:

    “Starting now you don’t get to argue with me. Because you’re in my house, and we’re 95% – no, 98% – certain that the bones found here are St. Peter’s. And if you try to argue with me, I’ll punch you in the head!” *pantomimes a roundhouse punch* “Seriously, I will kill you if you try to tell me otherwise.”

    So, yeah, they’re not the most objective bunch …

    • Mario Strada

      “See all the other bones here?”
      “They are not that old. Why, some of them are just from last month.”
      What did they do? They argued with me”

  • Glasofruix

    While i was in school we took a trip to France in order to visit some cathedrals (for a project about gothic architecture, the teachers were just looking forward to get smashed in a cider factory). We’d seen a lot of teeth and bones, supposedly from saints, on display. Our teacher explained to us that those were probably from goats or cows and everyone knew about it, displaying those was just folklore.

  • sara

    I don’t think there is much pretense that any relics are authenticated by anything but faith. It seems odd that they would bother wondering if these are any different.

  • A3Kr0n

    Unauthenticated Bone Fragments? Will they be on display at the Discovery place they think is a museum sometime? I think Ken would like that.

  • Robster

    This is no stranger than nibbling on bits of the Baby jesus and slurping down a serve of jesus blood at church on Sunday. I’m told the 3% of the population that attend the churchy ritual, munch on jesus each and every week. Surely the jesus bit are way past their ‘use by’ dates, they must have a good freezer.