Holy Bones: How Saint Skeletons Became Relics of Power

But if you think making out with a plank of wood was bad, Hugh of Lincoln took it to another level when he visited the abbey of Fécamp and requested the arm of Mary Magdalene. At the time, it was kept safely wrapped in bandages. When it was presented to Hugh, he pulled out a knife and ripped off the covering. The monks, of course, tried to stop him, but they couldn't prevent him from hacking at it and then gnawing on it with his teeth, "first with his incisors and finally with his molars." When the abbot, in shock, confronted him, Hugh coolly replied something to the effect, "Well, I just consumed the body and blood of Christ in mass. How is this any different?"

It's easy for us to roll our eyes at such conduct. And Protestants in the 16th century spared no ink deriding the veneration of relics. In fact, one of the most scathing (and hilarious) criticisms came from a Catholic scholar named Erasmus in a work entitled, The Praise of Folly.

But before we throw the Christ child out with the holy bath water, we would be wise to remember that our faith didn't jump from the first-century Apostles to us. It was passed down to us from one generation to the next through great men and women of faith. Forgetting them is like forgetting our childhood: we lose a vital piece of who we are.

To better understand what Pope Francis is doing today, you need to know the story of Francis of Assisi and Ignatius. To understand why evangelicals make a big deal about the Bible, you need to read Martin Luther.

In the many stories about the saints, you'll find wisdom, inspiration, silliness, and sometimes just plain stupidity. And in the process, hopefully, you will also have a deeper appreciation for Jesus' decision to choose us as his bride.

Just don't gnaw on any holy bones. That's gross.


"The Martydom of Polycarp" in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson

The Age of Pilgrimage, by Jonathan Sumption

10/16/2014 4:00:00 AM
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