Saturday, June 23, 2012

Raise the Bones!

A relic in Rome

Last week I read about an interesting discovery in Bulgaria. Apparently, archaeologists believe they may have found skeletal remains belonging to St. John the Baptist. The bones were discovered in the crypt of a church on the island of Sveti Ivan (St. John).

DNA and radio carbon tests have shown the date of the bones to be from the early 1st century A.D. and confirmed that the bones are of a middle-eastern man. Now, apart from gender, geographical region and approximate historic period, there is no other reason to assume the bones belong to St. John the Baptist. There is talk that the knucklebone was from the very hand that baptized Christ. To read the full article, click Here.

Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria where
supposed remains of St. John the
Baptist reside
Now this got me to thinking about how big a role holy relics, or other items associated with inspiring people throughout history, have played. Indeed, wars have been fought for such things, people have overcome illness, paralysis, have completely turned their lives around after having touched or seen a relic, stood in a place associated with a specific religious figure, god, goddess or hero.

What is it about these associations that inspire people so?

Whether it is in creating art or doctrine, leading a people or helping oneself overcome adversity, inspiration is something that exists, happens, on many levels. There are those who believe firmly in relics and their power, or the power of place. And there are those who have profited without remorse over the ages. In the medieval period, saints’ relics were big business. Relics were a huge medieval driver for tourism – pilgrims meant customers, and that meant money. Souvenirs were always available; it is said that there were enough pieces of the true cross to create a small forest!

The Jesus Grilled Cheese
But, does it really matter? That is not for me to say. What I have observed in my studies is that if inspired by something as little as a knuckle bone, or something as big as an entire church, people have turned from evil to good and sometimes, sadly, the other way around. The history of the Crusades is full of such contrasts.

Perhaps it is human nature to want to be, feel, closer to one’s idols, to want to feel less small, less alone and insignificant in this world?

We all hold different things sacred in our hearts and that often comes through in our actions, our desires, our art. Some of it is odd to outsiders. I confess that I did not understand the appeal one person felt when they spent $25,0000 on William Shatner’s kidney stone. Granted, it was for charity. Others have seen the Christus in a grilled cheese sandwich. Be it a saint’s bone, a lonely rock on the side of a mountain, a cave or a grove of trees, sanctity often is in the eye of the beholder. It is no wonder that so much art reflects this very thing.
William Shatner's Kidney Stone

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