by Andrea FILLORAMO
The memory of the year 2020 and of those bad days in which the pandemic exploded unexpectedly and cruelly, which completely changed our lives, will always remain in us.
Faced with that highly destructive swollen river, there were Catholics who considered Covid-19 as a punishment from God for our sins and as a diabolical force of evil that only needs to be exorcised.
Thus, for these reasons, they refused the vaccine with which we tried to stop its course and we succeeded.
By those who have embraced this absurd theory, the world is considered as a battlefield, in which the forces of good come into strong conflict with those of evil, of which the coronavirus would have been and still is a disturbing demon.
To combat it – in their opinion – there is the weapon of prayer but, faced with the “silence of God”, they are looking for various supplements and superstitions with which they think they ward off sickness and death, which are popular by definition, but may not just have a cultural component. Several studies suggest the predisposition to particular “behavioral defects” There are also psychological phenomena that can contribute to their formation and the fetishism that is often linked to them. For example, the cult of the relics of saints appears to me as fetishistic
with which they seek to come into contact. Moreover, this practice in history in general and in that of the Christian West in particular is not new, on which it is worth pausing. From In the Middle Ages, in fact, the conviction was created that the simple proximity to a fragment of the body of a saint, to any object that has come into contact with a saint, therefore to a relic, guarantees a direct relationship with the supernatural and ensures special protection from sin, from disease, from death itself.
To make the history of the cult of relics in the Church several volumes would be needed. We continue, therefore – and it cannot be otherwise – giving an overview.
Since the end of the first millennium the churches have been filling up with relics. The possession of an important relic gave prestige to a church, favored almsgiving and bequests, attracted masses of pilgrims who asked for the healing of diseases.
In addition to being an irreplaceable spiritual resource, relics also represented an excellent material investment: faith was closely intertwined with the economy, the spiritual dimension with the material one.
Soon, however, the demand for relics outnumbered the supply, and a veritable hunt for relics ensued. First of all, the “discoveries” multiplied: many bishops, in good or bad faith, declared that they had been enlightened by a supernatural revelation, which had led them to discover the bodies of martyrs who had gone missing.
To obtain a relic, one did not even retreat in the face of theft. The phenomenon also caused the birth of a flourishing commercial activity. Following the rules of the market, the relics flowed from the cities that were most supplied with them to those that lacked them.
The relics taken from Roman cemeteries were sent wherever there was a clientele willing to pay the huge sums requested in cash.
But in Rome there was also a whole coming and going of French and German bishops and abbots who came to buy or steal relics on behalf of their churches: a greedy and anxious clientele, who were easy prey for counterfeiters and swindlers, who passed off as precious relics fragments taken from the graves of the common people.
When the Crusaders conquered the Holy Land, a golden age began in the trade in relics.
That region was in fact a veritable mine of sacred objects, ready to appease Christian Europe’s inexhaustible hunger for relics. moreover, these were the most precious relics, coming from the history of the Old Testament and from the earthly existence of Jesus Christ.
An authentic sample of souvenirs from the Holy Land also arrived in Europe: fragments of stones from the Holy Sepulchre, stones collected in the garden of Gethsemane or on the Mount of Olives, palm trees from the oasis of Jericho, cruets containing water from the Jordan, fragments of the manger from the cave of Bethlehem, and an infinite number of other memories.
They were fakes for tourists, but the pilgrims who bought them were convinced that even the smallest and simplest object coming from the Holy Places was a talisman of incomparable value, an effective weapon against the devil and against the evils of existence, against diseases, of which it was often the only drug.
The theologian and biblical scholar Alberto Maggi writes: “Being able to keep even just one finger of the saint, the rib of another, the foot of a saint, or the teeth of a blessed, ensured prestige and fame to the church, sanctuary or monastery, attracting hordes of pious necrophiles, ready to kiss, rub the macabre but holy relic. And most importantly, it was a way to secure a secure source of income through donations and donations. For this reason, disputes often arose between churches and monasteries, each of these claiming to have the authentic head or arm of the saint, and, not infrequently, the clergymen resorted to stealing the relics”.
Where it has been possible, however, attempts have been made to stop the death of the saint, blocking the normal process of decomposition of the body, embalming the corpse, rouge it to then exhibit it as an extraordinary incontrovertible proof of his sanctity, as if the virtues of the individual coincided with his mummification.
And the naive, gullible believers thought and still think they see the intact body of their saint and, enraptured, they admire him and no one who cares to say that what is shown is often a silicone reconstruction, the work today of experts in the trade (for example, the English company Gems Studio has recently worked on the face of Padre Pio, the same that supplies the statues for the Museum of Madame Tussauds waxworks in London).
Finally, I conclude with the hope of not being considered blasphemous, referring with enormous hesitation, embarrassment and considerable hesitation about a relic which for centuries has been a very important talisman, an object of worship by millions of faithful,
This is the holy foreskin, a relic formed by the alleged remains of the foreskin from Jesusi.e. skin cut from him during the rite of circumcision to which Jesus as well as all Jewish male children was subjected; events have been attributed to it miraculous many healings and at various times in history, sometimes even simultaneously, various cities in Europe they declared their possession.
The emperor would have received it from a angel while praying at the Holy Sepulchre. According to another version, the foreskin is a gift from Irene of Byzantiumreceived by Charlemagne on the occasion of wedding. Leo III placed it in the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Basilica of San Giovanni in Laterano in Rome, together with other relics.
Famous and miraculous foreskin because during a mass the Bishop of Cambrai he saw three drops of blood come out and stained the linen of the altar.
In honor of this piece of leather and the tablecloth, a chapel was even built and processions were called; the foreskin was an object of worship and a destination for pilgrimages.
We must arrive at 1900 when the Church forbade anyone to write or speak of the Holy foreskin, on pain of excommunication (Decree n. 37 of February 3, 1900). In 1954, after a long debate, Pius XII transformed the punishment into vitandi (to be avoided”). The Second Vatican Council at the end of the 60s finally eliminated the feast from the calendar.
In short, the foreskin of Jesus has become a taboo, something Catholics have been forbidden to talk about: and it has become so, precisely at the historical moment apparently less suitable for respecting taboos.
I believe that the Catholic Church, the bishops must fight in many Churches, Parishes and Sanctuaries, the superstition and fetishism which are still widespread, which have nothing to share with the faith. In fact, to a certain extent, devotion and living religiosity in a healthy way are one thing, and it is another very different thing to misunderstand, to distort the religious dimension.