Thursday, September 18, 2008


An amulet dug up near the English town of Shepton Mallet, bearing the chi-rho in silver, has for almost twenty years been hailed as one of the most ancient relics of Christianity in Britain.  They named a street after it, and Archbishop Carey wore a copy at his enthronement.  Turns out to have been a modern forgery, most likely planted by some protesters seeking to prevent real estate development.

A little sad, we suppose.  And yet we also have to admit that a good hoax is both more entertaining and more memorable than yet another bit of archaeological trivia.  The Piltdown Man will always be more interesting than some new australopithocene, won't he?  Just the way Bigfoot is more interesting than a monkey.  Our recent vacation in the vicinity of Cooperstown was marred only by the fact that we couldn't make it to the Farmer's Museum, home of the Cardiff Giant.  We have wanted to see it since we were a mere tot, wearing diapers below the cassock.

Still, it does remind us why Luther objected to the trade in relics.  It's not that, say, the knuckle of St. Lucy, preserved in amber, isn't interesting, in a ghoulish way; it's merely that you don't want people to place their faith in it, especially when the evidence suggests that St. Lucy had 11,000 knuckles.

On the same subject, Father A. recalls, years ago, sitting up late one night with a young priest, who until recently had worked as a Vatican functionary.  Conversation turned to the ceremonial gifts given to friends and donors; one of these, it happened, were beautiful silver boxes containing the ashes of the Vietnamese martyrs.

"They're mostly cigarette butts these days," the young priest said.  And then, in response to a look of horror, he said, "Come on, you're a Lutheran.  You know it isn't the relic itself that matters, only the faith it inspires."  And he assured Father A. that the boxes themselves were the best to be had in the whole city.

No comments: