Saintly Repose

by wjw on June 17, 2015

saintBehold, it is the corpus of St. Celestini— taking a rest, I guess, from his holy labors in the apse of the cathedral in St.-Malo, where I encountered him last autumn.

I have been unable to find out anything about St. Celestini— there is a St. Celestine, but he was a pope and was buried in Rome, and there’s no papal tiara or other paraphernalia to indicate that these are the remains of the Vicar of Christ.

Celestini seems very well preserved, though it’s possible that this is an effigy and the actual remains are concealed, and perhaps consist entirely of ashes in the urn one sees to the right.

In my travels I’ve encountered any number of saints displayed in glass boxes, and most of them consist only of skeletal remains dressed quite grandly in cloth-of-gold.  The spooky ones have glass eyeballs that gaze at you from the sockets of the skull.

St. Catherine of Siena is laid to rest beneath the altar of the church of Maria-over-Minerva in Rome (a former pagan temple, like most Roman downtown churches).  I had thought her extremely well preserved until I discovered that though the body is perfectly genuine, the head is an effigy.  The Sienese wanted the body of their most famous saint, but couldn’t smuggle the whole thing away, so they took her head away in a paper bag.  They also got her thumb, though I’m not sure whether it had its own paper bag or not.

St. Catherine’s mummified head is on view in Siena, and so is the thumb, and for some reason the Venetians got one foot.  (During the Middle Ages the Venetians pretty well had a foot in everything.)

It seems disrespectful to break up a saint this way, but I suppose they go wherever grace is needed.  Saints’ relics are even for sale on ebay.

But do they come in paper or plastic?  Better ask the Sienese.

TRX June 19, 2015 at 10:13 am

I always thought that parting out dead bodies like some kind of holy junkyard was a bit disrespectful, but they didn’t ask my opinion.

I guess an enterprising individual could collect enough saints’ parts, stitch them together, wire up the equipment, and wait for a lightning storm…

wjw June 19, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Thanks to friends of the blog Vlatko Juric-Kocic and Jean-Daniel Breque, we now know that this particular Celestine is an early Roman martyr, and that his actual bones are to be found within the wax effigy.

We also learn that St. Celestine was also quite, quite short.

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