The Holy Foreskin

On March 5, 1997, London Channel 4's arts program, "Without Walls," presented a show of interest to readers on this site. It was an account of British newspaper columnist Miles Kington's trip to Italy in search of the Holy Foreskin. Now, before the more pious of our readers take up arms and cry "Blasphemy!" I must submit that this relic was highly sought after and greatly venerated during the Middle Ages. Many Catholic churches throughout Italy, as well as in France and elsewhere, displayed this relic and treated it with all the pomp and reverence due such a holy object.

In his program, Kington reported that, at one point in time, the Holy Foreskin was on display in 14 Italian churches. This number gradually was reduced over the years, until there was but one claimant to possession of the holy relic. Sadly, in 1983, this Sacred Prepuce mysteriously disappeared from the place it was being stored – in a shoebox kept in the parish priest's house. Seems to have been a rather inappropriate receptacle for such a holy thing, especially when one considers the gold and jewels lavished on reliquaries containing more commonplace relics of the Christ -- such as bits of the True Cross, or the Holy Nails or even the Shroud of Turin (which somehow became a Sacred Relic despite having been made 1300 years after Christ's Resurrection).

Think about it. Given that the risen Christ ascended bodily into Heaven, little else of Him would have remained behind. Though there were, in fact, several relics held by various churches and individuals which were declared to have been the Holy Navel. I have yet to encounter any reports of the Holy Hair Trimmings, but I do not doubt there must have been plenty of them on display and being venerated – along with the Holy Toenail and Fingernail Clippings, Holy Earwax, Holy . . . well, you get the idea. In a sidebar, Slate Magazine informs:

Depending on what you read, there were eight, 12, 14, or even 18 different holy foreskins in various European towns during the Middle Ages. Coulombs, a French village near Chartres, had one. Chartres also had a famous foreskin, as did the French towns of Charroux, Metz, Conques, Langres, Anvers, Fécamp, and Puy-en-Velay. Auvergne even had two. And the French weren't the only ones obsessed with all things holy and foreskin. There were also pious penises in Hildesheim in Germany and Antwerp in Belgium. Santiago de Compostela, the famed pilgrimage town in the far northwestern corner of Spain, had one too. Not to be outdone, Rome's San Giovanni in Laterano also had a copy of the holy foreskin; this is the one that ended up in Calcata.

Interested readers might find the entire article from which the above was quoted entertaining reading. Wikipedia provides more recent information concerning the Holy Foreskins and a number of related links:

Calcata is worthy of special mention, as the reliquary containing the Holy Foreskin was paraded through the streets of this Italian village as recently as 1983 on the Feast of the Circumcision, which was formerly marked by the Roman Catholic Church around the world on January 1 each year. The practice ended, however, when thieves stole the jewel-encrusted case, contents and all. [3] Following this theft, it is unclear whether any of the purported Holy Prepuces still exist. In a 1997 television documentary for Channel 4, British journalist Miles Kington travelled to Italy in search of the Holy Foreskin, but was unable to find any remaining example.--Wikipedia, "Holy Prepuce"

Kington, not being able to show his audience the very relic he had been searching for, did put some other "holy" relics on display. His viewers were able to marvel at a feather from the wing of the Holy Ghost (I never thought of Him as being a winged CREATURE, and certainly I would not have thought Him as being vulnerable to molting). Other of Catholicism's "sacred relics" presented for the wonder and admiration were some of Mary's Holy Milk and the Breath of Joseph.

Perhaps the most shocking part of the documentary came in the account of the reporter's visit to Assisi. In a practice which seems common just about anywhere people go to visit a Catholic shrine, all sorts of "holy" goods were on sale: St. Francis candles, little St. Francis statues, St. Francis plastic key rings and, perhaps the holiest of all, those little plastic bubbles the faithful can shake in order to make snow fall on a little plastic statue of St. Francis. The Catholic relics business is a lucrative one. Good for the travel industry, the novelty industry, the candle makers, the hoteliers of the world, good for the local churches and great for Rome's treasury.

Think about it. One can visit Assisi, buy some stuff and set up his own home altar, where he can light his St. Francis candle, toll his St. Francis beads and shake his St. Francis snowball as he prays to St. Francis to ask God to heal the hole in the ozone layer or clean up the Gulf of Mexico waters and shoreline. What ask St. Francis to handle these issues? John Paul II made Francis the Patron of Ecologists in 1992. Who says Rome doesn't keep up with the times?

But back to the topic of this posting. This peculiar relic, or relics as it were, was the object of great veneration in Voltaire's time:

"Need more be said to show the demoralizing effects upon human beings than to quote this paragraph of Voltaire's which both explains and condemns this strange insanity of religious belief. He shows how abuses creep in and cause religious people to commit the most abominable acts, that repeated often enough pass for fundamental laws, aye for sacred precepts.

"It is said that in Asia greasy Mohammedan saints march in procession entirely naked and that devout females crowd round them to kiss what is not worthy to be named."

Voltaire defies any one to prove that the Koran contains a passage that justifies this practice. Yet civilized Christians in Voltaire's day carried the holy foreskin in processions and paid sacred homage to it!"--Joseph Lewis, Voltaire – The Incomparable Infidel, Freethought Press Association, New York, 1929

In addition to being held as a revered relic in several churches in Europe, the Holy Foreskin also figured in the writings of the Catholic mystics. Catherine of Sienna, one of only two female Doctors of the Catholic Church, wrote in "The Dialogue" concerning her "marriage" to Jesus. According to the good doctor, Jesus actually cut off, at the time of His circumcision, his foreskin and fashioned it into a ring with which she was married and united to Him. That is some pretty heady stuff, if you ask me. Wouldn't surprise me if her book weren't the talk of 14th century drawing rooms all across the continent.

In other papers, I have argued that the people of ancient times transferred the worship they were accustomed to rendering to their newly prohibited pagan gods to the new deities, the saints, of the Christian religion. This would have explained many of the beliefs of the early Christian practice, but hardly can explain why those beliefs continued and were being added to hundreds of years later. If the princes and pastors of the new Catholic Church had been doing their jobs preaching and teaching the Word of God – instead of concentrating on adding to their wealth and holdings, perhaps the world we live in today would be a better one.

But that was not the case. It was not convenient for the purposes of the Roman hierarchy that the hoi poloi should have and read the Bible; even worse that they should understand what God is saying to them through its pages. Granted, until fairly modern times, very few outside the privileged classes were able to read in the vernacular, much less in the Latin or Greek or Hebrew of Scripture. Had they the ability to read, it would have availed them little for books were prohibitively expensive and always in short supply. But a man can hear. And a man can be taught. It shall ever accrue to Rome's condemnation that her religious did not open the Word of God to the nations as well as their numbers suggest they might have.

Some Romish apologists like to repeat the lie that Rome has always sought to make the Scriptures available to all. That this is a lie can be seen from many Catholic actions. In 1229, the Bible was placed on the Index of Prohibited Books. Was it a small thing to own or read a Bible despite its being on this Index? Think about that question as you read who could place a book on that list:

"A book was prohibited or put on the Index by decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Roman Inquisition, of the Sacred Office, or of the Index, which decree though approved by the pope (in formâ communi), always remained a purely congregational decree. It need scarcely be mentioned that the pope alone, without having recourse to any of the congregations, could put a book on the Index, either by issuing a Bull or a Brief, or in any other way." --Joseph Hilgers, Index of Prohibited Books, Catholic Encyclopedia, © 1913 by the Encyclopedia Press, Inc. Electronic version © 2007 by Kevin Knight

The limitations concerning owning or reading Scripture also were addressed by the Council of Trent, with the prospect of severe penalties for those who failed to comply.

How were those who lived and functioned outside the pale of religious officialdom to learn of the Lord and His ways? It would not have been easy for many of them to find answers to their questions by opening the Scriptures and seeking the truth contained therein. In great part, local priests, deacons and other clergy had little or no formal training to prepare them for their pastoral roles. As often as not, men were made bishops and even cardinals through patronage or simony, with little regard for their ecclesiastical preparation, if indeed they had any. Who would teach the teachers? Yet these self-taught, or not taught, men began to look at the Scriptures and to "discover" interesting passages which could be contorted to support whatever position they held. Mystics and effeminates like Catherine of Sienna, Theresa of Avila, Anselm, John of the Cross and Julian of Norwich wrote of their dreams and visions, and were elevated to high honors within the Catholic church.

To further complicate matters, Rome eagerly absorbed into her practice the fantastic beliefs and rituals of some of the pagan religions with which she came in contact. Her excuse was that, so long as the practices and beliefs were now directed to the true God, there was no harm. Trouble is, as the clerics sat in their ivory towers and smugly counted the numbers they had added to the church rolls and the additions these had made to their personal wealth, those "converts" continued worshipping their old deities in the old ways. What's in a name? And still, their need for truth was not being met. So they began finding answers in their own ways, often calling upon the old ways. The ancient cults of the dead grew and flourished, even to the point of achieving official recognition from the Roman throne. No longer a cult of the dead, it now was termed veneration of saints and relics and such, and enouraged by Church teaching. That such veneration could be a source of great wealth I am sure never occurred to anyone in the princely robes of a Catholic bishop.

If the Catholic Church was not filling their needs for information, guidance and protection, there were plenty of others who, for a price, could offer a solution. For so many ducats, pence, florins, whatever, they could sell the seeker or someone a genuine relic of Saint Whoever and, as everyone knows, that saint has worked many marvelous things for those who honor him. And if the bits and pieces of the bodies of mere saints or their appurtenances could work great miracles, how much more could such things as the Milk of the Virgin Mary, or Christ's Foreskin do? And so the fantasies continued and grew, and all the while the Roman church did little else but collect the money this lucrative trade generated. Where biblical truth was needed, Rome gave pagan rituals and colorful ceremonies. Where direction was needed to stem the rising tide of mysticism, Rome made reliquaries.

Voltaire commented;

"When, in our ages of barbarity, scarcely two feudal lords owned between them a single New Testament, it might be pardonable to offer fables to the vulgar, that is, to these feudal lords, to their imbecile wives, and to their brutish vassals; they were led to believe that Saint Christopher carried the infant Jesus from one side of a river to the other; they were fed stories about sorcerers and their spiritual possessions; they easily imagined that Saint Genou would cure the gout, and that Saint Claire would cure eye problems. The children believed in the werewolf, and the fathers in the rope girdle of Saint Francis. The number of relics was innumerable.

"The sediment of these superstitions still survived among the people, even at that time that religion was purified. We know that when Monsieur de Noailles, the Bishop of Châlons, removed and threw into the fire the false relic of the holy navel of Jesus Christ, then the entire village of Châlons began proceedings against him; however, he had as much courage as he had piety, and he succeeded in making the Champenois believe that they could adore Jesus Christ in spirit and truth, without having his navel in the church."--Voltaire, A Treatise on Tolerance, World Civilizations, The European Enlightenment, ©1996, Richard Hooker

Hurrah for Monsieur de Noalles! At least this bishop made an overt and positive action to end a particular and blasphemous heresy. Where was the Roman pope all this time? Counting his riches?

Why isn't the pope leading the fight against heresy, blasphemy and superstition today? Why is he instead doing all in his power to lead the billion-and-a-half souls in subjection to Rome away from the Christ of Scripture, the Messiah of prophecy, and instead to the altar of the Catholic Mary, Rome's rendering of Anahita?

"I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;"--Exodus 20:2-5

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