Grim Artifacts – The Holy Foreskin

Did you know that there actually exists a Catholic relic called The Holy Foreskin? Well, it does, and some guy wrote a whole book about it. The book is called An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town. I found a book description, and a review on Forbes by H. R. Alberts, and this is what I wanted to share with you on this unique artifact:

In December 1983, a priest in the Italian hill town of Calcata shared shocking news with his congregation: The pride of their town, the foreskin of Jesus, had been stolen. Some postulated that it had been stolen by Satanists. Cover_AnIrreverentCuriosity_400Some said the priest himself was to blame. Some even pointed their fingers at the Vatican. In 2006, writer David Farley moved to Calcata, determined to find the missing foreskin, or at least find out the truth behind its disappearance. Farley recounts how the relic passed from Charlemagne to the papacy to a marauding sixteenth-century German soldier before finally ending up in Calcata, where miracles occurred that made the sleepy town a pilgrimage destination. Over the centuries, as Catholic theology evolved, the relic came to be viewed as something of an embarrassment, culminating in a 1900 papal decree that threatened excommunication on anyone who spoke of or wrote about the relic. An Irreverent Curiosity interweaves this history with the curious landscape of Calcata, a beautiful and untouched medieval village set atop four-hundred-fifty-foot cliffs, which now, due to the inscrutable machinations of Italian bureaucracy, is a veritable counterculture coven. Blending history, travel, and perhaps the oddest story in Christian lore, An Irreverent Curiosity is a weird and wonderful tale of conspiracy and misadventure.

Forbes Review

Farley’s niche interest–obsession, even–concerns the Holy Foreskin. Debate swirls around this relic, which is considered the only possible scrap of flesh the founder of Christianity could have left for us earthbound worshipers before the resurrection. It’s had a tumultuous 2,000-year history–which Farley deftly chronicles in his book An Irreverent Curiosity–in which it has been exalted, scorned, feared, imitated, lost, relocated, hidden and finally, in 1983, stolen. (…) Farley recounts how he searched for the relic: He pored over municipal archives and old folios after cannily gaining access to the Vatican library; he attempted to press uncooperative or unhelpful priests and bishops, a contessa and a famous local architect for information; he listened to rambling oral histories over liters of wine; he tracked down experts in Turin, Italy, and Charroux, France, both places the foreskin was reputed to be at some point. (…)

During his search, Farley follows countless promising leads. He is never quite able to penetrate the motives of the Vatican, who the Calcatesi believe stole the foreskin in order to keep its constituents appropriately somber. (…) By the 20th century, “irreverent curiosity” about the Holy Foreskin only seemed to hurt the Vatican’s reputation at a time when it needed to be sterling to once again restore its followers’ faith. An official 1900 decree threatened excommunication for anyone who spoke or wrote about the foreskin, and after the Vatican II confab of the 1960s, the Catholic Church made a concerted effort to shake off past scandals or dishonorable appearances, of which the foreskin was but one example.

For the detectives amongst you: the mystery remains unsolved.

Other Voices

“Genre bending at its best.”
–Kirkus Reviews, May 18, 2009 (Starred review)

“A great book that belongs on everyone’s Everything I Wanted to Know about Jesus, But Was Afraid to Ask reading list.”

–J. Maarten Troost, author of The Sex Lives of Cannibals

“This is the best book about Jesus’s foreskin ever. David Farley is a very, very funny dude. He is also a very sharp one, and as a pocket history of the rise and fall of the relic within the official Catholic mind, An Irreverent Curiosity is, in its always peculiar way, gripping. Christianity has never seemed weirder to me, and it seemed plenty weird before.”
–Tom Bissell, author of Chasing the Sea and Father of All Things

“I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like David Farley’s An Irreverent Curiosity. Were it not for the historic truth of his subject, this book would be a great comedy. Actually it is a great comedy, but the reader approaches it as one approaches a holy relic – with wonder and disbelief. And admiration. Clearly David Farley had found his subject and mined it brilliantly for all it is worth. As far as journeys go, this one is about as weird and well-done as it gets.”
–Mary Morris, author of The River Queen and Nothing to Declare

“David Farley bares all in this wildly entertaining and original romp through 2,000 years of history, culminating in his personal pilgrimage to Italy’s loopiest town. Hilarious and erudite — a rare combination in non-fiction these days — this book is a must for anyone intrigued by the strange and the arcane. I’ve probably been excommunicated for just reading it!”
–Tony Perrottet, author of Napoleon’s Privates and Pagan Holiday


David Farley’s ‘An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town’ (Gotham Books, $25)



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One Response to “Grim Artifacts – The Holy Foreskin”

  1. The_Doctor Says:

    this is definately going on my christmas list!

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