Freethought Archives > G W Foote & J M Wheeler > Crimes of Christianity



CHRISTIANITY is responsible, not only for the forgery of serviceable documents, but for a multitude of fraudulent miracles, lying legends, and profitable fables; and in carrying on its wretched trade in these things it has not scrupled to resort to the crudest forms of fetish worship. An African mystery-man, dispensing amulets, need not fear a comparison with the Christian priests and monks who trafficked in relics of dead saints and other items of the stock-in-trade of pious imposture.

It is possible that the earliest preachers of Christianity were more credulous than designing, and propagated marvellous stories which they had themselves swallowed in a spirit of faith. Yet it was probably not long before the principle of lying for the glory of God and the advancement of religion induced the practice of thaumaturgic arts. Protestants are now satisfied with very ancient miracles, but the more superstitious Catholics credit the continued existence of miraculous powers in the Church. We need not wonder, therefore, that the still more superstitious Christians of the early ages should expect miracles to be wrought before their own eyes. Traditional wonders did not suffice to nourish their enthusiastic credulity, which demanded a fresh supply in every generation. The leaders of Christianity were accordingly obliged to supply their wants, and this could not be done without knavery; for while no more than an easy credulity was needed for the dissemination, as well as for the acceptance, of apocryphal stories, the manufacture of fresh miracles necessitated the practice of conscious fraud.

How far the first and second centuries were infected with this dishonesty it is difficult to determine, but we may assume that the forgers of documents, whose nefarious practices we have already seen, would not hesitate at further deception; and, if we may judge from the taunts of Celsus and the satire of Lucian, the Christians of their age were far advanced in all the arts of imposture. [85:1] In the third century pious frauds abounded; they were promoted by the Church with shameless audacity; and from the conversion of Constantine until the Reformation, they were a splendid source of power and profit to the ministers of Christ.

We have already examined the story of the miraculous cross which is said to have appeared in the sky at the most critical period of the life of the first Christian emperor, presaging his victory in battle, and deciding his conversion. We have also seen that the Christians, who profited so greatly by this event, ascribed miraculous powers to the tomb of Constantine. The emperor himself was an ardent lover of monks and relics, his temperament being as credulous as the most exacting eccelesisastics could desire. Few of his immediate successors excelled him in this virtue, unless it were the younger Theodosius, whose fondness for sanctified articles was so great, that he begged the old coat of a dying Bishop, and afterwards wore it in the hope of deriving some virtue; as if, says Jortin, "piety, like the itch, could be catched by wearing another man's clothes."

Constantine's favor stimulated the worship of relics, and from that time it became a regular part of Christian devotion. An exaggerated respect had long been paid to the martyrs of the faith who had suffered death under the various persecutions, but this sentiment now assumed a grotesque form. Not only the clothes they wore, and the objects they used, were exhibited and sold, but their very bodies were dug up and made profitable. These holy corpses were usually reburied under the altar of a church, which naturally enjoyed a reputation for sanctity, and attracted the custom of numerous worshippers. Theodosius was obliged to pass a law forbidding the people to dig up the bones of martyrs or traffic in their remains. [86:2] But nothing could arrest the progress of the mania. St. Ambrose even refused to consecrate a church that had no relics, [86:3] and the Council of Constantinople (A D. 692) ordained that those altars should be demolished under which no relics were found.

The Pagans derided this abject superstition. Eunapius, who describes the monks as a race of filthy animals to whom he is tempted to refuse the name of men, charges them with being the authors of this new worship; and our readers may be pleased to hear a few sentences from this honest heathen. The Christians, says Eunapius, profess a system which

"In the place of those deities who are conceived by the understanding, has substituted the meanest and most contemptible slaves. The heads, salted and pickled, of these infamous malefactors, who for the multitude of their crimes have suffered a just and ignominious death; their bodies, still marked by the impression of the lash and the scars of those tortures which were inflicted by the sentence of the magistrate; such are the gods which the earth produces in our days: such are the martyrs, the supreme arbitrators of our prayers and petitions to the Deity, whose tombs are now consecrated as the objects of the veneration of the people." [86:4]
Within the Church itself a few voices were raised against this superstition. "The presbyter Vigilantius," says Gibbon, "the Protestant of his age, firmly, though ineffectually, withstood the superstition of monks, relics, saints, fasts, etc., for which Jerome compares him to the Hydra, Cerberus, the Centaurs, etc., and considers him only as the organ of the Daemon." [87:5]

The remains of martyrs were frequently discovered at a very opportune moment. A signal instance occurs in the life of St. Ambrose. He was banished from Milan by the Empress Justina, but he refused to obey the order, and his faithful flock guarded his cathedral and palace against the imperial troops.

"While he maintained this arduous contest, he was instructed, by a dream, to open the earth in a place where the remains of two martyrs, Gervasius and Protasius, had been deposited above three hundred years. Immediately under the pavement of the church two perfect skeletons were found, with the heads separated from their bodies, and a plentiful effusion of blood. The holy relics were presented, in solemn pomp, to the veneration of the people, and every circumstance of this fortunate discovery was admirably adapted to promote the designs of Ambrose. The bones of the martyrs, their blood, their garments, were supposed to contain a healing power, and the preternatural influence was communicated to the most distant objects, without losing any part of its original virtue. The extraordinary cure of a blind man, and the reluctant confession of several daemoniacs, appeared to justify the faith and sanctity of Ambrose; and the truth of these miracles is attested by Ambrose himself, by his secretary Paulinus, and by his proselyte, the celebrated Augustin, who, at that time, professed the art of rhetoric at Milan. The reason of the present age may possibly approve the incredulity of Justina and her Arian court, who derided the theatrical representations which were exhibited by the contrivance and at the expense of the archbishop. Their effect, however, on the minds of the people was rapid and irresistible, and the feeble sovereign of Italy found himself unable to contend with the favorite of heaven." [87:6]

It may be added that these skeletons were of an extraordinary size, so as to suit the popular notion that human beings were much taller in the earlier times.

Profit, even more than power, was gained by this superstition. Jortin well says that "they who related such false miracles had much to gain, and they had nothing to fear if their pious frauds were discovered. Such men were protected and caressed, for the honor of religion, and by way of recompense for their godly intentions. Indeed, it was dangerous to attack such frauds, on account of the power and interest of those who were concerned in them." He justly adds that "the ecclesiastics wanted to attract offerings and presents, and to increase the number of their tributaries." [88:7] Such an easy and fruitful source of revenue was, of course, well utilised.

"The satisfactory experience that the relics of saints were more valuable than gold or precious stones stimulated the clergy to multiply the treasures of the Church. Without much regard for truth or probability, they invented names for skeletons and actions for names. The fame of the apostles and of the holy men who had imitated their virtues was darkened by religious fiction. To the invincible band of genuine and primitive martyrs they added myriads of imaginary heroes, who had never existed except in the fancy of crafty or credulous legendaries." [88:8]
The buried martyrs were usually detected by their perfume, and the history of "the aromatic scent of the sacred bones" would fill a moderate folio. "By the help of this odor," says Jortin, "relics were discovered, and genuine bones distinguished from counterfeits; and it was very easy to find out a saint without borrowing the lantern of Diogenes." [88:9] "When the coffin of St. Stephen was opened "an odor such ad that of Paradise was smelt, which instantly cured the various diseases of seventy-three of the assistants." [88:1] Jortin shrewdly remarks that this perfume is very suspicious, since of all miracles it is the easiest to be performed.

We shall now give a further account of these relics, and the traffic in them which was carried on by the monks and priests. The mass of materials is too great to be arranged in chronological order within the restricted space at our command. We must therefore begin with Jesus Christ himself, and proceed through the apostles, the martyrs and the saints to the end of the chapter.

Saint Helena, the mother of Constantine, by the assistance of the Holy Ghost and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, discovered the holy sepulchre in which Christ was buried, the three crosses on which he was crucified with the two thieves, and the nails which had pierced his hands and feet. Eusebius, the Church historian, who was then bishop of Caesarea in the neighborhood, neglects nothing that could turn to the advantage of Christianity, but he never mentions the crosses, although he minutely describes the discovery of the sepulchre. This admirably shows how such stories grow under the fostering care of the clergy. There is nothing miraculous in the finding of a tomb, but it served as a centre around which imposture gathered, and credulity welcomed, a host of lucrative fables.

The cross of Christ still bore the title affixed by Pilate, but the clergy forgot to copy it and decide whether Matthew, Mark, Luke or John gave the proper inscription. They were not even satisfied which was the true cross, and to determine this difficult problem, Saint Macarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, proposed that the three should be carried to a sick lady and put to the test. Two produced no effect, but the third restored the patient to health. Sozomen entirely neglects this sick lady, and states that the cross was applied to a dead body, which instantly revived; and he is supported by St. Paulinus and St. Sulpicius Severus. The whole story rests principally upon the authority of Cyril of Jerusalem, who lived at the time, but who speaks of no miracles attending the discovery. "On the whole," says Jortin, "it seems most probable that the story was invented by the Christians of Jerusalem after the emperor and his mother were dead"; and he adds that "if Helena found a cross, it is impossible to know how the fraud was conducted, and who were the actors in this godly knavery." [89:2] One thing, however, is certain. Helena was then nearly eighty years old; she went to Palestine expressly in order to find the cross; and it would not be difficult for the priests to hoodwink and accommodate the doting pilgrim. Cardinal Newman argues that the supposition of imposture is "an imputation upon the Church of Jerusalem." [90:3] But there can be no imputation where there is no honor. Jerusalem was a sink of iniquity and debauchery, according to Gregory of Nyssa, who went there in the vain hope of appeasing the quarrels of its Christian inhabitants; and Jerome never spent more than a single day there lest he should despise the place. [90:4]

Helena is said to have taken a part of the true cross to Constantine; the rest she enclosed in a silver box, and left in care of the bishop of Jerusalem, who exhibited it periodically to the faithful; and, as Jortin observes, "it must have brought in great revenues to the Church and to the bishop, if they only gave sixpence a piece to see the box in which the cross was locked up." The bishop alone, says Tillemont, "had the power to give little bits of it, which were considered as a singular favor and blessing." [90:5] These little bits were not given but sold, and in a short space of time the sacred wood was "spread all over the earth." To account for this extraordinary distribution, Paulinus, and after him the Church, asserted that the wood of the true cross had a miraculous power of vegetation, and repaired itself whenever a piece was cut off. [90:6] This miracle was grimly derided by John Calvin, who said that a mere enumeration of the fragments of the cross would fill a goodly volume.

"There is no abbey so poor as not to have a specimen. In some places there are large fragments, as at the Holy Chapel in Paris, at Poictiers, and at Rome, where a good-sized crucifix is said to have been made of it. In brief, if all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load. Yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it." [91:7]

Not satisfied with this profitable commerce, the clergy of Jerusalem multiplied their store of relics; and, before long they exhibited also the crown of thorns, the pillar at which Christ was scourged, and the nails and the lance that pierced his hands, his feet, and his side. [91:8]

Helena herself was sainted after her death; and her body appears to have contracted some of the miraculous virtue of the true cross, for it was preserved in an abbey in France, and also in a church at Rome. [91:9]

At the holy sepulchre an annual miracle was wrought. A holy fire used to descend into it on the Saturday before Easter. Gregory the ninth, in A.D. 1238, forbade the Greeks to exhibit it any longer, but the practice was continued. Of a piece with this was the supernatural fire annually visible at the pillar of St. Simeon Stylites after his death. "What tricks," says Jortin, "would not these monks have played if they had possessed the secret of electricity!" Queen Helena is also said to have built a church on the spot whence Christ ascended to heaven; a sandy place was kept on the floor, and the clergy gave out that it could not be paved, as the print of Christ's feet was visible there, and could not be covered or erased. [91:1]

Calvin remarks of the crown of thorns, that "it would seem that its twigs had been planted that they might grow again," for the holy prickles were scattered all over Europe in astonishing profusion. [91:2] At any rate, the imperial chapel at Constantinople boasted of the original article in the thirteenth century, and the Barons of Roumania pawned it for thirteen thousand pieces of gold. Being unredeemed, it was carried to Venice, and finally purchased by Saint Louis, king of France. The whole court advanced to meet it at Troyes, and it was borne in triumph through Paris by the king himself, barefoot, and in his shirt. A further expenditure of gold enabled his most Christian majesty to secure from Constantinople another supply of relics, including "a large and authentic portion of the true cross, the baby-linen of the Son of God, the lance, the sponge, and the chain of his Passion, the rod of Moses, and part of the skull of St. John the Baptist." [92:3] As late as the seventeenth century the medicinal virtues of the crown of thorns was attested in Paris, one of its holy prickles being employed on March 14, 1656, to cure the niece of Pascal of an inveterate ulcer.

The water-pots used by Jesus in the miracle of Cana were preserved, and, according to Calvin, some of the liquor was to be found at Orleans. [92:4] Centuries before, Epiphanius related that many fountains and rivers were annually turned into wine on the same day, and at the same hour, when Christ wrought his miracle at Cana in Galilee; and that he himself had drunk out of a fountain at Cibyra, in Caria, where the wonder continued. [92:5]

Christ's manger was shown in the church of the elder Mary at Rome; his baby-linen was exhibited at another church in the same city, as well as in Spain, and at Aix-la-Chapelle; while at the church of St. James, at Rome, was displayed the altar on which the Savior was placed on being presented in the Temple. The blood of Christ was exhibited in more than a hundred places. Rochelle boasted that portion of the sacred fluid which was caught in a glove by Nicodemus as the Savior hung on the cross. [92:6] The monks of Charroux gloried in the possession of Christ's hair and teeth, although at least one of the set was treasured by the monks of St. Medard. [92:7] The sponge presented to him with vinegar and gall is preserved at Santa Croce. [92:8] At the Lateran at Rome is shown a cedar table on which Jesus took his last supper, although a marble table with the same legend is treasured in Galilee, [93:9] The Genoese possess, as a present from Baldwin, the second King of Jerusalem, the dish from which Christ and the disciples ate the paschal lamb together. [93:1] One of the crusaders sent home from Jerusalem a bottle of the milk on which Christ was suckled, together with a nail of the Holy Ghost. Such quantities of the Virgin Mary's lacteal fluid were exhibited in Calvin's time that "one might suppose she was a wet-nurse or a cow." [93:2] Edessa claimed to possess a picture of Christ, the perfect impression of his face on linen, which he graciously sent to Abgarus. Christ's handkerchief, which St. Veronica lent him to wipe off his bloody sweat, and on which his features were miraculously printed, was shown in many places. The linen that covered his privy parts was shown at Rome, and the holy city also possessed the shoes he never wore. Another place preserved the purple robe with which Pilate invested the King of the Jews; and the seamless robe, for which the soldiers raffled, was kept in several churches, [93:3] all being equally authentic. The towel with which Jesus wiped the apostles' feet was exhibited at Rome and at Aix, the latter retaining the print of Judas's foot. Some of the pieces of silver that Judas received from the priests were also shown at Rome. Relics of the bread with which Jesus fed the five thousand in the desert were carefully preserved at Rome and at St. Salvador in Spain, where also was kept the earth on which Jesus stood when he resuscitated Lazarus. The form of his feet, where he appeared after his ascension, was displayed at Rome; but the same wonder was shown at Poictiers, at Soissons, and at Arles, too far apart to be easily compared. A still more astonishing relic existed at Rheims, namely the print of his posteriors in stone. [93:4] Finally, the Redeemer's tears were exhibited in so many places that no one could doubt his being a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief.

But the most astonishing relic of the Redeemer was his foreskin, which was cut off at the circumcision and miraculously preserved. This precious article, according to Calvin, [94:5] was shown by the monks of Charroux, who, as a proof of its genuineness, declared that it yielded drops of blood. But the honor of its possession was disputed by many cities; by Akin, Antwerp, Heldesheim, Besancon, Calcata, and Rome. [94:6] Surely the Christians who venerated this obscene relic were far sunk in the slough of superstition, and it may be doubted whether the most ignorant Polytheists ever condescended to worship the prepuce of a god.

There is an amusing story of this curious article in an anonymous though very able book, published in 1761, on the Portuguese Inquisition.

"Sandoval, the Spanish bishop, twice before referred to, relates, as incontestable fact, in his life of the emperor Charles V., that the real Santo Prepucio was kept at Rome, and fell, among other things, into the hands of some soldiers, when the Duke of Bourbon's army plundered that city; that it would not suffer itself to be touched by such profane wretches; upon which, one, more penetrating than the rest, beginning to suspect the truth, sent for a pure virgin, in order to make trial of its virtue, when it readily expanded. This precious relic seems to have been lost, amidst the confusion, but was soon replaced, by the same kind of angels, no doubt, who brought the holy house of Loretto." [94:7]

It should be added that at least one Catholic writer has devoted a treatise to the Savior's foreskin, asserting that it ascended, like Jesus himself, and expanded into one of the rings of Saturn. [94:8]

Calvin, who was much better employed in exposing Catholic superstitions than in elaborating the creed which dooms babies not a span long to crawl on the floor of hell, suggested that there should be an inventory of relics. Such a document would have saved us much trouble, and we sincerely deplore its absence, for there are no doubt many interesting articles that have escaped our research, although we have still a long list to enumerate.

The Virgin Mary's girdle was carefully preserved, yet we are not informed whether it was the one unloosed by Gabriel or a later portion of her apparel. Her stockings, her shoes, and two of her combs also existed, being heard of for the first time some five hundred years after her death. Even her wedding ring was shown to the faithful! Her handkerchief with which it was alleged that a blind boy's sight had been restored, was included in the 7,421 relics collected by Philip the Second of Spain, and preserved in 515 beautifully wrought shrines. The vouchers for the cures it operated were written in Spanish; and Aldrete, the antiquary, narrowly escaped being burnt for saying that the Spanish language did not exist in the first century. [95:9]

In the Lateran at Rome are two pillars from Pilate's house, and the twenty-eight marble steps which led up to it. They were brought by Helena from Jerusalem, and no one is allowed to ascend them except on his knees. At Turin is shown the linen sheet in which Joseph of Arimathaea wrapt the body of Jesus. Sir John Maundeville, the alleged mediaeval traveller, asserts that he saw at Bethlehem the charnel-house where lie the bones of the Innocents. John the Baptist's head, a portion of which we have encountered among the relics purchased by Louis the Ninth, was discovered, according to Sozomen, [95:1] in the year 391, but it was found again long afterwards in another place, and in the course of ages the skull of this cousin of Christ was exhibited at Amiens, at Lyons, at Morienne, at Angely, at Rome, in Spain, in Germany, and in many other places. The keeper of the St. Amiens relic protested that his was the genuine head, and, in proof of his assertion, he bade the pilgrims to note the hole in the skull over the right eye, which was the very hole Herodias made with a knife when the head was brought to her in a charger. [95:2] The body of Baptist John, according to Theodoret, was buried in a Syrian village; but the grave was opened by the Pagans soon after, and his bones were burnt and scattered in the air. Eusebius adds that some men from Jerusalem, passing by, took and concealed some of the saintly dust, which was conveyed to Antioch and there buried by St. Athanasius in a wall! But miracles are not subject to ordinary laws, and in the course of time the Baptist's body pullulated in Europe. The finger with which he pointed to Jesus as his greater successor was shown, in a fair state of preservation, at Besancon, Toulouse, Lyons, Bourges, Macon, and several other places. [96:3]

The tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul were distinguished, as Gibbon ironically says, early in the third century, if we may trust the history of Eusebius. After the conversion of Constantine, their bones were "deposited under the altars of Christ," and devoutly visited by "the emperors, the consuls and the generals of armies." [96:4] In the seventh century "their genuine or fictitious relics were adored as the Palladium of Christian Rome."

"The pilgrims of the East and West resorted to the holy threshold; but the shrines of the apostles were guarded by miracles and invisible terrors, and it was not without fear that the pious Catholic approached the object of his worship. It was fatal to touch, it was dangerous to behold, the bodies of the saints; and those who, from the purest motives, presumed to disturb the repose of the sanctuary, were affrighted by visions or punished with sudden death." [96:5]

But there were still more astonishing relics of these great apostles. A piece of the broiled fish which Peter offered his Master was preserved in the time of Calvin, who observed that "it must have been wondrous well salted, if it has kept for such a long series of ages." [96:6] Paul's chain was also long preserved, filings from it being dispensed by Gregory the Great; and, as Gibbon remarks, "the pontifical smith who handled the file must have understood the miracles which it was in his power to operate or withhold." This fabulous memento of Paul's captivity appears to have resembled the true cross in its power of reproduction, for, "the particles of holy iron were inserted in keys or crosses of gold, and distributed in Britain, Gaul, Spain, Africa, Constantinople and Egypt." [97:7] The bodies of Peter and Paul were both at Rome with their two heads. Yet Poictiers boasted of Peter's jawbone and beard, and Argenton a shoulder of Paul, while several bones of each were preserved elsewhere. [97:8]

The remains of Timothy were brought from Ephesus, and those of St. Andrew and St. Luke from Achaia, to Constantinople in A.D. 356. After a repose of three hundred years they were transported, in solemn pomp, to the Church of the Apostles which was founded by Constantine; "and thus," says Jortin, "began the carrying of relics from place to place, and the invention of ten thousand lies concerning the wonders wrought by the dead; all which must have greatly scandalized the Pagans." [97:9]

The discovery of St. Stephen's remains is called by Tillemont one of the principal events of the fifth century; and "take it altogether," says Jortin, "it is perhaps one of the most barefaced and impudent impostures that ever were obtruded upon the Christian world." The coffins of St. Stephen, Nicodemus, Gamaliel, and Abdias, were found together. The three minor corpses were left to their repose, but "the relics of the first martyr were transported, in solemn procession, to a church constructed in their honor on Mount Zion; and the minute particles of those relics, a drop of blood, or the scrapings of a bone, were acknowledged, in almost every province of the Roman world, to possess a divine and miraculous virtue." [97:1] St. Augustine enumerates above seventy miracles wrought by them in his own diocese within the space of two years, of which three were resurrections from the dead. "Whoever," says a Gallic or Spanish proverb, "pretends to have read all the miracles of St. Stephen, he lies." His whole body was at Rome, but his head was also at Arles, and his bones in more than a hundred different places. The very stones with which he was killed were shown in a dozen churches, the Carmelite monks of Poictiers even using them to assist women in labor. [98:2] A phial of St. Stephen's blood used to liquefy annually at Naples on the third of August, but when Gregory the Thirteenth corrected the calendar, it did not liquefy until the thirteenth of August, on which the festival of the saint was fixed by the new regulation. [98:3] St. Stephen has since been superseded by St. Januarius, whose blood still liquefies every year like his predecessor's.

The body of St. Barnabas was found, by revelation, at Cyprus, with the gospel of St. Matthew in Greek upon his breast, transcribed with his own hand. [98:4] The grave of St. John at Ephesus, was not rifled, being miraculous enough already, since it moved up and down to show that he was alive and breathing, in fulfilment of Christ's supposed prophecy that the beloved disciple should not die before the second advent. His cassock, however, and the chain with which he was bound, when led prisoner from Ephesus, were both preserved; and the cup from which he was fabled to have drunk poison, by the order of Domitian, was shown at Boulogne and at Rome. [98:5]

In the course of time Old Testament characters made their appearance. After lying in the grave about twelve hundred years, the prophet Zechariah was discovered in a fine state of preservation, with a golden crown, golden shoes, and a magnificent robe; altogether, a far more gorgeous figure than any Jewish prophet ever was in his lifetime. The still more ancient remains of Samuel were found in A.D. 406, and removed from Judea to Constantinople by Arcadius, who is highly commended for this pious action by Jerome. [98:6] Samuel appears to have been less entire than Zechariah, for his ashes were deposited in a golden vase, which was covered with a silken veil, and passed from the hands of one bishop to those of another. The highways from Palestine to Constantinople were crowded as the prophet's relics passed to their destination; and the Emperor himself, with the most illustrious members of the clergy and the senate, advanced to meet his extraordinary guest. [99:7] After this we need not start at Adam's skull being found at Golgotha; at Abel's tomb, on the road to Baalbec, being thirty yards long; or at the tombs of Eve, Seth and Noah being respectively two hundred paces, sixty feet, and a hundred and twenty feet long.

A host of other relics, defying classification, were spread over the face of Europe. Aaron's rod was shown in three places, at Paris, Rome, and Bordeaux. The bones of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were also at Rome. Susannah's corpse was at Rome and likewise at Toulouse. There were two corpses of St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, besides two separate heads, and over a hundred limbs. St. Ursula was divided between Rome, Cologne, Mans, Tours, and Bergerat; while the bones of her eleven thousand virgins were shown in large quantities, sometimes to the extent of a cartload, in half the churches in Christendom. St. Andrew was at Rome, but conveniently dispersed among the various churches, his head being in one, a shoulder in a second, a side in a third, and an arm in a fourth, while an extra foot was preserved at Aix. St. Anthony's arm was shown in one city; it was enshrined and the pilgrims kissed and adored it; but eventually it turned out to be an unmentionable part of a stag. [99:8] The skin of St. Bartholomew was at Pisa. St. Denis who, when his head was cut off, carried it under his arm, must have had two bodies, for France and Germany boasted one each. The body of St. Lawrence was at Rome, where was exhibited, in addition, a piece of his flesh roasted in his martyrdom, as well as two phials filled, the one with his blood and the other with his fat. His arms and bones were also kept in other places, while one church showed the identical gridiron on which he was broiled. There were three bodies of Lazarus, at Marseilles, at Autun, and at Avalon. Two bodies of his sister Mary were shown at different churches, besides several fragments in various other places. Her head was exhibited at St. Maximin, bearing the noli me tangere which was declared to have been put there by Jesus when she approached him in the garden after his resurrection. Three bodies of St. Matthias existed, besides a spare arm and head. At the church of St. Julien, at Tours, which was much resorted to by pilgrims, they displayed the sword and shield with which St. Michael fought the Devil; while at Rome they displayed the instrument with which Peter cut off the ear of Malchus. Of St. Sebastian four bodies were exhibited, besides two heads and four arms. At Genoa they showed the tail of the ass on which Christ rode into Jerusalem. [100:9] The caul of the baby Jesus was at Rome, and also the navel of St. Joseph. Some of St. Joseph's breath, which an angel enclosed in a phial, was long adored in France, afterwards at Venice, and finally at Rome. St. Apollonia's teeth abounded, and were deemed efficacious against the toothache, being carried in the pocket or hung at the neck. It is said that one of the Popes, suspecting that more of these miraculous teeth existed than ever came out of a single woman's jaws, commanded all that were scattered about Italy to be collected together, and found that they filled six bushels. [100:1]

Miraculous crucifixes were found in many churches. On some, such as that at St. Salvador, the effigy's beard used to grow. Many others spoke, such as that at St. Denis; or that at Naples, which said one day to St. Thomas Aquinas, "Thou hast written well of me, Thomas"; or that at the same city, in the Benedictine church, which held two long conversations with Pope Pius V. [100:2] Another Naples crucifix, in the Carmelite church of St. Mary, bowed its head at the sight of a cannon-bullet which was shot at it in 1439, when Don Pedro of Arragon besieged that city. A still more wonderful crucifix was that under which the Council of Trent was sworn and instituted, and which bowed its head to testify its approbation of the learned decrees of that holy assembly. [101:3] But the most extraordinary of all crosses is mentioned by Calvin [101:4] as exhibited in two different places. This was the famous cross which appeared to Constantine! Originally a celestial vision, it solidified in the course of centuries into at least one, and perhaps two, concrete realities.

Every species of relic was thought to be endowed with curative powers, [101:5] an idea which is countenanced by the story of the touching of the hem of Christ's garment by the woman with a bloody issue (Matthew 19:20, and by the miracles of healing that were wrought by the clothes of St. Paul (Acts 19:12). These texts, indeed, are expressly cited by St. Chrysostom to prove the virtue of relics. The Church always looked with a kind eye upon this superstition, and the Fourth Lateran Council (A.D. 1215) regulated, without repressing it, by forbidding relics to be sold or exposed outside their cases or shrines until their authenticity had been approved by the Pope. These regulations were renewed by the Council of Trent.

A famous monument of Christian fraud is the House of Loretto. The empress Helena, whose senile credulity we have already experienced, having discovered the house of the Virgin Mary at Nazareth, built over it a magnificent church. This sacred edifice having been taken and destroyed by the Saracens, the house was transported by angels on May 10, A.D. 1291, to the coast of Dalmatia. But it was too precious a memorial of the true faith to be left there; and after a rest of three years, during which its angelic conveyancers were perhaps recovering from the fatigue of their first journey, it suddenly and miraculously appeared in the Papal state at Loretto, a few miles south of Ancona. There was no difficulty in recognising it, for a contemporary saint was warned by the Virgin of its arrival; and in A.D. 1518, Leo the Tenth pledged the Papal infallibility to the truth of the miracle, which was further authenticated in a bull of Pope Julius the Second. Pilgrimages to the House of Loretto were long fashionable in Europe, and the Church reaped a rich harvest from its credulous visitors.

Another tremendous fraud was perpetrated at the baptism of Clovis, the first king of the Franks, who embraced the religion of his Christian wife after the battle of Tolbiac, in which he believed that her god had given him the victory. The ceremony of his baptism was pompously performed in the cathedral of Rheims; but before it was completed, the church was filled with a bright light, and a voice was heard, saying, "Peace be with you: it is I: be not afraid: abide in my love." Then the place was filled with heavenly odor, and a dove descended, bearing in her bill a phial of chrism, with which his majesty was anointed. [102:8] The holy phial was preserved, and it was subsequently used until the Revolution at the coronation of the kings of France, the celestial oil being used and miraculously renewed on each occasion. [102:9]

Fleury hints and Schlegel urges that the truth of the story is doubtful, resting as it does on the authority of Archbishop Himcar, who wrote three hundred years after the event. But Mosheim says, "I dare not call the fact in question," and the Church has always accepted it as an unquestionable miracle. Mosheim thinks it "a deception craftily contrived for the occasion," [102:1] and every sensible reader, who admits the story, will probably share his opinion.

In the convent of Sienna there is a curious inscription, which records the marriage of St. Catherine with Jesus Christ. In consequence of her devotion, it is related that the second person of the Trinity came to her cell and placed a marriage ring on her finger. The bridal scene forms the subject of a large number of old Italian paintings. The convent inscription records that "under this roof St. Catherine was married to Jesus Christ on the day of the Carnival, 1364, in the presence of the most blessed Virgin Mary, of King David, who played upon the harp, of St. John the Evangelist, St. Paul, and St. Dominic." Another inscription records that "in this house St. Catherine one day felt an amorous longing (amorose smanie) to see her divine husband; that two very beautiful angels appeared to her to comfort her; but that she, turning to them, said, It is not you I want, but him who created you." [103:2] The reverend traveller, who relates these monstrous blasphemies, asks who can help being reminded of the interviews between Bacchus and Ariadne, and other gallantries of the Pagan mythology.

The millennial craze furnishes another illustration of Christian credulity and priestly fraud. It was one of those "frivolous and senseless notions, which the priests industriously cherished for the sake of lucre." [103:3] At the end of the tenth century it was generally believed that the end of the world was approaching, the clergy having industriously prepared men's minds for the dreadful expectation.

"Hence it came to pass that an innumerable multitude, leaving their possessions, and giving them to churches and monasteries, repaired to Palestine, where they thought that Christ would descend from heaven to judge the world. Others solemnly devoted themselves and all their goods to churches, to monasteries, and to the clergy, and entered into their service as bond-slaves, performing a daily task. Their hope was that the supreme judge would be favorable to them if he found them thus occupied in the service of his servants." [103:4]

"Thus do I ever make my fool my purse," quoth honest Iago. The priests set the pot boiling and skimmed it for themselves. From first to last they have traded upon the credulity of the multitude, whose ignorance they have always fostered in order to make them an easy prey.

Previous Chapter      Contents      Home      Top of Page      Next Chapter >