MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/Good Friday 2014) – On Maundy Thursday National Geographic replayed a documentary on the mystery surrounding the Holy Foreskin, said to be the only flesh of Jesus The Christ to remain on earth after he ascended to heaven. According to apocryphal writings, a Hebrew woman preserved the foreskin in an alabaster box which changed hands amid the tumult that marked the early days of Christianity.
Produced by New York Times writer David Farley, the documentary tries to trace the present location of arguably Christendom’s most important relic after its disappearance from the Italian village of Calcata on New Year’s Day 1983.
Rumors were rife it was the Vatican itself that was behind the disappearance of a product of The Christ’s circumcision for reasons that can only be the subject of speculations. The other theory is that the relic in Calcata is not the real one. Farley himself wrote that as many as eighteen European towns claimed to have the foreskin.
Legends about the foreskin began in 800 AD, when Frankish ruler Charlemagne gave it to Pope Leo III when the latter proclaimed him Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Apparently, the title was the pontiff’s way of thanking Charlemagne for saving Rome from its enemies who were then knocking on its gates.
But Charlemagne, Farley quotes one version of the foreskin’s history, did not fully trust the Vatican and so only gave the pope a fake relic. He entrusted the real one to his compatriots, the monks at the Abbey of Charroux in Vienne, France, where it vanished at some point but later found again in the same site. This claim subsequently led to a clash within the Church, as the foreskin deposited in Calcata had been the object of veneration for centuries.
Perhaps it was this controversy that made the Vatican dropped from its calendar the Day of the Holy Circumcision, which was celebrated on New Year’s Day. The Church even decreed that those who would speak or write anything about the Holy Foreskin face[d] excommunication.
Did the Church ban any mention of what Farley calls Christianity’s strangest relic as a way out of the dilemma over which foreskin really belonged to The Christ? Or was the decision dictated by doctrinal considerations?
The mere mention of foreskin unavoidably leads to the idea of sexuality. It doesn’t matter that The Christ, as required by Jewish law, had to undergo circumcision eight days after his birth. A biological reminder like the foreskin may somehow erode his stature as the central image of the faith. Perhaps Church authorities wanted to avoid risking debates that would put his divinity at stake.
Meanwhile, as the Church has kept mum on the issue except to say that it’s no longer in its custody, the world may never come to know what really happened to the Holy Foreskin that like other relics has inspired all sorts of reaction from believers – faith, fanaticism, and perhaps folly fueled by superstition.
The circumcision happened 2,000 years ago. Yet the mystery and intrigue surrounding that piece of flesh has refused to die and may live for as long faith remains. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])