For those of you who have watched Hoarders, you know there are some folks who can’t bring themselves to throw things away. Well, evidently, this inability to part with cherished belongings has a little bit of Biblical and ecclesiastical history.
All Jewish boys are required by Jewish law to be circumcised on the eighth day following their birth, which means that ritual would have applied to Jesus, who, if you will recall, was Jewish. At least on his mother’s side.
Now, you would think that following the procedure, no one would have thought to save the prepuce, or what we more commonly think of as the foreskin. Well, according to Church legend, you would be wrong.
Evidently, some unnamed Jewish woman must have thought that it would come in handy some day, so she gave it to her son the druggist for safekeeping. Her son the doctor and her son the lawyer were not available.
As the legend goes, he stashed it away and stored it in his sock drawer, or wherever one keeps clipped foreskins.
Some folks became a little uncomfortable when the host offered to take out his foreskin and let his guests get a good look at it.
After hearing that a grilled cheese sandwich bearing the image of the Virgin Mary had sold on eBay for $28,000, he was convinced he was on to something. If nothing else, it made for a great conversation piece. Something to pass around at cocktail parties or bar mitzvahs. Of course, some folks became a little uncomfortable when the host offered to take out his foreskin and let his guests get a good look at it.
Now, not much was mentioned as to the whereabouts of this keepsake foreskin, which became known as the “Holy Prepuce,” for the next 600 years, until the ever-popular apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel had this to say:
1. And when the time of his circumcision was come, namely, the eighth day, on which the law commanded the child to be circumcised, they circumcised him in a cave, as the mohel was not admitted to practice at the local hospital.
2. And the old Hebrew woman took the foreskin and preserved it in an alabaster box of old oil of spikenard.
3. And she had a son who was a druggist, to whom she said, “Take heed thou sell not this alabaster box of spikenard-ointment, although thou shouldst be offered three hundred pence for it.”
The earliest recorded sighting of the precious prepuce came on December 25, 800 A.D., when Charlemagne, upon being crowned Holy Roman Emperor, gave it to Pope Leo III. Charlemagne claimed that it had been brought to him by an angel while he prayed at the Holy Sepulchre, although a more prosaic report says it was a wedding gift for the Byzantine Empress Irene, who was slightly nonplussed as it had not been among the suggestions listed in her bridal registry at Neiman Marcus, or even Home Goods. Word has it she was hoping for something more practical, like a eunuch.
Pope Leo III placed it into the Sancta Sanctorum in the Lateran Palace in Rome with other relics, one of which included a holy umbilical cord. The authenticity of the foreskin being the Holy Prepuce later was confirmed by a vision of St. Bridget of Sweden, whom you might recall from her work with the psychic hotline.
Unfortunately, in 1527, the Holy Foreskin was stolen during the Sack of Rome. The German soldier who stole it was captured in the village of Calcata. Thrown into prison, he hid the jeweled reliquary in his cell, where it remained until its rediscovery in 1557.
The authenticity of the foreskin being the Holy Prepuce later was confirmed by a vision of St. Bridget of Sweden, whom you might recall from her work with the psychic hotline.
Many miracles (perfumed fog overwhelming the village and visits from Publishers Clearing House) are claimed to have occurred. Housed in Calcata, it was venerated from that time forward with the Church offering a 10-year indulgence to pilgrims.
You might recall from Church history that the indulgence was the brainchild of Pope Leo X, a member of the Medici family who gave a whole new meaning to the term “fast-tracked career.” On March 15, 1513, he was ordained a priest. Two days later, he was consecrated a bishop. And on March 19, four days after becoming a priest, he was crowned pope. He was quoted as saying at the time, “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it,” and immediately began to blow through the papal treasury.
Unfortunately, Leo was soon strapped for cash and saw the sale of indulgences as a means of filling the holy coffers. Clergy absolved all sins, transgressions, and excesses – how enormous soever – and remitted all punishment deserved in purgatory and restored the innocence and purity possessed at baptism. Something Bristol Palin could make good use of.
Sent to hawk indulgences in Germany, a Dominican named Tetzel – who prior to taking holy orders did infomercials for a host of miracle products – outdid the pope and promised the indulgences covered sins not yet committed. The good friar guaranteed satisfaction. If one was not completely happy with the indulgence, he said, buyers could merely return it and money would gladly be refunded. As a result, the faithful saw them as well worth the purchase price and they proved to be very popular. But I digress.
Pilgrims, nuns, and monks flocked to the church, and “Calcata became a must-see destination on the pilgrimage circuit. Soon, Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity were offering discount deals. William Shatner even featured the destination in ads for Priceline.
Before long, Holy Prepuces became all the rage throughout Europe, and venerated foreskins started popping up everywhere. During the Middle Ages, there were eight, 12, 14, or even 18 different holy foreskins in various European towns. Some took to comparing the way they were multiplying to the miracle of the loaves and fishes.
Theologians began referring to the controversy as the dueling prepuces.
One of the most famous prepuces arrived in Antwerp in the Brabant in 1100 as a present from King Baldwin I of Jerusalem, who had a reputation for giving joke gifts. This prepuce became famous when the Bishop of Cambray, during the celebration of the Mass, saw three drops of blood blotting the linens of the altar. A special chapel was constructed and processions were organized in honor of the miraculous relic in the hopes that pilgrimages there would eclipse those at Calcata.
The abbey of Charroux claimed the Holy Foreskin was presented to the monks by Charlemagne. In the early 12th century, it was taken in procession to Rome, where it was presented before Pope Innocent III. At some point, however, the relic disappeared, and it remained lost until 1856 when a workman repairing the abbey claimed to have found hidden inside a wall a reliquary containing the missing foreskin.
Not surprisingly, the rediscovery led to a theological clash with the established Holy Prepuce of Calcata, which had been officially venerated by the Church for hundreds of years. Theologians began referring to the controversy as the dueling prepuces.
Most of the Holy Prepuces were lost or destroyed during the Reformation and French Revolution. However, as recently as 1983, on the Feast of the Circumcision, the Holy Prepuce of Calcata reliquary containing the Holy Foreskin was paraded through the streets of the village.
It should be noted that in 1962, either as an attempt at political correctness or simply as an exhibition of good taste, the Church changed the name of the feast from “Circumcision of the Lord and Octave of the Nativity” to simply “Octave of the Nativity.”