Identity

Someone Stole Pieces of a Saint's Brain from an Italian Church

Strangely enough, it's not the first time a thief has jacked the body parts of a dead religious figure.

by Drew Schwartz
Jun 5 2017, 9:50pm

Billede via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday, a thief disguised as a Catholic making a religious pilgrimage strolled into a church in Castelnuovo, Italy, and walked out with a bizarre bounty: pieces of a saint's brain, Religion News Service reports.

Many holy spots around the globe have remnants of saints' body parts, or relics, on display for the faithful to pray near. At the Basilica of Our Lady Help of Christians in Castelnuovo, the church boasted tiny fragments of Saint John Bosco's brain, preserved in a small glass case. After realizing it had gone missing, parishioners gathered on Sunday at his namesake basilica to pray for Bosco's brain to return.

"I invite whoever took it to give it back immediately, without any conditions so we can close this painful page and continue to honor the memory of Don Bosco worthily in his birthplace," Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia told the news service.

Italian police have reportedly set up roadblocks in the country's northern region to try to stop the thief, who they believe may try to hold it for ransom or use it in a Satanic ritual. Although decomposing brain matter doesn't sound like the most pleasant thing to worship—or the most lucrative to steal—the body parts of saints go missing with surprising frequency.

In 2012, the New York Times reported that two thieves sauntered into Ireland's Christ Church Cathedral and stole the patron saint of Dublin's heart. They carefully avoided the security cameras, left the collection boxes untouched, and lit two candles on their way out. The theft was just one in a bizarre string of robberies leaving churches in Europe without prized, irreplaceable relics—from Saint Brigid's jawbone to splinters from Christ's crucifixion cross.

And back in 828, thieves jacked Saint Mark's body from Alexandria and stuffed it into a meat cart bound for Italy. In perhaps the strangest recorded incident, a woman bit off Saint Francis's big toe after his death in the 16th century and squirreled it away in her home, where, as TIME reported, it was later recovered.

One can only hope Saint Bosco's brain awaits the same fate.

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