Like so many of these blog posts, it started when I saw a story somewhere on the intranets.
This time, it was this story about Gallileo’s fingers being put on display in a museum in Florence, Italy. In the picture to the right, you can see the middle finger and thumb of the great scientist in that skinny glass-and-wood container — basically ol’ Gallileo is flippin’ off everyone, which I would want to do if a few of my body parts were being paraded around for all to gawk at!
(Okay, that’s a bit of a lie because when I die, I sort of want to be stuffed and mounted with animatronics with my hand reaching out to shake with everyone who comes to my funeral and my mouth moving to a tape I’ve recorded of me saying, “Hey, glad you can make it — sorry I’m dead!” That or I want to be cremated, loaded into a Coke can and shot out of a cannon. I can’t decide …)
Anyway, from the AP story —
In 1737, admirers of Galileo Galilei removed the three fingers, plus the tooth and a vertebra, from his body as it was being moved from a storage place to a monumental tomb — opposite that of Michelangelo, in Santa Croce Basilica in Florence.
The vertebra is kept at the University of Padua, where Galileo taught for many years.
The tooth and the thumb and middle finger were held in a container that was passed from generation to generation in the same family, but in the early 20th century all traces of the relics disappeared. The container turned up at auction late last year, and detailed historical documents and the family’s own records helped experts to identify them as the scientist’s, according to museum officials.
My first reaction when I hear a story like this — or about how pieces of Einstein’s brain seem to be scattered among scientists like sections of the “true” cross — is utter revulsion. I mean, come on! Other than serial killers and voodoo priestesses, who in their right mind keeps mementos of dead people around?
And then I remembered the story of Father Michael J. McGivney.
You may recognize the name — the Catholic priest from Waterbury who founded the mighty Knights of Columbus fraternal service organization in 1882. At the time, he was assigned to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, and with a few parishioners, organized the group to help provide support for families who lost the head of the household. Unfortunately, Father McGiveny died in 1890 at age 38 from tuberculosis, long before he could see what a powerful, influential and rich organization his purely altruistic aims would spawn.
Honestly, I didn’t know too much about the gentleman until I was on assignment and had to tour the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven. While I was going through the opulent museum — and the place reminds you that the Catholic Church, despite preaching charity and selflessness, also really likes to spend its donated monies quite lavishly on itself — I visited the gallery dedicated to Father McGivney. And it was while I was innocently looking through here that I made a troubling (for me) realization.
For as I was looking at the gallery, I noticed there were a few of Father McGiveny’s personal objects on display, things like pictures, letters, bibles, notes, the rosary he had been holding and the vestments he had been buried in, more letters–
Yeah, apparently as part of the process of trying to get Father McGiveny canonized, in 1982 he was dug up from his original resting place in Waterbury on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Knights of Columbus and then re-interred at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, you know, after the remains apparently were picked clean for holy relics and other mementos, which are now on display in the KOFC Museum.
Okay, with all due respect to those of the Catholic faith, but I’m not quite sure how this is different from all the Egyptian tombs and mummies that have been pillaged and displayed over the centuries, which I still contend is out-and-out grave robbing, and pretty much abhorrent to nature. I mean, they say “Rest in peace” at the end of funerals for a reason, right? Couldn’t the guy have been made a saint from the place he was originally interred?
Call it what you want, invoke science or religion, but to me, it’s just freaky. And weird. Apparently though, these types of grave-robbing traditions have been going on for centuries (see Gallileo’s and Einstein’s stories above), so I guess it’s accepted in numerous places. To each his own, I suppose — just keep your pieces of dead away from me, thanks!