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Understanding Holiness:
Items in a Glass Case

12 ". . . we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."

Paul's Epistle to the Romans, ch. 8 (King James Version)

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Relics of St. Joseph of Leonessa:
among a dozen objects in a case,
this mixed collection.

It always amazes me how physical most religions are; and, the best efforts of St. Paul notwithstanding, Catholicism is no exception: the Church has always been more reasonable than many of its individual saints.

Here we see a group of relics relating to one man, part of a larger exhibit (q.v.) in the Santuario di S. Giuseppe. From a technical standpoint, they are primary (parts of a saint's body) — the vial of congealed blood on the left; secondary (items a saint wore, used, or touched) — the iron collar and chain, but also the practical hourglass on the right, unfortunately hid from view in its jar under some authenticating slip of document; and tertiary (items much more loosely associated with a saint, often just objects that have merely touched a relic of a higher class) — here, the handwritten record of his canonization better seen on another page of this site. Wrapped in brown paper, who knows what item of S. Giuseppe's clothing; the ominous-looking bit of rope is only the end of the cord that served this good Franciscan as a belt.

The iron collar is surely the most exotic item to a modern viewer. That the saint wore it, for the purpose of mortifying the flesh, is certain; around what part of his body is less so, although the choices are limited and it's almost certainly written up in the book behind it. But it's not the mechanics that mystify us — this is essentially a handcuff — but the motivation that would impel a sane man to lock himself into it.

There is no doubt that S. Giuseppe was sane, at least as measured by the standard of Christ, that a good tree bears good fruit: after his youthful foray to Turkey to convert the Sultan, he spent 25 years of his life taking care of the poor, growing vegetables in his garden and feeding people with them, taking care of their animals, hearing their confessions, getting them to hospitals, and, turning his back on the luxurious life his talents as a preacher could have earned him, identifying with the common people and recognizing their dignity; and he has been remembered for it with affection.

S. Giuseppe might have been more efficient without his iron collar and his hairshirt — you can't get more Catholic than Cassian, who disapproved of these things, stating that they merely hinder the work of a monk — but then would he have been the same man?

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Page updated: 28 Oct 10