Curious History : 9 Pieces of Famous Historical Anatomy

This posting was inspired by Leola whose curiosity lead to most of the findings for this article.

Throughout humanities very long curious history we have always wanted to keep a part of something or someone readily available because of religious or historical significance.  The Smithsonian in Washington DC keeps many such relic’s, such as a small fragment of the tragic Hindenburg which is merely a splinter, and yet it represents a historical moment that most people hope will never be forgotten.  It is not only fragments from a particular object that people view as historic, they also crave something a little more personal, and to some, far more valuable.

Yet, what if those curiously valuable objects are connected to a human body?  What then?

Well, for many Christians during the seventh century, when religious figures passed, either pieces of them, things that they had owned, or things that they had touched would be placed in reliquaries and put on display for pilgrims and the faithful. Though this may sound a little morbid for separating a piece of the body from the whole this became common practice for early Christians.  Here are a few unique human reliquaries still found today.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary – located in the convent of St. Elizabeth, her skull is preserved wearing the very crown that she wore in life.

St. Louis IX – found in the Basilica of St. Denis, you will also find the remains of French monarchs from Dagobert I and on.  During the French Revolution, the contents of the grave were dug up and put into a mass grave.  Afterwards the remains were exhumed and made into an ossuary inside the basilica.

King St. Istvan – known as the “holy right”, this reliquary is the right hand of  King St  Istvan.

St. Anthony of Padua – the story is that 30 years after St. Anthony’s disposition, his tomb was opened and his body was dust except for his tongue which is kept at the Basilica named after him.

In the Piazza date Trivi – there are so many Pope hearts of the many centuries of the Catholic Church preserved in reliquaries in this particular place.

Thievery has also run rampant in human history.  The stealing of human body parts of famous people should not be too surprising.  You see, their bodies were buried but for some reason or another little bits and pieces of them have been found curiously throughout history.  Here is a listing of some we might all know of.

Benito Mussolini’s brain was separated into three separate vials when it was stolen during an autopsy after the end of the second world war.  One of those just showed up recently on eBay.

Here is a piece that is on display in a reliquary, but is unique because of its travels and how only a pieces of him ended up in reliquaries.  St. Francis Xavier traveled to Asia where he died and was buried on the beach.  A few months later his body was interred by Christians where they found his body curiously preserved.  When they publicly displayed the body, a Portuguese woman became so enraptured that she bit off his toe which they claimed then bled.  After this, different parts of his body were sent to different places.  His arm to Rome, a fingernail to another village in India, and his big toe that still rests in a silver reliquary in the Cathedral of Goa, India.

Even though Anne Boleyn’s heart is not viewable by the public since it was buried, I did not even know that her heart was cut out.  It was said after her execution King  Henry VIII had her heart cut out and put it in a heart-shaped box where he placed it in an altar in Suffolk.  There it remained until the 19th century where it was discovered improperly buried.

Oh my!  This is a curious one indeed!  It is said that Napoleon’s penis was removed by the man who gave him his last rights.  Supposedly, a man in America bought this particular piece of anatomy in 1969.  This may not be uncommon though since the reviled priest Rasputin’s member is on display in a museum in Russia.

It is important to remember that throughout humanity’s history we have been curious about the connections to our past.  Many people’s believe these particular pieces to be significant and mystifying in some curious fashion or another to that connection.  Either way, is also very strange to find the curious little bits and pieces that humanity will cling to.

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42 thoughts on “Curious History : 9 Pieces of Famous Historical Anatomy

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