On this day in 847, the bones of St Nikephoros I were interred at the Church of the Holy Apostles. As far as I can tell, this was a big deal. Nikephoros had died almost 20 years earlier. But saint bones were a very big thing back in the day. People thought that by being near them, they could be healed and stuff like that. Those were the days my friend!
That was when the church was kind of sealed off from the rest of the world and people looked upon it as a place of magic. And it was! If you consider power magic. And I do.
But the whole thing makes me think of Cadfael — the series of television movies (based upon Edith Pargeter’s novels, which I have not read). They take place in 12th century England. Cadfael is a monk — but one who entered the church later in life, having previously been a warrior. He is an herbalist and thoroughly anachronistic in that he is clearly an enlightenment thinker. All around him — even the good people — are stuck believing the most ridiculous nonsense. But not Cadfael.
Saint Bones of Winifred
Anyway, in the series, the abbey has the bones of St Winifred, and it acts as a kind of funding mechanism for the church. People come on pilgrimages to the abbey just to be near the bones. But we find out in A Morbid Taste for Bones (which was the first book, but not the first episode), that there are no saint bones in the box that apparently the church keeps these things in. Instead, it is the remains of a murderous (and mentally ill) monk. It makes for wonderful social commentary with people coming from hundreds of miles to be near the saint bones when the the saint bones are actually still in the ground in Wales.
Of course, the way Cadfael sees it, why can’t the bones of St Winifred work their magic from wherever they are? I mean, if it truly is magic — the work of God — what does proximity have to do with it? But these are the kind of enlightenment forms of thinking that do stick out in a story about 12th century England. Still: I recommend the films. They are great fun.