Catholicism is really weird and ghoulish

The Catholic church is proudly taking the excised heart of a dead monk on a grand tour of the US. Literally. They gouged the heart out of the corpse of Padre Pio and are exhibiting it across the country.


Don’t worry. It may be incorruptible, but spectators won’t be touching it or even getting a good look at it because it is sealed for their protection within a plastic box. But, like gamma rays, apparently saint rays can pass freely through thin sheets of plastic.


  1. says

    If you want some really fun, look at the horrible wax effigies they claim are “incorruptible” saint-meat. It’s like Mme Tussaud’s on a big dose of shrooms.

  2. bronwyncaveney says

    Ugh, that shit is gross, the whole relics thing, and reliquaries in general. I was in Munich, and saw a ton in this one museum; shudders of disgust all around. I grew up in a Catholic family, and they would have loved this – creepy!

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I too raised Catholic, now ex-, and console myself that even Springsteen (my idol) was also raised Catholic, and “worst altar boy ever”, to quote Springsteen. That even he survived that upbringing and produced the most stellar Rock icon (along with Bob Dylan). It is survivable that dogma-I-refuse-to-name. #BornToRun *squeee

  4. says

    That’s not the only thing that’s grotesque about the catholic church. A church in Providence fired their long-time music director for marrying another man. The parishioners, I’m happy to say, are pissed off about it, but the priest and the bishop are, of course, being total assholes. BTW the church has a lot of gay members and the guy was with his boyfriend for a long time before they married — the sin was actually getting married.

    Yeah, that makes sense.

  5. cartomancer says

    To take this in perspective, it’s actually our modern squeamishness with corpses and bits of other people that’s weird. Most societies throughout history have had a much more hands-on approach to human remains than we do – they would think us creepy and weird for just throwing our dead in holes and forgetting about them. Though I am reminded that the US in particular practices embalming with formaldehyde as a common funerary practice – which is just as weird and creepy as keeping a dried heart in a casket, and orders of magnitude more expensive.

    I am much more exercised by the attitudes these Catholics take towards people who haven’t died yet than towards those who have.

  6. says

    Well cartomancer, I think you’re missing the point of what’s creepy about this. It’s attributing magical powers to the fleshly remnant that’s really really weird. Why would you want to see or handle it in the first place?

  7. bronwyncaveney says

    @ 9, See, that’s what I think is creepy, A finger here, a knuckle there, boxed up in a crystal and gold gem encrusted thing, and people kissing it, and attributing magic powers to it.

  8. Vivec says

    I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but the history of reliquaries and adorning skeletons/bodies with art is one of those little historical quibbles that I think is amazingly cool and interesting.

    When I die, I hope someone decides to have me gilded and covered in precious stones, and then stick me on the roof or something for people to see.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    cervantes @9: It’s no more creepy than what a lot of humans have done for thousands of years the world over. See endocannibalism, exocannibalism, human sacrifice, ancestor worship (often bits of ancestors), mummification, modern embalming practices (as cartomancer points out), etc. Nothing new or exceptional here. Personally, I don’t find it any more weird than someone paying a lot of money for a napkin signed by Picasso. Nowt as queer as folk, etc.

  10. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    Give my feet to the footloose, careless and fancy-free
    Give my knees to the needy, don’t pull that stuff on me
    Venus de Milo can have my arms
    Look out! I’ve got your nose
    Sell my heart to the junkman and give my love to Rose

  11. unclefrogy says

    the church authorities are the ones who authorize and encourage doing this kind of veneration of relics. It is that that is creepy and ghoulish. The use of “Saints” and their remains to manipulate the faithful through their emotional attachment is perverse.
    It is they that pay for the lavish decorations and it’s their hands that hold the things out to be kissed and touched. They hold it out to the faithful who bow and kneel before them.
    it is their use to deliberately and purposely manipulate the faithful that is creepy.
    uncle frogy

  12. Beatrice, an amateur cynic looking for a happy thought says

    I find it fascinating from a historical perspective – at some time people preserved parts of bodies of people they admired. Whether it was a saint or an old king, it’s cool. Where it becomes weird is when people pray to it today.

    We paraded a corpse around the country sometime this spring. I found it ridiculous that people see something holly in that corpse. I would take a look at it in a museum, with a nice big plate next to it, describing its history and reasons that led to it being preserved.

  13. davidnangle says

    devnll @#2, the symbol of the cross and the act of crossing one’s self makes me wish the execution method at the time had been Vlad-style anal impalement.

  14. blf says

    (1) How much are the child rapists charging to see / kiss this alleged bit of preserved long pig? Follow the money!

    (2) Are they bothering to usefully clean the enclosing plasticdisease vector before the next person touches / kisses it?

  15. blf says

    Covered under freedom of religiontax evasion, no doubt.

    (Yes, I know, the more-correct term is “tax avoidance” since the presumed no-taxes probably isn’t illegal.)

  16. ebotebo says

    This kind of thing almost always puts a knot in the middle of my stomach, then I have to turn away before I blow chunks!

  17. The Very Reverend Battleaxe of Knowledge says

    Re cartomancer @ #8:

    One of the main things that made the early Christians objectionable to their fellow citizens in the ancient world was their penchant for living with their dead–burying them under the floor of their living rooms, setting up indoor shrines, etc. In the Greek and Roman world, the dead were to be immediately taken outside the city walls to avoid ritual pollution of the entire community. Christian corpse-worship was not only disgusting to their pagan neighbors, but was regarded as a threat to public safety.

  18. cartomancer says

    Battleaxe, #26

    Indeed so. Classical civilization was, from the very beginning, obsessed with the ritual purity of proper burial of the dead. It’s a major thematic thread throughout Homer’s Iliad and Sophocles’ Antigone, it was regulated very intensively by Athenian sumptuary laws, and the Romans made it a prominent civic, religious and cultural concern. Early Christian sensibilities towards the sanctity of dead bodies were a radical departure in some ways.

    But they share an origin with pre-Christian concerns in that both thought-worlds attribute great magical powers to a human corpse, and treat it as an object of reverence and ritual significance. It actually mattered to a traditional Roman that the dead be buried correctly in the right place – outside the city Pomoerium away from the business of the living – just as it mattered to the early Christian that the Christian dead be kept close to the Christian community and away from the spiritually suspect burial places of the traditional culture. Whether as source of potential pollution or source or potential sanctity, the corpse was invested with power. The traditional attitude of the polytheists is no more rational or logical than the Christian one.

    Both societies would think us creepy and weird for treating corpses as just something that happens, and not regarding their inhumation as anything more than a personal, psychological concern for the family. Our complete lack of a magical, supernatural framework in which to interpret the human corpse would baffle and unnerve both sides equally.

  19. methuseus says

    @blf #19:

    (2) Are they bothering to usefully clean the enclosing plasticdisease vector before the next person touches / kisses it?

    Since I was raised Catholic, I can answer this: God would not let anyone catch a disease from anything that is considered holy. Yes, even as a first-grader, I thought it was very weird and never truly believed it. I knew from putting alcohol on cuts that the alcohol in wine was the most likely reason the communion wine wasn’t a massive disease vector.

  20. wzrd1 says

    Battleaxe, #26, indeed, we’ve had a fairly recent example on close handling of a corpse caused problems during the Ebola outbreak.
    28k people sickened, 11k dead, Roman Catholics in the US incapable of holding their water (See Chris Christie for an example).*

    *Hey, I could’ve used Trump as an example, but I’m pretty sure he attended Our Lady of Obnoxiousness church, which is decidedly protestant of anything decent.

  21. KG says


    I’m hoping bits of me will be used by medical students in their traditional practical jokes, assuming none of those bits can be used to help someone else go on living.

    (Seriously, in most countries there’s a serious shortage both of organs for trnasplant, and corpses for trainee medics to dissect. Everyone should consider trying to ensure their body is used for the benefit of others when they are done with it.)

  22. stripeycat says

    KG – also saves your family the cost and emotional distress of a funeral. (Seriously, who wants to have to organise *anything* immediately after a bereavement? Dealing with lawyers and house-clearance is quite enough, and doesn’t normally need too much input over the first few weeks: the only time I’ve ever been grateful for lawyers’ procedures working on a geological timescale.)

  23. Vivec says

    Fair enough, I was using “body” when I meant “skeleton”.

    I don’t care about what is done to my meaty bits, but dear lord please do something like this to my skeleton.

    TW on the link, it’s a skeleton in fancy armor.

    Also @32, my very extended family likes to throw a big party after someone dies, kind of a ‘celebrate the good times and remember them’ sort of thing. The deceased person’s attendance is optional, and as of yet none of the departed have tried to RSVP.

  24. Derek Vandivere says

    #31 / KG: If I don’t get mulched, I want to time it so that I can swallow a bunch of hidden messages or Easter eggs then donate myself for dissection. Sort of a fortune corpse…

  25. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ftr: Padre Pio (1887-1968)’s primary achievement in life was 50 years of “unexplainable” stigmata: wounds supposedly matching those of Jesus’s crucifiction*.

    *Yes, I know about the spelling, but I use this version for a reason…

  26. says

    If you want the ultimate in grotesque relics, at one time at least 11 churches in Europe claimed to have Jesus’ foreskin. The last known foreskin disappeared from Calcata, Italy, in 1983: until then, it was pulled out and paraded around town once a year.

  27. John Morales says

    Gregory in Seattle, that’s not the ultimate grotesquerie; there have been other grotesques well after that one (cf. this very post). Tsk.

  28. John Morales says

    Pierce R. Butler, you too?

    I put it to you that his alleged bilocation was more impressive than his stigmata, which are pretty much run-of-the-mill in Catholic mythos.

    (Avoiding superlatives and ultimates helps prevent objections such as mine

  29. John Morales says

    Gregory, I was having a bit of fun with polysemy — both ‘grotesque’ and ‘ultimate’ have more than one sense.

    (In passing, in the Catholic mythos, relics are venerated, not worshipped)

  30. says

    Obeisance and prayers offered to a saint is veneration, while the same obeisance and prayers offered to Jesus or the Father is worship. In practice, the difference is mere semantics.

  31. shaneevans says

    Several years ago I read a eye-opening book on the mythos created around Padre Pio. I was amazed that in today’s world, miracle claims are still so easily made and spread within a religious community. I can only imagine who the ancient world of 2000 years ago must have been.