O Me of Little Faith

More Sainthood freebies! Here’s an appetizer from the next book in my religious-history-is-fun Pocket Guide series. It’s called Pocket Guide to Sainthood (Jossey-Bass, 2009). This is a selection from the last chapter, which is a grab-bag of listy goodness:


Three Saints Whose Relics Ooze Oil (or So They Say)

1. St. Walburga, an Anglo-Saxon abbess from the 8th century, whose relics leak an oily substance from the stone slab they rest upon at a church in Bavaria. The Sisters of St. Benedict, who run the church, collect the oil in a silver cup and distribute it as a remedy against diseases. These days, everyone pretty much figures it’s just water, but it came into direct contact with saintly relics, so — who knows? — maybe it’s magic water. Or bacteria-enriched water.

2. St. Nicholas of Myra, the original Santa Claus, whose bones at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy, allegedly leak a clear, oily substance — conveniently, this occurs every year on his feast day — known for having medicinal powers. Scientists believe this is what keeps Santa’s cheeks so rosy.

3. St. Menas, an Egyptian martyr from the third century. Back in the early part of the 20th century, an excavation in the Libyan desert uncovered thousands of flasks with the inscription Eulogia tou agiou mena (“In remembrance of St. Menas”). These flasks have been discovered all over Europe, too, thanks to the popularity of pilgrimages to St. Menas’ shrine. But they probably didn’t contain oil. Inscriptions on some flasks indicate it was special water from a well near the shrine of St. Menas. Nice try, Menas, but we know the difference between oil produced by relics and well water. Sheesh.


In other saint-related news, Pope Benedict XVI is in the U.S. for the first time as the pontiff. He has presided over the canonizations of 14 saints up to this point, with four more scheduled for October 2008. Mark your calendars.

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