AN Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's OddestTown

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"In December 1983, a priest in the Italian hill town of Calcata shared some shocking news with his congregation. Their beloved relic, the pride of their village, had been stolen. And this was no ordinary relic: It was the foreskin of Jesus Christ. Some postulated that it had been stolen by Satanists. Some said the priest himself was to blame. Some even pointed their fingers at the Vatican." "Journalist David Farley spent a year in Calcata in search of the holy foreskin, sifting through the relic's long history of myths and legends, popes and

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AN Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's OddestTown

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Overview

"In December 1983, a priest in the Italian hill town of Calcata shared some shocking news with his congregation. Their beloved relic, the pride of their village, had been stolen. And this was no ordinary relic: It was the foreskin of Jesus Christ. Some postulated that it had been stolen by Satanists. Some said the priest himself was to blame. Some even pointed their fingers at the Vatican." "Journalist David Farley spent a year in Calcata in search of the holy foreskin, sifting through the relic's long history of myths and legends, popes and princes, armies and emperors. Farley recounts how the relic passed from an angel's hand to Charlemagne to the papacy to a marauding German soldier before finally ending up in Calcata in the sixteenth century, where miracles occurred that made the sleepy town a pilgrimage destination. Over the centuries, as Catholic theology evolved, the relic became something of an embarrassment to the Church - especially as a dozen other towns also claimed to have Christ's foreskin. Eventually the Church passed a decree that allowed it to be displayed just once a year, on New Year's Day, and threatened with excommunication those who spoke about it on any other day." An Irreverent Curiosity interweaves this history with the curious landscape of Calcata, a town just thirty miles from Rome but largely untouched since the Middle Ages and now - due to a fascist-era ruling and the inscrutable machinations of Italian bureaucracy - a counterculture coven filled with those the Italians call frichettoni: freaks. In search of the relic, Farley encounters everyone from the doddering village priest to an Egyptologist who lives in a cave with her flock of crows. Healso infiltrates the Vatican, learns the mystical power of Calcata, and shares home-brewed wine with the local fascist.

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Editorial Reviews

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Brace yourself: This book takes as its subject perhaps the most bizarre heist in the history of world religion. Until December 1983, the tiny Italian village church of Calcata cherished an ancient relic, purported to be the Holy Prepuce, the foreskin of Jesus Christ. With days, the theft of this bejeweled treasure from the home of the parish priest attracted wide media speculation, heightened no doubt by the church and Vatican's total silence on the subject. As author David Farley explains in this absorbing book, there is no mystery here: Since 1900, Catholics writing or speaking about the Holy Foreskin can be excommunicated. An Irreverent Curiosity traces an act of larceny that might surprise even Dan Brown.
Publishers Weekly

Until one mysterious day in 1983, the foreskin of Jesus-once one of the Catholic Church's holiest of relics-lay nestled in a box in a small church in Calcata, a village in the hills of northern Italy. On that fateful day in December, however, priest Don Dario announced to his tiny congregation that the foreskin had disappeared. What happened to this holy relic? Who could have taken this piece of the divine that medieval saint Catherine of Siena was purported to have worn as a ring around her finger and about which writers as diverse as Joyce, Stendhal and José Saramago have written? In this humorous narrative, journalist Farley sets off to solve the mystery of the missing foreskin. Part travelogue, part mystery story and part religious history, Farley's tale involves local winemakers, actors and priests, many of whom are tight-lipped about the relic's disappearance. In 1900, the Vatican decreed that anyone who talked about the holy foreskin would face excommunication, and thereby cut off its status as a holy relic. Farley discovers that no one really knows whether this piece of holy skin ever existed in the first place, and that no one knows its whereabouts now. Although Farley's often repetitious tale might have been sufficient as a magazine article, his fast-paced storytelling and winning humor raise thoughtful questions about the nature of faith. (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
In a lively blend of religious history, humor and quirky travel narrative, accomplished travel writer Farley (Writing/New York Univ.) chronicles his capricious journey to a tiny medieval Italian village in search of a controversial relic-the foreskin of Jesus Christ. This shriveled bit of flesh was for centuries a popular and powerful relic, elevated by Charlemagne and revered by Constantine, but when rival prepuces started popping up everywhere, the Catholic Church began to doubt its authenticity. Stolen from Rome by a German mercenary and hidden under a pile of manure in Calcata, the scrap became the town's spiritual nucleus despite threats of excommunication for anyone who venerated it. Yet in 1983, it disappeared, seemingly without a trace or much of an uproar. The mystery Farley sought to solve was twofold: Where did the prepuzio go, and why did no one care? The author's qualifications were a Catholic childhood and his good-natured but unquenchable curiosity. With few clues and only a rudimentary knowledge of Italian, he managed to communicate with nearly everyone in the area who might have useful information. He even gained entrance to the Vatican library. Farley's gift for timing and comic understatement makes the book seem like a madcap adventure solely attempted for the pleasure of writing about it later-the text seamlessly alternates between medieval religious history and anecdotal travelogue. Farley makes the history and culture of venerating relics almost as entertaining as his encounters with the colorful assortment of half-cracked locals and aging artists in this village of "freaks." While savoring the local meals, customs, hangouts and hang-ups, the author learned at leastas much about Calcata and its people as about the missing relic. In his quest to uncover the fate of a piece of pious history through a series of unorthodox-though not exactly blasphemous-escapades, he offers an unforgettable glimpse of Italian provincial life. Genre-bending at its best.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781592404544
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/9/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

David Farley

David Farley’s travel writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Conde Nast Traveler, Slate, and many other publications. He teaches writing at New York University and lives in New York.

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