Fragments of the stolen brain of St John Bosco, a Catholic priest and founder of the Salesian religious order in the 1800s, have been found. His brain had been stored in a reliquary at the basilica of Castelnuova, near Turin in Italy. But both were stolen in early June of 2017. Fingerprints left nearby eventually led police to discover the brain’s location, in August of 2017. The culprit had hoped to sell the reliquary, which he thought was made of gold. According to Italian police the brain, and the reliquary, had been hidden inside a copper kettle at the man’s home, until they could be sold. The brain is now safely back at the basilica.
Christopher Columbus was interested in reaching Asia, and believed he had, as we all know. But did you know that his original reason for wanting to open a new trade route to the rich East was to pay for a military campaign to capture Jerusalem? Never mind that the holy city had been in Muslim hands 1187 – some good 300 years by Columbus’ time.
Once the New World was reached, Columbus kept his eye on the prize, like any good Catholic. He reported that there was so much treasure in this “Asia” he had found, that within seven years the Spanish crown could raise enough money for 5,000 cavalry and 50,000 footsoldiers, and use them to conquer Jerusalem. Sadly for Columbus’ lofty religious visions, the Spanish crown was uninterested in conquering Jerusalem, which is on the wrong side of the Mediterranean from Spain.
The Buddha is a canonized saint of the Catholic and Orthodox Christian Churches.
The real name of the mission where the famous battle happened during the Mexican-American War is
San Antonio de Valero. But it has always been known by its nickname, Alamo. Where did that come from? Well, there are two competing theories.
Did you know that “alamo” is the Spanish word for “cottonwood”? One theory says that when the Spanish missionaries came to the spot in central Texas where they would locate the mission, they were struck by the lushness of the land and a grove of cottonwood trees growing nearby along the San Antonio River.
The second, competing theory, says the name came not from trees, but from a Spanish battalion of soldiers who were stationed at the mission after it was abandoned by missionaries. The battalion was named the Second Flying Company of San Carlos de Parras. No “alamo” in there. But the soldiers were originally from a small town called San Jose y Santiago del Alamo, in Coahuila, Mexico. Eventually that very long name got shortened, to La Compañía del Alamo, or just El Alamo.
Neither theory has been proven absolutely. Which do you prefer?
In the year 2002, there were 397 civil offences and 608 penal offences in Vatican City, which has 455 residents, for an average of 2.2 crimes per resident. Most of these offences were committed by some of the millions of tourists that visit annually.
Did you know that the Thirty Years’ War – one of the longest and most destructive wars in Europe, a war so bad that Europe never fought again over religion – was started by three men being thrown out of a window?
The men were the Catholic regents of the Catholic emperor of Bohemia. Under the rules governing the Holy Roman Empire which Bohemia was part of, individual princes could choose what religion their subjects followed. Religious freedom, yay! As you may have guessed the Bohemians were ordered to be Catholic. This did not sit well with Protestant nobles in Prague. When the Bohemian authorities started cracking down on their Protestant churches, they called an assembly at Prague Castle, and demanded the four regents answer for their actions.
After some talking, two regents were let go. But two were held back. After a nice little speech about their tyranny, both men were thrown out the third-story window. Then their secretary, for good measure.
It goes down in history as “The Defenestration of Prague.”
All three were badly hurt, but survived. “A miracle!” claimed the Catholics, “They fell in a dung-heap!” claimed the Protestants. Within days, troops were being mobilized, and within months Bohemia was ablaze. Most of central Europe would catch fire. And millions would die because of the actions of a handful of noblemen in Prague.
Several popes and bishops were buried in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, one of the first communal cemeteries in Rome which developed into the largest and most richly decorated. One famous area, where nine popes were laid to rest from the mid-200s to the 300s CE, was even nicknamed “the little Vatican.” Then Christianity went mainstream and Christians could be buried above ground. For centuries, the catacombs rested undisturbed as its exact location slowly became forgotten.
Then, in 1849, the Catacombs of St. Callixtus was rediscovered by an archaeologist. The sensational find prompted Pope Pius IX to visit in 1854. He is believed to be the first pontiff to enter the catacombs’ galleries in over one thousand years. Pius IX was deeply moved, and was heard to murmur in awe: “Are these the tombstones of my predecessors?”
“Mit brennender Sorge” or “With Burning Concern” was a papal letter secretly smuggled into Germany and read from every Catholic pulpit on Palm Sunday, 1937. The letter was written in German, not the usual Latin, so everyone could understand. It condemned the Reich Government. It implied that everyone in Heaven was laughing at Hitler, a “prophet of nothingness”. It denounced the exaltation of one race or blood over another, ie racism.
The day after “Mit Brennender Sorge,” the Gestapo raided the churches the next day to confiscate all the copies they could find, and the presses that had printed the letter were closed.
Antoni Gaudi, the architect of famous Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, decided to start with the most useless part of the building. He specifically made sure that the nave – the consecrated part of the church necessary for services – was not started in his lifetime.
But why? Gaudi was afraid that after his death, the money to keep building the church would decrease and people would lose interest in finishing the building. If the church wasn’t functional at the time of his death, they had to keep building!
Nicholas Breakspear wasn’t a relative of William Shakespeare, but he did have his own claim to fame: Breakspear was the first Englishman to become Pope. You may have heard of him as Adrian IV.