Philly's Homegrown Saint

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.


If you can't make it to any of the amazing European relics listed below, (compiled by the always awesome Sacred Destinations, which also has a great section on largest Sacred sites in the world) there is Saint on display right here in the states, in Philadelphia the location of our upcoming Atlas tour

Upon his canonization, Saint John Neumann was exhumed and placed on display for worship. First they removed some bones and cut them into small pieces to be set in very small, glass-covered containers - one of which is set in the wooden cross that the priest uses to bless the congregation during devotions. His body was then clothed with Bishop's robes and his face covered in a smooth, white mask mimicking his features. To the side of the Shrine is a small museum dedicated to the life and death of St. John Neumann. This includes old photographs, sculptures, books, jewelry, coffins and especially haunting instruments of self mortification. Behind the alter is St. John Neumann's personal collection of hundreds of relics from saints. These include teeth, bones, skulls and other miscellaneous and fairly unidentifiable bits and pieces.

More on the Shrine of Saint John Neuman on the Atlas, and a link to the Atlas's growing collection of relics.


  1. This is in my neighborhood. Nuemann High is my polling station. Friends of mine who grew up around here tell me they remember when a flasher tried to target the high-school Catholic girls who instead of reacting with shock, chased down the offender, beat him up, and delivered him to the cops.
    At local festivals they bring out statues of Saints and cover them with robes of money, which makes for an odd photo. I just have a passing familiarity with all this- glad to learn more…

  2. *shudder*

    That mask is resting uncomfortably in the uncanny valley, and it’s freaking me out.

  3. They canonized John von Neumann?

    Seems appropriate given his contributions to physics and computers.

  4. “Upon his canonization, Saint John Neumann was exhumed and placed on display for worship.”
    This is a misstatement; people don’t worship saints. If you’re convinced that people worship saints, you have misconceptions on the Catholic beliefs in prayer, intercession, miracles, & the afterlife.

  5. Is that Saint Robbie Rotten or Saint Sportacus?
    I didn’t know Lazytown was Catholic.

  6. Am not a believer, but was raised in the Catholic flavor, so can help explain. Some Protestants (Jack Chick, for example) like to deride the Catholics for “worshipping” saints, relics, and Marian apparitions in pretty clear violation of the first amendment – I mean commandment – and there’s enough history there to be a bit of a sore spot.

    But, to echo what Anonymous #8 says, Catholics don’t consider “veneration” of these things to be on the same level as “adoration” due to the Trinity ie. 3 forms of God that they worship. So, a word to the Atlas editors: you can avoid offending some Catholic-flavored believers, and avoid perpetuating misinformation among the Protestant-flavored believers, with a word substitution: “Upon his canonization, Saint John Neumann was exhumed and placed on display for veneration.” “Worship” is just kind of loaded.

    On the other hand, one could possibly refer to both veneration and adoration as “worship,” and not be entirely wrong. So, whatevs. Cthulhu’s going to eat us all up in the end.

  7. why would anyone do this? exhuming a corpse, cutting it to pieces, using said peices in religious objects/items totaly makes me shudder, its morbid at best gross and tasteless at worst. why can they just let the poor body rest in piece 6 feet underground? or in a proper cememnatary? and no i do not mean to offend or inflame, apologies if i do, i just want to state the obvious that no one wants to mention.

  8. seconding the comment about St. John Maximovitch in San Francisco – his body was not decomposed when exhumed and is on display without any embalming or mask or anything like that. Even his vestments were just like the day he was buried, although his coffin was covered with rust. It is a major pilgrimage site on the west coast; almost every living Orthodox convert in the US has some connection to St. John.

    IC XC NIKA !

  9. #17 Anonymous-Curiouser and curiouser,P.Hoffman in
    his”O Vatican” New York 1984 and quoted by John
    Cornwell in his “Hitler’sPope”wrote”As the hearse
    passed outside St John Lateran,a series of dreadful farts and eructations was heard to issue
    from the coffin,a result,apparently, of rapid fermentation.During the lying-in-state in St.Peter’s,the dead Pope’s face turned grey-green
    and then purple,and the stench was so overpowering
    that one of the attendant guards fainted.A final
    indignity,his nose went black and fell off before
    interment”.Wouldn’t it be appropriate for His Nibs
    to invoke divine intervention at this stage?thus
    preserving the myth of infallibility

  10. I think that it is important to note that Eugenio
    Pacelli’s embalmer was an eye specialist who had
    gained The Pope’s trust.Galeazzi-Lisi opted to use
    a new method “leaving the intestines in place;in
    consequence,the corpse began to rot immediately in
    the Autumn heat”thus corrupting the uncorruptable?

  11. The catholic church uses masks,chemicals,wax and other methods to preserve their saints.Type in most catholics saints in a search engine +wax and you have your answer. The orthodox Church is forbiden to preserve priests or monks bodies in any way.The incorruption is real and is not because of climate or conditions as some incorruption of bodies are a result of. Saint John of Shanghai’s body was uncovered and the cloths had rotted and crumbled to dust upon touching, but the body remianed preserved by a miracle. you can look up the account on opening his tomb and see photos too.

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