According to the New Testament, Jesus, born a Jew, was ritually circumcised at eight days old. What happened to his foreskin? That mystery is the subject of University of PhD candidate James White's doctoral thesis, titled "Ring of Flesh: The Late Medieval Devotion to the Holy Foreskin" and David Farley's book An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town. Throughout history, the holy foreskin has reportedly been held in various places—there were likely more than a dozen false foreskins circulating. From the CBC:
One of those alleged foreskin relics arrived in Rome around 799 AD when King Charlemagne presented it as a gift to Pope Leo III. It remained in the papal Sancta Sanctorum reliquary until the sacking of Rome in 1527. The invasion left half the population dead and many sacred relics were destroyed or stolen[…]
The holy foreskin, along with a piece of the holy cross, was said to have been discovered about 30 years later in the village of Calcata, just north of Rome.
The church that housed the holy foreskin is called Chiesa del SS. Nome di Gesù — or the Church of the Holy Name, which is a reference to Jesus' circumcision and naming day. Every Jan. 1, the local priest would lead a procession around the village with the holy relic held high.
Under pressure to banish Catholic practices that could be seen as culturally backward, the Vatican issued a decree in 1900 threatening excommunication to anyone who wrote about the holy foreskin, but it allowed the village of Calcata to continue its yearly procession.
In 1983, just a few weeks prior to the Jan. 1 Feast of the Holy Circumcision, the local priest went to check on the relic but it was missing.
"People [in the village] were really upset," said Farley, who spent a year in Calcata trying to solve the mystery of its disappearance. Some suspected the local priest had given it back to the Vatican. Others believe it was stolen by Satanists. Another theory is that it was stolen and sold on the black market.
image: Circumcision of Christ by Giovani Bellini (c.1500)