Caroline Crew



Circumcision of Christ, detail from Twelve Apostles Altar (Zwölf-Boten-Altar).
Painting by Friedrich Herlin of Nördlingen, 1466


First Class

I only Google "foreskins" for Jesus.

Though we know he was circumcised, the scope of Christ's foreskin is debatable. According to some accounts, there were as many 18 relics of the Holy Prepuce claimed throughout Mediaeval Europe. A relic of this order— directly related to Christ, or the physical remains of a saint—is First Class. Of all the foreskins with which I have been familiar, none have attained the status of First Class. Of all the foreskins with which I have been familiar, I hope it's true I have not considered any of them objects.

To be a relic, a body must be done. Done living, done changing, done with its sovereignty. When becoming an object, a body must submit to stasis.

The bodies of saints not anatomized for individual relics—and one must consider the economic benefits of some holy butchery— have become objects by stopping. Their holiness preserved in the act of preservation. The "incorrupt" corpses of saints have, in part, gained sainthood by dint of the miracle of refusing to rot. What supernatural or sly human intervention has kept these corpses incorrupt is largely unknown. A miracle against the ordinariness of death. Stopped time.

To be incorrupt is first a matter of bodies—it is only a few centuries later that the term comes to describe character. The body comes before the moral. But an object, an object can't offer a moral we don't assign.


Second Class

There is a healthy traffic of holy relics on eBay. These are more likely to be Second (an object owned or worn by a saint) or Third (an object touched by Christ or a saint) Class. Authenticity aside, the Holy Prepuce is unlikely to be found at auction. Or, at all. In 1900, the Catholic Church ruled anyone found discussing any one of Christ's foreskins would be excommunicated. The last surviving Holy Prepuce, located in Calcata, Italy was stolen in 1983. It seems the thief was never found— or perhaps they feared being ejected from the Church's embrace by confessing.

When a body becomes an object, its meaning is only ascribed by other bodies. A body in motion might mean many things, an object stopped in time has only a singular significance. A static history.

I don't believe in Christ, but I do believe in history.

I don't believe in the object, but I do believe in the body.


Third Class

If you must imagine the Holy Foreskin still survives, look upward. Prefiguring the Church's lockdown on this most intimate of relics, 17th century theologian Leo Allatius declared all Holy Prepuces fakes—the true foreskin of Christ had quit this mortal coil, and transcended to space. The rings of Saturn, that was the true location of what remains of Christ's cock. A body so stopped in time it's frozen in lightyears. Starlit forever.

A relic of the past. When referring to a person, perhaps whose views are archaic or abhorrent as a "relic," we attempt to place that person in a history that refuses any connect to the present. We want to stop time, isolate its horrors.

But history is a body, not an object. It moves, and rots and corrupts, and moves on.

Recent relics, according to the headlines: manufacturing, soap operas, marital rape, herbal medicine, mail delivery, national identity, moral relativism, a home cooked meal, slavery, ethernet cables, ambassadors, religion. It is easier to believe in relics than it is to believe in a body. Bodies change. Bodies corrupt.

Let me rot, so I may change.

A perfect relic might outlast us all. Perhaps, somewhere lost, someone will still be awed by the shriveled sliver of Jesus' foreskin when my corpse is decaying without the odor of sanctity. It might be stashed in the most perfect jeweled box, inlaid with mother of pearl—emeralds and rubies and a flash of opal. Safe and static, without the weight of time, of history.

The Church no longer accepts incorruptibility as a miracle.





Though I'm an atheist, I've always thought if I were to be a bride, I'd be a bride of Christ, like St Catherine of Siena whose mystical wedding included the Holy Foreskin as a wedding ring. (The ring itself was mystic and thus, invisible.)