Anglican Samizdat

May 19, 2009

I left my heart in San Francisco

Filed under: Nothing in Particular — David Jenkins @ 11:35 pm

When I was in Italy a few years back I remember visiting the basilica where St. Anthony’s tongue, larynx and associated parts could be inspected. A book has been written about scattered holy body parts:

They are scattered all over the world – holy little odds and bits: St. Anthony’s shrivelled tongue in Rome, a tooth from the Buddha in Sri Lanka, the finger of St. John the Baptist in Florence.

More than isolated curiosities, these pieces of the dead have always attracted reverence from the religious who find in the smallest, and often grossest, body parts, evidence of holiness.

Why else would an English bishop take a bite out of St. Mary Magdalene’s bones? And how did a hair from Muhammad’s chin end up in Kashmir?

These are the kinds of questions that inspired author and scholar Peter Manseau to embark on a journey around the world to investigate relics and the people who adore them, which resulted in the book Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead.

I saw quite a few relics while in Italy but they did not, unlike many of the churches that housed them, inspire reverence. In fact, after a while I found myself humming Spike Milligan’s version of, “I left my heart in San Francisco”:

I left my heart in San Francisco,
I left my knees in old Peru.
I left my little wooden leg
Hanging on a metal peg,
And my eyeballs I gave to you.
I left my teeth on Table Mountain,
High on a hill they smile at me.
When I come home to you, San Francisco,
There won’t be much left of me.



  1. I agree that the relic phenomenon has been grossly abused and made to look ridiculous. At the same time, there is one relic that should be considered seriously and, in my view, has significant spiritual value: the Shroud of Turin.

    Comment by Scott Gilbreath — May 20, 2009 @ 6:37 am

  2. Well I will vote for “Veronica’s Veil” if it comes to that.

    Comment by Gawk — May 20, 2009 @ 7:23 am

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