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Relic of St. Benedict Discovered

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st_benedict_fresco_webThe new medieval gallery at the British Museum in London is full of beautiful images of saints in ivory, stone, gold and wood - but invisible to visitors, it also holds the bones of 39 real saints, whose discovery came as a shock to their curator.

The relics, packed in tiny bundles of cloth, including one scrap of fabric more than 1,000 years old, were found when a 12th-century German portable altar was opened for the first time since it came into the British Museum collection in 1902.

It was in for a condition check and cleaning before going on display tomorrow. But to the amazement of James Robinson, curator of medieval antiquities, when it was opened a linen cloth was revealed, and inside it dozens of tiny bundles of cloth, each neatly labelled on little pieces of vellum.

The most precious was the relic of St Benedict, an Italian who in the early 6th century was credited as the father of the western monastic tradition, founding monasteries and establishing guiding principles still followed at many monasteries. The relic was wrapped in cloth which was itself an extraordinary object, a piece of silk from 8th- or 9th-century Byzantium.

Each Roman Catholic altar-stone is supposed to contain at least one relic of a saint, usually in the form of minute flakes of bone.

The newly discovered saints will remain at the museum. Mr Robinson said they were cared for and rearranged into the 19th century, the date of the most recent piece of fabric, but at some point one was lost as there are 40 engraved names but only 39 saintly bundles.

Source:  Irish Times

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