Monday, October 15, 2007

Bone box excursion

In my recent article entitled Bloody beliefs [display], I described a place of pilgrimage, not far from where I live, named Notre-Dame-de-l'Osier. Well, I went back there last Sunday to witness a curious event, of an anachronistic unworldly nature: the arrival in the church, for a few hours, of a bodily relic of a relatively recent Christian saint, Thérèse de Lisieux.

She became a nun at the age of 15, and her life was uneventful. Afflicted with tuberculosis, she died unknown at the age of 24, leaving behind a simple autobiography entitled Story of a soul, which made her posthumously famous throughout Christendom. It was said that the corpse of Thérèse Martin produced a strong scent of roses for several days. Now that is literally what the Church has often referred to, ever since the Middle Ages, as an "odour of sanctity". As weird as this phenomenon might appear to us today, this allegedly pleasant odour of such-and-such a dead body has often played a role in transforming the deceased individual into a candidate for sainthood!

Inside the Basilica of Notre-Dame-de-l'Osier last Sunday, I was surprised by the size of the crowd of reactionary Catholics who had gathered to welcome a relic of Thérèse de Lisieux.

Up until recently, I had imagined it as unthinkable that Catholics in France, in the year 2007, would still allow themselves to be mystified by a fragment of bone from the body of a young woman who had died of tuberculosis 110 years ago. I thought that the primitive adoration of relics had disappeared with the Middle Ages. Not at all! The people I saw in the church at Notre-Dame-de-l'Osier a week ago looked like the ordinary parishioners you might see of a Sunday morning in front of innumerable French churches. Inside their brains, though, they must nurture very weird beliefs... of corpses that smell like roses, and of bone fragments, capable of bringing them nearer to God, which are worthy of being carted ceremoniously around the countryside in a glass and gold box. In fact, I went off to Notre-Dame-de-l'Osier with my new movie camera, thinking that it might be an interesting subject for a short reportage. But the vision of all those crazy people parading in front of the reliquary nauseated me to such an extent that I lost whatever desire I might have had to communicate with them and make a video.

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