>Today on my way to my bookclub meeting, I stopped off at the Shrine of Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini. Mother Cabrini is the first American saint and the patron saint of immigrants. The shrine allows her venerators to pay homage to her waxed-over body, which is on display in a glass coffin in an alter. I have been wanting to go for quite some time, and when I last attempted to visit the shrine, it was closed. (The website, now defunct, had posted the wrong hours.) Today the shrine was packed because, unbeknownst to me, it was Palm Sunday.
Really, it is just her skeleton, which was waxed over and given a new head. Her original head is somewhere in Rome and her heart is in the town in Italy in which she was born. A small room at the back of the chapel displayed some of her personal items, like nightgowns, an eyeglass case, and a "spring from dentures."
The place had an awesome gift shop, where for a mere dollar I was able to purchase a centimeter square of cloth that touched her body encased in plastic. I also got a Mother Cabrini sparkly sticker and a postcard, also $1 each. Holy water was sold for $1.38 plus tax, as well as rosaries, medallions, and plastic statues of Mother Cabrini. I had a nice chat with the lady in the gift shop about where to see other dead saints.
One of my minor complaints about Judaism is that we don’t have these types of fascinating relics. Seriously, I love this kind of stuff. I first learned about saintly reliquary when I went to Italy on a school trip in December 1995. While I was in Florence, I came across the “incorruptible” body of a male saint whose name I cannot recall in some church or monastery, and the finger of St. Catherine in Siena. I’ve also been to two gruesome sites, one in Rome and the other somewhere in the Czech Republic, where the skulls and bones of crusaders and other church faithful were used to make scary designs in weird subterranean chambers.
The closest I’ve come to this kind of weirdness in Judaism was in Tiberias, Israel, when we randomly stopped at the tomb of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Ha’ness and his pupils. People definitely were there to venerate the dead rebbe, who was supposed to be able to perform some miracles.
(One of my major complaints about Judaism – rampant sexism and discrimination against women – is evident in the sign at the tomb’s entrance, albeit in a hilariously unexpected manner.)
A tomb shrine, even with ridiculous discriminatory requirements, is not nearly as cool as bodies, limbs, or digits on display.