Bones of the First Pope Found in a London Rubbish Bin? It would have to be a Miracle
A rubbish removal firm in London has made a potentially staggering archaeological discovery, in a pile of waste. According to the respected Smithsonian Institute, Envirowaste workers, while looking for recyclables, discovered a fragment of bone labeled as belonging to the Catholic saint, Clement. The relic was found inside a wax sealed, leather-bound box, where the tiny bone was encased in a small crystal dome. The glass dome had a label with a Latin inscription “Ex Oss. S. Clementis PM,”. This, when translated, means ‘the bone of St Clement’. Have the workers really discovered the bone of the Catholic saint?
St Clement. Illustration from The Lives and Times of the Popes by Chevalier Artaud de Montor, New York. (Public Domain)
An Apostolic Saint
Saint Clement is a somewhat illusive figure and there are few reliable sources about his life. The literary sources state that Clement lived in the first century AD and was consecrated bishop of Rome by St Peter, the Apostle. This means that Clement was one of the first ‘Popes’ and is often known as Pope Clement I. Because of his holiness, good works, and miracles, he was later canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.
Clement was exiled from Rome during the persecution of the Christians by the Emperor Trajan. He was sentenced to work as a slave in the mines. The romantic version of his life tells of how the convicts with him had to travel a great distance to fetch water. Clement prayed to God and upon seeing a lamb scratching in the dirt, he dug in that spot and found water. He consequently converted many to his faith. Later he was drowned in the Black Sea by being tied to an anchor. He was believed to have been buried in the Crimea.
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Martyrdom of St Clement by Bernardino Fungai (between 1498 and 1501). Image: Public Domain
The saint was a very popular figure in the early centuries of Christianity. His relics were brought back from the Crimea by another saint and placed in a purpose-built church in Rome. The present-day Basilica of Saint Clement was built on the site of the original church dedicated to Clement. Relics of St Clement are still kept in this beautiful Basilica and they have been kept for centuries in a marble box.
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11th-century fresco in the Basilica of San Clemente, Rome: Saints Cyril and Methodius bring Saint Clement's relics to Rome. (Public Domain)
St Clement was a very important figure in the early organization of the Church. He wrote two letters to the Corinthian Christians on the administration of their church. One of the letters has survived and it is known as the Epistle of Clement. This is an important document as it was one of the first that outlines the hierarchy of a diocese. The Epistle was also one of the first to assert the primacy of the bishop of Rome over all other Christian Churches and diocese.
A Case of Forgery?
Was the bone discovered in the London waste actually a relic of St Clement? A relic is a piece of a deceased saint’s body or possessions that Catholics believe should be revered. These relics were much in demand in the Middle Ages, because they were believed to have miraculous powers and conferred enormous prestige on those who possessed them. This led to what has been called a ‘relic-mania’ at the time and many relics were sold for high prices, despite it being prohibited by the Catholic Church.
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The supposed relic that was found by Enviro Waste workers in London, UK. Image: Envirowaste
Because relics were so valuable there was a cottage industry in forging these objects of devotion and they were produced in great numbers over the centuries. There are countless candidates for forged relics from the Middle Ages and even earlier, such as the alleged heads of saints or the foreskin of Jesus. There were so many forgeries that they helped to discredit the idea of relics among the early Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther. Despite the number of forgeries over the centuries many Roman Catholics still revere what they believe to be authentic saints relics, and no doubt many of them are the real deal.
Because of the mass-production of forged relics, it seems highly likely that the bone fragment is not that of St Clement. There are many instances of forged relics being sold to churches, nobles, and even common people in England before the Reformation. The alleged relic found in the pile of waste is probably simply one of the countless forgeries that were produced to take the money of the gullible and naive.
Despite this, Envirowaste believes that the alleged relic has real historical value. According to James Rubin, the company’s owner, the find was “an important piece of history”. He hopes that the public can help him to obtain a suitable home for the supposed relic. On their website which usually has details of their waste and recycling services the company has created a blog on the find. The blog seeks suggestions from the public as to where the relic should be housed.
Top image: The supposed St Clement relic that was found by Envirowaste workers in London, UK. Image: Envirowaste
By Ed Whelan