Righting America

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Bodies of the Bible, Bodies of the Saints | Righting America

by Peter Cajka

In today’s post, Dr. Pete Cajka continues his series on the Creation Museum and Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics.  While yesterday’s post explored how visitors at each site read artifacts and relics with the religious imagination of each space, below Dr. Cajka examines the presence of bodies – biblical and religious, artificial and real – in each site to consider what these bodies contribute to visitors’ experiences.

IV: Bodies of the Bible, Bodies of the Saints

Both the Creation Museum and the Maria Stein Shrine & Museum have human bodies on display. Often scholars can separate Protestant and Catholics into binaries of word/flesh or absence/presence. A comparative analysis of the two sites reveals that flesh is present at both sites but to very different ends. Saint Victoria currently rests in a glass case underneath the reliquary’s main altar.

Photo of the encased remains of St. Victoria dressed in red royal attire with a wax mask in a ornate wooden case with red candles on top.

Encased remains of St. Victoria (c. 304) in the Maria Stein Reliquary. Copyright: Heritage Museum at Maria Stein Shrine, 2017

Her body, unlike other saints in the Catholic tradition, is said to have decayed– her bones are encased in wax and dressed in garments. The glass case and the wax might ask the visitor to consider what time has done to the saint’s flesh. Victoria was martyred in the third century, according to legend, by a “pagan” husband (it was an arranged marriage) who grew enraged by Victoria’s persistent commitment the faith. Victoria rested in the catacombs for some time before being brought to western Ohio. The visitor to Maria Stein cannot locate Victoria in her third century context – and the keepers of the reliquary have made no attempt offer such guidance.

Visitors to the Creation Museum behold incorruptible simulacra of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  As the Trollingers note, “These human figures appear in multiple biblical scenes such as when Adam names the animals, just after Eve was created from Adam’s rib, and when Eve presents the forbidden fruit to Adam.” (Righting America, 32-33). The unblemished bodies at the Creation Museum – white and Western in appearance – are displayed alongside animals as well as dinosaurs.

The bodies at these two sites offer very different lessons on the passage of time. The visitor to the Creation Museum finds himself or herself in the fleshy presence of various biblical personages. The visitor to the Creation Museum encounters a number of healthy bodies. A robotic Noah speaks to the visitors. Craftsmen work away on the arc and craftswomen weave their baskets.

But the bodies at Maria Stein are literally in pieces. Pilgrims to the shrine are in the presence of small chunks of hundreds of saints. Victoria’s bones are encased in wax; her flesh is long gone. Not only has Saint Victoria decayed, she rests underneath a number of other relics – many of them fragments of bones or chips of bones, and some of them particles of holy objects.  Biblical Bodies are produced by the correct reading of Genesis. The Catholic bodies are subject to the erosion of time.