Sacred Fragment of 19th-Century Saint’s Brain Stolen from Italian Basilica

A sacred fragment of 19th-century saint John Bosco’s brain was stolen from an Italian basilica, sparking rumors of Satanic rituals.
Reliquary containing the venerated brain fragment of John Bosco
Reliquary containing the venerated brain fragment of John Bosco

Over the weekend a venerated relic of St. John Bosco was stolen from the Castelnuovo Don Bosco basilica near Turin, Italy. The relic is a small piece of Bosco’s brain, obtained in 1929 when he was exhumed for beatification and canonization as a saint.

The church and media have expressed concern that the relic may be used in for Satanic rituals, or will be held for ransom.

John Bosco (known popularly as “Don” Bosco, a traditional Italian title of honor for priests) was born in 1815. Following a series of dreams in his childhood, he became an ordained catholic priest in 1841 and devoted himself to helping disadvantaged children and saving them from a life of degradation. He founded the Salesian Congregation to further his cause. At the time of his death in 1888, the order was helping 130,000 children in 250 houses. His dying message is said to be, “Tell the boys that I shall be waiting for them all in Paradise.”

Saint Don Bosco
Catholic saint Don Bosco


Bosco was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934. According to the Catholic News Agency, he is the patron saint of “young people, apprentices, and Catholic publishers and editors.”

The reliquary containing the brain fragment was discovered missing Saturday night. Authorities set up road blocks and began pouring through security videos, but the perpetrator has yet to be apprehended.

Other relics of John Bosco were used in the creation of a lifesize wax sculpture of the saint, which was created to celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth in 2015.

Pilgrims who come to the basilica overlooking the place of Bosco’s birth are praying for the relic’s return.

Tomb of Saint John Bosco

UPDATE: Fingerprints lead police to the home of a 42-year-old man who had hoped to sell the glass case containing the relic. It was found intact hidden in a copper kettle in the man’s kitchen. Read the article right here.

Venice cemetery island

Death and Burial in Venice: What Does the Floating City do with Its Dead?

In Venice the dead are ferried through the canals on ornate funeral gondolas to a cemetery island where their afterlife is only guaranteed for as long as they can pay.

Mortality in Wax: Hellish Tableaus from the 17th & 18th Centuries

Italian wax relief sculptures from the 1600-1800s depict death and the battle for the mortal soul.
Damned Soul Wax relief

Morbid Anatomy recently shared an entry posted to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s blog last October called Welcome to Hell! with some incredible and macabre depictions of death in wax. These highly detailed and unnerving scenes were memento mori, serving as reminders of mortality.

Here are some of the gruesome wax reliefs in the museum’s collection:

Damned Soul wax relief
“Damned Soul” wax relief done in the style of Gaetano Giulio Zumbo, Italy, ca. 1670-1700.

Souls at death and purgatory
Group of four coloured wax reliefs, possibly by Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino, Italian, probably 1620s. Showing (from top left): Soul at Death; Soul in Purgatory; Blessed Soul; Damned Soul.

Time and Death wax relief
Time and Death, wax relief, Naples, 1700-1740, attributed to Caterina de Julianis, Italy (probably Naples), before 1727.

Photos and info via Victoria and Albert Museum

Altamura Man: Skeleton Stuck in Stone Yields Oldest Neanderthal DNA

Tests reveal the fossilized remains of the Altamura Man are around 150,000 years old and contain the oldest Neanderthal DNA ever extracted.
The ancient Neanderthal remains of the Altamura Man stuck in stone in a cave in Italy

A recent study of the Altamura Man, an ancient skeleton embedded in a limestone cave in Italy, has yielded surprising results. The fossilized Homo neanderthalensis, which was discovered in the Grotta di Lamalunga by chance in 1993, have been difficult to study due to the rock and thick calcite layers covering it.

A research project that began in 2009, however, recently concluded through Uranium–thorium dating that the calcite most likely formed there during the Medium Pleistocene period. That means the Altamura Man lived somewhere between 128,000 and 187,000 years old.

Using a sample from the scapula, the study also revealed that the prehistoric remains may contain the oldest Neanderthal DNA ever extracted.

Fossilized remains of the Altamura Man embedded in rock in a cave in Italy

via Research Italy

Otranto Drilled Skull Mystery Solved

Researchers shed light on why this 15th century skull from the Otranto cathedral was drilled to extract bone dust.
Drill holes discovered in Otranto martyr skull

The Otranto cathedral in Italy is the site of a brutal slaughter in the 15th century, when invading Turks beheaded more than 800 Christians who refused to convert to Islam. Surrounding the altar, massive glass cabinets display the remains of those who died tragically defending their faith.

But one skull in particular has attracted attention for an unexpected feature.

Related: Otranto Cathedral Houses Bones of 15th Century Martyrs

In a lower row of the center case, one of the Otranto martyr skulls was discovered to have perfectly shaped drill holes of various sizes. The bones are inaccessible, so the skull must have been drilled prior to its installation in the case in 1711. But why?

Researchers at the University of Pisa, Italy have recently solved the mystery. The 16 holes in the cranium of the skull are consistent with a particular type of drill used to extract bone dust for pharmacological preparations.

Beginning as early as the late Middles Ages, bone dust was being used to treat paralysis, stroke, and other illnesses believed to arise from magical or demonic influences. The head was considered the most important part of the body, where spiritual forces remained active even after death. A skull belonging to someone who died a violent, sudden death was considered more powerful, as the spirits had not been consumed by the earth such as those whose remains have been buried.

The added benefit of the skull belonging to a martyr must have made a particularly potent mixture.

Jar used to hold human cranium bone dust concoctions
An example of a vase used to hold human cranium preparations

There are no indications that the skull has any particular significance, however, so the reason it was chosen from hundreds of others remains a mystery.

via Discovery