The bones of St. Augustine of Hippo

Augustine died on 28 August 430.

Sometime before the early 8th century, Augustine’s remains were translated from N. Africa to Sardinia for fear of desecration. It is possible that St. Fulgentius of Ruspe took Augustine’s body to Sardinia. Fulgentius had run afoul of the Arian Vandal overlords in N. Africa and was driven out.

During the 8th century Augustine’s remains were in danger again, but this time by another gang of vandals called Arabs, who were swarming all over the Mediterranean as pirates and brigands.

Sometime between 710 and 730 King Liutprand of the Lombards translated Augustine a second time and, on some 11 October, had him interred in Pavia in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro.

It is thought that Liutprand had to pay a huge ransom the bones from some muslim thug. (Hard to believe, I know.)

Eventually, with the passage of time people simply forgot where the saints bones actually physically were in the church.

In the passage of the years, the church itself came to be controlled by two different Augustinian groups, the Canons Regular and the Hermits. Let’s just say their relations were strained and leave it at that. Then something happened that set off the war between them.

In 1695 a group of workman were excavating under the altar in the crypt of the church. They found a marble box containing human bones. The box apparently had some charcoal markings spelling the part of the word "Augustine", though those markings disappeared. Great chaos ensued.

Benedict XIIIThe memory of just where the relics of Augustine were placed in the church had been lost through the passing of the years. Finding them again set off a rather unedifying battle for their control between the Augustinian Hermits and the Canons Regular.

Ultimately, Rome had to step in to resolve things. Pope Benedict XIII, a Dominican who changed his numbering from XIV to XIII so as to avoid counting an anti-pope, got involved personally. He was very interested in saints and canonized the huge number of 18!

This was also at the time when the future Pope Benedict XIV, Propsero Lambertini, published his fourth and final volume On the beatification of the servants of God and of the canonization of the blessed. Pope Lambertini would give us the legislation for the canonical processes of canonizations that has lasted with some few changes to today.

In any event, Benedict XIII sent a letter to the Bishop of Pavia telling him to get their act together and figure out the questions of authenticity and control. Additional studies were made under someone appointed by Benedict and by 19 September of 1729 things were wrapped up. Processions were held, solemn proclamations made about the authenticity of the relics, a great Te Deum was sung and there was a fireworks display, and anyone who decided to disagree and start the bickering again would be excommunicated.

Those were the days!

The next year under Pope Clement XII the Cardinal Secretary of State (and a patron of the Canons Regular) commissioned the carving of the large main altar with its reliefs, completed in 1738, and which you can see today in the church where Augustine’s tomb is even now.

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The bones of St. Augustine of Hippo

  1. Phil (NL) says:

    But who ‘won’?

    Reminds me of a great joke:

    A Dominican and a Benedictine are involved in a bitter argument which order is best. They go so as as to ask from a sign from the heavens. Remarkably, their prayers are answered, and a note decends which reads:

    “My children,

    Stop bickering about such trivila matters!

    God, SJ”

    Ofcourse the jokes comes in 3 different versions ;)

  2. Phil (NL) says:

    With apologies for the typos in the above – I shouldnt be posting after midnight (local time). It should of course read:

    A Dominican and a Benedictine are involved in a bitter argument which order is best. They go so far as to ask from a sign from the heavens. Remarkably, their prayers are answered, and a note decends which reads:

    “My children,

    Stop bickering about such trivial matters!

    God, SJ”

  3. Nick says:

    Are you trying to tell us that the saint’s bones were re-discovered in 1695 and by 1738 they were authenticated? Give me a break padre — that’s only 43 years. The Church doesn’t do anything in only 43 years…

  4. Maureen says:

    The house built on rock usually moves like a rock.

    But sometimes, it’s rockin’! :)

  5. Michael Stevens says:

    Now that’s an altar!

  6. Oh my freaking good golly, I do so love being a Catholic. Deo Gratias!

  7. Deusdonat says:

    Sean – you know, it’s foul language like that which makes angels die.

    : P

  8. Dan says:

    Were Benedict XIV and Benedict XV both anti popes also?

  9. Jordanes says:

    Dan asked: Were Benedict XIV and Benedict XV both anti popes also?

    Ho ho ho. No, Father just typed “XVI” instead of “XIV” when he wrote, “Pope Benedict XIII, a Dominican who changed his numbering from XVI to XIII so as to avoid counting an anti-pope.”

    The numbering of the Popes named Benedict is a mess. As the old Catholic Encyclopedia says, “In honour of Benedict XI, a member of the Dominican Order, [Pietro Francesco Orsini] took the name of Benedict XIV, which he shortly changed to Benedict XIII as Peter de Luna who had previously borne the name (1394-1423) was a schismatic.”

    And yet that still didn’t get the numbering of the Benedicts right, because Benedict X was an antipope. So, even though the Holy Father’s regnal name is “Benedict XVI,” technically he’s Benedict XV.

  10. Matt Q says:

    Nick wrote:

    “Are you trying to tell us that the saint’s bones were re-discovered in 1695 and by 1738 they were authenticated? Give me a break padre—that’s only 43 years. The Church doesn’t do anything in only 43 years…”

    Why sure, Nick. Look at what the Church has accomplished in the 43 since the Second Vatican Council.

  11. Anne says:

    Fr. Z ->\”…and anyone who decided to disagree and start the bickering again would be excommunicated.

    Those were the days!\”

    lol

    Wonderful article with so many little bites of fascinating info. Will read it more closely later.

    Thanks Father.

  12. Doug Pruner says:

    “Relations were strained” “Great chaos ensued” “Set off a war between them”
    “I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beseech you that you walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called: With all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity. Careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. One body and one Spirit: as you are called in one hope of your calling. One Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

    “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nests, and the bones of dead men cathedrals; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”

    But it’s fortunate that “the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more, neither have they a reward any more: for the memory of them is forgotten”