Friday, May 11, 2007

Tombs of the Apostles

Santi Apostoli, Rome

Catholic News Service has an article on Tom Bissell, a highly regarded travel and nonfiction writer, who is at the American Academy in Rome this year working on a book on the tombs of the Twelve Apostles.

Actually, as Bissell pointed out, it's 13 Apostles -- Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot.

"St. Matthias, like most of the apostles, is known mostly through legend and tradition. His relics were said to have been brought from Jerusalem by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, and given in part to an abbey church in Trier, Germany. So Bissell made a pilgrimage to Trier and spent the day with a priest, who happened to be named Matthias.

"This priest had a really beautiful way of looking at it," Bissell said. "He said, 'I don't really know if these are Matthias' bones, but this church is here, and I am here because someone very early on believed these were the relics of one of the apostles, and that's a tradition worth preserving.'"

Bissell said one of the most haunting spots he visited was Aceldama near Jerusalem, where Judas is said to have hanged himself. Unlike other historical places in and around the holy city, this one had no gift shops and no tour guides. A thin and not very worn path leads to the site.

"There's absolutely nothing there. There's this dead tree in the middle of a little clearing, and there are caves all around it where the apostles supposedly hid," Bissell said.

He spent fours hours at Aceldama and saw only one other person, a Palestinian shepherd. It was, he concluded, "very, very spooky." `

On the other hand, the Church of the Holy Apostles in Rome, which holds relics of Sts. Philip and James, draws few pilgrims. When he visited, Bissell said, the church was frequented mainly by street people coming for charity.

Bissell said the local priest at Holy Apostles told him he was the first person in his eight years there who ever came asking about Sts. Philip and James. Their bones, after earlier sojourns in the ancient cities of Hierapolis and Constantinople, are preserved in a crypt below the main altar.`

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