A waste disposal company has discovered a sealed gold, glass, and leather case containing a fragment of bone accompanied by a faded scrap of paper reading “Ex Oss. S. Clementis PM”. This translates from Latin to "from the bones of S Clementis" – a pretty good indicator that the object was believed to be a relic of Saint Clement of Rome, a somewhat mysterious figure in Christian history that led the church as its second or third pope from approximately 88 AD to 99 AD.
The artifact was found by Enviro Waste employees as they sorted through a heap of detritus that was collected from several sites in central London.
“You can imagine our amazement when we realised our clearance teams had found bone belonging to a pope – it’s not something you expect to see, even in our line of work. We often come across some weird and wonderful things on clearances,” said James Rubin, owner of Enviro Waste, in a statement.
Because the commercial and domestic refuse firm are unable to pinpoint which pickup site the case came from, they have launched an online poll wherein members of the public can suggest what organization or entity should be entrusted with it.
“We know this is an important piece of history and are keen to find the most appropriate place for its final resting place,” the page says.
The saint, also known as Pope Clement I, is considered to have been the first apostolic father, a set of Christian theologians from the 1st and 2nd centuries who immediately proceeded – and perhaps personally knew – the 12 Apostles. Religious texts imply Clement was a close disciple of St Peter, and that he was banished from Rome by Emperor Trajan. Soon after, around 100 to 110 AD, he was martyred when Roman soldiers tied him to an anchor and threw him into the sea as punishment for miraculously making a spring of water appear while working in a stone quarry prison camp.
According to legend, divine intervention caused his body to arise from the sea, allowing followers to bury him on land. Hundreds of years later, during the Middle Ages, most of his remains were then interred at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome.
Devoted worshippers have been collecting relics – thought to facilitate miracles and bring luck – in the form of items that belonged to figures in life since the religion began, yet most scholars agree that the practice of enshrining body parts did not come into fashion until several centuries later.
By the Middle Ages, however, bodily relics were so valuable that a distinctly un-holy industry of grave robbing, theft, and counterfeiting had sprung up to source and sell them. And because most relics have dubious origin stories to begin with, then transferred owners and reliquaries (the often-ornate containers that store them) many times throughout their history, it is usually impossible to establish providence.
Thus, it is unlikely that researchers will be able to determine whether or not the bone fragment really came from Clement, though experts are already fairly certain the wax-sealed glass container could not be 1,900 years old.