Pope Clement I has been dead for almost 2,000 years, but that hasn’t stopped the Holy Roman saint form traveling on what must be the strangest Eurotrip yet. Back in May, British sanitation workers collected a relic containing a fragment of the Pope’s remains in central London. Because the trash collection run included several different locations throughout the city, there is no way for the company, Enviro Waste, to pinpoint exactly who disposed of the Pope’s ovular reliquary.
Instead, Enviro Waste hosted a public forum on the company’s website that asked the public where Pope Clement I’s bones should go. With over 650 responses, the trash company ultimately decided to donate the small relic to Westminster Catholic Cathedral.
Enviro Waste’s owner, James Rubin, said in a statement, “You can imagine our amazement when we realized our clearance teams had found bone belonging to a former Pope — it’s not something you expect to see, even in our line of work. After launching our appeal, we were overjoyed to have the cathedral come forward.”
Also known as Saint Clement of Rome, the 1st-century Pope is thought to have been a disciple of Saints Peter and Paul. Early Church lists place him as second or third in the list of Roman bishops after Peter. He is also considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church. Yet few factual details have been published about his life and death but his remains were reportedly dug up from Crimea and transferred to Italy in 868 CE.
According to apocryphal acta dating from at least the 4th century CE, Clement was banished from Rome under Emperor Trajan because of his Christianity. Exiled to Greek colony of Chersonesus in the Crimea, Clement reportedly performed his first miracle. While his fellow prisoners were suffering from dehydration, the Pope looked up and saw a lamb on a hill. He struck where the lamb was standing with a pickaxe, which released a stream of clean water. His act resulted in the conversion of a large number of local pagans to Christianity, which then resulted in his gruesome martyrdom by the Roman authorities. Saint Clement was tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea. Legend recounts that every year, the waters part to reveal a divinely built shrine housing the saint’s bones.
Apparently one bone got away. Housed in what appears to be a Victorian-era wax-sealed reliquary, the bone fragment of Pope Clement I was likely a family heirloom. The collection of such relics was an extremely popular practice in medieval Europe. Seeking miraculous healing or a conduit to Christ, pilgrims would travel across the continent for primary relics (i.e. the remains of saints) or secondary relics (i.e. things touched by saints). Through the centuries, such relics have been chipped away and disseminated across the globe, leading to a secondary market of fake relics which some say spurred the Reformation.
“It could have been stolen, it could belong to someone and been accidentally thrown out,” University of Turku researcher Georges Kazan also told reporters. “If it’s authentic, it’s not the kind of thing you throw away.”