Religion is filled with odd twists and turns, no matter what the particular faith or ruling, but Medieval Christianity has a handful of particularly odd stories due, in part, to extended centuries of intellectual focus on issues of theology and faith throughout Europe. One really odd example was the veneration of the Holy Prepuce, a.k.a. the Foreskin of Christ. See when Jesus was born he was born to a Jewish family and, according to Jewish law, would have been circumcised on the eighth day of his life. What might have been seen as an aspect of Christ’s infancy though presented an opportunity to Middle Ages Europeans. Because, per the New Testament, Christ died, rose in three days whole, and then ascended to Heaven he didn’t leave much physical presence upon the Earth that could be used as relics. (Hence the obsessive European focus for bits of the Truce Cross, the Crown of Thorns, the Spear of Destiny, all items that had Christ’s blood upon them.)
But this realization lead to the idea that Christ might have left his foreskin on Earth and that would then potentially be one of the most powerful relics in Christendom. The first reported donation of Christ’s foreskin was made by Charlemagne in 800 AD to the Catholic Church, and received by Pope Leo III. (Specifically on 25 December 800 when Leo III crowned Charlemagne the first Holy Roman Emperor, a major political event in and of itself. The foreskin was among a parcel of gifts Charlemagne gave the Pope that day.) That foreskin was held in Rome till 1527, when it was taken when Rome was looted, and then turned up again in the Italian village of Calcata where it was housed till 1983. Yes, 1983. The Catholic Church considered it a valuable relic to be seen by the faithful and granted a ten year indulgence to pilgrims who saw the holy foreskin.
Until 1900, when the Catholic Church, tired of ribbing it got over the issue, decreed that no Catholic was to write or speak of the Holy Foreskin again on penalty of excommunication. In 1954 the Church upped the punishment to excommunication combined with shunning. By the village of Calcata did not give up its traditions and still paraded the foreskin on the 1 of January each year, the traditional date of the Feast of the Circumcision of Christ. (An official holiday in the Catholic calendar for centuries.) However in 1983 thieves stole the jeweled reliquary and its holy foreskin within. Police have never found the missing item and the Catholic church has not pushed for its recovery.
Also, an additional picture of Jesus getting circumcised that was painted in the Renaissance for your viewing pleasure below, I will say this – I love how in this picture Christ has a very calm facial expression about the whole thing. Very, if you’ll pardon me, Zen.
Sources: An Underground Education by Richard Zacks, the Wikipedia entry on the Holy Prepuce.