Wandering through an old neighbourhood in Bari, Italy a few years ago on a hot hot summer day. We browsed the shops, explored the narrow streets and curious piazzas and stopped in on all the churches. (I am on a mission to find all the Marys I possibly can… and Italy is literally the mother-lode.) As the afternoon wore on, my husband had had enough of churches, so by the time we made it to the Bari Cathedral, he opted to sit in the plaza by himself and watch the local children kicking a ball against the outside wall of the church.
I went in alone. The interior was cool and quiet, and typical of southern Italy. I found a very charming Mary in the apse, one of my favourites of all time. (I blogged an image of her here, one of my early days learning Photoshop things – a bit overwrought, I’m afraid, but she is still delightful.)
I was ready to leave when I noticed an arrow pointing down the stairs to the crypt. Possibly one of the more grisly places I have been – dozens of mini coffins containing bundled bones and occasionally other bits and pieces of saints and religious notables. There was a large, gated off area which appeared to be mostly 24 carat gold and white marble, containing the remains of a bishop.
I made my way to the other side of the crypt and came upon what could only be described as a macabre inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s glass coffin. At first I thought it was a statue, or life-size doll, but it seems it is the desiccated remains of Colomba di Sens. She was a virgin martyr, born in Spain, somehow ended up in Gaul, who may or may not have been a converted witch. And ended up being beheaded. In 273. Over 1700 years ago. This is her ‘miraculously’ perfectly preserved body. At least this is what the information in the church claims – with no explanation as to how she got from France to Southern Italy – or more curiously, how her head is so perfectly reattached.
I was, and still am, fascinated by her. There is a story here, something strange and possibly quite awful – but the protagonists took their secrets to the grave with them. Shame this poor young woman wasn’t given the same courtesy. How dreadful to spend an eternity busy being dead. No rest in peace for this chick…