Had I lived during the 15th century, and had I wanted to make a pilgrimage to see Mary Magdalene’s tooth encased in rock crystal and suspended in a golden reliquary resembling a two towers atop a chalice- maybe because I was a formerly-fallen woman, or maybe because I had a terrible toothache, or maybe just because I wanted to go on a journey - I would have had to walk from wherever I lived (Let’s say it was Alsace) to wherever the precious tooth currently resided (let’s say the cathedral at Arles). This would have taken quite a while, and would have surely involved muddy roads, filthy accommodations, hunger, bandits, marauders and most likely some unpleasant weather.
Had I lived in the 15th century, it is very possible I would already be dead from childbirth, plague, pleurisy, fits, or vile humors, because I am a just a few years past the average lifespan of a 15th century woman.
Had I lived in the early 15th century, I might have known that very brave and ultimately betrayed heroine from Domremy, Joan the savior of France. But that is unlikely, because she was courageous and brave, and I would surely be something of a chicken, at least so far as anything so strenuous as going into battle against English soldiers. (Our relation to each other would be not unlike the dichotomy I will experience tomorrow when I attend the Athletics Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at Beaver Country Day where my sister-in-law, the amazing athlete, will be inducted. While she was wisely spending her high school years vigorous pursuing, hitting, and hurling balls on fields of competition, I was smoking and reading poetry in the graveyard. And there is no Hall of Fame for that.)
But I do not live in the 15th century and so, in order to visit the tooth of Mary Magdalene, all I had to do was take Amtrak to Baltimore, sit comfortably in the train as we whizzed past Trenton’s claim to fame, sleep through Wilmington, disembark at Baltimore’s Penn Station, walk down Charles Street past the equestrian Statue of John Eager Howard, no less than 3 Afghan restaurants, and a very tall monument to George Washington which claims to have a statue of George Washington on its top – but it was too far up for me to verify - , and then past Mt. Vernon Methodist where this week’s sermon will be “Jesus was a Bad Preacher” and enter the Walters Art Museum and see their exhibit, Treasure of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in Medieval Europe. And not a moment too soon, since it closes this Sunday.
Having made my perilous pilgrimage, I encountered not only the tooth of Mary Magdalene, but also one of John the Baptist’s molars. According to the sidebar, in 1931 a dentist confirmed that the tooth did in fact belong to a 30-year old man who ate a coarse diet. He could not, however, say how old the tooth itself was. I also visited an arm, I don’t know which one, of St. George, enough fragments of the True Cross to build a table, bones of Sts. Cosmas and Damien, St. Baudine's blood,a Holy Thorn and the skull of the lovely St. Blandina. To garner the benefits of touching so many fabulous relics back in the 15th century, I would have had to spend my short and miserable lifetime trudging on rutted roads and fighting off unfunny traveling jesters.
It may be churlish of me to complain that St. Peter’s Rib and St. Blaise’s foot did not come over from London, but then, I am churlish in this matter.