It's not every day you find a saint's brain in the kitchen cupboard.
John Bosco, one of Italy's most popular saints, was a 19th century Roman Catholic priest, writer, and educator known for his work helping impoverished youth. He founded the Salesian religious order in 1859, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1934. These days, more than 600,000 pilgrims a year visit his basilica in Castelnuovo, near Turin.
But on June 3, some of those pilgrims were disappointed to find a small room near the altar of the basilica that normally holds some of his relics marked "Closed. Under Construction." Soon the church revealed there was no construction—a thief dressed as a pilgrim had made off with a reliquary containing fragments of the saint's brain the evening before.
Police set up roadblocks around northern Italy and searched cars, while faithful Catholics around the world prayed for the relic's safe return. Italian newspapers speculated that the relic had been stolen for ransom, or (more ominously) a "satanic rite."
Fortunately, it didn't take long for police to find some suspicious fingerprints on the glass protecting the reliquary, as well as some shoeprints nearby. After submitting the prints to a forensic lab in Parma, digital fingerprint technology found a match, as The Telegraph reports: a 42-year-old man with a record living in Pinerolo, near Turin. The authorities have identified him only as "C.G."
After obtaining a search warrant, police found the reliquary intact in the man's kitchen cupboard, nestled inside a copper teapot. C.G. apparently believed the reliquary was made of solid gold (it's not), and would fetch a hefty sum. The recovery of the relic was announced on June 16, and it is now safely back in the basilica.
Bosco's brain is far from the only pilfered relic, which Catholics believe can be used for healing, protection, and sometimes even miracles. During the Middle Ages, when dead saints were celebrities, there was a thriving trade in relics stolen (or "translated") from one church for another. More recently, thieves have been stealing relics for ransom, to sell to collectors, or for more obscure reasons—such as the theft of the 800-year-old preserved heart of St. Laurence O'Toole from Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.
Enrico Stasi, the Salesian provincial for the Piedmont region, told The Telegraph the Carabinieri (Italian military police) had done an "excellent job" recovering the relic. "Obviously we are very, very happy," he said.