Monday, April 25, 2011

1,700 Year Old Skeletons Of Christians Martyrs Found In Italy

Daily Mail

22nd April 2011

Two skeletons discovered in a crypt in an Italian cathedral are those of Christian saints who were martyred in ancient Rome, experts have claimed.

Scientists say all the evidence suggests the bones do belong to Chrysanthus and Daria, who were killed in 283AD for spreading Christianity.

Legend has it that the Roman empire had the celibate husband and wife killed after they converted Romans to the early religion.

The remains have been kept in the crypt of the cathedral in Reggio Emilia, a city in the north of Italy, since the 10th century.

The altar at the church had not been disturbed since 1651 but in 2008 the cathedral was renovated

Workers found more than 300 bones in one of the sealed crypts.

The skulls were packed inside a pair of silver-and-gold busts deep in a cathedral vault which they had been transferred to nearly 500 years ago.

Experts quickly descended on the crypt so that the bones could be tested and dated.

Ezio Fulcheri, from the University of Genoa, led the team on what was one of the first scientific investigations into saintly relics.

He conceded there was no way to identify the skeletons with complete certainty but said 'all of the evidence we have gathered points toward the relics having belonged to Chrysanthus and Daria.

'This has been a very rare opportunity to be able to study bones and other relics that relate directly back to a legend that has been passed on for almost 2,000 years.

'The completeness of the skeletons is also rare for martyrs of this era, implying that these relics were protected and venerated in their entirety at a very early point in history.'

The team concluded after DNA tests that the bones belonged to a woman probably in her 20s and man in his late teens.

Tests revealed that the bones were still fusing together at death which suggested to the experts that although both sets of bones were of skeletons, neither was fully developed.

The age of the female skeleton suggested that they were still a virgin, as Daria had been.

They believe that the couple lived a generally healthy life 'with very little physical stress' before they were killed.

Testing suggests they were from an affluent background because their bones showed signs of lead poisoning - common to aristocrats in ancient times.

There was also very little wear and tear on the bones which suggested that they had not been involved with any physical labour.

A single rib was taken from each body and ground into a fine powder for a carbon dating test which showed the bones dated back to between 80AD and 340AD.

All the characteristics of the bones tied in with descriptions of the lives of the Christian saints.

The team's findings have been filmed for a documentary, EXPLORER: Mystery of the Murdered Saints which was broadcast last night by National Geographic.

Senior producer and writer Max Salomon told the Catholic News Agency: 'This is the first time that we can really test the authenticity of what is believed to be the body of a saint. For us, it was really a privilege to have a seat at that table and see its risks.'

He was impressed that Church leaders were willing to risk the relics not being authentic and were prepared to take the consequences.

'In a sense, it’s a very modern thing for the Church to do, to embrace science and take on the risks of asking scientific questions,' he said.

Auxiliary Bishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Reggio Emilia had acknowledged the findings could be a major problem.

'We might discover that these relics are fake. That would be a huge problem for us,' he said.

'If we find out we have bones like that, then we have to throw them out, destroy them. That would certainly be a scandal for the faithful.'

The two bodies represented an extraordinary opportunity because there were almost two complete skeletons, giving a lot of material to work with. Often relic bones are progressively removed and kept as spiritual tokens.

In the documentary, University of Turin anthropologist Allesandra Cinti said: 'These results confirmed two fundamental facts for us.

'They confirmed their antiquity and the fact that they were both from the same time period. We were able to relax, let out a sigh of relief and say okay, maybe it's actually them.'

According to the legend, Chrysanthus was the only son of a Roman senator from Alexandria who grew up in Rome and converted to Christianity.

His father, unhappy at the move, arranged for him to marry a high priestess called Daria in the hope he would cast off his new religion.

But the plan backfired when Daria too embraced Christianity and the couple worked together to convert thousands more to the faith.

Authorities in Rome arrested them for proselytising and they were buried alive in a sand mine in the city in around 283AD.

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