I recently had the opportunity to hear Annabel J. Wharton from Duke University talk about her research in a presentation titled, “Protestants, Relics, Things.” (More on this in a later post.)
She began this presentation with the spolia object and above certifying description by L.S. Chakales, Chief of Bureau in a letter to Keith B. Capron, Tribune Tower Building Manager, May 8, 1950.
Despite the modern beauty of the reliquary, the letter reads like a Nigerian bank scam.
“The fragments I gave to Colonel McCormick are from the actual Cave of the Nativity. They were scraped from the ceiling of the cave by the Archbishop of the Orthodox church, which is situated directly above the cave and through which every denomination must pass to reach the shrine. Under no circumstances can the archbishop be identified publicly as the source. However it could be stated they came from a person who had access to the cave. Their authenticity can be guaranteed and proven by the archbishop and the mayor of Bethlehem, but the archbishop naturally would be reluctant to make it public. However the mayor, Issa Bandak, I am sure would confirm them. We were his guests in his home which is situated in a convent which is a part of the church of the Nativity for Christmas, 1949, when the fragments were given to us. In fact, it was his influence that brought about the archbishop’s unusual action. We went down the morning after and saw the white spot in the roof of the cave. In addition, we also got four tiny pieces of mosaic that were scraped away. We attached great importance to the fragments. It must be recalled the cave has been there for 2,000 years and it remains virtually intact. In that time souvenir hunters should have leveled the area for miles around, but miraculously it remained intact. I would like to emphasize these fragments came from the cave in which Christ was actually born and not from the immediate vicinity.”