When I picture a church where the bodies or bones of saints are displayed I typically think of a place in Europe. But there are few places in the U.S. where the relics of saints can be viewed, and one of them is St. Martin of Tours in Louisville, Kentucky. It is in this Kentucky church that the 1700-year-old skeletal remains of Saints Bonosa and Magnus have been on display since 1902.
Saint Bonosa was a young Roman woman and St. Magnus was a centurion and both were martyred for their Christian faith in the Colosseum in either the third or fourth centuries. Their bodies were buried in the Roman catacombs, but were later removed and interred in a convent in Agnani, Italy where they were venerated by nuns. When the Italian government seized the church in Agnani, Pope Leo XIII gave the relics to St. Martin of Tours in Louisville at the request of Msgr. Francis Zabler, the priest of church of St. Martin of Tours at the time. The diocese received the bones in 1902, and the body of each saint was placed in a glass reliquary on each side of the altar, St. Bonosa on the left and St. Magnus on the right.
When St. Martin’s needed to refurbish the side altars of the church in 2012, the parish decided to repair the glass sarcophagi as well. The parish also chose to have the bones examined since it didn’t have an official history of the remains.
When Philip DiBlasi, an archeologist from the University of Louisville, heard about this he volunteered to do the forensic analysis of the bones. He soon found that the features of the skeletal remains corresponded to historical accounts of the saints.
As DiBlasi unwrapped St. Magnus’ bones he discovered that the skeleton was only about 45% complete and most of the bones were fragmented. The cranium was intact, but the mandible was missing. According to his analysis, the remains belonged to man of mixed ancestry, mostly Caucasian with some Mediterranean/African characteristics, who was between 45 and 50 years old when he died.
Then DiBlasi moved on to St. Bonosa’s remains, and he was pleasantly surprised to find that her skeleton was 95% complete, and both the skull and pelvis were present. After examining the remains, he found that the bones belonged to a woman of Caucasian ancestry who was about 24 years old when she died, and stood between 5’ and 5’6” tall. He also found squatting facets at the bottom of her leg bones (tibia) and foot bones (talus) (an example can be seen here) and indications that she was right-handed.
Graves, J. (2012 November 01). Relics of the Past and the Present. National Catholic Register. Retrieved on February 8, 2014 from: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/relics-of-the-past-and-the-present
McAllistar, M. (2012 June 7). Saints’ remains at St. Martin are examined. The Record. Retrieved on February 8, 2014 from: http://therecordarchlou.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/saints-remains-at-st-martin-of-tours-church-are-examined/
McAllistar, M. (2012 June 7). Saints at St. Martin believed to be ancient Roman martyrs. The Record. Retrieved on February 8, 2014 from: http://therecordarchlou.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/saints-at-st-martin-believed-to-be-ancient-roman-martyrs/