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Home | FREE Italy Articles | *** Must Read Italy Book: An Irrever . . .
 

*** Must Read Italy Book: An Irreverent Curiosity (Free Italy Travel Advice)***


This is an excerpt from the September 2009 issue of Dream of Italy:



Despite the impression some flowery expat memoirs can give, small Italian towns aren't the easiest places for outsiders to assimilate. Visiting one for a few days and trying to live in one are two very different propositions. Each village has its own rhythms, unspoken rules and age-old taboos and secrets; trying to decipher them can be like searching for buried treasure without a map.

So it is with some anxiety that New York writer David Farley moves to the tiny town of Calcata, 30 miles north of Rome. Will the fact that this town of a hundred is a haven for hippies, artists and New Age types make it easier or harder for him to assimilate? Oh and there's another complicating factor, David Farley has come to Calcata to find the foreskin (prepuce) of Jesus Christ.

Yes, you read that right. An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town (Gotham Books, $25) is David Farley's account of his yearlong quest to discover what happened to Calcata's relic — the Holy Foreskin — which was stolen from the town church in 1983.

From a theological standpoint, the Holy Foreskin is the only conceivable piece of flesh that Christ could have left on earth. For centuries, it was prayed over in the church at Calcata. In the 14th century, St. Bridget of Sweden claimed to have a vision of that the Holy Foreskin (then kept in Rome) was indeed really a piece of Christ. Hearing of the Foreskin's fertility powers, King Henry V had the foreskin present for the birth of the future King Henry VI. In 1900, Pope Leo XIII
issued a decree stating that anyone who wrote or spoke about the Holy Foreskin would face the threat of excommunication.

An Irreverent Curiosity is really many stories in one and Farley expertly weaves them together. There's of course the history of this Holy Foreskin and the journey it has taken over the years. During the Middle Ages, a number of towns and monasteries around Europe claimed to have a copy of the foreskin. Farley entertainingly relays the history of Christian relics in general. (This isn't a book for the devout -- when writing about foreskins there's inevitably a good dose of snark.)

Yet, the most compelling story is that of Calcata and its eclectic townspeople. At various times, Farley feels embraced and ostracized. He doesn't sugarcoat and romanticize the experience of being a stranger here. And to be fair, he is here on a mission and everyone has an opinion as to whether he should just mind his own business when it comes to the foreskin. The book sheds light on human relations and small town culture.

Italians are characters and Farley has happened upon quite a collection in Calcata. Take for example,  the Eqyptologist who lives in a cave with her pet crows and the director who is making a film about the foreskin starring none other than a beautiful female alien.

In the end though, more than anything An Irreverent Curiosity is a mystery. Does Farley find the relic? Or is his year-long search fruitless? Who took it? Was it Satanists? The Vatican? This reader couldn't help but worry that the tale would end in a disappointing way. Without giving away the ending, the conclusion is  both surprising and satisfying, following one heck of a wild ride.

Endnotes: In addition to its fame related to the Holy Foreskin, Calcata is also well-known as one of Italy's best-preserved medieval villages, set atop 450-foot cliffs. For travel information, read David Farley's New York Times travel piece Day Out: Calcata Italy. As you can imagine, the people of Calcata had definite opinions about Farley and his work. David Farley takes a thoughtful view of his project and the unforeseen implications in his fascinating essay on WorldHum.com called On the Perils of Travel Writing

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