Stealing saints

So, a recent episode of the Fencast talked about stealing saints’ relics from one church to take them to another. This might seem like a shocking thing, but it wasn’t actually uncommon in the middle ages, particularly in the early period.

I’ve written about one example before — the removal of the bones of Saint Oswald from Lincolnshire by the Mercians — but there are plenty of others you can look at. This type of thing is known as furta sacra, or “holy theft,” and it rests on a whole bunch of weird assumptions about the power of a saint. I believe, and I speak subject to correction, that the definitive book on the topic is still Furta Sacra by Patrick Geary. It’s not a specifically English thing, either — it happened to no less a luminary than Saint Nicholas, whose remains were swiped and translated to the Italian town of Bari, which is how he became the patron of good ol’ Bohemond of Taranto. Naturally, later sources claimed that Saint Nicholas appeared in a vision to the Italian sailors who nicked them and told them they should take his bones.

Here’s where they stashed the loot.

Same thing happened with Saint Mark in the 9th century; his bones were “rescued” from Alexandria by the Venetians and smuggled out of Egypt concealed under a layer of pork to confuse the Muslim customs inspectors.

So yeah: stealing saints’ bones is a grand old Christian tradition. Doesn’t seem like it should be, but that’s real life for you.

Stealing saints

Movie Monday: Flyboys (2006)


Right, so. During WWI, before the Americans joined in, American volunteer pilots sometimes served with the French air force. They were organised into the Escadrille de Lafayette, which is similar to be not exactly the same as the Lafayette Flying Corps. This film is about those pilots, although it plays pretty loosey-goosey with the history.

Honestly, you can make a long list of the inaccuracies in this film, and many have. The airplane models they show weren’t all flying at the same time, for instance, which is the kind of thing people who go to see WWI films notice but not something I would have spotted myself. It simplifies and condenses and exaggerates and so on, but honestly even that’s not the real problem with it.

It’s just … honestly, this thing could just have been called War Movie.

I mean, there’s a rag-tag bunch of pilots: a rich jerk, an idealistic one, a black guy, a grizzled veteran, etc., etc., etc., and each has a one-sentence plotline. There’s a rootless young hero (James Franco) and a gruff French officer (Jean Reno, because who else), and there’s a noble German who gets killed anyway and a vicious German who kills the secondary good guy but gets his comeuppance in the end. And there’s a pretty girl raising some adorable moppets and they have a sweet love story even though, how whimsical, she doesn’t really speak English and he doesn’t really speak French, and, like, basically …

… if I asked you to sit down and write a movie in which James Franco plays an American airman in France in WWI and I didn’t tell you anything else about the plot, you would write this movie, more or less.

So how much you like this movie depends on how much you like dogfighting sequences and scenes of camp life. From that perspective, it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. Everybody in it does a fine job. It has fight scenes and landscapes and clearly they spent some money on the sets and things, but just …

… just who cares, really? If you know enough about American service in France during WWI to fit on the back of an envelope, you won’t really learn anything new, and you won’t really be surprised (other than by the resolution of the love story, which I have to admit threw me). So if you like seeing planes fly around and blow up and you’ve already watched Red Tails, which has really good dogfights to go with its absolutely average script, you could watch this, I guess.

OK, I’m being unfair. Here’s a good thing: this is a WWI movie that makes it clear that this is a French conflict and the Americans are a sideshow, and doesn’t try to make the French look bad in any way. So that’s nice.

Movie Monday: Flyboys (2006)

Listen to my voice!

So, I appeared on a podcast! A few weeks ago I dropped in to Huntingdon Community Radio and recorded an episode of the Fencast, a podcast that is all about the local history and legends of the Fen region. I was there to talk about Hereward the Wake and the siege of Ely; I’m not an expert on that, but it’s my period and I think we had a fun conversation during which I made at least one pretty decent point.

In any event, you can find it by just searching for Fencast in your favourite podcast app, or you can download episodes from their website. If you’re interested in folk tales and local history, definitely check out the other episodes too!


Listen to my voice!