I write these words from Milan, Italy, where I am with my Word on Fire team filming new episodes for our Pivotal Players series. I’ve seen lots of marvelous things on this trip, including the ruins of the ancient baptistery under the Milan Cathedral where, in the spring of 387, St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose. But the most fascinating sight I’ve taken in is the vested and mitered skeleton of that same Ambrose, which rests in the basilica that bears his name, not far from the Cathedral.
Behind a grille, just under the main altar, lie the skeletal remains of Ambrose and two martyr saints, Gervasius and Protasius, whose bodies were recovered during his lifetime. With the aid of some pretty high-powered camera lenses, I was able to see the skull of the great bishop of Milan in extraordinary detail. What struck me especially was the size and solidity of his teeth, still formidable after 1,600 years. I’ll confess that when I examined those ancient teeth, I couldn’t help but think of the lips that once covered them, for Augustine, in his Confessions, famously reported his amazement at seeing Ambrose read without moving his lips—something quite unusual at the time.
However, after I posted detailed photos of Ambrose’s skull on our Facebook page, the reaction has been rather…interesting. Many, many people expressed their pleasure and excitement at seeing the pictures, but many others, I must say, were a bit put off. From a number of strongly Protestant and evangelical commentators came the charge that I was encouraging the worship of dead bodies!
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