The Fate of The Bones


This is the second part of an outrageous pre-mediaeval tall tale I picked up whilst wandering the streets of Zurich. You can find part one here.

And so, the headless slept for 500 years.

On a hill by the lake in Switzerland, by the banks of the river Limmat, the graves of Saint Felix and his sister, Regula, lay at rest.

Or so a monk would have us know. For their entire story was dreamed one night by a brother called Florentius in the eighth century, and written down: it is the earliest known account of Felix and Regula’s story. They may have been real; or they may have been the product of an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.

However they must have been well marked graves, perhaps well-venerated; for the Emperor Charlemagne, hurtling through the forest on horseback in pursuit of a stag, stumbled at their graves, and this effected a closer look. And the emperor decided this would be a capital place to found a church.

Accordingly, a holy settlement of sorts came to be by the banks of Lake Zurich, much like many of the other holy settlements of its sort. In 1100 they built the great stone cathedral which still stands there today, with two lavish towers which dominate the skyline. It has a fairytale name: the Grössmunster.

And still Felix and Regula slept; until a very powerful and extremely unorthodox priest came to reside and preach at the Grössmunster.

His name was Zwngli. Huldrych Zwingli.

Zwingli started out as a brilliant priest and teacher, and grew tired of the florid inconsistency of the Catholic church of his forebears. He it was who brought Reformation to Switzerland, though sectarian strife would come of it. He attacked moral corruption, and slated the  monks for their high living.

And into his line of fire, of course, came saints.

Poor Felix and Regula. Part of Zwingli’s sweeping reforms meant opening up the graves of martyrs, and messing with their heads once again.

What happened when the graves of these two once-walking dead were opened?

There are two versions of events, as in all the best old stories. Zwingli’s successor, Heinrich Bullinger, says the graves were almost completely empty. Perhaps the two had, with their customary nose for danger, smelt a rat and taken themselves off elsewhere.

But the Catholics protest otherwise. Relics, unless they are disposed of completely, can draw devotion, and one thing Zwingli did not need in those heady days of Reformation was Catholic devotion to saints with a penchant for walking whilst dead.

So there was this man from Uri – another canton – and he was walking along the river near the water-church, the Wasserkirche – when he saw a few of Zwingli’s henchmen trying to throw bones into the river. Oy, he said, you can’t do that. I’ll take them off your hands.

And he did.

If this is the case and not another dream brought on by gluewein, then the man is said to have brought the bones to Andermatt, in the south of Switzerlnd.

And to this day, you can go and see the heads of Felix the Theban legionary and his sister.

Though, they carbon dated them.

And this is what they found: one of the skulls was placed firmly in the middle ages.

The second was composed of not one, but two skulls. One was found to be mediaeval: but the second did indeed date from Roman Turnicum, the Zurich of the Roman Empire.

You have the facts. You have the suppositions. Product of a sozzled monkish hallucination, or a powerful true tale which has insisted on being heard through the ages?

Your call.


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