The Italian town that housed Jesus’ foreskin is about to disappear

The former hometown of Jesus’ Holy Foreskin could soon be impossible to visit.

Yup, it’s not a typo. You read it right.

Not all of us are Catholics, nor religious, but the Italian village of Calcata is at risk of isolation due to floods where for centuries the Holy Prepuce — yes, that — was treasured and worshipped. Nasty mudslides are threatening to cut the town off for good, shutting all connecting roads.

Calcata is a commune and town in the Province of Viterbo in the Italian region of Latium, just 47 kilometres north of Rome by car, and overlooks the valley of Treja river.

The charming town. Picture: AlamySource:Alamy

It’s surrounded by incredible views. Picture: Silvia MarchettiSource:Supplied

After recent storms, the only access to Calcata is now by foot. The handful of desperate residents — mainly artists and hippies living a hermit life — wake up each morning wondering whether the cliff walls will hold.

Despite the fact the tiny piece of sacred foreskin has been missing since 1983, when it was mysteriously stolen, its fascinatingly gruesome story has become a moneymaker luring visitors and relic hunters.

As if the town needed it. The scenery and location alone are powerful magnets.

The town sits on a hill. Picture: Silvia MarchettiSource:Supplied

Calcata is a stunning, off-the-radar retreat perched on a crumbly reddish turf hilltop, jutting-out of a deep gorge like a giant mushroom. From a distance it’s an optical illusion: the hamlet has been carved from the very hill it sits on, making it impossible to see where the turf ends and the dwellings begin.

As I squeeze through the maze of narrow cobbled alleys covered with fluorescent green moss, passing under tiny rock arches leading to wall openings over the precipice I spot caves, panoramic balconies cut inside the rock and walled stone doors that were once prison cells.

The legend of the Holy Foreskin begins inside one such dark cell.

The road sign for the historic town of Calcata.Source:Alamy

One of the many tunnels and alley ways. Picture: Silvia MarchettiSource:Supplied

Back in 1527 a German runaway soldier was captured and locked up in the dungeons. He was holding inside his pocket a tiny morsel of Jesus’ Prepuce stolen from a Roman basilica.

The thief hid the relic in a niche until centuries later a local found it and kickstarted a miracle. The foreskin turned into an object of veneration and Calcata became a hot pilgrimage site. So hot the Vatican had to step in to stifle growing fanaticism.

But the local church kept taking the holy foreskin on showy processions across town during the New Year celebrations when everyone was granted a 10-year remission of all sins.

The ritual went on until 1987 when the foreskin was (again) stolen by a heretical sect and picturesque Calcata lost its identity.

The circumcision of Christ. Picture: AlamySource:Alamy

Scenes from the historic town. Picture: Silvia MarchettiSource:Supplied

But prepuce-worshippers never gave up and a few are still looking for the lost, sacred bit of baby flesh.

Despite the few locals who shy away when asked about the holy foreskin, restaurants are keeping up the quest thrill to lure tourists. One is called the “Holy Grail” while the names of bars, tea rooms and B&Bs hint at spiritual elevation.

Once you walk past the arched stone entrance, forget phone calls and the internet. There’s no mobile coverage. The last spot where you can catch a poor 3G signal is a wooden stool where it is written: “This chair is for everyone, mobile phones work only here”.

The town is proud of its claim to fame. Picture: Silvia MarchettiSource:Supplied

Its beauty still makes it a tourism magnet. Picture: Silvia MarchettiSource:Supplied

Calcata is far from being hell but it is not the typical, idyllic Italian hamlet. There’s something attractively sinister and exotic about it.

Time stands still.

The village overlooks a wild valley of thick jungle-like forests and rivers where ancient tribes — the Falisci — wrote weird prayers on stream-beds and had a knack for human sacrifices.

There’s a primitive, magical ambience.

Calcata is a so-called “geomantic” centre, i.e. a place with a special vibe where there are deep underground vibrations and magnetic forces that exercise a concentric pull.

Locals feel the magnetism, as do day-trippers who still flock here despite having to park the car kilometres from the village.

It’s a place where time stands still. Picture: Silvia MarchettiSource:Supplied

L’abbaye Saint-Sauveur de Charroux Benedictine, founded in 785, sits in the town of Calcata. Picture: AlamySource:Alamy

It’s dubbed the Witches’ Lair. During blizzards the ice-cold wind is believed to be the wicked chant of sorceresses burnt at the stake.

The village does indeed look like the setting of a Grimms’ tale. Weird monster masks with sticking-out tongues hung above houses, smoke rises from chimney tops, fog curls at street corners. There are minuscule blue, purple and red doors, flower-decorated windows, squeaky wooden benches and rock altars.

— Silvia Marchetti is a Rome-based freelance reporter. She covers finance, economics, travel and culture for a wide range of media including Politico and CNN.

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