Skeleton of the Week, March 11: St. Maximus of Bürglen


St. Maximus is one of two fully armored skeletons still standing in Swiss churches. His provenance is nowadays a bit murky–he definitely came from the Roman catacombs as a presumed early Christian martyr, although the circumstances of his transport to Bürglen and decoration are no longer exactly known. However it occurred, he was in place within the church by the late seventeenth century, and to this day still stands atop the high altar.

At some point soon after his arrival, a mysterious, amber-colored liquid began to puddle under his articulated remains. Because of the liquid’s golden hue, it was decided it must be a portent of some divine work which Maximus would soon undertake. Around this time, a large white cat was seen in the village. This cat ran into the church and disappeared behind the skeleton. When the cat could not be found, it was decided that it was not, in fact, a normal feral animal, but a feline familiar for Maximus himself, which had emanated from the skeleton to wander the village and ensure the well-being of the locals.

The cat itself stuck around, making periodic appearances, and was greatly esteemed by the locals, who would say prayers in its presence, and make offerings of food and other things which a cat might appreciate (probably, one suspects in hindsight, the reason the cat decided to stick around). Because of his dedication to ensuring, at least in cat-like form, the well-being of the locals, Maximus became the local patron saint. His powers were considered miraculous–and while his veneration largely subsided long ago, even into the modern day, instances of mysterious interventions are still attributed to the holy Maximus and his white cat familiar.

The book Heavenly Bodies by Paul Koudounaris, a history of skeletons taken from the Roman Catacombs, will be released Fall 2013 by Thames and Hudson.

book cover

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