It used to be common for western churches to hold onto human remains: bits of teeth and bone and hair and skin purported to be saintly relics, sometimes holy treasures kept and revered -- and sometimes the objects of the fraudulent relic trade.
A new discovery in Mexico, however, is a first for human remains in a church: a statue of Christ has been discovered to have teeth -- not teeth carved from animal bone or horn -- but actual human teeth.
The 18th century Lord of Patience statue in the parish of San Bartolo Cuautlalpan -- known for its gruesome blood and open wounds -- was about to undergo restoration at the National School of Restoration, Conservation and Museology. In preparation for the restoration, the team X-rayed the statue, to find eight adult human teeth adorning its mouth.
"It is common that the sculptures have teeth, but they are usually made of wood or bone carved individually or as a plate, but in this case has eight teeth of an adult," said team leader and school director Fanny Unikel in a museum video. "The teeth were probably donated as a token of gratitude. It's the first time human teeth have been found in a sculpture."
It is unlikely, she added, that the teeth were a holy relic, which are usually treated quite differently: placed on display inside a reliquary so that all might know their significance. It's much more likely that they were a gift -- much like parishioners would donate hair to make wigs for statues, clothing or money to their church.
Unikel also noted that the teeth themselves were in perfect condition in spite of their age.