A lock of hair from Elvis’ head, a scrap of material from something worn by a Beatle – we know how these things are sought, treasured, and fought over by modern day groupies. We should not be surprised to learn that it was always thus, although, if anything, this practice was far less civilized in the past. Take the case of Saint Oswald, English King of Northumbria, son of the pagan King Aethelfrith, the Ravager of Bernicia.
Though both pagan and Ravager Jr., Oswald was a benefactor of the poor. Legend has it (as legend will) that Oswald was sitting at meal one day when a throng of beggars came to his gate for relief. This generous man sent them the meat from his own table, and there not being enough to feed them all, had one of his silver dishes cut into pieces to distribute among the rest. Aidanus, a Scottish bishop visiting Oswald, upon witnessing this gesture, took Oswald by the hand and said: “Nunquam inveterascat haec manus!” (“May this hand live forever”).
Nice thought, but this being the Dark Ages, forever lasted only until August 5, 642, when Oswald was killed in battle by a neighboring king. Oswald’s comrades, remembering Aidanus’ blessing, sorted through his body parts and took care to preserve his arm. The arm was saved and treasured and eventually sold to a wealthy collector of saints’ arms. Rumor has it that it eventually found its way to a secret private collection where it stands alongside a lock of Elvis’ hair and a scrap of skivvies once worn by a Beatle.