Pilgrims to holy shrines have always been ripped off – that’s a given. I mean, who will not pay through the nose for the sake of their immortal souls?
During the Middle-Ages there was a brisk trade in simony – the sale of plenary indulgences for sins ranging from coveting thy neighbour’s ass to rape and murder. Penitent kings and dukes, always partial to a spot of rape and pillage, lavished large sums in building chapels and chantrys and endowed monasteries with gold to pray for their souls in perpetuity.
From the simple Pardoners selling their wares by the roadside up to the Princes of the Church, the web of corruption spread out from Rome and Avignon to every corner of the Christian world. Papal fortunes were enormous and organised religion was one gigantic scam. The victims were the poor people (as usual) who credulously forked out their hard-earned coins to ensure for themselves a place in Heaven.
I imagine myself joining the expedition to Fatima.
I can visualize the hot drive down the motorway in the hired coach, the confusion in the hot car-park with everyone unloading themselves and searching for their sticks, (with me being levered into my wheel-chair), the cumbersome move towards the tourist shop selling religious bric-a-brac – a supermarket with long aisles full of shelves groaning with blessed rosaries, statuettes of Our Lady of Fatima, framed prints of Christ on the Cross and so on.
I wheel myself down to the section which sells wax body-parts – organs, limbs and even babies to offer up to the hot flames of mercy. What I’m looking for is a whole leg … um, a bit pricey but what the heck it’s worth it!
With three legs now, one good, one poorly and one made of disturbingly realistic wax, I wheel myself eagerly in the direction of the fiery banks of flaming candles and grilling members and organs and sit in my wheelchair watching with fascination as my wax leg slowly melts and am struck by the beauty of this particular scheme. Whichever way you look at it, it’s a nice little earner. The wax models, bombarded by intense prayer and supplication, melt slowly, drip by drip and the melted wax is collected in a huge metal tray and then is recycled. So my leg might be morphed into say, a heart with enough wax left over for a hand or a spleen or something.
And everyone is happy. The pilgrims are happy, the shop-keepers are happy, the wax-modellers are happy and the Church is laughing all the way to the bank. Now I can just sit back and wait for my leg to get better.
But it doesn’t quite work like that unfortunately, does it? My leg won’t get better because I have not invested sufficient belief and fervour into the belief-system. Still it’s comforting to know that in a para-world (the wax-world, a sort of cosmic Madame Tussauds) everything slowly melts and then is refashioned, melts again and is reformed ad infinitum.