[Relique/ Relic ID # 656-0317]
Relique/ Relic ID # 656-0317
Classification: First class relic
Source: Property of the Diocese of Montréal.
Description: Mummified scapula of Saint André (b. Alfred Bessette) (August 9, 1845 – January 6, 1937), Fr. Canadian
*Please see the Specimen Gallery for correlating images of the artifact.
Biological/Forensic Inquiry: Extreme porosity of the specimen, in particular as indicated in the dessicated remains of the extracellular tissue matrix (collagen scaffolding) and its compromised crystalline structure (mineral salts) presents a history of early childhood, possibly in utero, and lifelong gross malnutrition leading to significant bone deterioration. Documented accounts of the early and midlife of Alfred Bessette correlate this evidence. Resulting pathology: Established Secondary Osteoporosis, determined to be in an advanced stage at time of death.
Details: Na2B4O7 10H2O 10/03/13 | Sat. sol. 20% | D. O. C. 10/07/13 | WFH | protocell liquid suspension in polyhedron6: double-pointed hexagonal quartz
Comments: Saint Frère André was founder of the Saint Joseph’s Oratory, Montréal, QC (est. 1904-1967). Declared venerable 1978, beatified by Pope John Paul II, 1982. Pope Benedict XVI approved decree of sainthood February 2010; formal canonization October 2010. The oratory, the largest of its kind in Canada, was designated a National Historic Site of Canada, 2004. Basilica dedicated to Saint Joseph, to whom Brother André credited all of his reported miracles. On display in the basilica are thousands of crutches, canes and wheelchairs from pilgrims who came and were allegedly healed. Pope John Paul II deemed the miracles to be authentic as a precursor to St André of Montréal’s canonization.
Common history: Born in Mont-Saint-Grégoire, Quebec, 1845 to a working class family living in a one-room wooden cabin, and schooled at home. Public records state: “He was so frail when he was born that the curé baptized him “conditionally”, completing an emergency ritual performed at his birth.” Born ninth of thirteen children, orphaned by age 12 after his parents perished from a tree fall and tuberculosis. Bessette, who never grew to a height greater than 5ft, tried to make a living as a cobbler, baker and blacksmith and failed at all. After a brief stint as a farmhand for which he was physically ill-suited, he was presented by his parish pastor to the Montréal Congregation of Holy Cross for servant labour but was rejected because of his ongoing poor health. Following intervention by Archbishop Ignace Bourget, he was subsequently accepted. Initial duties, as porter at Notre Dame College included sacristan, laundry worker and messenger. Here his healing miracles, all in the name of St Joseph, began. Following complete patient recovery at a nearby college where Bessette volunteered as a nurse during an epidemic outbreak, the trickle of sick people to his door became a flood. His superiors were uneasy; diocesan authorities were suspicious; doctors called him a quack. Some of his superiors felt compelled to point out that his illiterate, servant status, his having “every apparent disadvantage” and “every apparent disqualification”, did not entitle him to offer spiritual guidance, reminding him to keep rank. In fact, he was so frequently scorned and scolded that he gained the nickname, “Lightning Rod” for his ability to attract wrath from his superiors. It is said that Brother André tolerated all criticism and abuse unflinchingly.
Tensions increased at the College with the number of sick continuing to come to see the doorman/janitor, and school officials denied Brother André his ministry as a result. The now “Miracle Man of Montréal” was only allowed to receive pilgrims in a nearby tramway station. Despite the support of many, there were others who opposed him, calling him a charlatan and danger to the school’s reputation, unable to even heal himself of his own wretched health. Others were concerned for the health of the children, from possibility of contagion in the school spread from diseases carried by the sick who visited Brother André. He is reported to have spontaneously healed smallpox and cured tuberculosis, heart disease and cancer. Brother André invested the little money he had to erect a tiny, roofless chapel with the help of his supporters in 1904. Health authorities launched an inquiry in 1906, yet Brother André received no disciplinary action. In 1910, his little chapel (now the grand St Joseph’s Oratory) received the blessing of the pope.
Brother André remained the college servant until well into his 60s, after which he presided over his own ministry full-time and saw to the expansion of the chapel until his death, including the construction of a gift shop offering religious objects. This was followed by construction of a residence, then the beginnings of a basilica and crypt. Construction continued for thirty years after his death, and the current oratory is presently slated for another expansion following an influx of approximately $25M in funding support from the Québec provincial government. Such support has come under recent major criticism by First Nation groups and Québeçois opposed to the proposed Charter of Québec Values for the apparent hypocrisy of the funding.
Conclusions: Throughout his life, Brother André suffered chronic and often acute illness. Severe malnutrition in his early life resulted in stunted growth. The recurrence of dispepsia, gastritis, nausea, vertigo, disorders of the liver and headaches suppport the conclusion of ongoing diet deficiency, along with his visibly apparent stomach distention. Undernutrition, particularly protein and calcium undernutrition, contribute to osteoporosis and to the occurrence of osteoporotic fracture. Brother André is said to have subsisted on a diet of wheat flour and water blended to a glue-like paste, when able to ingest any solids at all. He is recorded as being prone to frequent collapse, as well as having sustained multiple heart attacks. His appearance is on public record as being “a little skin and a bundle of bones”, his weight not exceeding 110lbs. Given Brother André’s ongoing illness and severe malnutrition, leading to a major deterioration of bone mass throughout his body, in combination with his tendency for physical collapse, it is indeed a miracle that he himself could walk and was able to endure osteoporotic pain.
One reliquary in the St Joseph’s Oratory church museum contains Saint André’s heart, which he requested as a protection for the basilica. The heart was stolen in 1973, but recovered in 1974 after a successful criminal investigation. Hence, this particular relic (ID # 656-0317) is stored in reserve at a confidential location under care of Christian historian Michel Dahan. Not available for public consumption.
Implications of the relic specimen: Known causation between malnourishment, including eating disorders, and the development of the pathological condition of secondary osteoporosis in men and women.