How a Friar’s Breeches became Sacred Relics

After nearly two years on my shelves – which is, sadly, not altogether outside the typical – I finally began Christopher Celenza’s The Intellectual World of the Italian Renaissance: Language, Philosophy, and the Search for Meaning and there discovered, amongst other things, Poggio Bracciolini’s Facetiae.  While I wait for my Belles Lettres Latin/French edition to arrive I’ve been reading a 1928 English edition translated by Edward Storer.  I have the sense he skipped a few of the more obscene tales but I’ll find out shortly.

How a Friar’s Breeches became Sacred Relics

A pleasant story which ought to have its place among these little tales happened some time ago in Amalia.

A married woman, moved it would seem by piety, went to confess her sins to a friar of the minor orders. The friar, listening to the woman’s confession, was moved with desire, and plied her so with words and youthful supplications that finally he won her to his passion, and it only remained between them to arrange the manner of their meeting.

They made their plan out of the light-heartedness of their youth, that the woman should feign a great sickness, and should call her confessor to her bedside. It is the custom to leave confessor and penitent alone together for the greater liberty of the soul.

So the woman feigned her malady, and put herself to bed, complaining of a mortal pain, and asked for her confessor, who entered her chamber alone, everyone else having carefully retired.

And the two of them played Cupid’s game not once but several times. The confessor’s visit was so protracted that some one came into the room to see if all was well, whereat the friar took his leave of the woman, saying that he would return the next day to hear the remainder of the confession, for it was very long.

He returned next day, and was left alone with the woman. Removing his breeches, he laid them over a chair, and continued to hear the confession in the same manner as on the previous day.

The husband, who was not at all suspicious, nevertheless marvelled at the length of the sacrament, and suddenly entered the room. The friar slipped away, leaving his breeches behind him in his haste.

The husband protested loudly, saying that the man was not a friar but an adulterer, and he went to the prior of the monastery and made a great disturbance, violently threatening the guilty man with death.

The prior, who was an old man, sought to calm the man’s ire, saying that his loud-mouthed anger and violent reproaches turned little to the honour of his family, and that it was best to keep quiet about everything, and hide it.

The husband argued that the thing was manifest enough on account of the breeches, and could not be hidden, but the old prior found a way out of this, too, saying that the breeches could pass for those of St. Francis, which the friar had taken as a holy relic to cure the wife. He would come and fetch them back with great solemnity and pomp.

So the prior convoked the monks, and, dressed in their sacred vestments, and with a large Cross at the head of the procession, they repaired to the man’s house, and took the breeches away devoutly as if they were a holy relic, and they placed them on a silken cushion, and made the husband and the wife kiss them, as they did all they met on the way.

With chants and prayers and ceremonies, they bore the breeches back to the monastery, and placed them with the other relics.

But later, the facts were discovered, and a commission of inquiry was sent from Rome to look into the sacrilege.