carne vera sacra
October 19, 2014 12:46 PM   Subscribe

Venerated Members - Europe's History of Penis Worship

Many relics circulated through Europe, especially as a result of the Crusades. The True Cross, the Spear of Longinus, the Shroud of Turin. But possibly strangest among these was The Holy Prepuce, or The Holy Foreskin, as Jesus was certainly circumcised. It then became the object of theological debate, reliquary cults and Italy's oddest town.

Of course, there are hints and shadows of prior penis worship in Europe, and around the world[PDF]. Perhaps the mural of Massa Marittima is not just 'obscene.'

For more, older, reading, try A Discourse on the Worship of Priapus Sacred Texts,, or The Worship of Generative Powers (Sacred Texts, Google Books), combined as Sexual Symbolism: A History of Phallic Worship. Or visit the museum.

previously on MetaFilter
posted by the man of twists and turns (15 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

Great post, odysseus. Much that is interesting, and much that is just hilarious.

From the first link:

This essay will appear in TNI’s next issue, Dicks, released next Wednesday. To get the whole magazine when it comes out, click on the image below and subscribe.

From the 8th link, Italy's oddest town:


posted by clockzero at 12:54 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Long time ago in the National Lampoon, there was a painting of The Ascent of the Blessed Foreskin. From this I would assume that any relics would be fake as the real one is now in heaven where it belongs.
posted by njohnson23 at 1:01 PM on October 19, 2014

posted by cthuljew at 1:10 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

For those interested in more of a naturalist approach - - don't miss The Icelandic Phallological Museum (NSFW) (and previously).
posted by fairmettle at 1:51 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

But possibly strangest among these was The Holy Prepuce, or The Holy Foreskin, as Jesus was certainly circumcised.

Christ, what a dick.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:01 PM on October 19, 2014

If authentic, this relic would make it possible to clone Jesus Christ.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:43 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

That article was great. I kept feeling like I was reading particularly playful fiction in the style that plays with reality - like Jose Saramago or Stanislaw Lem.
posted by latkes at 3:50 PM on October 19, 2014

Kismet; a stray comment on Reddit today led me to the Varna Necropolis, a collection of 6500 year old burials in what is now Bulgaria. Including one man buried with a gold penis sheath (98% SFW). It's a remarkable artifact, although one wonders how it was worn.
posted by Nelson at 4:16 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

To get the whole magazine when it comes out, click on the image below and subscribe.

they really missed out on automatic glory by not titling the article preview "Just The Tip" then
posted by poffin boffin at 4:17 PM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I watched some re-runs of Downton Abbey this afternoon. A pretty good illustration of the legacy of penis worship.
posted by bleep at 4:39 PM on October 19, 2014

According to an episode of QI, early stargazers who saw Saturn's rings theorized that the rings were Jesus' foreskin.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:23 PM on October 19, 2014

I think the most significant book ever published on penis worship in the West is Eva C. Keuls' The reign of the phallus: sexual politics in ancient Athens‎:
At once daring and authoritative, this book offers a profusely illustrated history of sexual politics in ancient Athens.

The phallus was pictured everywhere in ancient Athens: painted on vases, sculpted in marble, held aloft in gigantic form in public processions, and shown in stage comedies. This obsession with the phallus dominated almost every aspect of public life, influencing law, myth, and customs, affecting family life, the status of women, even foreign policy.
This is the first book to draw together all the elements that made up the "reign of the phallus"--men's blatant claim to general dominance, the myths of rape and conquest of women, and the reduction of sex to a game of dominance and submission, both of women by men and of men by men.

In her elegant and lucid text Eva Keuls not only examines the ideology and practices that underlay the reign of the phallus, but also uncovers an intense counter-movement—the earliest expressions of feminism and antimilitarism.

Complementing the text are 345 reproductions of Athenian vase paintings. Some have been reproduced in a larger format and gathered in an appendix for easy reference and closer study. These revealing illustrations are a vivid demonstration that classical Athens was more sexually polarized and repressive of women than any other culture in Western history.
In college and for a couple of decades after, I knew there was something very important I just was not getting about the ancient Greeks, but I couldn't see what it was until I read Keuls' astounding book.
posted by jamjam at 10:42 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

In Pompeii you can still see phallic shrines at the entrances to homes.

I'm pretty sure there's a continuity from that sort of thing to "the foreskin of the Christ child" and the like.

There's also the lingam within Hindusim. On the one hand, generally pre-Christian European religion shouldn't be over-compared with contemporary polytheistic practices, but I mean come on it's like pretty similar you have to admit.

One thing I find fascinating about both Roman phallic iconography and the concept of the lingam is just how pedestrian it all is. It's like, yeah, so this is yeah and you yeah and y'know that's just life I guess. It's not like a big sex cult thing or whatever you're probably imagining.
posted by Sara C. at 11:00 PM on October 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Likewise Bhutan and Shinto traditions in Japan.

posted by the man of twists and turns

Eponi...? nevermind.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:34 AM on October 20, 2014

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