A View from the Sacristy: Thebes and Padua

April 5, 2017 Comments Off on A View from the Sacristy: Thebes and Padua

We have been looking at St. Luke, our patron, on Wednesdays this Lent. This week I want us to look outside the walls of the parish and travel to Italy and Greece to see what happened to Luke in his later years.

In the city of Thebes (the same city as the city of Oedipus) there is the Church of St. Luke. Tradition says that Luke died in Thebes, after having spent his life preaching the Gospel in Libya, Egypt and Greece, when he was 84 in the early years of the 2nd century. As we have seen in past posts, Christian traditions vary, so some believe that Luke was martyred by being crucified to an olive tree while others believe he died peacefully at home. (An olive tree still grows next to that very church.) Luke stayed in his tomb in Thebes, made in the traditional style of the first century in Greece, for many years where to this day a myrrh appears on the lid that is said to have healing powers especially for those with eye trouble.

In religion, a relic usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint or venerated person preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial. In 357AD the Emperor Conatantius had the relics moved to the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. There they rested in Constantinople until either (i) the reign of Julian the Apostate in the 4th century, when the relics were moved for fear of being desecrated in the pagan revival of Julian’s reign, or (ii) during the 8th century when a Greek monk Urio is said to have fled to Italy with the relics to prevent them from being destroyed during the iconoclastic controversy, or (iii) by the Latins on the IV Crusade who stole the relics from Constantinople and brought them back to Padua in 1204. Either way the relics were in Padua by the 12th century. In the 14th century, a marble tomb was built for Luke and it still stands in a side chapel in the church of Santa Juistina in Padua.

There they rested until 2001 when the Orthodox Metropolitan of Thebes asked the Roman Bishop of Padua to return Luke’s body to its original resting place. DNA test were done and the results made international news.



The tests reveal that the remains are of a man who is from Asia Minor, of Syrian decent, and who died between the first and third centuries. It is the body of a man between 75 and 80 years old, of stocky build, who suffered from osteoporosis and arthritis.

Now, there is always a twist because God has a sense of humor, so we have two skulls for Luke, one in Rome and one in Prague. The Prague skull fits onto the neck of the Padua body and a tooth found in the coffin fit into the jaw. Another interesting point is that the coffin in Padua fits into the tomb in Thebes perfectly. To our 21st century minds this all makes perfect sense, so the remains could really be those of the man we know as Luke since DNA and other scientific evidence say it could be so. The Bishop of Padua sent the Metropolitan of Thebes one of St Luke’s ribs (the one nearest his heart) to place back in Luke’s tomb in Thebes.


Hanging over the tomb in St. Luke’s Chapel in Padua, one finds the image of Our Lady Hodighitria (which we met last week), supported by two monumental angels. In keeping with tradition, this image is reported to have been painted St Luke and was brought to Padua at the same time as Luke’s remains.

Next week some not so well know traditions about our Luke.


– Sean Scheller

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