Monday, November 1, 2010

The church with a fossil in its walls

Via BLDGBLOG comes the story of a church in northern Italy, the Cathedral of St. Ambrose in Vigevano, whose marble balustrade holds the fossilized skull of a dinosaur.

The balustrade, image via Discovery news

The skull in the balustrade is visible because it was cut in two, leaving a cross-section of it “like a CT scan”.  To an amateur like myself, the skull is hard to make out, but the experts say that it “clearly shows the cranium, the nasal cavities, and numerous teeth”.

The skull in the balustrade, via Discovery News

As BLDGBLOG explains, the bright red marble comes from a quarry that’s known to have many fossils within it:

The rock itself—called Broccatello—comes from a fossil-rich quarry in southern Switzerland and dates back to the Jurassic. According to the book Fossil Crinoids, "The Broccatello (from brocade) was given its name by stone masons; this flaming, multicoloured 'marble' has been used in countless Italian and Swiss baroque and rococo churches"—implying, of course, that other fossil finds are waiting to be found in Alpine baroque churches. "In the quarries of Arzo, southern Switzerland," the book continues, "crinoids [the fossilized bodies of ancient marine organisms] account for up to half of the bulk of the Broccatello, which is usually a few metres thick."

Imagine a church or a temple whose walls were made from marble housing the remains of some ancient cataclysm.  Is the church related to them somehow, built to preserve their memory or to maintain a reminder of the price of wickedness?  Or is it a coincidence and there is no real connection, the church perhaps built some story around the fossils, but in fact they have no idea what they have?  Could something be preserved and waiting within the walls: the ones that were cut through and exposed are destroyed, but the intact ones within still capable of emerging?  Or has the stone not left the quarry yet, the masons have just uncovered the skeletons and panicked?

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