After 1800 years, Two Christian Martyrs’ remains from ancient Rome come to Louisville

St. Magnus and St. Bonosa lay in separate side altars at a Catholic Church in Louisville

St. Magnus and Bonosa. Image source: Wikimedia Commons .
  • Two Saints’ remains are placed at side altars of a Catholic Church
  • The Catholic Church was once the scene of a vicious mob attack
  • Restoration of the Church was done in 2012

In a city where its residence are more concerned with basketball, and horse racing you can find the holy skeletons of two saints. In one church you can find the ancient remains of St. Magnus and St. Bonosa.

St. Martin of Tours is a Catholic parish; one of the oldest parishes that belongs to the oldest inland archdiocese in the United States. Dating back to 1853, the church sprang up in the town of Phoenix Hall. Phoenix Hall was predominantly an immigrant neighborhood, and now it is mostly African American, said the atlasobscura report.

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In its beginnings that church served as a place of worship for mainly German immigrants. The cathedral was usually over packed, so they began attending mass at St. Martin of Tours. Unfortunately, the Catholics were not left alone to worship in peace.

In 1855, on Election Day, armed mobs attacked the church. The attackers were anti-immigrant, “Know-Nothings.” These folks were recognized as a political group who believed in conspiracy theories that Catholics were going to take over the United States. The “Know-Nothings” believed that there were weapons being stored inside of the church, so they decided to burn it down. Roughly 20 lives were lost during the riots. Outside of the church it is believed that whole Catholic families were burnt to death inside of their homes.

St. Martin of Tours Church. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
St. Martin of Tours Church. Wikimedia Commons.

 According to the atlasobscura report, the riot became known as “Bloody Monday.” It caused thousands of Catholics to pack up and leave the city; potentially the reason Louisville’s efforts to become a well known city were thwarted.

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On New Year’s Eve in 1901 two packages showed up at Louisville’s U.S. Customs Office. Although fifty years later the two packages had people wondering about the persecution of Catholics. Sent from Italy, inside the boxes were the remains of Saint Magnus and Bonosa. These two Roman martyrs were killed when Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire.

Bonosa was a Roman virgin who was executed for her Catholic beliefs. It is uncertain whether she was executed during the 3rd century C.E. under Septimius Severus, or in the 4th century under Diocletian. Magnus, on the other hand, was a Roman centurion. Apparently, Magnus was so moved by Bonosa’s faith that he converted to Christianity, leading him to his own death. In another rendition of the story, Magnus jumped into the ring to save Bonosa and was killed on the spot. Even the Catholic Church struggles to identify Bonosa and Magnus, and the different stories do not help the matter, said the atlasobscura report.

How they ended up in Louisville is a more concrete story. In the 1800s Italy was going through turbulent times. Much of Italy was run by the papacy, and this caused an anti-clerical movement to spread across the country. This caused many monasteries to shut down, and people began fearing the remains of saints and other holy people as superstitious. The result was many of the remains being shipped to America.

In 1901, the bones were placed in side altars. Locals stitched regal garments for the remains, and crowns were placed on the skulls to represent the salvation of the two martyrs. The church underwent restoration in 2012, and so the remains were also spruced up. The old garments were now considered holy objects. As a form of respect, the rotting articles were burnt. A mass was said in Latin, and the bones were placed in new side altars on September 9, 2012.

-prepared by Abigail Andrea, an intern at NewsGram. Twitter @abby_kono