However, it was clear that no construction work was going on in the church, called the basilica of Castelnuovo, located near Turin. And so, as pressure mounted over the puzzling sign, the church revealed a shocking truth: Someone had stolen preserved brain bits of a saint.
"The relic of St. Bosco has been stolen," Rev. Moreno Filipetto, a spokesman for the Salesian religious order, said in a statement. "To avoid hindering the ongoing police investigation, no other information will be provided."
The mysterious theft probably occurred just before the basilica's closing time on Friday (June 2), according to reports in Turin's newspaper, La Stampa. The thief, disguised as a pilgrim, likely just walked out of the church with a glass case containing pieces of the preserved brain of St. John Bosco, popularly known as Don Bosco, La Stampa reported.
Satanic rituals or ransom may lie behind the theft, according to reports in the Italian press.
"We do not really know why the relic was stolen," Filipetto told Live Science in Italian. "We have the utmost trust in the work of the police; they are working hard on the case."
Indeed, the case is still a mystery, said Fr Francesco Cereda, vicar of the Rector Major. (Cereda is the vicar, who takes the Rector Major's place whenever he is absent or impeded; he's second from the top of this Salesian hierarchy.)
"To date, there is nothing new in the investigations regarding those responsible for the theft of Don Bosco's relics," Cereda said.
Born in Castelnuovo, Italy, on Aug. 16, 1815, Don Bosco devoted his life to helping deprived children. In 1859, he founded the Society of St. Francis de Sales, better known as the Salesians or Salesians of Don Bosco, to help the poor and homeless children during the Industrial Revolution. The religious order has grown to become the second-largest order in the Catholic Church. According to Salesian Missions, the order is regarded as the single largest provider of vocational and technical training in the world, operating more than 3,200 schools and technical training centers, more than 70 colleges, more than 90 clinics and a hospital, and more than 330 orphanages and shelters.
Don Bosco died in 1888 and was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. He is one of the most venerated saints, and each year, more than 600,000 pilgrims visit the basilica of Castelnuovo, according to La Stampa.
Body parts belonging to holy figures are often displayed in Catholic churches as "tangible elements to favor the invocation of the saint," Cereda said. "Don Bosco is loved and invoked for the young people, especially the poor and marginalized," he added, referring to invocations, or prayers.
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