At the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, one of the most unusual items is a finger bone said to be that of St. John the Baptist.

Nicknamed the Holy Finger of Kansas City, the bone is contained in a vial surrounded by an intricate gilded silver container — a reliquary — circa 1400, according to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art collection notes.

The reliquary is an early Gothic architectural work, with bells, pillars and the small cast figures of six saints. The finger bone is inside a glass cylinder mounted in silver.

According to biblical history, St. John the Baptist was a Jewish prophet baptized by Jesus. He is believed by Christians to have been sent by God to announce the coming of the Messiah.

He is also known as the first cousin of Jesus of Nazareth and a pivotal figure in theological history who preached “Repent, for the kingdom is near,” according to Matthew 3:2.

John the Baptist devoted his life to God as a disciple baptized many, which highlights his significance. The finger in the glass cylinder is reportedly from his left hand.

The rest of St. John the Baptist’s body is reportedly located all over the world. His right hand, the hand he used to baptize Jesus, is allegedly in the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Cetinje monestary in Montenegro.

A tooth, knuckle bone and arm in Bulgaria are also said to have belonged to St. John the Baptist.

The reliquary holding the finger bone, which has not been verified, was purchased by the William Rockhill Nelson Trust. It was once part of the Guelph Treasure accumulated by the dukes of Brunswick beginning in the 11th century, according to the collection notes.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum is normally open six days a week and has free general admission policy, excluding ticketed exhibits.

  • Community reporter, spring 2020 Studying magazine writing Reach me at fmhg97@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5700

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