n the Middle Ages, Catholicism had the odd-sounding idea that every ailment of the mind or body could be cured by going off on a long journey to touch a part of the body of a long-dead saint. The church had to hand a dictionary of pilgrimage destinations, which in every case matched problems with solutions. For example, if you were having trouble breast feeding, France alone offered mothers a choice of 46 pilgrimages to sanctuaries of Mary’s Holy Breast Milk (“Had the Virgin been a cow,” observed the 16th-century Protestant John Calvin unkindly, “she scarcely could not have produced such a quantity”).
Believers with a painful molar were advised to travel to Rome to the Basilica of San Lorenzo, where they would touch the arm bones of Saint Apollonia, the patron saint of teeth, or to find pieces of her jaw in the Jesuit church at Antwerp or her toes at disparate sites around Cologne. Unhappily married women were directed to travel to Umbria to touch the shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia, patron saint of marital problems (and lost causes), while people who worried excessively about lightning could gain relief by travelling to the Jesuit Church in Bad Münstereifel in Germany and laying hands on the relics of Saint Donatus, believed to offer help against fires and explosions of all kinds.