I have been told that everyone likes a mystery. It somehow intrigues the human psyche to try to unravel those things that we do not understand, or that defy human explanation. Only a few weeks ago, I encountered just such a mystery. Oh, it wasn’t the kind of mystery that culminates in a best selling novel or an “Indiana Jones” type movie; it was just one of those mysteries that pique one’s mind...even if for just a few moments.
I happened to be inside the Church of St. Titus in downtown Iraklion, just a short way from Lion’s Square and not far from the Iraklion harbor. There, in a small chapel inside the Church, but to the left side of the main sanctuary, is a shrine of sorts – and in that shrine, encased in an ornate gold casque, replete with delicate carvings and ages-old, hand painted icons, is the purported skull of St. Titus. There is a hole in the top of the gold casque through which one can peer down upon the skull of St. Titus. Many people come into that little chapel every day, kissing the numerous icons that adorn the walls, incessantly crossing themselves, and kissing the glass globe that sits over the gold casque housing the skull of St. Titus. Some are the Greek Orthodox faithful, and others, like me, are there a little out of curiosity, a little out of morbidity, and with a little bit of tourist crammed in somewhere between the two. After taking a few photographs, I had sat down on one of the benches in the little chapel to insert my Nikon D-200 back into its carrying case before moving along. A middle-aged Greek man came and sat down on the bench beside me while I was fiddling with my camera. “You like our Church of St. Titus?”, he asked in a quiet voice, but with a heavy Greek accent. “Yes, I like it very much. It is a beautiful Church", I whispered. “It has the original skull of St. Titus...preserved for two thousand years”, he said, with obvious pride. I turned to face him. He was a neatly dressed man, smiling broadly, sitting there with his legs crossed. He kept nodding his head, as if expecting a response from me. “Yes, that is quite remarkable that the skull of St. Titus has been preserved and protected here for such a long time. But, how do you know that it is “THE” skull of St. Titus?”, I asked. He frowned and deep wrinkles suddenly appeared on his forehead. “Because”, he answered, a little more loudly, “it is well documented”. “But”, I replied, “it is my understanding there is a small Church up in the mountains which also claims to have the “original” skull of St. Titus. The only difference is that the skull of St. Titus in the mountains is somewhat smaller than the skull which you have here”. I was curious to see how he might reconcile the existence of two skulls, supposedly from the same man. He thought for a moment. I knew what he was thinking. Being the devout Greek Orthodox Christian that he was, he did not want to admit that either of the two Churches might be perpetrating a fraud. After a rather long silence, he spoke, choosing his words carefully, “Well, the smaller skull in the mountains must have been from St. Titus while he was still a boy”. He was straight faced, serious as a heart attack, and not smiling. With that, he got up from the bench, brushed off some imaginary dust from his pants and strode off. There was no way that I could challenge that type of logic. Now friends, I don’t know about you, but have you ever been in a situation when you wanted to burst out laughing, like in a funeral home or during a church service? I knew that if I so much as parted my lips, uncontrollable laughter would spew forth from my mouth like the lava and volcanic ash that erupted from Mt. Vesuvius when it covered Pompeii! I bit my lip so hard that I thought I would cry...I held my breath until my eyes nearly crossed. For a moment, I thought that I would wet my pants. I got up from the bench, and as casually as I possibly could, sauntered out of the chapel, through the giant double doors of the Church, down the steps, around the corner, and out of sight from all onlookers...and then let loose! I doubled over so hard that I thought I would vomit. My entire body heaved with laughter. Surely anyone passing by would have thought that I was either having convulsions, or that my body was shaking and writhing from some sort of demonic possession! After I had somewhat regained my composure, I immediately left the area outside the Church of St. Titus, and began working my way through the crowded streets of Iraklion, back toward the bus stop where I would catch the bus back to Amoudara. Each time that I would think back to what had transpired just a short while before, I would again began to laugh. Now, laughing is not a bad thing, but when you are by yourself and walking down a crowded sidewalk with throngs of people at every side, and you began to laugh out loud for no apparent reason, people will stop and stare. But now it just didn’t matter – at long last the age-old mystery of the two skulls had been solved!!!
Take care, stay well, and let me hear from you.
Your Friend and Fellow “Silent Warrior”,
Bob (Midget) Armistead