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Severed head of 'saint of genital disease' for sale

A decapitated head, said to be that of St Vitalis of Assisi, the patron saint of genital diseases, will be sold at an auction in Co Meath next Sunday.

The macabre object, which is housed in a Queen Anne case, is being sold by an Anglo-Irish family based in Co Louth and has a guide price of between €800 and €1,200.

Saint Vitalis of Assisi (there are a number of saints with the name Vitalis) was an Italian hermit and monk who died in 1370.

He became a saint despite an early life marked by licentiousness and immorality.

However, in an attempt to atone he went on pilgrimages to various sanctuaries.

On his return to Umbria, he became a Benedictine monk at Subiaco and later lived as a hermit. He spent the rest of his life in the hermitage of Santa Maria di Viole, near Assisi, in utter poverty.

His reputation for holiness soon spread after his death. He was known as a patron against sicknesses and diseases affecting the genitals.

How what is believed to be the saint's decapitated head came to Ireland is unclear.

Auctioneer Damien Matthews, who will sell the saint's severed head at auction at Annesbrook House in Duleek, Co Meath, says the current owners believed it was brought here by an Anglo-Irish couple who had acquired it on the 'grand tour' of Europe which was a ritual for ascendancy types during the 19th century.

For many years the ornate case with the skull housed inside it behind glass, had pride of place in the entrance hall of the current owner's home but when children arrived was stored in an old outhouse for many years.

"That's where I came across it. It is strange and it is macabre but it is very interesting object," Mr Matthews told the Sunday Independent.

The auction is on in the house next Sunday, May 29, at 3pm -- but items will be on view on Friday and Saturday from 11am-6pm.

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"It's a fine country estate about seven miles from Slane, off the N2 motorway from Dublin (R152). There are over 400 lots with estimates ranging in value from €100 up to €30,000," he said.

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