There was some ironic timing going on in October, regarding the simultaneous arrival of the relics of St. John Vianney and St. John Bosco at Vancouver-area Roman Catholic parishes and the return of the Body Worlds exhibit at Science World.
The Vianney and Bosco relics arrived at the parishes in early October. Body Worlds opened a few weeks prior to that (and continues into December). Both involved displays of human remains, and for a few days the relics of the two great saints were on display at the same time as the plasticized cadavers of Body Worlds.
It’s curious that in Vancouver – where people will debate the appropriateness of an Ultimate Fighting Championship match being held or the future of a tree stump – a show like this can cause no controversy.
But we knew people would line up to get into the Science World exhibit. That’s why the science centre brought the show back: it’s a cash cow. The presentation of the relics was an opportunity to be inspired by the lives of two great saints and to see a piece of history, but it also offered a lesson in the respect for God’s creation that the Catholic Church holds. It was an education on the dignity of the human body.
Science World insists Body Worlds is an educational experience too, which is what they said last time the show was here in 2006. Of course, many things in the world are educational experiences. One hardly needs to cite examples of horrors in life that end up teaching valuable lessons.
The last time Body Worlds came to town – again just in time for Halloween – Science World sent out the message that everything would be as dignified as possible. Presumably, anyone who has seen the show will attest that it’s as dignified as a paid exhibition of bodies – including a woman with her uterus sliced open to show a five-month-old fetus inside – can possibly be.
At Holy Rosary Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, St. Matthew’s, Our Lady of Fatima, St. Paul’s in Richmond, and Our Lady of Good Counsel, visitors went in veneration before the relics, which were properly encased in a reliquary. The heart of St. John Vianney was displayed, to encourage contemplation, prayer and devotion. In the case of St. John Bosco, a full-sized figure was presented, again displayed with genuine dignity.
Contrast that with the scene at Science World, which looks like a mad scientist’s lab experiments gone awry.
Even Science World seems to realize it’s lowering the bar even more this time, with the website’s statement: “Caution for sensitive viewers: eyes and genitals remain. A section of the exhibition highlights prenatal development, and includes embryos and fetuses.”
There’s also always been an issue about where Body Worlds creator, Dr. Gunther von Hagens, obtained his corpses for the show.
In short, this thing is wrong on so many levels. But, in a nutshell, it takes human dignity and turns it on its head – literally, in the case of some of the grotesque displays.
The statement released by the Archdiocese of Vancouver last time this ghoul show was in town can be found at bccatholic.ca, using the search term ‘Body Worlds.’
Paul Schratz is communications director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver.