The reliquary has been opened. And then?Image Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

    ‘This is the supreme moment’, says Alphons Rikken of the Edmond Delhougne Foundation (for genealogy and regional history) on Saturday in the Caroluskapel in Roermond. The prayers have been said and Brother Leo is ready to open the reliquary box containing (what everyone hopes) the skull of Dionysius the Carthusian, who died in 1471.

    The seal, which looks like a red bow on a gift, is broken. Then you can hear hammer knocks in the 14th century late Gothic chapel with richly decorated stucco ceiling in Rococo style. Invited guests from Dutch and Belgian Limburg look on eagerly when Brother Leo lifts the roof of the box.

    ‘Look, there’s something in that’, someone says expectantly. From a distance it looks like the top of a bald head, gleaming in the light. ‘He shouldn’t smash the skull in’, another jokes about Brother Leo’s activities in his long monk’s habit.

    Then geneticist Maarten Larmuseau and physical anthropologist April Pijpelinckx take office. The Belgian scientists put on blue gloves, a face mask and a hair net. They carefully lift the skull from the box and place it on the table. They also take a bundle of papers from the reliquary.

    Order of the Carthusians

    Dionysius de Cartuizer was born around 1402 as Denis van Leeuwen in Rijkel, a village near Sint-Truiden in Belgium. After his studies in Cologne, he joined the Order of the Carthusians, a contemplative order of monks who wanted to withdraw from the world and live a sober and ascetic life as a hermit. He lived almost all his life in the Carthusian monastery Bethlehem in Roermond (of which the Carolus chapel was a part).

    During his lifetime, Dionysius published a large body of writings in the fields of theology, philosophy, canon law, mysticism and asceticism. In addition to being a ‘many writer’, he was also a counselor to prelates and princes, including Philip the Good. He became famous especially after his death. A Latin proverb from the 16th century read: “He who has read Dionysius has read everything.”

    After that he fell somewhat into oblivion. He has never been canonized or beatified, says spokesman Matheu Bemelmans of the Diocese of Roermond, but that is mainly because the Carthusian order is ‘very reluctant’ to venerate saints. ‘By our Lord, Dionysius is certainly holy,’ he jokes.

    The renewed interest in the forgotten theologian was aroused last year when geneticist Larmuseau received an email from a Van Leeuwen family who come from the same region as Dionysius. ‘They wanted to know: are we related to Denis van Leeuwen or Dionysius the Carthusian?’, says Larmuseau, who as a DNA researcher was once involved in the murder case of Marianne Vaatstra and the paternity issue of former King Albert I in Belgium.

    In collaboration with the foundation for family tree research Edmond Delhougne, he approached the diocese of Roermond with the question whether the reliquary box could be opened for DNA and other scientific research on the remains. A nice side effect of the research project is also to raise awareness of Dionysius, whom Larmuseau describes as ‘an influencer from the 15th century’.

    Dog bone

    The big question that preoccupies everyone in the Carolus Chapel on Saturday just before the opening of the simple box: does it contain a skull? The content could, blasphemously speaking, also consist of a dog bone. It is also unclear what happened in 1986, when, under the auspices of then-bishop Jo Gijsen, the remains were put in a new box and moved from St. Christopher’s Cathedral to the Carolus Chapel.

    Since then they have been kept between the relics of the so-called ‘Martyrs of Roermond’: twelve monks from the Carthusian monastery who, together with the bishop’s secretary, were murdered by the troops in July 1572 (so more than a century after the death of Dionysius). of William of Orange. The diocese has checked the archives, says plebaan dean De Graaf Woutering. “But we couldn’t find anything about that transport in 1986.”

    Reliquary Dionysius is unsealed.  Before opening a prayer and a blessing.  Image Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

    Reliquary Dionysius is unsealed. Before opening a prayer and a blessing.Image Marcel van den Bergh / de Volkskrant

    ‘Aren’t you nervous?’, he is asked in advance. “No,” replies the cleric. “What’s in the box is now going to be answered. But whatever it is, it does not detract from the greatness of Dionysius the Carthusian.’

    It is the skull of an older man, the scientists see after a quick inspection of the skull. ‘I’m glad it’s true’, says Alphons Rikken of the genealogical foundation with relief. The loose upper jaw has a tooth ‘with caries or a hole’. Geneticist Larmuseau especially hopes to be able to extract DNA traces from that tooth for genealogical research.

    But then comes the church historian Theo Thissen, who researched the library of the Carthusians and the writings of Dionysius. He is particularly interested in the seven papers that emerged from the box. Six of them date from the eighteenth century, he sees. But there is also a copy of a letter in Latin, dated April 1608. It’s hard to read, he says. “But on a first quick glance I take it that it says here: You think this is the skull of Dionysius the Carthusian, but it isn’t.”

    What follows is complete confusion in the Carolus chapel. It’s not a joke, Thissen assures later. But he hastens to say that he first wants to investigate and decipher the letter in order to reach a final verdict.