There they were, five bones lying on red silk in a glass casket. They had been escorted with great devotion from the place of his birth to the place of his death. Experts were at hand to give advice along the way to make sure that the relics were not jolted or exposed to harsh sunlight or, worse still, stolen and replaced with fakes. There were lawyers to dispense the seal of legality and dignitaries to receive the bones at the end of their journey where they would be exposed to the adoration of the public for several days.

Hard battles had been fought between rival towns for the possession of these revered objects, each believing fiercely that it had a better claim to house these priceless relics. A truce had now been proclaimed, but there was always the danger that fighting might break out again at the slightest opportunity.

This was the sort of first-class treatment that was reserved for a top-class saint in Christian Europe of the Middle Ages. It is one that is sometimes difficult to comprehend these days in this increasingly secular continent. Or is it?

What is described above was not a common event of 1,000 years ago but the treatment given in July this year to the bones of the late 16th-century artist Michelangelo Merisi, known more commonly as Caravaggio.

It was not high-ranking churchmen but ministers of culture, specialists in restoration, millionaire lawyers and city mayors who accompanied his bones from one part of Italy to another. For warring mediaeval towns substitute Bergamo, the province of Merisi