The statue of St. Peter at Rome's St. Peter's Cathedral is one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in the history of the church. A public rite of kissing the feet of St. Peter's statue has been practiced since the Middle Ages.
Even today, the most sophisticated, secularized visitor to St. Peter's must make his or her own decision when confronted by those shiny toes. To kiss or not to kiss? Observers say very few make no gesture at all, though it isn't always a kiss; some strike another part of the apostle's anatomy.
Noticing St. Peter's toes is just one of the talents of modern semioticians -- those who have trained themselves to observe the signs of the times. (Semiotics is the science of signs.) Signs are rarely verbal -- rather they are both the cultural and individual body language that signal how we feel, who we think we are and what we really care about. Everything around us -- from the clothes we wear, to the cars we drive, to the churches we attend -- has a coded meaning.
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