"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Friday, November 13, 2015

Those Tricky Corpses

A graduate student of mine working on the great St. Irenaeus of Lyons has been researching the persecution of Christians in southern Gaul in the late second century when Irenaeus was briefly--Providentially?--out of town and thus escaped being killed. He returned to find much of the Christian community devastated and the persecutors disposing of the bodies in such a way that the relics could never be found and used to pray over.

Closer to our own day, Scott Kenworthy's magnificent study The Heart of Russia: Trinity-Sergius, Monasticism, and Society after 1825 revealed, inter alia, that the Bolshevik destruction of the Trinity-Sergius Lavra also entailed the destruction of relics and saints' bodies there in the hateful but mistaken belief that in destroying the relics of their faith, the supposedly superstitious and stupid peasants would in fact have that faith itself destroyed.

Christianity's despisers thus often know of the power of the dead even if Christians themselves have forgotten or refuse to acknowledge that power. A new book brings this phenomenon squarely into focus: Robert Bartlett, Why Can the Dead Do Such Great Things?: Saints and Worshippers from the Martyrs to the Reformation (Princeton UP, 2015),

The publisher gives a detailed table of contents here, where you will note ample attention paid to the Christian East.

About this book the publisher tells us:
From its earliest centuries, one of the most notable features of Christianity has been the veneration of the saints—the holy dead. This ambitious history tells the fascinating story of the cult of the saints from its origins in the second-century days of the Christian martyrs to the Protestant Reformation. Robert Bartlett examines all of the most important aspects of the saints—including miracles, relics, pilgrimages, shrines, and the saints’ role in the calendar, literature, and art.
The book explores the central role played by the bodies and body parts of saints, and the special treatment these relics received. From the routes, dangers, and rewards of pilgrimage, to the saints’ impact on everyday life, Bartlett’s account is an unmatched examination of an important and intriguing part of the religious life of the past—as well as the present.

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