Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics

Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics

by Thomas J. Craughwell


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A “fascinating” (HuffPost) tour of the sometimes surprising ancient relics left behind in the modern world, from the Crown of Thrones at Notre Dame to the skeleton of a Roman martyr enshrined in a cathedral in Los Angeles.

A finger, a lock of hair, a crucifix, a chalice—if such items belonged to a saint, they are considered to be relics and as such are venerated by the Catholic Church. Anyone who thinks that relics are remnants of the Middle Ages should log on to eBay. On any day of the week the online shopper will find a thriving business in the sale of these items, ranging from the dust from the tomb of Christ to splinters of the True Cross to bone fragments of countless holy men and women. In Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics, author Thomas J. Craughwell takes us on an exhilarating journey through the life and death of more than three hundred saints and along the way enlightens us about the sometimes strange bits and pieces that the saints left behind.

Including entries on the famous (Saint Peter, Saint Francis, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux) and the not so famous (Saint Foy, Saint Sicaire, Saint Chrysogonus), Saints Preserved also features information on such notable relics as the Holy House where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived; the Holy Grail; and the seven places that claim to possess the head of Saint John the Baptist—among them a mosque in Damascus. Moreover, this book includes major relics that are enshrined in the United States.

From the extraordinary Aachen relics to the remains of Saint Zita, Saints Preserved is an indispensable compendium for spiritual seekers, history buffs, and anyone interested in deepening their understanding of the Catholic faith.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307590732
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/12/2011
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,165,406
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Thomas J. Craughwell was the author of Saints Behaving BadlyUrban LegendsAlligators in the Sewer and 222 Other Urban LegendsSaints for Every Occasion: 101 of Heaven's Most Powerful Patrons, and Do Blue Bedsheets Bring Babies? He wrote about saints for The Wall Street JournalSt. Anthony Messenger, and Catholic Digest, and discussed saints on CNN and EWTN. His book Stealing Lincoln's Body was made into a two-hour documentary on the History Channel. He passed away in 2018.

Read an Excerpt

Anyone who thinks that the cult of relics of the saints is itself a relic of the Middle Ages should log on to eBay. On any day of the week the online shopper will find a thriving business in the sale of relics, ranging from dust from the tomb of Christ to splinters of the True Cross to bone fragments of countless saints.
Among the faithful, relics have an enormous appeal. In 1999–2000, when relics of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897), popularly known as the Little Flower, traveled across the United States, millions turned out to touch or kiss the reliquary. The scene was repeated in 2003, when a tiny fragment of the cloak that bears the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was carried from parish to parish throughout the country.
Believers will go out of their way to see famous relics. An online search of Catholic travel companies turns up dozens of itineraries designed specifically to visit churches that exhibit renowned relics, such as the incorrupt body of Saint Bernadette in her convent’s chapel in Nevers, France, and the basilica in Padua, Italy, where Saint Anthony lies buried.
Though many of the most famous relics like Padre Pio’s gloves and Saint Francis of Assisi’s tunic are associated with saints, relics are not limited to the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Buddhists venerate the teeth of the Buddha; Islam venerates the sword, the robe, and even strands from the beard of Mohammed. In ancient times, when a farmer or an excavation crew unearthed dinosaur bones, the Greeks and Romans took them for the remains of the Titans, or a legendary hero such as Theseus.
Even secular society prizes relics: at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I saw crowds press around a display case that contained the gloves Mary Todd Lincoln wore to Ford’s Theatre, stained with the blood of her assassinated husband. No doubt morbid curiosity plays a part, but I believe the desire to see Mary Lincoln’s bloodstained gloves represents something deeper—the longing to have a physical connection with one of the greatest men, and one of the most tragic moments, in American history. It is that same longing to connect on a physical and not just a spiritual level that draws the faithful to the tombs of the saints, the houses where they lived, the altars before which they prayed, even the prisons where they were tortured.
In the Catholic Church relics fall into one of three categories: a first class relic is the physical remains of a saint, such as bones, hair, and blood; a second class relic is a personal possession of a saint, such as clothing, devotional objects, handwritten letters, even furniture; and a third class relic is an object, such as cloth or a holy card, that is touched to a first class relic.
Reverence for the remains and belongings of saints is rooted in Sacred Scripture. In 2 Kings 13:20–21 we read of a dead man being restored to life after his corpse touched the bones of the prophet Elisha. In Mark’s Gospel we find the story of a woman who suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years and was cured when she touched the hem of Christ’s garment (Mark 5:25–34). And the Acts of the Apostles recounts how Christians touched handkerchiefs and other cloths to the body of Saint Paul; when these cloths were given to the sick or the possessed, “diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11–12).
Even in times of persecution the early Christians made an earnest effort to recover the remains of the martyrs so they could be given a proper burial and their martyrdom commemorated annually with Mass celebrated at their tombs. A letter from about the year 156 AD describes the martyrdom of the elderly bishop of Smyrna, Saint Polycarp. His body had been burned, but the Christians of Smyrna searched among the ashes for any trace of the saint that had not been consumed by the flames. “We took up his bones,” the anonymous author of the letter wrote, “which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place, where the Lord will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom.”
After Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, great basilicas were built over the tombs of Saints Peter, Paul, and Lawrence, to name only a few. In 386 Saint Ambrose discovered the relics of the protomartyrs of Milan, Saints Gervase and Protase, and had them enshrined in his church where the faithful could venerate the relics and ask for the martyrs’ intercession. In City of God, Book 22, Saint Augustine bears witness to the many miracles that were wrought by the newly discovered relics of Saint Stephen. According to Augustine, in Tibilis, during a procession with a relic of the protomartyr, “a blind woman entreated that she might be led to the bishop who was carrying the relics. He gave her the flowers he was carrying. She took them, applied them to her eyes, and immediately saw.”
There was always the danger, of course, that some Christians in their enthusiasm might treat the saints as if they were little gods and the relics as if they were magical. Saint Jerome, in his letter to Riparius, writes of the proper veneration of saints and relics: “We do not worship, we do not adore [saints], for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the Creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.”
During the Middle Ages a pilgrimage to a shrine was a popular expression of religious devotion as well as a kind of vacation or road trip. Journeys to the Holy Land, Rome, or Compostela in Spain could be dangerous (Saint Bridget of Sweden was shipwrecked on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem), but there were many shrines closer to home where one could venerate relics. Cathedrals, monasteries, and convents began to build up impressive relic collections, the better to attract throngs of pilgrims. Pilgrims were an important asset to local economies: they needed food and lodging; they would make gifts to the church; they would purchase a badge, a holy card, or some other souvenir to recall their journey. In time, aristocrats began to amass private relic collections to which they gave the public access on certain days of the year. In Wittenberg, Frederick the Wise kept his collection of thousands of relics in the Wittenberg Castle Church. It was on the door of that church in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five Theses, an early step in the religious revolution known as the Protestant Reformation.
The Protestant reformers attacked the veneration of relics, but the Catholic bishops at the Council of Trent responded by explaining and defending the practice, saying, “The holy bodies of holy martyrs and of others now living with Christ—which bodies were the living members of Christ and ‘the temple of the Holy Ghost’ [1 Corinthians 6:19] and which are by Him to be raised to eternal life and to be glorified are to be venerated by the faithful, for through these [bodies] many benefits are bestowed by God on men.” Nonetheless, during the Reformation period vandals smashed countless shrines, burning or otherwise destroying the relics they contained. In Lutheran Scandinavia such violence was rare; typically the relics of a saint were removed from a shrine and buried in an unmarked grave in the same church. As a result, the relics of Saint Bridget and her daughter, Saint Catherine of Sweden, as well as the relics of the martyred king Saint Eric, have survived. In England, Scotland, and Wales the reformers destroyed almost every shrine, but in recent years some Anglican bishops have attempted to restore the shrines in their cathedrals. In Winchester Cathedral, for example, a small contemporary shrine marks the spot where the shrine of Saint Swithun stood during the Middle Ages. The shrine is empty; all of the saints’ bones were destroyed during the Reformation. But at St. Alban’s Abbey a bone of the martyr lies within the new shrine, the gift of the Catholic archbishop of Cologne who had a relic of Saint Alban in one of the churches of his archdiocese.
As a rough estimate, the Catholic Church venerates about forty thousand saints. Most of these are local holy men, women, and children, virtually unknown outside the region where they lived and died. To try to catalog the location of the relics of all of these saints would require the labor of several lifetimes. And to track down the tiny fragments of saints’ bones, the snippets from saints’ clothing, would be impossible. So I have been obliged to narrow my focus. This volume contains approximately 350 entries of the Catholic world’s most important, interesting, unusual, or rare relics. Most but not all of the entries describe the relics of saints. I have included Old Testament relics such as Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant (said to be hidden in a church in Ethiopia); Holy Land relics such as the house where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph lived and the stairs from Pontius Pilate’s palace; relics of Jesus Christ, including the Manger, the True Cross, the Shroud of Turin, the Crown of Thorns, Veronica’s Veil, the Pillar of the Scourging, and the Holy Sepulcher; relics of the Virgin Mary such as her veil (at Chartres Cathedral), her portrait (Poland’s Black Madonna and Mexico’s Our Lady of Guadalupe), and her belt (at Prato Cathedral). For easy reference, the book is arranged in an A–Z format. Each entry includes the location of the relic, its history, a brief biography in the case of a saint, and the feast day.
The relics of all saints and blesseds of the United States (current at the time of this book’s publication date) are included, as well as the relics of many saints and blesseds of Canada and Latin America. I have also included entries for the two largest relic collections in America, Maria Stein in Ohio and St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh.
Every year Maria Stein and St. Anthony’s Chapel welcome many visitors, who tend to be an amalgam of the devout and the curious. Probably very few have the level of enthusiasm for relics their ancestors knew during the Middle Ages, when monasteries, convents, cathedrals, and even nobles and kings succumbed to a kind of relic-collecting mania. The craving to possess an important, even an exceptional relic, led to all types of abuses, from theft, to relic peddling, to the manufacture of bogus relics—hence the multiple heads of Saint John the Baptist. Sadly, some churches claimed to possess relics that were spurious at best and at worst sacrilegious—a feather of the Holy Spirit, for example, or the shield of Saint Michael the Archangel. Such “relics” I have not included. In most cases the churches that possessed these items disposed of them or retired them long ago.
Nonetheless, some of the relics included in this book may raise eyebrows. It is true that not all relics that are still publicly venerated can be authenticated with 100 percent certainty. But if these relics are well known and the church that possesses them has not put them away, I felt that they ought to be included here.
Every Catholic church and chapel contains at least one relic—it is a requirement of the Church under canon law that every altar consecrated for the celebration of Mass must contain the relic of at least one saint, preferably a martyr. This requirement links even the most contemporary church with the earliest practice of the Church, when priests offered Mass using the sarcophagus of a martyr as the altar. In addition to the fragmentary relic in the altar, most churches possess other relics, which are sometimes brought out for veneration on a saint’s feast day. On a recent Good Friday it was my privilege to venerate a relic of the True Cross—one of the treasures of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut.
In some cases years after a saint’s death, his or her grave was opened and the body found to be in a remarkable state of preservation. Generally speaking, the term applied in such a case is “incorruptible.” However, incorruptibility is often in the eye of the beholder. Gazing upon the bodies of some of these saints, the terms “mummified,” “embalmed,” or “desiccated” may also come to mind. The body of Saint Bernadette is usually described as incorrupt, and her face is exquisitely beautiful. But the case becomes more complicated when one learns that the saint’s actual face has darkened over time, and so it has been covered with a lovely, utterly lifelike wax mask. The translation of the body of Blessed Pope John XXIII from his sarcophagus in the grottoes beneath Saint Peter’s into a side chapel of the basilica set off a debate over whether his body was supernaturally incorrupt, or whether it had been embalmed at the time of his death. The question has never been resolved definitively. It is possible that Blessed Pope John’s body is so well preserved because it had been enclosed inside three coffins, and then sealed in a stone sarcophagus.
No one should feel uneasy visiting a shrine or venerating a relic. In many respects it is similar to visiting the grave of a beloved member of the family, or cherishing a family heirloom—but on a much higher level. The shrine or relic is a physical link with someone who was so faithful to God in this life that he or she is now glorified in the Kingdom of God forever. Bringing out Grandma’s china for Christmas dinner stirs the emotions and makes us feel connected once again to someone we loved but who has since died. Relics work in the same way but more intensely, because in the case of sacred relics the connection is not only to someone we love but to someone who was genuinely holy.

Customer Reviews

Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
TheShibby More than 1 year ago
"Saints Preserved" was an interesting book, for sure. While calling itself an "encyclopedia" stretches the limits of credulity at best, it is a fun collection of some well-known as well as obscure saints. More than anything, the location of the relics of these saints is what makes this book useful. One could not lean on this book for any kind of research whatsoever, regardless of its references given. The best that one can hope for in this book is a quick guideline to further one's own personal research. While alphabetising by saint name is convenient for remembering one's page, this book would have been more ideally organised by grouping the locations of the relics. If one is planning a trip to revere (or even just check out) holy relics, it would be much easier to flip to a section containing all of the relics within an area, rather than having to flip through each page, re-reading each Saint's remains location. Even if one kept the book alphabetised by Saint, having a key or the like in the back of the book would have been more than slightly helpful. Regardless of the overall mediocrity of this book, "Saints Preserved" was entertaining enough to keep my interest peaked throughout the reading of it. Not only that, but I also plan on checking out his other books (namely "Saints Behaving Badly") from the library...should I really like any of them, I wouldn't mind forking out the money to purchase them.
ChristysBookBlog More than 1 year ago
Saints Preserved by Thomas J. Craughwell is an encyclopedic look at the relics of famous saints from history. Craughwell treats his subjects with a light, yet reverent touch. From Saint Afra to Saint Zita, through Jesus and Mary, it covers some of the most famous pieces of Catholic history in a way that even Protestants can enjoy. I've often tried to read about other saints, but there are so many of them it's easy to become quickly overwhelmed. Craughwell keeps his explanations succinct, offering a brief bio of each saint as well as a list of what relics are known and where they are located, sometimes with a history of how it got there. While some subjects get a few pages of description, most are just a paragraph or two, making the book an easy read. As a Protestant, I've always been intrigued by the idea of relics, and Craughwell's book is a great starting point for those unfamiliar with the concept, like I was, as well as a a good reference guide for those more familiar with the concept.
hermit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Saints Preserved by Thomas J. Craughwell is a short book that has an alphabetical list of saints. In this work, self titled an encyclopedic work, the author gives a very short biography that contains no new information and the location(s) of the saint's relics and in some cases how they came too be there. The book is a light work and has no new insights, but then the title claims too be about the Holy Relics. In this work the main subject is only touched upon as an aside on the small biography of the saint. The books does not contain even and index which an book of this kind should have.Mr. Craughwell does not make light of his subject and this may be a good book for someone who is not looking for full biography of the saints or where they may find any saints relics. For a set of books that one can read on the biography of saints I would suggest ¿Butler's Lives of the Saints¿ which contains (as of a couple centuries ago) over eighteen times the number of biographies than this book and is more in depth; though relics are not discussed. It is a shame too have wasted this opportunity for a reference too Holy Relics. The author could have included the Holy Relics chain of documented custody and present location(s) that would make an excellent four too five volume book in small font. If the font used in Mr. Craughwell's book is used it would probably fill twelve volumes or more.Even the limited saints covered are not covered in their full entirety. I am right next too a Relic Chapel containing properly ecclesiastically documented first century Holy Relics through twentieth century Holy Relics of some of the most well known which are included in this book. He seemed too have missed these Holy Relics on saints he included in his book even though they are written about in various areas and the information is easily found in the public domain. I think this book, though missing location of some of the relics he actually covers and has a very limited number of saints covered, is a good rudimentary introduction as too saints and some Holy Relics locations; if known. Either the title needs some work or the author was rushed into publishing.
drewandlori on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a very entertaining book on the lives of the saints. Each entry begins with a history of that saint's relics (ie their earthly remains), and then moves into a brief description of the saint's life. Some of the relics, especially those of famous earlier saints from the Middle East or northern Africa, have moved many times over the centuries, and I didn't realize how many were destroyed during the Reformation.
idj on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I wasn't certain what to expect with this book, though I've read his other book, 'Saints Behaving Badly'. All I knew is that it was going to be a book of fact, and a book that stayed faithful to an honest appreciation of the wonders of history and the Catholic Church. I wasn't disappointed.Mr Craughwell is a very good writer - terse, to the point, but with enough facts and interesting, unusual bits to hold one's interest. It's obvious to the reader that his interest in the subject is quite strong. One thing to note is that he is writing a book about saints/blesseds/venerables and the relics associated with them. One comes away with a far greater understanding of various saints than one had prior to reading the book. I think this may well be his main aim.He starts by pointing out that he is going to be writing about relics in their complete sense. Most people think relics are bits of bone or pieces of an individual, but to the Church and the faithful a relic is anything that has anything to do with a saint, be it a cave where they lived, a monastery, a bit of cloth from their clothing, paintings and icons, personal items and many other things. These are all things that have been touched by God in a certain way to bless and encourage the faithful. By pointing this out, and using this as his foundation, the author is able to write about many more things than he would be able to otherwise.The book is broken up into small individual stories about individuals and the relics that are connected to them. The stories range from the early centuries up to the twentieth century. The author makes a point of stating where, in the process to canonization by the Catholic Church, the individuals belong, and what the Church has made them patron saint of, if anything and their feast day.One complaint I would have is that there is no index of saints. While I'm not unfamiliar with various saints, if I want to find one in his book quickly, I have to look alphabetically, as he has set it up. It would be easier to look and find the page number in an index, which then could also index patron saints, relics, etc.. Just a small quibble.I like this book a lot. He's an engaging author, writing about a somewhat unusual and, to some, mystifying topic. He writes in a tone always serious to the subject and in no way tries to dismiss the belief people have in relics. Well worth a read, Catholic, Christian or not, if for nothing else than the little glimpses of history and pious legend. A very good book.
baroquem on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was rather disappointed by this book, as I feel that its title misrepresents it. Rather than being an encyclopedia of relics, this is more an encyclopedia of saints ¿ and there are countless encyclopedias of saints already. A majority of saints' entries only include a single sentence or two about their relics, with the rest of the entry devoted to a brief biography. While these biographies are decent enough, they don't distinguish themselves.The book is at its best when covering relics of Christ rather than those of the saints themselves, as it's only then that a entry is given over entirely to the subject of relics Almost anything listed under "Holy ¿¿¿" is an interesting read, for example. But these relic-specific entries are few and far between.If this had been advertised as what it really is, a compendium of saints' biographies with some extra information concerning relics, it would have earned a higher rating.
lhlady on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a practicing Catholic and life-long learner, I have enjoyed the areas that I have read of this book. I will definitely use it in furthering my understanding of saints and their relics as well as in teaching areas for future Catholics in our parish RCIA. Thank you for writing a very readable book to enlighten those who wish to explore the fascinating world of saints of the Church. God bless and I look forward to reading more of your writing.
Madcow299 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting read that tells the legends and tales of the saints. It does not bring serious historical analysis but does pass on the stories from the church. I think there are better books about the saints that offer more substantial information and history on the actual saints and their actual lives. However, it does offer interesting tidbits and is a great bathroom reader for your average Catholic who is interested in the saints. I think it would be better if there were pictures of the relics. I would not buy this book for myself, but then I am not a Catholic and not interested in tall tales from the church.
ellynv on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent resource...I think it would be a great addition to any Catholic's home library and very good for school and religious ed. libraries. (I appreciate this very much as a homeschooler!) The only disappointment was a dearth of pictures. Even though it is easy enough to follow up on the information via internet, I think having a wide array a pictorial content would have made this book so much richer.
sullijo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Thomas J. Craughwell has written a very interesting book: "Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics." It consists of entries on various saints with a little history of their relics: the saints' possessions or body parts that have been preserved.In the early Church, the mortal remains of martyrs were taken for burial, and Masses were celebrated at their tombs on the anniversaries of their deaths. Over time great churches were built on these spots (St. Peter's Basilica in Rome is a good example) and soon even non-martyrs recognized for their virtue and holiness were honored in this way.Not all the relics mentioned in the book are body parts; they also includes various church's claims to possess the nails that held Christ to the cross (along with other objects connected to the Crucifixion); the Shroud of Turin; and the Black Madonna of Czestochowa (which, according to legend, was painted by St. Luke on the Holy Family's kitchen table).The stories behind the relics demonstrate the remarkable connection the faithful have with the saints. Many relics survived times of persecution only through the heroic efforts to smuggle them out of threatened churches to safety.One of the book's aims is to "de-mystify" relics. To non-Catholics relics can seem macabre, silly, or even superstitious. In his introduction Mr. Craughwell does a good job of laying out the Church's understanding of relics and the proper veneration due to them; this would be a useful section for those not familiar with relics to read.If I have one complaint it is that most of the entries have less to do about specific relics and consist mainly of biographical information about the saint in question. I would have appreciated more in-depth information about the relics themselves, especially if any miracles are connected to them. I also would have liked more pictures, although I understand the economics of publishing enough to know that too many pictures can be cost-prohibitive.One other caveat I'd like to add: in the introduction Mr. Craughwell mentions that there is a busy online market in relics. While this may be true, it is against Church law and a sin to sell sacred objects and relics -- so please don't try to buy them online!Despite these drawbacks "Saints Preserved" offers a unique insight into this rarely-discussed aspect of the Church's veneration of saints -- and an interesting read, too.
collsers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was really disappointed by this book. I was hoping for more information about relics in general--discussion about canon law, authenticity issues, sources, etc. I have a small collection of relics, and was hoping to learn more about them in general. The seven page introduction does not adequately cover these topics. There is no mention of the documentation that accompanies most authentic relics, the seals placed on reliquaries, or how relics were/are distributed. Within the "encyclopedia," each entry has a short paragraph describing where the bulk of a saint's relics are located, but then the majority of the entry is given over to a biography of the saint. If I wanted to read biographies of saints, I would have read an encyclopedia of saints' lives (there are several very good ones on the market). Overall, this book is just not what expected, or what I really was looking for.
ocho60 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Given that this topic would have fairly limited audience appeal, I feel this book tried to broaden its approachability by giving short historical overviews of various saints whose relics were on display; but, there are plenty of 'Saint' reference books to glean more information. Furthermore, it does not appear to provide the in depth relic-focused scholarship that could allow for it to be a 'go-to' reference book. It certainly provides basic discussion points for starting a conversation about relics; it just doesn't provide enough for an entire dialogue for those who are likely to pick up this book.
TylerHartford on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fascinating book. Makes me wonder what makes a saint today... So many touching stories of people suffering because of their faith - there is a human element to the way Craughwell depicts them. I would have liked some sort of index of locations/times/kinds of relics, categories of patronage, etc. I appreciate that he is clear when there multiple claims to a single relic or there is a question as to the authenticity of the relic. I also learned more about the English persecution of Catholics, and was touched by the modern Catholic church's attempt to restore some relics to the Orthodox church. I immediately marked several saints to share with friends who are in occupations that definitely need a patron saint. Easy reading, and looking for his other titles now.
mietzner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I must review this book in two separate ways, one addressing the book itself, and then also the practices described in the book. Saints Preserved is a delightful catalog of hundreds of relics. The relics are listed by the name of the saint, or by the object in alphabetical order. Each entry describes the relic(s), where they currently are enshrined, and then gives a brief biography of the saint, or history of the item. It would be nice to see a chronological listing of the relics, as the alphabetical layout means that you can have St. Francis of Assisi next to Blessed Francis Seelos, giving you 600 year difference, which can be a frustrating jump for the historian. If you know what you are looking for, or even if you don't, this is quite a helpful little book. I love trivia, and I love all the kitschy things about the Catholic faith, so this was really a great read for me.On the other hand, the actual veneration of relics by Christians is quite disturbing. Craughwell, in his introduction, compares it to "bringing out Grandma's china for Christmas dinner" in order to stir emotions and make "us feel connected to someone we loved but who has since died." I would agree with him, except for the fact that most of these relics are parts of people that have been separated from their bodies and put into a place where they do not belong. The book is full of disturbing instances of corpses being exhumed and graves being opened. When this happens to most people, we call it desecration. When terrorists want to show us how much they hate us, they show us an image of a headless body. These are not things to be venerating, they are things to bury.Christians bury their dead because we believe that Jesus will return and raise that very body from the ground. The resurrection of the dead is the event that all Christians are looking for. We put people into the ground so that their bodies will be kept safe until that final day. What exactly motivates Christians then to go and disturb these graves is beyond me. Certainly, it is occasionally necessary for a body to be moved from place to place. But this is not enough for Catholics, for many of the relics in this book are not complete bodies, but parts of the bodies! Not only is the exhuming encouraged, but also the dismemberment of corpses! St. Francis Xavier is a prime example of this. His body was taken from the grave and placed into a glass and silver casket. His right arm was taken to a different church and other bones of his are in Asia. One relic of Xavier belongs to the family of Dona Isabel Carom, who, in 1554, bit off his toe and kept it for private devotion! This is not the behavior of those who confess the resurrection of the dead!While this book was entertaining, it also serves as a catalog of Christians behaving like pagans, exhuming the dead and taking their bodies apart. That job is left for our Lord alone, who will Himself take our bodies out of the grave, and will put them back together in their glorified form.
AnnieHidalgo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting book. It is what it says, an encyclopedia - meaning that while it gives a good broad overview of many, maybe even most, of the Catholic church's relics, it doesn't actually have a lot of story about those relics. Saints' days are listed at the end of each entry, making me wish for an index at the back by date. It is slightly better about the saints' lives than about how their bones came to rest in each particular area. Someday I would love to read an analysis of the 'why' of relics. I understand that a relic is holy and consecrated - but didn't the relic-makers, hundreds or thousands of years ago, feel that it might be defiling a saint's body to bury her body in one church and put her head on display somewhere else?
adamtarn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although an encyclopedia is not a book you usually read from cover to cover, I have found myself reading a couple of entires each day for some while now. Some entires are more interesting than others. Some are more well known than others. As an outsider to the Catholic tradition I find the preservation of relics fascinating, if not sometimes downright odd (e.g., the tongue of Saint Anthony of Padua 1195-1231) The actual stories behind each relic, as well as the many legends that have grown around them, are where Craughwell's entries are most interesting. In the end, it is worth the time it takes to read an entry here and there.
antiquary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
About 90% of this reads like a coventional collection of lives of the saints such as Butler or the Penguin Dictictionary of Saints. Many of the saits described left no relics or had relics which have been lost or destroyed. The relics that are mentioned are often not described in detail. There is some discussion of physicl relics independent of saints --the cross of Christ, the veil of Veronica, the Titulus, the Holy House of Loretto. Considered a a collection of saints' lives, it is reasonably good, but considered as a discussion of relics it is inadequate.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A provacative and inspiring read. Always follow what Craughwell's writing next. Love it!