Thursday, March 26, 2009
Laura Miller has a joint review of two new books: Matt Baglio's The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist and Peter Manseau's Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead. Both look like they are interesting, if at all, in that car-wreck-rubbernecking way. Baglio tells the story of a modern exorcist-in-training and Manseau recounts tales of religious relics. If the following is a fair representation of Manseau's book, he certainly has the lead in the Ripley's Believe It or Not sweepstakes:
Both "The Rite" and "Rag and Bone" were no doubt primarily conceived as vessels for curious facts and bizarre stories. In them, you can find tales of possessed women vomiting up nails, live toads and "huge quantities of human sperm." You may feel like vomiting yourself when you learn that the devout have been known, when bowing to kiss the feet or hands of a saint's corpse, to discreetly bite off small pieces of the body (usually a finger or toe) and carry it away in their mouths to be enshrined in another church. This happened to Mary Magdalene and St. Francis Xavier -- whose unfortunate remains had already suffered a long sea journey, a couple of shallow burials and being "pounded" with "long pestles" by the natives of Malacca. Then there's Jesus' foreskin, of which there have been as many as a dozen purported relics circulating at any one time; an Austrian mystic dreamed of eating that like a communion wafer, though St. Catherine of Siena settled for wearing it as a wedding ring.