Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Book Bits for the Traveler - Rag and Bone

I have harbored and interest, maybe an obsession, with religious relics dating from my days studying art history in college. As an outsider to Roman Catholicism, It was fascinating to discover how much of the cannon of Western art traces to the veneration of the teeth, hair, and bones of the Saints.

A visit to Chartres Cathedral, ostensibly constructed over the course of hundred of years as a center of veneration for the cloak of Saint Mary, wet my appetite for the martyred and led me to explorer scores of churches, reliquaries and other holy holes in the wall all over Europe.

As Peter Manseau’s new book Rag and Bone - A Journey Among The World's Holy Dead reveals, my fascination with the mementos of faith is not that unusual. This highly readable travelogue touches on the meaning of relics as symbols in the world’s religions as a backdrop for the author’s treasure hunt to find a variety of remains and the stories that go with them.

Beyond a generous serving of Western Saints, Manseau delves into the roles of Saints in Orthodox Christianity, explores the conflict over one of Muhammad’s whiskers, and travels California with a van full of Buddhist remains, described as looking “a bit like Pop Rocks, or the occasional malformed mint one finds in a Tic Tac dispenser."

The book is still in hardback, but at 250 pages it is an easy fit for your briefcase. The stand alone chapters make it a perfect travel book. Grab this great read for your next trip for fascinating insights into the world’s religions and a great story to tell about Jesus’ foreskin.

Want more? This past weekend’s New York Times had a review of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town by David Farley. The reviewer called the book scabrous and adolescent, so it must be good!

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