From Publishers Weekly
You have to love a book with sentences like this: Things got rough for the foreskins of Jesus as the Middle Ages matured. Author Manseau (Vows
) lavishly scatters gems like this as he travels the world in search of the bones, teeth, hair and other scraps from the religiously renowned. The result is a lively lope among fragments from famous faith figures – Buddha's tooth, Muhammad's whiskers and the aforementioned foreskin, or foreskins, as many people and places have claimed ownership of this fragment. Manseau never gives over entirely to the snarkiness that sometimes marred some of his previous work, especially Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible
. Instead, he provides a rich history of each of the, ahem, items he considers and examines their effects on contemporary believers. Occasionally, Manseau's pilgrimages feel a little cursory; he writes that some of his visits to the relic sites were shorter than he would have liked. Yet he listens well. When he meets a Pakistani man praying before the supposed whiskers of Muhammad in an Aleppo mosque, Manseau asks if the man has come to be close to the Prophet. Close? I cannot be close, the pilgrim replies. I come to remind me how far it is I must go. (Apr.)
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This is a peculiar book about a peculiar subject, the veneration of the sacred remains of saints and other holy men and women called relics, which every Roman Catholic church possesses. Manseau looks at relics through the prism of history. The Reformation denigrated their use, accentuating the differences between Catholics and Protestants and triggering schisms within the church. But relics aren’t only a Christian tradition. Muslims also revere relics. Nor are relics strictly remnants of the past. When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, he sequestered himself in his apartment with the heart of Saint Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, patron saint of priests. The eight chapters of Manseau’s book focus on various body parts—a toe, a leg, a whisker, teeth, and nails—of a holy person as a way of commenting on their contemporary relevance. To some, venerating relics may seem a strange custom, but, Manseau somberly points out, people fight and die over these very artifacts. They are certainly not to be taken lightly. --June Sawyers