This is the second installment of my review of Saints Preserved: An Encyclopedia of Relics by Thomas J. Craughwell from Image Catholic Books (an imprint of Random House). Here I will give an overview of the contents.
The book is a basic encyclopedia. So rather than chapters it has entries, arranged for the most part in alphabetical order. There are some sub-entries for martyrs in certain areas and some other topics that don’t necessarily fit within the alphabetical layout. But, for “major” saints one would locate them alphabetically. The entries range from the names of saints to important sets of relics like the Aachen relics.
In addition to the the entries, there is also a helpful introduction that gives some background on relics as well as a bibliography for those who want to learn more. The introduction covers the reasoning behind relics as well as covering the classifications of relics (i.e. first class, second class and third class). For example, Craughwell notes Biblical background for relics like the story in 2 Kings where a man comes back to life after touching the bones of Elisha 13. He also notes the caution that St. Jerome gives regarding the use of relics.
The entries on saints generally contain two different kinds of information. They first contain information on the life of the saint in question. Often this consists of giving some particulars of the saint’s life, such as when they lived, where they were from or where they ministered, worked, etc. In addition, there is often information concerning why a particular person was considered a saint.
Second, the entries discuss the relics associated with the saint. One can find out what the relics are and where they are kept, so that an interested person might visit them if they so had the inclination. The matter of of piety aside, many of these relics I find entertaining just as a sheer matter of interest.
Below, I’ve excerpted from the entry on St. Dominic (not least because I belong to Dominican parish) to give a feel for what the entries look like:
Saint Dominic (1170-1221). On August 6, 1221, Dominic died in the Dominican priory of San Nicolo delle Vigne in Blogna, Italy; he was buried behind the high altar of the priory church. In 1228 San Nicolo was greatly expanded and rededicated as San Domenico. At that time the saint’s relics were moved to a marble sarcophagus in the main body of the church where pilgrims would have access to it. In 1264 the Dominicans wanted a more impressive monument for their founder. Work on this shrine, known as the Arca di San Domenico, took nearly three centuries and involved some of the greatest artists of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, including Nicola Pisano and Michelangelo. The saint’s bones rest inside a marble sarcophagus carved by Pisano. Behind the tomb, in a golden octagonal reliquary, is the skull of the saint.
It was a crisis in the Catholic Church that set the direction of Dominic’s life. In 1203 he accompanied his bishop on a journey from their home in Osma, Spain, to southern France. There he witnessed the animosity between Catholics and Cathars, who were confusing many of the Catholic faithful and tearing the Church apart.
To read more, you’ll have to buy the book. But, stay tuned as I post my own personal reflections later in the week ….