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The Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith by Colin Dickey (Excerpt)

The Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith by Colin Dickey (Excerpt)



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Published by UnbridledBooks

In Afterlives of the Saints, Colin Dickey— author of Cranioklepty—presents us with a history of faith as told through some of the strangest stories of the saints. These are saints who murder, saints who gouge out their own eyes and hold them out for inspection, saints who minister to the petty and the bizarre and the maligned. These are saints who, when visited in a contemporary context—as saints in the cities—actually enlarge our concept of faith.

In Afterlives of the Saints, Colin Dickey— author of Cranioklepty—presents us with a history of faith as told through some of the strangest stories of the saints. These are saints who murder, saints who gouge out their own eyes and hold them out for inspection, saints who minister to the petty and the bizarre and the maligned. These are saints who, when visited in a contemporary context—as saints in the cities—actually enlarge our concept of faith.

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Publish date: Jun 12, 2012
Added to Scribd: Nov 28, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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By Colin Dickey
 This is how the End of the World looked in the sixth century: InGaul, above the River Rhône, a “curious bellowing sound” was heard forsixty days before a hillside collapsed. In Auvergne in 571 a plague thatdecimated the population was preceded by “three or four great shininglights” that hovered around the sun. There were eclipses and comets andbirds that flew into churches that could miraculously extinguish everycandle “so quickly that you would have thought that someone had seizedhold of them all at once and dropped them into a pool of water.” OnNovember 11, 578, a celebration of mass in Tours, “a bright star shiningin the very center of the moon” appeared. In 580 floods devastated theregion, and a sound “as of trees crashing to the ground” was heard forfifty miles in every direction. The signs were everywhere. A fire in Paris in 585 burnedeverything but the churches of Saint Martin and Saint Germanus. In theruins a mysterious bronze statues of a snake and a rat was found; whenit was removed, the city became infested with snakes and rats for thefirst time. In April of 586 an epidemic decimated Tours and Nantes,death proceeding rapidly from a slight headache. In the town of Limogesthose conducting business on the Sabbath were consumed by fire, whileelsewhere in France a drought destroyed acres of farmland. Men soldthemselves into slavery to get something to eat. In Chartres peoplediscovered their jars inscribed with characters they could neither removenor read. Shortly thereafter new shoots appeared mysteriously inOctober along with deformed grapes. Flashes of light shot out fromblood-red clouds, snakes dropped from the sky, entire villagesdisappeared. The Messiah appeared and reappeared, and reappeared. A mannamed Desiderus emerged in Tours in 587, calling himself the Saviorand offering to cure the paralyzed and the crippled, forcibly stretchingout their bodies as he called on his own divine power; those he did notcure were sent away, half-dead and broken. In Gaul bubonic plaguebroke out and a woodcutter was attacked by a swarm of flies, wentinsane and proclaimed himself Christ. He attracted some 3,000 followers,
and began his own plague of banditry, he and his followers robbingeveryone who passed on the road and giving what they took to the poor.He took his army to lay siege to the cathedral, and there the bishop sentout emissaries claiming to be peace envoys—when they reached thisChrist they summarily executed him and dispersed his followers,torturing any who remained.Another man claiming to be Christ was arrested and jailed withoutprotest, but shortly thereafter he broke out, escaped to the localmonastery, whereupon he promptly passed out, dead drunk. When thebishop of Tours found him the next morning, he smelled so bad thebishop could not stand to go near him. Unable to get his attention, hetried to wake this Christ by singing as loudly as he could.Let your first image of Gregory be this: singing hymns one morningin 580 to a passed-out Christ. Imagine him the singer, singing the end of the world. Gregory was a diminutive man, short enough to have beengently mocked for it by the Pope. Beyond that, though, is a humility thatcomes across in his writing and which makes his books such a pleasureto read. He was the descendent of bishops, popes and senators, and in573 he found himself in charge of the important bishopric of Tours,where Saint Martin’s tomb was located. Important tombs were not onlypilgrimage sites, they were also a major source of revenue, as well as asource of miracles.Not just the relics, but everything about the tomb of Saint Martinradiated magic. When Saint Aredius visited Martin’s tomb, he gatheredsome dust in a box which he took back to his monastery, butmiraculously the dust “increased in quantity until it not only filled thebox but forced its way through the joints wherever it could find anopening.”Gregory himself understood the power of such dust. In an agewhen disease rampaged unchecked, and medicine poorly understood,Gregory self-medicated everything from the cold to bubonic plague bymixing the dust from Martin’s tomb (along with other ground-up relics)into a various elixirs and tonics. On more than one occasion, it was themiraculous dust that saved his life, including the night before hisordination as bishop of Tours, when Martin’s remains saved him fromdysentery. This, the second great image of Gregory: the dust-eater.

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statoj_1 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
For anyone who grew up Catholic, the classic LIVES OF THE SAINTS will be familiar. Full of lurid accounts of violent deaths endured (and often enthusiastically sought out) out of loyalty to Jesus, many of us remember in gory detail the stoneings, the deaths by arrows and fire, as well as the memorable St. Agnes, whose breasts were hacked off because she would not surrender her "virtue" to a knuckle-dragging suitor.Colin Dickey has re-interpreted the meaning of 17 of these stories, inviting the reader to reconsider whether the ultimate sacrifice was truly made for Jesus, or perhaps whether it sprang from other motivations. The most striking characteristic of Dickey's writing is that he, unlike so many of his predecessors in historical interpretation, considers the woman's point of view. I recently attempted to read Homer's Iliad, because I realized I had never read it, and yet I considered myself well-read. Quite soon, as I read through it, I felt ill. The offhand way the Poet relates how the women were awarded to the warriors as the spoils of war totally nauseated me. I thought to myself, how is it that in all these years, i have never heard anyone complain about this? In Colin Dickey I immediate recognized a kindred spirit and, dare I say it, a feminist! Even though in 138 pages (out of 236) he has not yet used the word "feminist." No matter. The man has analysis.I highly recommend this book especially to any cultural Catholics. Terribly refreshing!
devourerofbooks reviewed this
I must admit, ​Afterlives of the Saints​ was not exactly what I thought it would be. The jacket copy on the advanced copies opens by mentioning "the strangest stories of the saints." I expected that ​Afterlives of the Saints​ would be a compendium of bizarre stories. Instead, Dickey uses these stories as a way to understand the reality of history, the way it is both more and less than a narrative of ultimately inevitable events. Certainly some of the stories of the saints he mentions are bizarre, but Dickey is more interested in the way that these saints interacted with either those who went before or those who came after than in ogling them for their strangeness.
jbd1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
Colin Dickey's Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith (Unbridled Books, 2012) is a thought-provoking collection of stories and meditations about the lives and deeds of saints and how those lives and deeds come to gain different meaning(s) and interpretations over time. As someone raised in a non-saint-based religion I've always been fascinated at the very idea of saints, and I was somewhat amused at the sections of Dickey's book about the early collections of saints' biographies (hagiographies) in which almost all the personal details were removed; the whole point of hagiography, Dickey writes, is that "the story is written to tell us not the facts about that person's life but rather how that person's life exemplifies the glory of God" (p. 19).Obviously not a comprehensive overview of saints, Dickey's book concentrates on a few specific ones (those Dickey describes as "the ones who have spoken most to me over the years, either because of what they wrote, because of the art and literature they inspired, or because of the wide range of beliefs they encompassed" - pg. 20). He concludes with a section on a few people who aren't saints, but might have been.Dickey considers his selected saints through in various ways: in the chapter on Mary Magdalene he compares typical imagery of the saint with a WWII-era Life photo of a woman peering at the skull of a Japanese soldier sent to her as a war trophy. From Borges to Caravaggio to Kafka, Dante to Chaucer to Van Gogh to "Blade Runner", Dickey explores how art, politics, religion, pop culture and literature have drawn on the examples of the saints in their own works.Interesting too is Dickey's suggestion that much of the extreme behavior exhibited by those now considered saints would be seen as pathological conditions today, to be treated with medication and/or psychotherapy. They lived, he writes, at the extremes of humanity, a place hard for any modern person to reach. I'd have liked a bit more in this line as a conclusion, but even without that, this was a deeply interesting read.
islanddave reviewed this
Rated 3/5
The Afterlives of the Saints offers a small glimpse into the history of saints and those they influenced. The pace is quick and there isn't a grand overarching narrative to draw together the various people who have achieved sainthood. While not a terribly comprehensive look at saints, Dickey does a solid job of introducing each subject and providing some interesting tales.
kegsoccer reviewed this
Rated 3/5
"Afterlives of the Saints" by Colin Dickey is a useful tool if you're wondering about some of the saints out there. It is not by any means all-inclusive, but there is a wealth of information that would be useful to anyone trying to find out information on little known saints. I thought it could have been organized a bit better, but overall this is one I'll keep with my other texts on religion.
sdmtngirl reviewed this
Rated 3/5
Not having been brought up within the realms of Saints I was pleased to find this book on my doorstep. Working in the world of Public and Law Libraries I was delighted to find that the first reviewed Saint was Jerome, Patron Saint of librarians and libraries as well as archivists, translators and encyclopedists. Where I thought I would find an easy-to-read explanation of Saints and their motivations, the essays within were more on the world afterward and their influence upon others and the religious structure surrounding them. It became tedious after the first few individuals detailed, although it was well-researched and documented. If you are looking, as I was, for something to explain the overall concept of Sainthood and those deemed Saints, you will not find it here. If you are researching for a term paper or Thesis you have found what you’re looking for.
doomjesse reviewed this
Rated 3/5
Afterlives of the Saints is more a meditation on faith than it is a collection of short saint biographies. To the author's credit he admits as much in the introduction. Unfortunately it sometimes seems as if the saints are almost afterthoughts because he references so many other authors. If you're looking for a meditation on faith this is certainly the book for you. If however you're looking for more info on saints this isn't especially fulfilling. He does an adequate job of contextualizing why the were made saints and their deeds (good and bad) but it is only a starting point for his meditations on faith.
librarianshannon_1 reviewed this
Rated 3/5
​Dickey's latest work is an interesting selection of saints - famous and forgotten, martyred and disfigured, the academics and the ignorant. Afterlives is not a collection of biographies; it is much more a postmodern investigation of their lives. A foundation in Catholicism is less necessary than being well-read in Joyce, Proust, Borges, Flaubert, and Foucault. Because of this, those merely curious about the more strange and macabre saint stories will be disappointed. While Dickey's examinations can be, at times, tedious and feel forced, they invite the reader to reconsider complex life stories. His insights on the lives of saints in contemporary culture and faith are a welcome perspective in the scholarship.
ninetiger_1 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
During my childhood, I went though an especially long period of reading about the saints' lives. Colin Dickey's offering is a happy addition to the subject in general, and his book reminds me why I was such a voracious reader on the matter: the deaths of martyrs. He offers commentary on 17 saints and near saints, those with particularly gruesome demises, martyrs all. But his essays are less about their lives, and more about what they represent in their "afterlives", i.e. how they are depicted in icons, their influence on religious ritual and society, and many other interesting digressions, and that is what makes this book such an enjoyable diversion. (Who knew that there were 14 saints designated as Holy Helpers, household saints of the mundane.) I particularly liked the sections on what I consider the Sicilian trifecta of St. Sebastian (go Cerami!), St. Agatha (go Catania!) and St. Lucy (go Siracusa), and the unique parallels the author drew in his essays, such as St. Lucy to Van Gogh regarding self mutilation. This is definitely a must read for anyone interested in hagiography, but also for anyone who enjoys masterfully written essays on a set theme. I only wish the book were longer, and I could have miraculously discovered which St. Felice is entombed like a courtier under glass in the cathedral in Agrigento in Sicily. But thanks to Colin Dickey, I have some new sources to track down that might help me eventually solve that mystery.MGP
janarose1 reviewed this
Rated 1/5
This book is a collection of essays/stories about odd or unique Saints. Each chapter discusses a different saint and provides information about their lives, mythology and the odd things that they have done. I found the book a bit hard to read. It was very repetitive and discussed some topics ad nauseum. It did not seem to be organized in any logical manner. I thought the subject matter was interesting, and I learned some things I did not know before. But overall, I was a bit disappointed with this book.

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