Saints Preserved; An Encyclopedia of Relics

Well, this is fun!

The body of Saint Catherine Laboure is displayed in a glass case beneath a side altar in the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, at 140 Rue de Bac in Paris — the place where she experienced visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the saint’s body was exhumed in 1933, it was found with its eyes open, and they remain open to this day. Pilgrims often comment on the intense shade of blue in Catherine’s eyes.
– excerpted from Saints Preserved; pg 51

Thomas J. Craughwell, the author of Saints Preserved; An Encyclopedia of Relics writes another couple hundred words about Catherine — the events of her life and why she is considered a saint — but I included the excerpt to give you a sense of the conversational accessibility of the book.

As with his previous Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints, Craughwell has an absolute gift for casual piety; he sees saints as the truly flawed, grace-assisted human beings they were and are, and recommends them to you by serving up the person and their story, wasting no time on the frilly stuff and sometimes-eye-rolling excesses that can haunt Catholic hagiography.

Saints Preserved
is not so much a book about the incorruptible bodies of holy men and women. While fascinating, that subject has been pretty comprehensively covered in Joan Carroll Cruz’s The Incorruptibles. Rather Craughwell looks beyond those “first class relics,” broadening his appreciation to the cataloging of a great number of saints, from the internationally famous and revered to those obscure and of localized devotion, what relics of theirs exist, and where they may be found:

Saint Christina (died c. 250) Saint Christina’s relics are kept in Palermo, Sicily, and Torcelli. Her skull is preserved in the Cathedral of Milan.

Saint Christina’s story is a bit confusing. It seems likely that she was a member of the Anicii, one of the noblest Roman families, and that she converted to Christianity while in her teens. A legend tells us that after her baptism she hurried home and smashed every image of a pagan god in her parent’s house.

As the story goes, she was martyred at the Lake Bolsena in Tuscany. Her father tried to drown her by tying a millstone to her neck and throwing her into the deep water, but Christina did not sink. The local magistrate had the girl tied to a tree or a stake and shot to death with arrows.

Saint Christina is the patron saint of archers, millers and sailors. Feast Day: July 24.

I have always been a fan of these sorts of books;
I like to keep them scattered about the house — on bedstands or coffee tables, or counters, where they may be picked up and randomly perused, passing on a few interesting nuggets and, occasionally, encouraging a deeper, more intense read.

My only real beef with Saints Preserved has less to do with the book, itself (though I do wish it contained a few more pictures) than with a publishing trend that is wholly due to the rise in e-book sales: the book comes only in paperback, and the pages are rather distressingly pulpy. Given that e-books are outselling material ones, I get it — why waste the money producing a more-expensive paper product, given the decreased demand for same?

I get it, but I don’t have to like it.

I want books. Try as I might, I can’t get into the e-reader thing. You cannot crack open an e-book and take a sniff of the ink. You can’t line them up on a bookshelf and revel in the look of them, the collection of titles. Maybe no one else needs that, but I do.

My husband, on the other hand, would be fine with our library and wallspace being freed up for, oh, I don’t know — a bigger screened tv — but I like books. I want books. Pulpy pages do not make me feel like the book will be with me, mine, all mine, forever.

Still, as I say, this is a preferential rant,
and beyond the paperback-only-and-pulpy-pages issue, Saints Preserved is perhaps the most comprehensive look at Holy Relics — of both fact and legend — in the modern era. Craughwell’s exhaustive catalogue extends through the Eastern and Roman churches to include items referenced in scripture; it relates their histories and known locations, and provides entertaining yet respectful hagiographies of the men and women whose faithful lives have inspired such reverent interest in all they have left behind.

This is a marvelously-researched resource that should become a classic entry to a seeker’s spiritual library, and yes, I do recommend it!

And yes, you can get it for your e-reader

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Stephen Taylor

    I have always found these to be somewhat creepy. There are two in Louisville, but the have silver masks and silver hands. I never feel right near them.

  • Nancy Berube

    I understand & share your love of the look, feel & smell of books, & very much enjoy my shelves of books. However I can’t carry all my beautiful books in my purse, but I can carry a substantial number on my e-reader including 2 bibles, the entire Summa Theologica, several works of Augustine, Ambrose, Bonaventure, Edith Stein, Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, … & not only can I carry them all without worsening my sciatica, but I can change the font to accommodate my eyes. In addition, I can access your blog on it. Can’t be all bad.

    [No, of course not. Great for travel. But at home I want books! -admin]

  • Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

    I love books too… and as techie as I am in all things, I have yet to get a reader. And like you, I think certain books should be scattered about – who knows when you might want to pick one up? (This drives my husband crazy, BTW!)

    As for saints – well, I can only tell you that during one visit to Paris (go ahead Stephen prepared to be put off by this!) I went to the Rue du Bac every day; it was right around the corner from where I was staying. I went to pray and to attend mass there daily. St. Louise de Merrilac is there as well.

    I have also been to see Mother Cabrini many, many times.

    This is not ghoulish to me – but I can understand why others might feel that way.

    And that book – I really want it!

  • Kort

    I love books and I love having them around. This seems like one of those ones you’d want to have a hard copy of. I have a few like that and I do tend to leave them lying around where people can read them. Though not my Forensics and Fiction book, that one gives me nightmares and I don’t want my 8 year old son reading it.

    I’m also on my second e-reader. When I was pregnant with my daughter, who’s almost a year old now, I had carpal tunnel so bad that I couldn’t actually lift most of my books. Of course, that’s when the indie publishers I know decided to send me arc’s of 500 and 600 page books. I was supposed to write reviews of these books but could not lift them and could not sit hunched over a table long enough to get any meaningful reading done. So, I bought an e-reader and they sent me the electronic copies of the books and I actually got the reviews done before the baby was born. I tend to use my e-reader for reading what I would consider “disposable” books. Fun, easy to read, won’t kill me to lose them if my system crashes.

  • Kathy Schiffer

    Oh ho, as usual I am SO with you! My son (aka architect) is always trying to persuade me that my living room would look better with sleek white walls, instead of books and more books. I offer him one more chance to demonstrate his people skills and produce a design that suits not himself, but his customer (me).

    I wrote about it, too:

  • Greta

    I have grown to love reading books on e reader. I have eliminated the massive number of books and now am down to my all time favorites. Somehow can’t part with them, but do not know if I would read them again holding the book if it were out on e reader.

    frankly, I think it is a losing battle and soon it will be so expensive to have books that they will be as available as vinyl records. Of course we now have stores that specialize in vinyl records and many who are starting to swear by the better sound they provide. However, at some point we will reach critical mass on books and it will simply be cost prohibitive. I also am starting to see many new features with e reader to allow you to get added benefits such s clicking on words to get meaning to to allow you to go back to where that was mentioned previously in the book as with some characters. These features will continue to increase over time and the cost of books will continue to drop versus books.

  • Fr. Frank

    I remember going to see St. John Neumann in Philly. Oof! What a shock! I couldn’t pay attention at Mass, what with him grinning under the altar and all. When I went up close to say my prayers after Mass I asked the Redemptorist who was showing me around about the wax mask. He said it was because when they took St. John out of his original coffin, his nose accidentally fell off. One of the things I love about our Church is that we’re extremely generous about what constitutes incorruptibility. To these poor sinful eyes, some of our Incorruptibles look like they came straight out of the Valley of the Kings. St. Bernadette, though — she’s glorious!

  • d.v. andrews

    I’ve wondered often enough if we will remain wise enough to keep a well bound hardcover acid free paper printing of every digital copy in a safe place somewhere with a good number of lanterns and candles tucked away in a fireproof closet…if the power goes out for a bit longer than expected, we could find ourselves in a bit of a Canticles of Lebowitz situation, for those familiar with the post-apocalyptic fiction book. Of course, hard copies not made of stone are still prone to the risk of happenstance akin to the fire of the Library of Alexandria, too.

    Keep a hardcopy and an offsite server copy, and I will never neglect the value of stirring imagination in the breif extra moment it takes to turn a page.

    Book-snobishly yours and with thanks for the tips on the Saintly texts too, Anchoress!

  • Barbara

    I do prefer real books. I read with pencils and markers and underline, highlight and make notes in the margins.
    I have added this book to my list of what I want next.

  • Korora

    I’ve read that. Anyone else notice the similarities between St. Vladimir and King Manasseh?

    A good book to read while listening to “Amazing Grace”.

  • Korora

    Note: I was talking about “Saints Behaving Badly”.

  • Sharron

    I love paper-and-ink books. As I think of passing certain writings on to my grandchildren (hoping, of course they will read them someday) the thought of an ereader just does not fit. Also, being “surrounded” by paper-and-ink encourages me to not turn on TV and instead spend time with the church fathers, stories of the saints, people like Madrid, Shea and Hahn.

  • Ron Jones

    I love your blog because you are so down to earth with your faith and your expressions of faith. I also have a rant in reference to your ending statement, “And yes, you can get it on your e-reader.” Why is it all the Catholic blogs have a link to Amazon (exclusively) when they are hawking books or e-books. I have a NOOK (not a Kindle, not an iPad), and I’m more than a little annoyed that you all seem to give preferential notice to Amazon and Kindle. Is every Catholic blogger getting a kickback from Amazon? I do believe that in the interest of retail equality, the other guys… Barnes & Noble, and other e-book sites should be mentioned. Or hey, stop linking to Amazon exclusively. It does make me think of the buyers and the sellers in the temple. But then again, I feel the same way about Monk-made coffee, talking rosaries, and such flashing in my face when I open a Catholic blog site.
    The interesting thing about e-readers is that they are opening up a world of books to people who might not otherwise be able to read. Consider older folks in an assistance facility or with little to no room for book storage, people who commute long hours on trains and planes, backpackers, long vacationers who can’t afford to lug 10 or more books on a flight across the country, and even kids who resist books but love to read on a techy gadget. I’m a teacher. I love all the same sensory and romantic qualities of books you mentioned. But I bought my NOOK right after I put my 4th case of books in the garage. I have no more room in the house. My e-reader can hold up to 37,000 more titles. I have downloaded several new books on the revised missal and even have links to Universalis and Liturgy of the Hours Apostolate for daily morning and evening prayer. There is a lot of good to be said for those gizmos. As for the cheap pulp in your book, that’s due to a cheap publishing house. Most of the new books out there are still printed on quality paper with beautiful type face… even hard bound.
    And in the interest of equality,

  • Dr. K

    @ Fr. Frank — Hate to ruin your day but St. Bernadette’s glorious “face” is a wax mask.

    @Ron Jones — Amazon awards points to site owners when someone clicks from their site to Amazon and makes a purchase. When the points add up to a certain level, the site owner gets a coupon to use.

    That just *could* be why so many site owners link to Amazon! Most ask you to go through their site if you’re going to buy from Amazon and are upfront that they benefit if you do. Maybe Barnes & Noble needs to do something to compete?

    I order from Amazon because they offer good discounts and free shipping for orders of $25 or more. I looked at a Nook but bought a Kindle 3 and am very pleased with it.

    [In fairness, it is understood that St. Bernadette's face and fingers have been treated to what is usually described as "a very thin coating" of wax, due to discolorations that occured when (after one of her exhumations) her community washed her body. All records indicate that until that washing (nuns are so tidy!) her relic was pliable and of a natural color.

    Re the Amazon links -- I've noted many, many times on the blog that when you click on an Amazon product via one of these links, a small kickback is generated; it's not anything to get rich off of, but it does create a modest fund through which I have sent my sons stuff they've needed at college, and my husband can order what he needs for his scouting endeavors, for which I am very grateful! Thank you! -admin]

  • Fr. Frank

    @Dr. K — Didn’t know that. Thanks for the info! They sure did a better job on St. Bernadette than the folks who got ahold of St. John Neumann. Oof, what a shock that was.

  • Diakonos09

    I do not quite get the “basics” (I guess) of whats and why of incorruptibility, for example, washing St. Bernadette discolors her otherwise likelike body, and a nose falls off when moved…wouldnt God preserve them from these things if he is trying to say something to us via incorrupitbility? It seems that natural processes occur sooner or later even to these saints.

    I think one of the most un-inspiring I have seen was during my time in Rome at a convent near the North American College. The foundress is englassed under the altar and she look like something out of the screaming, living dead (but she was/is an AWESOME saint!)

    [I don't know that God is actually trying to tell us anything with these relics, and I'm not sure I have heard of anyone trying to make such a case. They are simply interesting. I do sometimes wonder, though, whether prayer -- which changes things -- does not change something on a molecular level and that's why so many of these very prayerful people do not decompose in the "standard" manner -admin]

  • Michael Seaman

    Thanks for the review. The book is now on my wish list at Amazon and I plan to purchase it soon. I too like these books and have a collection of them. When traveling somewhere, I always like to turn the trip into a mini-pilgrimage by stopping to see a saint or relic. Last month, I was in Siena and Saint Catherine’s head is preserved in the Dominican church. Her eyes are open too and the expression appears to be of one experiencing a welcome vision of Christ. Last year, while in southern Italy, my family and I paid a visit to the majestic Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari where there is a first class treasury that includes, among many other things, a 2.5 inch thorn from the crown of thorns and, it is claimed, a piece of the sponge that was offered to Jesus. We also visited Lanciano–an incredible experience.

  • Fr. Frank

    @Diakonos — I’ve had the same thoughts. One thing that comes to mind is that one can’t improve on perfection. How many times I’ve tried to “help God along” with one thing or another. I always mess things up. Maybe the scrubbing nuns and St. John’s poor nose are part of each relic’s message to us. Even good people with good intentions can do more harm than good when they assume that their own agendas must also be God’s agenda. That’s one thing I took away from my visit to St. John Neumann’s relic, anyway.