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Rag And Bone

by Peter Manseau
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
  • Publishing date: 31/03/2009
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780805086522
  • ISBN: 0805086528


A fascinating, intelligent, and sometimes funny tour of the human relics at the root of the world’s major religions

By examining relics?the bits and pieces of long-dead saints at the heart of nearly all religious traditions?Peter Manseau delivers a book about life, and about faith and how it is sustained. The result of wide travel and the author’s own deep curiosity, filled with true tales of the living and dubious legends of the dead, Rag and Bone tells of a California seeker who ended up in a Jerusalem convent because of a nun’s disembodied hand; a French forensics expert who travels on the metro with the rib of a saint; two young brothers who collect tickets at a Syrian mosque, studying English beside a hair from the Prophet Muhammad’s beard; and many other stories, myths, and peculiar histories.

With these, and an array of other digits, limbs, and bones, Manseau provides a respectful, witty, informed, inquisitive, thoughtful, and fascinating look into the "primordial strangeness that is at the heart of belief," and the place where the abstractions of faith meet the realities of physical objects, of rags and bones.

Peter Manseau is the author of the memoir Vows and the novel Songs for the Butcher's Daughter. He is also the coauthor (with Jeff Sharlet) of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible. The editor of Search: The Magazine of Science, Religion, and Culture, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Washington, D.C., where he teaches writing and studies religion at Georgetown University.
The impulse to preserve and revere the body parts of the holy deceased has been part of the human experience since the Buddha lost his baby teeth and John the Baptist lost his head.
With postmortem accounts of Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, and a crowd of other holy souls, Peter Manseau's Rag and Bone tells the hidden histories of these bodies that have meant so much to so many. Along the way, we meet a California seeker of a nun’s disembodied hand, a French forensics expert who rides the metro with the rib from what may have been a saint, two young Syrian brothers who study English beside a hair from the Prophet's beard, and discover many more true tales of the living and dubious legends of the dead.
By examining these relics?the bits and pieces of long-dead saints found in most religious traditions?Manseau has written a tremendously moving book about life, the varieties of faith, and how both life and faith are sustained. The result of wide travel, the author's own deep curiosity, and visits with those living who take care of those dead, Rag and Bone stitches together a portrait of the world's religions. And it delivers a respectful, witty, and fascinating look into the place where the abstractions of faith meet the realities of physical objects, of rags and bones.
"From Damascus to Jerusalem to Philadelphia (oddly, one of the relic capitals of the world), Manseau recounts his journey to find religious objects that have captivated the faithful for centuries and his encounters with modern pilgrims along the way . . . Manseau's vivid recollections of each trip, combined with personal anecdotes and interesting tidbits (did you know that every Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. has a relic?), provide a fascinating look into an ancient and complex topic."?M. J. Stephey, Time

"Peter Manseau embarks on a global odyssey in search of the 'dismembered toes, splinters of shinbone, stolen bits of hair, burned remnants of an anonymous rib cage, and other odds and ends' belonging to saints and other sacred figures. The result is an entertaining, sometimes affecting inquiry into man’s yearning for spiritual transcendence through the worship of holy relics, real or otherwise?from the Shroud of Turin ('considered by some to be Christianity’s most holy artifact, mocked by others as little more than a medieval towel smeared with ink') to more obscure bits of clothing and body parts. The book could have been ghoulish, but Manseau’s irreverent approach and enthusiasm keep the tone surprisingly light. He examines the curious dissemination of pieces of saints around the globe, meets a cast of fellow enthusiasts?including a French paleopathologist who spends his spare time rummaging through the supposed bone fragments of Joan of Arc?and explores the fringes of religious devotion. Most notable is the pious Portuguese woman who, in a fit of ecstasy, is said to have bitten off the little toe of St. Francis Xavier, whose damaged cadaver lures Manseau to the Roman Catholic enclave of Goa, India: 'To look closely at the foot now?with at least three digits missing?is to wonder if she got away with an even bigger bite.'"?Joshua Hammer, The New York Times Book Review

"Manseau notes that he is moved not 'merely by questions of their authenticity, but also simply by the fact of them, the fleshy actuality of what they are.' He's awe-struck that, however dubious their provenance, these holy artifacts?'often frankly repulsive'?are not just a 'what' but a 'who.' They are, literally, matters of life and death. Rag and Bone begins with a 13th century 'blackened and shriveled' tongue (allegedly that of St. Anthony), displayed on the altar of an Italian basilica, where a thousand devout tourists line up daily to kneel and pray before it. (Objects of worship can be secular too; Manseau mentions a museum in Georgia where fans can view 'Possibly Elvis's Toenail.') The whiskers of Muhammad, the jumping heart of a recently dead Tibetan lama, the apocryphal scorched rib of Joan of Arc and the even more putative prepuce of (apologies in advance) Jesus are among the relics with 'macabre magnetism' explored by the author. He also delves into the history of plundering, which has played 'as much a part of the tradition of relics as veneration has.' Manseau offers plenty of interesting trivia too: Neanderthals first decided to bury the dead about 70,000 years ago. And Jerusalem once boasted the greatest number of relics, but now it falls behind Rome and even, unbelievably, Pittsburgh, second only to the Vatican in its vast collection. Ultimately, all of these remnants tell a similar story. They reveal the enduring power of faith, regardless of ideology, and the obsessive nature of religious belief?which, as this entertaining book amply proves, is all too capable of taking peculiar turns."?Carmela Ciuraru, Los Angeles Times

"If you're wondering why even a divine being would have more than the usual compliment of body parts, it's because over the centuries relics have been found, made, sold, traded and gifted with great enthusiasm, both in honor of their connections to holiness and their ability to draw visitors and money to the institutions that house them. And like all high-demand items, relics tend to inspire counterfeit knock-offs. But Peter Manseau argues in his book Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World's Holy Dead that what's really important about relics is not strict authenticity but how people feel about the sacred remains. While researching the book, Manseau asked a Muslim who was visiting Mohammed's beard, 'Do you come here to feel closer to the Prophet?' The man answered, 'No, I come here to remind myself how far I have to go.' Sentiments like this deepen what could have been nothing more than a macabre tourist guide, and while Manseau obviously delights in sharing the bizarre and often humorous aspects of his subject, in the end this is a book that compassionately explores the good, bad and ugly aspects of faith."?David Ian Miller, San Francisco Chronicle 

"You might be confident that the risen Christ is the Messiah, but would you be more so if you could venerate a piece of his remains: his foreskin, for example? Peter Manseau's Rag and Bone, a travelogue in which the author details his search for body parts of the holy deceased, tackles the curious relationship between faith and the physical evidence relics offer. 'A relic concentrates the beliefs surrounding it until they can be seen . . . like shining sunlight through a magnifying glass,' Manseau writes of his pilgrimages to view bits of the departed, including Muhammad's whisker in Kashmir, one of the Buddha's teeth in Sri Lanka and Jesus' prepuce in Jerusalem. Of course, there's a lot of room for the word 'alleged' when scrutinizing remains over two millennia old, but aside from a chapter devoted to a researcher trying to determine whether a scorched human rib found in a French museum belonged to Joan of Arc, Manseau is less interested in the legitimacy of relics than in how people use them to support belief. Christianity, Islam and Buddhism thrive by convincing the uninitiated that dogma preached by long-dead figureheads is universal truth. As the author points out, what better 'portable form of sanctity' is there for evangelicals than St. Francis Xavier's toe, Lama Yeshe's leg or St. Anthony's tongue? Born to a former nun and a priest who married but refused to renounce the Church, Manseau brings the same expansive perspective on belief to Rag and Bone that fueled his 2005 memoir, Vows?the understanding that every leap of faith can benefit from a little push."?Justin Moyer, The Washinton Post

"From Damascus to Jerusalem to Philadelphia (oddly, one of the relic capitals of the world), Manseau recounts his journey to find religious objects that have captivated the faithful for centuries and his encounters with modern pilgrims along the way . . . Manseau's vivid recollections of each trip, combined with personal anecdotes and interesting tidbits (did you know that every Roman Catholic Churc...

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  • An ok book but not really that interesting
    From Amazon

    I was interested by the title of this book because it is really true that relics have played a major role in people's lives.However my impression was that the author does not really go deep into what a relic represents and means.For him is just a journey in which he is just curious for a couple of relics that get his attention, but does not tackle the issue head on.I guess this book is a good intro to someone who will like to start learning more about the topic,but for serious fans it just fells short.

  • Unusual and Fascinating
    From Amazon

    This book was written as a memoir of the authors travels in search of holy relics, i.e., bits and pieces of the bodies of long-deceased people who are now venerated as holy in some way. The religious icons discussed span a variety of religious beliefs: Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. In each case, the author briefly discusses a small part of the life of the long-departed individual and the reasons for their alleged sainthood. He then discusses the associated relics: their histories, their authenticities (or possible lack thereof), their current locations, their supposed powers, their veneration and any political/religious turmoil connected with them. The writing style is really that of a travelogue, complete with various digressions that are not directly related to the book's main theme. The prose is friendly, often tongue-in-cheek, generally lively and widely accessible; it is not meant to be pious, but rather historically objective. In some occasions, the author's choice of words in describing a relic and its history, etc., is simply priceless in the amusing sense. This is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter what their religious beliefs, if any. History buffs - especially those interested in religious history - should be in for a treat.

  • Relics and the people who worship them
    From Amazon

    Ritualized burial of the dead extends back at least fifty thousand years and is probably (at least one of) the oldest signs of mankind's emergant civilization. In this brief and free wheeling book Peter Manseau makes a whirlwind tour of some of the world's hotest relics spots and shows you, among other things: The Mosque of Muhammed's Beard Hair: Located in the Kashimar region of northern India, this site features a single hair reputed to come from the beard of Islam's Prophet himself. The Temple of the Tooth: Located in Sri Lanka, this Temple contains a tooth reputed to have been once located in the mouth of the Buddha himself. The Church of John the Baptist's Father's Head: Located in Aleppo Syria, this church contains an organ reputed to be the head of the father of John the Baptist. Along the way, Manseau introduces you to the individuals who run the various relic sites, the money they make from their trade and the faithful who come from far and wide to visit and worship. For my part, the book resembles video vacation footage in that it all too often places its focus not on the objects themselves and the history which surround them but rather the incidental individuals who've happened to wander into the camera angle. Also, Manseau's on the scene research often fails because he doesn't know the local language and therefore you know you're probably missing out on a lot of the story. Also, I honestly don't think photos would have hurt to give readers a better idea of what the items looked like. Indeed, such an addition probably would have fit in nicely with the travelogue nature of this book. That all being said, it's still a good book for what it is and very much worth reading. For those whose curiosity in religious artifacts is piqued by reading this book I would also suggest the Cruz book on Christian artifacts known simply as Relics which provides a more thoroughing going review of at least those items not to mention some pictures too.

    From Amazon

    This is definitely not for the mainstream emo/goth wannabe. It is for someone whose reading is geared more towards the insightful than shallow. My only wish is that it were longer...

  • Rag & Bone review
    From Amazon

    I was very disappointed in this book. I expected I very interesting tour of relics of the world. Instead, I got just a few visited relics, and a lot of half baked philosophical ramblings. A very superficial coverage of the topic.

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