Friday, 25 September 2009

Saints

I see on the News that the remains of St Terese of Lisieux (two bones, to be exact) are on a grand tour of Britain, currently in Liverpool. 45,000 people have queued to touch the perspex cover which protects the casket which contains the relics, presumably in the hope of some kind of miracle.

I've been rereading a rather wonderful travel book called 'Old Calabria' by Norman Douglas, first published in 1915. He has two chapters on the numerous saints of this amorphous part of southern Italy, who grew out of the mix of invasions (Greek, Albanian, Norman, Roman, Moorish) that fermented the cultural traditions of the region. Saints were a way of digesting all that, and they grew up in droves. They had many skills, apart from the usual healing and curing and resurrecting and metamorphosing . Most of them could fly - the champion was Joseph of Copertino, who hovered over altars in many locations for most of his life. My favourite miracle was performed by Egidio of Taranto. Having learnt that a cow had been wrongly purloined and butchered by a local merchant, he caused the various parts of the cow to be reassembled, in roughly the right order, on the butcher's floor. Egidio then uttered the appropriate words, whereupon Catherine (that was the cow's name) reassembled herself and wandered off contentedly.

Douglas's final words on the subject are: 'The state of mind which engenders and cherishes such illusions is a disease, and it has been well said that you cannot refute a disease. You cannot nail ghosts to the counter.'

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