The Relic Master

9781501125751_custom-35c1e8e0a506dbc0c92f32634c03539975c80959-s400-c85A picaresque tale set in 1517, in which the hero, a dealer in holy relics, travels here and there in search of relics for his patrons, the Elector of Saxony and the Archbishop of Mainz, fierce competitors as relic collectors. That’s the plot, basically, and his adventures along the way, some good and some bad, are what’s in the book; but the selections below give its flavor:

“…three whole mummified camels. These, he averred, were the very ones that had carried the magi to Bethlehem.”

“…a few pieces of straw from the sacra incunabulum, the holy manger in Bethlehem…”

“Frederick was mad for St. Bartholomew. Insatiable. He owned more than forty relics of the apostle, including his entire facial skin. Bartholomew had been flayed alive by the King of Armenia for introducing Christianity. The apostolic epidermis was mounted in Wittenberg in a splendid jeweled monstrance.”

“…the thumb bone of St. Contumacious of Tyre, or a bar of the iron grille on which St. Lawrence was broiled alive.”

“…the leaf from the Burning Bush…”

“…a rib of St. Chrysogonus and a nice fragment of St. Speciosa’s coccyx, avouched to have worked some brilliant healings …”

“He enclosed a groveling letter, addressing me as ‘Your Illustrious Sublimity.’ And calling himself ‘fex hominum’—a shit among men…”

“Frederick consented to part with some of his rarest pieces: three thorns from the Crown of Thorns; the loincloth of St. John the Baptist; and dearest of all, the Holy Prepuce, one of the twelve of its kind averred to be the circumcised foreskin of the infant Jesus.”

“Thaddeus was stroking the beard of the disciple next to him, mesmerized, remarking that it felt like his wife’s privvy parts.”

Thomas Lemann

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