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Afterlives of the Saints

by Colin Dickey

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6014374,526 (3.47)3
"Afterlives of the Saints is a woven gathering of groundbreaking essays that move through Renaissance anatomy and the Sistine Chapel, Borges' "Library of Babel," the history of spontaneous human combustion, the dangers of masturbation, the pleasures of castration, "and so forth" - each essay focusing on the story of a particular (and particularly strange) saint"--… (more)
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It was interesting to look at these saints from a different perspective than I'm used to. I've heard the stories of many of these saints throughout my life as a Catholic, but I never realized how truly bonkers they sounds. It's like Grimm's tales for absolutely religious (that's the best way I could say fanatic without the negative connotation).

Reading this I felt strong connections with much if Flannery O'Connor's work, particularly "A Temple of the Holy Ghost" and "Wise Blood." Both allude to modern-day people trying find a path to God much as the saints in these stories did. ( )
  JessicaReadsThings | Dec 2, 2021 |
Dickey , Colin (2012). Afterlives of the Saints. Cave Creek AZ: Unbridled Books. 2012. ISBN 9781609530723. Pagine 288. 5,04 €
Afterlives of the Saints

amazon.com

Lo posso anche immaginare che stiamo parlando di una piccola casa editrice, Unbridled Books (letteralmente: “libri senza redini”, come documenta anche il logo) con sede nel mezzo del nulla (Cave Creek è una cittadina di 5.000 abitanti a nord di Phoenix in Arizona).

Unbridled Books

Non penso però che questa circostanza possa esimere loro o Amazon da fare un minimo di controllo di qualità sul prodotto che vendono, ancorché al prezzo stracciato di 5 € o poco più. Perché non solo il libro non ha quasi nessuna delle comodità che rendono un e-book più evoluto di un libro di carta (ad esempio, degli hyperlink tra indice e capitoli), ma è massacrato dai refusi:non c’è una singola volta che la sillaba fi non sia scritta fl, con la conseguenza che first diventa flrst e così via; spesso le parole sono inspiegabilmente spezzate (ecco un esempio: confl ated per conflated) e alcune volte il testo è misteriosamente tagliato. A me l’unica spiegazione pare è che il testo per l’ebook sia stato sottoposto a un processo di scansione e OCR a partire da quello composto a stampa: ma a parte la considerazione che anche in questo caso sarebbe stato un dovere dell’editore e una condizione irrinunciabile di Amazon procedere ai necessari (e routinari) controlli di qualità, mi sembra impossibile che nel 2012 il punto di partenza delle operazioni di pre-stampa e stampa non sia stato un file.

Sarò esagerato, ma per me questo è un difetto così grave da avermi fatto venire la tentazione di abbandonare la lettura. Eppure il libro, anche se “letterario” ed “erudito” in modo un po’ provinciale, si lascia leggere con un certo interesse. Le digressioni non sono poi diverse da quelle che Leonardo Tondelli fa sul Post: la curiosità di vedere come se la cavava qualcuno che non fosse appunto Leonardo o Iacopo da Varagine è stata la molla che mi ha spinto a comprare questo libro (… and the winnner is … Leonardo!)

Come speravo, il libro è pieno di spigolature interessanti: più avanti vi metterò il consueto florilegio.

La cosa che mi ha incuriosito di più però è la storia dei 14 santi ausiliatori, che ignoravo del tutto. Pare che – è d’obbligo premettere, trattandosi di leggende, più che auree di princisbecco – il pastorello Hermann Leicht di Langheim, figlio del locatario del podere di Frankental, fosse portato alle apparizioni (o, più verosimilmente, a contar balle): prima, il 17 settembre 1445 gli appare Gesù Bambino; poi si replica, con l’aggiunta di candele accese; infine, il 29 luglio 1446, nello stesso luogo, il Bambin Gesù appare circondato da altri quattordici bimbi.Un po’ come l’imbarazzante Fontana degli angeli eretta a San Giuliano di Puglia.
La fontana degli angeli

borgiaweb.com

Non tanto a suffragio delle vittime del terremoto, quanto a imperituro ricordo del pessimo gusto berlusconiano, assieme ai vulcanetti di Villa Certosa.
Berlusconi e gli angeli

www.americaoggi.info

Divagavo. Insomma, il pastorello chiede «Chi siete?» e i bambini rispondono «I 14 aiutanti», senza però rivelare i loro nomi. Dopo la guarigione di una giovane gravemente malata (la portano sul posto e subito i 14 riappaiono), l’abate del vicino convento cistercense di Langheim fa erigere sul luogo una cappella in loro onore (Vierzehn Heilige Nothelfer).
14 santi

wikipedia.org

Diventano subito popolarissimi, soprattutto in Germania e particolarmente in Renania. Papa Niccolò V concede particolari indulgenze legate alla loro venerazione: Vengono festeggiati, tutti assieme, l’8 agosto (la festa sarà cancellata da papa Paolo VI nel 1969, quando entra in vigore il nuovo calendario dei santi in esecuzione di una raccomandazione del Concilio ecumenico Vaticano II).

Nel 1743 fu iniziata l’erezione, su disegno dell’architetto Balthasar Neumann (1687-1753), del Santuario di Vierzehnheligen (a Bad Staffelstein nell’Alta Franconia).
Basilika Vierzehnheiligen bei Bad Staffelstein

wikimedia.org

I 14, per la verità, non hanno mai rivelato i loro nomi. La loro identificazione è perciò congetturale, ma c’è abbastanza consenso su questa lista (tra parentesi la festa “singola” di ciascuno di loro):

Sant’Acacio (o Agazio), invocato contro l’emicrania (8 maggio)
Santa Barbara, contro i fulmini, la febbre e la morte improvvisa (4 dicembre)
San Biagio, contro il male alla gola (3 febbraio)
Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, contro le malattie della lingua (25 novembre)
San Ciriaco di Roma, contro le tentazioni e le ossessioni diaboliche (( agosto)
San Cristoforo, contro la peste e gli uragani (25 luglio)
San Dionigi, contro i dolori alla testa (9 ottobre)
Sant’Egidio, contro il panico e la pazzia (1° settembre)
Sant’Erasmo, contro i dolori addominali (2 giugno)
Sant’Eustachio, contro i pericoli del fuoco (20 settembre)
San Giorgio, contro le infezioni della pelle (23 aprile)
Santa Margherita di Antiochia, contro i problemi del parto (20 luglio)
San Pantaleone, contro le infermità di consunzione (27 luglio)
San Vito, contro la corea, l’idrofobia, la letargia e l’epilessia (15 giugno).

Ma, come tutti ben sappiamo, i tedeschi temono l’inflazione più di ogni altra cosa. E a ragione, perché nel tempo, ai 14 se ne sono aggiunti altri, spesso ma non sempre, in sostituzione dei meno popolari:

San Rocco da Montpellier
San Nicola di Mira al posto di Erasmo
Papa Sisto II al posto di Dionigi
Sant’Uberto da Lüttich
Sant’Alberto Magno
San Leonardo di Limoges al posto di Egidio.

Non finisce qui: nella stessa tradizione si celebrano anche i 4 santi marescialli:

Il padre della Chiesa Sant’Antonio il Grande
Il vescovo Sant’Uberto da Lüttich
San Cornelio papa
San Quirino di Neuss.

Nella basilica di Bad Staffelstein sono anche riportate invocazioni (oltre che per i 14 canonici) per i santi seguenti (ve le lascio in tedesco per esercizio):

St. Apollonia durch dein große Pein, Wollst von Zahnweh uns befrein.
St. Adelgundis uns bewahr, vor Fieber, Krebs und Todsgefahr.
Lasst uns St. Rochus rufen an, vor Krankheit er uns hüten kann.
St. Leonard dein Tugend groß, von Band und Ketten mach uns los.
St. Apollinaris Marter groß, von fallender Seuch mach uns los.
St. Hubertus dein Kraft ist bekannt, halt uns bei Sinne und Verstand.
St. Quirin der mit Glori blüht, vor offnen Schäden uns behüt.
St. Nikolaus der heilig Mann, zu Land und Wasser helfen kann.
St. Quintin heller Tugend Schein, wollest von uns wenden Hauptspein.
St. Swibert mit sein Bischofsstab, von uns groß Übel wendet ab.
St. Libori dein Gebet uns gieß, den Stein zerreib vertreib das Grieß.
St. Domician das Weh der Lenden, durch deine Bitt thu von uns wenden.
St. Anton frommer Einsiedler, für bösen Brand sei unser Mittler.
St. Sebastian mit deinem Pfeil, von Pestilenz uns Kranke heil.
St. Brigida laß uns genesen, von Wunden Aussatz und bösen Wesen.
St. Magdalena rett uns aus großer Noth, bewahre uns vor jähem Todt.
Heilige St. Anna, schick´s Gewitter vo´ danna (questa è più difficile perché in dialetto francone).

Una memoria dei 14 santerellini c’è anche nella preghiera che cantano Hänsel e Gretel nell’omonima favola in musica di Engelbert Humperdinck:

When at night I go to sleep,
Fourteen angels watch do keep
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding
Two are on my right hand,

Two are on my left hand
Two who warmly hold me,
Two with love enfold me
Two who show me when I rise
The way to heaven’s paradise

* * *

Basta così. Torniamo al libro. Penso bastino poche citazioni per farvi capire il misto di erudizione e di divagazioni cui è dedito l’autore (il riferimento è come sempre alla posizione sul Kindle).

Qui, ad esempio, stiamo parlando di San Simeone lo stilita:

In Blade Runner, the replicants are dangerous because they’re perfect. They are a threat because they reveal our own limitations, our own obsolescence. It’s why they have a four-year lifespan built in, why they’re banned from Earth and hunted by crusaders like Harrison Ford’s Lieutenant Deckard. [118]

A proposito di San Gregorio di Tours e della conclusione della sua smisurata Historia Francorum, dove la fine del mondo è segnata dalla mancata maturazione delle ghiande (Foenum ab infusione pluviarum et inundatione amnium periit, segetes exiguae, vineae vero profusae fuerunt; quercorum fructus ostensi effectum non obtinuerunt.)

When we look at the trajectory of human history, we see mostly the promises of apocalypses that never happened. Faced with all the calculations and predictions of the end in our time, perhaps it’s best to remember Gregory’s acorns that grew but never ripened. [320]

A proposito della battuta di San Lorenzo, quando sulla graticola chiese di essere girato sull’altro lato che il primo era cotto:

My chemistry teacher snapped at us because he, like so many believers, conflated the sacred and the solemn. Patriarchal religions like Christianity tend to be like this. The French philosopher and atheist Georges Bataille points out that no one ever laughs in the Gospels— the good news may be joyous, but it’s not funny. [797]

A proposito del fuoco di Sant’Antonio e dell’associazione del santo con il porcello (ma Sant’Antonio, il 17 gennaio, è anche il giorno in cui tradizionalmente cessa la macellazione del maiale):

In 1095, the son of the French nobleman Gaston of Valloire was afflicted with this horrible condition until he was miraculously cured by the remains of Anthony at the Benedictine priory of Saint-Antoine l’Abbaye. Whether or not these were actually the remains of the saint is to be debated; the nearby Saint-Julien in Arles also claimed to have a complete set of the saint’s relics, as if the hermit’s body itself was miraculously multiplying. But the bones at Saint-Antoine were good enough for Gaston, who was so impressed by his son’s recovery that he founded the Hospital Order of Saint Anthony, a congregation of monks that was devoted to curing ergotism, plague, and other skin diseases. It was in this manner that ergotism came to be known as “Saint Anthony’s fire.” […] Since pig fat was often spread on these wounds to soothe the irritation, Anthony was often depicted with pigs in the background, and his new role as the healer of skin diseases was assured. [1320-1327]

Ma le tentazioni di Sant’Antonio sono anche un pretesto, sulla scorta di Michel Foucault, per parlare dell’irruzione della follia nel mondo moderno …

If the beasts that torment Anthony seem haphazard, partial, out of alignment, it is because they no longer represent stable symbolic forms but instead offer only the fragments of an un knowable nature. [1389]

In the beginning was the Word, the Gospel of John tells us, and the Word was with God. And for a time, the Word held dominion over the visual. But art is itself now excess and madness; it is the multitudes of the visual sign freed from the Logos. Anthony is tempted by this, too – the multiplication of the visual image that inundates the univocal Word of God. This estrangement between word and image is permanent; we will never heal this rift, and the visual image with its excess of meaning will henceforth threaten that writer who seeks the single and just word that names the world. Images confront the writer as the demons confront Anthony, tempting him into madness. [1400]

… e delle ossessioni masturbatorie di Flaubert (notate la finezza di quel seminal work).

We know now what Anthony was doing in that cave and why he was tormented for it. Alone, in the deserted privacy of the desert, phantasms multiply and corrupt the mind, and the seminal work of the recluse gives birth not to healthy children but to unnatural demons. Alone, the imagination goes into overdrive – it produces multitudes – the heterodox excess that tempts Anthony is also the insatiable imagination of the masturbator, an excess without limit or reserve. [1516]

Last but not least, sulla castrazione di Origene e Abelardo (anche in questo caso, il gioco di parole tra testify e testicles è finissimo):

Leviticus 22:24 warns, “Ye shall not present to the Lord any animal if its testicles have been bruised, or crushed, torn or cut.” And Deuteronomy 23:1 pointedly proclaims, “No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose organ has been severed shall become a member of the assembly of the Lord.” Of all the bodily mutilations one can suffer, castration is the most taboo. The word unmanned has this other definition: The eunuch is no longer a member of the human community. Abelard, after all, was a rising figure in the church, but after he was unmanned, he was forced to leave the clergy. One cannot testify without one’s testicles. [2103]

Last and least, a proposito della mancata santa Margery Kempe (di cui, vi giuro, non sapevo nulla nemmeno io, che pure sono stato a scuola dai gesuiti):

Medieval Christian theologians took justification for their misogyny in part from Aristotle, who argued that semen was “frothy,” composed of water and pneuma, hot vapor (this, so he claims, is why semen does not freeze) – it is the hot vapor that contains and transmits the soul. This hierarchy of bodily fluids held throughout the medieval Christian world. Men were closer to God, as evidenced by the hot vapor in their semen, whereas menstrual blood was pure water – no froth there, no air inside the woman, who was far more earthly, somewhat lacking in soul. [2192]

* * *

Qualche altra recensione trovata sul web su Scoop.it – Recensioni. ( )
  Boris.Limpopo | Apr 29, 2019 |
Engaging and thought provoking. Dickey here doesn't dwell in detail on the gruesome aspects of the lives of the saints he chronicles. He uses their lives of passionate extremism as an entry point to examine what their dedication, pursued in various ways, reveals about their humanity, and about ours. He draws together poetry, literature, history, art, myth, psychology to offer a generous, wide-ranging consideration of what the lives of the saints – individuals, as he says, “at the edge of humanity” – can tell us about human strengths, fears, desires, and needs.

Divided into five sections, this collection of essays, each of which features a particular saint but which range into a startlingly varied range of human experience, delves captivatingly into both the peculiar and the profound. Dickey is launched into subjects as diverse as the ambiguities of textless images, brutality in war, prostitution, pornography, anatomical illustration, castrati, and more, inspired by the stories of the saints he has collected over the years. From Saint Anthony's multitudes of demons Dickey winds up with Gustave Flaubert and masturbation, both directly (Flaubert wrote a biography of Anthony, dedicating four years of his life to writing it and four days of the lives of his two closest friends to listening to him read aloud his “great work,” and when he finished the reading his dear friend could only say, “We think you should throw it into the fire and never speak of it again.” Flaubert believed that his epilepsy was a result of his method of relieving the stress that his “Anthony” project brought on.) and indirectly (of Emma Bovary he notes, “Emma's crime is only secondarily adultery; her real transgression is her surrender to the madness of novels, to the endless production of virtual images that have no correlation with the reality around her.”) Somehow, by the end of the chapter he's drawn links between between fantasy, capitalism, and madness with at least a fair degree of coherence.
On a lighter note, the legend of Saint Barbara segues into the story of Charles Dickens's conflict with his critics over the plausibility of spontaneous human combustion, which concludes the life of a minor character in the novel Bleak House. As I said, Dickey covers quite a range of material!

I found this wonderfully entertaining, though sometimes his connections are pretty tenuous and speculative, and his perspective appears to be that of a charitable skeptic (this second point is not a criticism, just an observation). Also, the book's editing was carelessly done. Still, minor complaints aside, Afterlives of the Saints is stimulating fun. ( )
  meandmybooks | Feb 5, 2017 |
Some of these essays are brilliant and if taken separately, the book would deserve a 5-star rating. Other essays wander far afield and show the author's obvious political bias which is kind of sad. Other essays, particularly the one on Magdalen, a subject truly deserving of copious thought and shrewd insight from an essayists as good as Dickey, are so off the mark that it is hard to believe an editor was involved in the book's production. ( )
  TimDel | Feb 2, 2017 |
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! ( )
  statoj | Nov 6, 2012 |
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"Afterlives of the Saints is a woven gathering of groundbreaking essays that move through Renaissance anatomy and the Sistine Chapel, Borges' "Library of Babel," the history of spontaneous human combustion, the dangers of masturbation, the pleasures of castration, "and so forth" - each essay focusing on the story of a particular (and particularly strange) saint"--

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