Rich and Strange: Catholic Relics in the Modern Age

The book contends that study of the most venerated and unusual Catholic relics in Canada generates unique insights into both Canadian religious history and the continuing power of relics in the Catholic imaginary, even in the modern world.  Its selected case studies explore the evolution of Catholicism in Canada from colonial times to the present: focusing on topics from the gendered creation and performance of colonial sanctity (in its chapters focusing on the lives and afterlife veneration of Jean de Brébeuf, Kateri Tekakwitha, and Jeanne Le Ber), to authoritarian ultramontanism and its discontents (by examining the infamous Joseph Guibord case), to the Quiet Revolution and Quebec’s strong and ongoing ambivalence about its Catholic past (in the chapter exploring the curious case of the theft of Brother André’s heart). 

At the same time, however, the monograph engages the field of Catholic Studies by filling in a stubborn void in the study of relics: their veneration in the early modern and modern periods.  Perhaps predictably, the vast majority of scholarly attention to this point has traditionally focused on the medieval hey-day of Catholic relics, creating the (perhaps unintentional) impression that relics simply faded into obscurity in the aftermath of the Reformation.  This book seeks to correct this impression by adding to a growing literature documenting the reassertion of relics’ centrality in Roman Catholicism during the ‘Counter’ (or ‘Catholic’) Reformation and arguing for their ongoing centrality in Catholic conceptual and ritual life.

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