The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs




The description below is from the website of Harvard University Press.

In the 1640s—a decade of epidemic and warfare across colonial North America—eight Jesuit missionaries met their deaths at the hands of native antagonists. With their collective canonization in 1930, these men, known to the devout as the North American martyrs, would become the continent’s first official Catholic saints. In The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs, Emma Anderson untangles the complexities of these seminal acts of violence and their ever-changing legacy across the centuries. While exploring how Jesuit missionaries perceived their terrifying final hours, the work also seeks to comprehend the motivations of the those who confronted them from the other side of the axe, musket, or caldron of boiling water, and to illuminate the experiences of those native Catholics who, though they died alongside their missionary mentors, have yet to receive comparable recognition as martyrs by the Catholic Church.

In tracing the creation and evolution of the cult of the martyrs across the centuries, Anderson reveals the ways in which both believers and detractors have honored and preserved the memory of the martyrs in this “afterlife,” and how their powerful story has been continually reinterpreted in the collective imagination over the centuries. As rival shrines rose to honor the martyrs on either side of the U.S.–Canadian border, these figures would both unite and deeply divide natives and non-natives, francophones and anglophones, Protestants and Catholics, Canadians and Americans, forging a legacy as controversial as it has been enduring.


 Nathan M. Greenfield, The Times Literary Supplement

[A] fascinating book.

Michael Stogre, America

Anderson has masterfully traced the evolution of the martyrs’ ‘myth’ to the present day… It is a fascinating read.

Danae Jacobson, Books & Culture

[Anderson] succeeds in illuminating the martyrs’ long afterlife, sketching along the way some major contours of Canadian history while keeping American and French contexts in mind as well… As a comparative and multinational work, this book is exemplary… From the first page to the last, this beautifully written, smartly crafted, and assiduously researched book models the kind of empathetic, honest, and nuanced approach that characterizes history at its best.

Jodi Bilinkoff, American Historical Review

Emma Anderson has written a big book packed with fascinating information and insights… The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs offers a rich and valuable study of the construction of memory as evidenced in this ‘ever-evolving, ever-contested cult.

R. Berleant-Schiller, Choice

[An] innovative history that crosses disciplines.

Joseph Boyden, author of Three Day Road and Through Black Spruce

Emma Anderson has done something awe-inspiring: she has breathed life into the evocative story of the North American martyrs and their legacy. What’s most exciting is that she has accomplished this with both the hand of a great storyteller and the mind of a brilliant scholar.

Kathleen Sprows Cummings, author of New Women of the Old Faith: Gender and American Catholicism in the Progressive Era

This beautifully written study of how the Jesuit martyrs have been remembered and reinvented in the popular Catholic imagination is without rival in terms of its scope, ambition, and achievement. I enthusiastically recommend it.

Dominique Deslandres, author of Croire et faire croire: Les missions francaises au XVIIe siecle

The eight men who became North America’s first canonized saints have been imagined and appropriated in many ways by both Euro-Americans and Amerindians on both sides of the U.S.–Canada border. With vivid style and powerful insight, Anderson explores the history and changing interpretations of the martyrs’ deaths, which, three centuries later, continue to serve as powerful cultural and spiritual symbols.

Allan Greer, author of Mohawk Saint: Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits

In a lively and engaging style, Anderson recreates the story of Jesuit missionaries killed in the seventeenth century. More importantly, she uncovers the different meanings given to their deaths by American Catholics, Canadian nationalists, and Native people across the years. A fascinating book.

Robert A. Orsi, author of Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them

This richly imagined book is a delight to read. In prose of exquisite, often sensuous detail and striking immediacy, Anderson offers a compelling history that opens up important questions in the study of religion. Her account of Brébeuf’s torture and death is a tour-de-force, while her treatment of the interactions between Native Americans and Europeans is psychologically acute and emotionally resonant.

Thomas A. Tweed, author of Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion

This beautifully written book about memory will be widely praised. It respectfully analyzes the practices and worldviews of both aboriginal peoples and European missionaries. It combines historical and ethnographic methods to craft a story that ranges from the seventeenth century to the present. And, at a time when many scholars are trumpeting comparative and transnational studies, it provides a model for those who want to write religious history across national borders.

Raymond A. Schroth, author of Racism, Martyrdom and Mythology: Author Delivers an Indictment of the Cult of the First American Saints

National Catholic Reporter, May 23-June 5, 2014

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