Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead


Peter Manseau is the son of a priest and a nun, an unusual situation chronicled in his autobiography Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and Their Son.  I haven't read this book yet, but over the weekend the pain of my sciatica allowed me time to read Rag and Bone.

It happened this book was the right book for me at the right time. Engaged in so many heavier books, I needed something a bit lighter – but still literary – to keep me company in my agony. And this memoir fit the bill.

Ever wonder why some religions venerate bits and pieces of saints? Why even a strand of hair, of dubious origin, can reinforce faith? Shrivelled up bodies, or parts of bodies, a tooth said to have come from the Buddha … The list goes on.

Peter Manseau goes on a trek 'round the world to seek out these supposed holy objects, gathering as much information as he can about them, and reporting back to the reader on what he finds.The writing is lovely – intelligent, lively and sometimes very, very funny. This book, and a handful of Advil, got me through a really lousy day.

Quote from Rag and Bone:

"Relics seem to me to admit that, yes, while we do have a spiritual dimension to our lives, we are also flesh under the looking glass of all those around us. Our lives and our deaths are witnessed by others, and what our lives might mean to them is mostly beyond our control. We are simultaneously people who need symbols to survive, and we are symbols ourselves. Our bodies – our toes and shins, our foreskins and ribs, our hands and whiskers, our teeth and hair – have the capacity to tell stories we cannot imagine. And the facts of our lives can be as mysterious and in need of explanation as anything that lies beyond."

A bit of education, lots of world travel, musings on what makes us all human … A delightful read by a delightfully fun and open-minded traveller.


Now, back to bed to read about a man desperately trying to offer his beautiful wife up to other men to enjoy. Quite a contrasting read.

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