Every year, about a dozen major Catholic publishers in the United States publish approximately 200-300 books total. I am privileged enough to review 1/4 to 1/3 of them.
Most of the books are solid in the faith, easy to read, and spiritually edifying. Some of the books are merely average, and unfortunately, some of the books are by authors we don’t need to read (like Richard Rohr or Ron Rolheiser). However, there are about 5-10 that come out each year that blow you away with their exceptionalness, and are “must-owns.”
The book I am reviewing today, Witnesses to Mystery, falls into the exceptional category.
This book is the product of journalist Grzegorz Górny’s two-year investigative study on the authenticity of the relics of Christ’s Passion. The primary relics investigated and covered include the Shroud of Turin, the True Cross, the Holy Nails, the Sudarium of Oviedo, the Tunic of Argenteuil, the Holy Coat of Trier, the Veil of Manoppello (Veronica’s Veil), the Pillar where Jesus was Scourged, and the Crown of Thorns. Also covered in a smaller chapter are items like the Spear of Longinus (the one that pierced Jesus’ side) and sandals that supposedly were worn by Jesus.
As to be expected, larger chapters are focused on more well-known relics. The Shroud of Turin received over 50 pages (roughly 15% of the book) devoted to it. Though I have watched several documentaries on the Shroud, the photographs of Janusz Rosikon and the drawings mapping the images and blood stains on the Shroud were breathtaking.
My favorite chapter, however, dealt with the True Cross. I know the legend and tradition associated with St. Helen (Constantine’s mother) finding the True Cross. What I didn’t know and learned from this book was all the information about the titulus (sign hung on the Cross). I also learned a great deal about the many fragments of the True Cross. It made me sad to read how only half of the titulus remains and also that some of the larger fragments of the True Cross were stolen, lost, or destroyed.
This book is absolutely gorgeous in terms of the pictures, illustrations, and the overall presentation. If this book were nothing but those images, it would be worth every penny. Thankfully, the writing was equally beneficial.
One could say that this could be considered a textbook on relics. However, textbook has a negative connotation associated with it. This book is scholarly, but not dry; steeped in details and facts, but not boring.
Grzegorz Górny really makes the subject come alive, and he did an A+ job with the numerous trips and interviews conducted to obtain all the information presented in this book. I admit that I sometimes struggle with the authenticity of relics of Christ, but after reading this book, my doubts have dissipated. So if you’re a doubter like I was, or someone who believes but just wants more information, I would highly recommend this book.
This book was provided to me for free by Ignatius Press in exchange for an honest review.
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Copyright 2014, Stuart Dunn