So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age

Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age by Ruth Harris

Ms. Harris tells the story of the wonderous events in the small town of Lourdes, and relates them to the history of France in the second half of the 19th Century. Her approach is to tell the story of the events through the lives of the people involved. To do so she quotes from letters and diaries as well as official records. In order to write in such depth, she must have read everything ever written during this period about Lourdes. Between the Notes and the Bibliography at the end of the book is a three page Dramatis Personae listing all the major people associated with the shrine. Not just for Catholics, the book devotes many pages to the role of women in 19th Century France and will be of great interest to anyone wanting to know about women's rights in France. It is also a "must read" for people interested in French social history. She also looks into the relationaship of anti-Semitism to the Catholic piety of the time. People are never presented two-dimensionally to represent the ideals or concepts they championed. Ms. Harris treats the people she writes about with respect and intelligence. As for Bernadette's vision and the miracles, she tells what is known (and she knows a lot!) and the reactions they caused without taking a stand one way or the other herself. Truly a great work of historical writing.

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