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All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author, There is no authorative active voice. There are only multiple readings. David Bowie, 1995

Friday, December 11, 2015

indulgences and fraud--a satirical romp through church history!



Set at the time of the Reformation and Luther's famous Ninety-Five Theses, Buckley has treated us to a walk through history (in this case, religious) that equals '1066 and All That'. Witty, humorous and telling. We are privy to the vagaries and voracities of the powerful--archbishops and electors, their purchases of artifacts that will increase the big business of indulgences and line their coffers. Buckley's portrayal of Frederick the Wise seems slightly more sympathetic. His collecting of relics appears more that of a genuine interest in the relics themselves, and a concern for their authenticity--he has the soul of a true collector. For Albert of Mainz indulgences are his way forward, they are about competition and power, the road to the Vatican and the supreme position. And now that Rome has issued a 'bull' decreeing that all indulgences sold by Albert have a special dispensation, indulgences in other parts of Europe are not as valuable in terms of the spiritual journeys of the faithful.
Dismas is a relic Hunter of exceptional ability and one who takes pride in his work. When he refuses to buy the supposed boat of St Peter, his patron Albrecht of Mainz is not happy. Albrecht's answer to Dismas' failure becomes obvious when Dismas next passes through.
Along with Dismas I am amazed at the sheer number of bones of saints, etc. that litter the religious houses of Europe and beyond. I am equally amazed by the various categories that relics cover--such as lapidary (from rocks Jesus walked on to stones thrown at the saints). 
Meanwhile Dismas' other patron, Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony, is sheltering the now infamous Martin Luther. We know that these decisions are history changing moments.
With his friend and drinking buddy Albert Dürer, Dismas decides to forge the Shroud of Turin and sell it to Albrecht. Unfortunately Dürer lets pride take over and through a curious set of circumstances the shroud is exposed as a fake. Unhappy, Albrecht forces Dismas and Dürer to steal a replacement, the celebrated Shroud of Chambéry. A journey that is fraught with danger, betrayal and fraud. More interesting characters are added including the gorgeous Magda, a female apothecary.
The secondary characters are wonderful, the casual references to the now famed gives a human face to the past. The court painter Cranach 'dour...and rather full of himself', the loathsomeness of Tetzel as he eyes the main chance for procuring the best prices for indulgences penances, reducing the time of punishment for sins committed.
This journey is one of comic happenstance. An adventurous romp through a fascinating time in church history with a couple of delightful well meaning rogues directing the action.

A NetGalley ARC

*****

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