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Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter's Head, St. Claire's Heart, St. Stephen's Hand, and Other Saints' Relics

Chips of bone and vials of clotted blood and curling flaps of long-dead skin like rawhide -- saints' bodily remains are enshrined in plain view all over Europe. Sometimes the entire corpse is on display, mummified and dressed in satin and lace. Sometimes amputated limbs rest in a gilded box. An extracted heart lies framed with pearls. Skulls wearing garlands peek from behind glass panes. Severed hands jut ceilingward. And how did they get here? The answer to this question leads to extraordinary tales of fierce kings and ecstatic nuns; of girls who had their eyes torn out, their breasts slashed off, who sang while being boiled. Of saints who stayed in trance from dawn to dusk. Of women had visions of a holy fiancé who climbed down, bleeding, off a cross and gave them golden rings. Medieval Europe's most popular tourist attractions, igniting madness and frenzy wherever they went, saints' relics are still believed by millions to cure the sick, answer prayers and work miracles.

Blending spiritual quest with personal narrative and fascinating history, Magnificent Corpses tells the story of Europe's most important holy relics and their passionate devotees. A first-of-its-kind must for armchair travelers, actual travelers and anyone wishing to widen their spiritual horizons, Magnificent Corpses explores dozens of Europe's most fascinating relic shrines. Revisiting the pilgrimages that for hundreds of years held the faithful in their thrall, this book traces a modern woman's quest across contemporary Europe.

Reviews of Magnificent Corpses:

"Rufus approaches her subject with both a playful spirit and a savvy insight into the business of relics. Magnificent Corpses is a uniquely exotic "armchair adventure" that invites the reader to visit unheard-of places and see remarkable sights through the eyes of a hip and hardy writer with an edgy but engaging sense of humor. Both as a travel book and as a meditation on what prompts us to regard a life and the relics of life as holy, Magnificent Corpses is a magnificent if eccentric success."
— Los Angeles Times

"Rufus' prose is spare; she allows the scenes to make their own commentary. Take her with you on your next European vacation. She's the perfect companion."

"In a sort of anti-pilgrimage that is both poetic and bizarre, Anneli Rufus travels in search of Europe's most venerated corpses. Rufus, an expert on places strange and macabre, blends scholarship and wit in a narrative that deals candidly with the mystery and morality of these holiest of holy relics. A very interesting book."
— San Francisco Chronicle

"Rufus' miracle mystery tour crisscrosses Europe.... Her detail becomes almost lyrical."
— Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

"A travel book with a difference, Magnificent Corpses is an engrossing and delightful book that might well leave you rethinking your plans for your next vacation."
— The National Post (Toronto)

"A delightful personal narrative. Recommended for armchair travelers, readers interested in the saints, and those studying modern pilgrims."
— Library Journal

"Rufus's splendid storytelling takes readers on a European tour not soon forgotten."
— Publishers Weekly

"Each tale is a literary gem as well as a wonderment.... The high quality of Rufus's narrative craftsmanship win Magnificent Corpses my vote for the most entertaining metaphysical read of the summer."

"With an often irreverent perspective, she takes us on a tour of some of the more interesting sites of saints still preserved in Europe.... Her outsider perspective casts some accurate and interesting judgments on the way these saints chose to live, as she presents an often unvisited side of Europe with fascination, wonder, and awe."
— Booklist

"A compelling journal...Rufus delivers a rich, witty and thought-provoking story of an offbeat journey."
— Passionfruit

"In this unique offering, award-winning journalist Rufus sought out dozens of final-resting places -- a lock of hair, a sacred body part, whole mummies -- and tells timeless tales of the quest in a sometimes soothing, sometimes shocking, always entertaining style."
— The Shoestring Traveler

"This lively and irreverent travelogue blends personal narratives with stories of the lives of the saints. Rufus's book may spur you to launch your own iconoclastic trek across Europe."
— New Age Journal

"The stories behind the veneration of sacred relics -- and the strange travails such reverence has engendered for the remains of saints -- are the subject of this intriguing, amusing, offbeat travel book. Journeying throughout Europe on the trail of garlanded skulls, disembodied hands, and fully dressed mummies, Anneli Rufus investigates more than two dozen of Europe's most honored relics. Spiced with saints' lives, historical curiosities, and clever observation of the contemporary scene, Magnificent Corpses is a captivating chronicle."
— A Common Reader

"Great reading, plain and simple. Rarely has a "travel" guide been so engrossing, so to speak.... The stories are captivating, and Ms. Rufus tells them in a way that makes this a page-turner of the first magnitude."
— Travel Reference Library

Readers' comments about Magnificent Corpses:

"Absolutely marvelous! Her style of writing is wonderfully funny and at times even poetic. As a reluctant Catholic, I thrilled to her descriptions of the various churches. I couldn't have laughed more or enjoyed this book more! You MUST read it. It's quirky and superb! One of the most unique travel accounts you'll ever read."

— A reader from Marina, CA

"The author's wit and narrative style are wonderfully accurate and capture the sights, sounds, and places of modern Europe with aplomb. In fact, her observations are loaded with insight....I give this book five stars!"
— A reader from New York, NY

"Magnificent Corpses is a detailed tour of churches and the saintly relics they hold. Strange. Disturbing. Incredible! This is the best book I've read all year, next to Christine de Pizan's Book of the City of Ladies. I especially like it because it was written by a non-Catholic...and while I'm a slacking Catholic, she's just as morbidly fascinated by the art of relic collecting as I am. Yes...this is beautiful...but isn't it strange to cut up a body and send its parts to churches all over Europe. I've recommeded this one to a fan of horror and she loves it."
— A reader on Bibliophilia

"Hilarious! This weird little book made me laugh to no end."
— A reader from Big Sur

"An enlightening travelogue into the world of saints. A fascinating read. ... Overall, informative and fun."
— A reader from San Francisco

2009 anneli rufus