Picks and Pans Review: These Quibbles Aside, the History of Hell Is An Absorbing and Sometimes Amusing Overview of Our Enduring
updated 04/11/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 04/11/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT
ONE HUNDRED SAINTS
In 1245 there was an Italian student at the University of Cologne who because of his bulk and his silence in class was known to his contemporaries as the Dumb Ox. His name was Thomas Aquinas, a name that became to later generations a byword for intellectual achievement.
It is one of the charms of the lives of saints that you so often come upon the unexpected. Joan of Arc's history' as a nuisance has been presented often on stage and screen, but she was hardly unique as a holy pest. Francis of Assisi was easily her match, publicly stripping off his clothes when his father disowned him, and the demure Thérèse of Lisieux managed to disrupt a papal audience by begging Leo XIII to allow her to join her sisters in the Carmelite order at the early age of 15.
These and 96 other mystics, heroes, oddballs and curmudgeons are the subjects of the anonymously edited essays that make up One Hundred Saints, most of which have been adapted from Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints, the classic English-language work on the subject first published in London in the late 1750s. The present volume mixes the probably legendary—Agnes, Barbara, Cecilia—with such historical figures as Benedict, Dominic and Ignatius of Loyola, whose impact as the founders of religious orders remains with us today.
What most of these people looked like is uncertain—though that has never stopped the world's greatest artists from depicting them, and One Hundred Saints is superbly illustrated with such masterworks as Caracci's Christ Appearing to St. Peter, Titian's moody St. Sebastian and El Greco's St. Martin of Tours. (Little, Brown, $35)