Just in time for Christmas: The Relic Master

"Might be pitched Hollywood-style as The Princess Bride meets Ocean’s XIII."

— Kirkus Reviews, starred review

imageAnother shroud novel. But the author is Christopher Buckley, famous for his book, “Thank You for Smoking” which was adapted for the high-grossing movie of the same name. The Relic Master will be available on December 8th as a traditional bookstore hardcover suitable for Christmas wrapping ($26.95, 400 pages, Simon & Schuster). The Amazon Kindle version will sell for $12.99. The promo reads:

From New York Times bestselling author Christopher Buckley, “one of the funniest writers in the English language” (Tom Wolfe), a compelling and hilarious adventure featuring a sixteenth-century relic hunter and his best friend, Albrecht Dürer, who conspire to forge the Shroud of Turin.

The year is 1517. Dismas is a relic hunter: one who procures “authentic” religious relics for wealthy and influential clients. His two most important patrons are Frederick the Wise, Elector of Saxony and soon-to-be Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz. While Frederick is drawn to the recent writing of Martin Luther, Albrecht pursues the financial and political benefits of religion and seeks to buy a cardinalship through the selling of indulgences. When Albrecht’s ambitions increase his demands for grander and more marketable relics, Dismas and his artist friend Dürer conspire to manufacture a shroud to sell to the unsuspecting noble. Unfortunately Dürer’s reckless pride exposes Albrecht’s newly acquired shroud as a fake, so Albrecht puts Dismas and Dürer in the custody of four loutish mercenaries and sends them all to steal Christ’s burial cloth (the Shroud of Chambéry), Europe’s most celebrated relic.

On their journey to Savoy where the Shroud will be displayed, they battle a lustful count and are joined by a beautiful female apothecary. It is only when they reach their destination that they realize they are not alone in their intentions to acquire a relic of dubious legitimacy. Filled with fascinating details about art, religion, politics and science; Vatican intrigue; and Buckley’s signature wit, The Relic Master is a delightfully rich and intelligent comic adventure.

I thought you might want to see the back cover ahead of seeing it in a bookstore.


16 thoughts on “Just in time for Christmas: The Relic Master”

  1. The Shroud of Turin only became truly famous in the 1970s . Hardly anyone came to see it in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and even among the many rival shrouds that at Cadouin attracted many more pilgrims in the medieval period.
    I wonder if Mr Buckley knows of the description of the Shroud from precisely 1517 in the Travel Journal of Antonio de Beatis. It would give him good background material including a full description of the images as they were at that date.

    1. “The Shroud of Turin only became truly famous in the 1970s “, but not as famous as the Beatles. How truly famous did it become compare to 1898?

      “Hardly anyone came to see it in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”. Less than a hundred? A thousand? How many approximately? References?

      “even among the many rival shrouds that at Cadouin attracted many more pilgrims in the medieval period”. Which centuries of the medieval period are you referring to? Do you have references to back up your claim?

      1. Mario. 1) We know the public expositions of the Shroud from the 1350s and they were very limited until 1578 when it was transferred to Turin. The problem with the de Charny’s was the refusal by the popes and then bishops to allow it be seen as authentic.e.g condemnation of Margaret de Charny for exhibiting it by bishop of Liege in 1449. The Savoys tried to turn this around by claiming that the Lusignon family into which they had married had been given it by the Patriarch of Jerusalem in the eleventh century – all details in Beldon Scott.
        Meanwhile the shrine at Cadouin was on the way to Compostela and was packed out with pilgrims on their way there. It had the advantage over the Turin Shroud in that it had the actual story of having been brought from the Holy Land ,even though since the 1930s we know it is an Islamic cloth made shortly before it arrived.
        2) You will find the details of the eighteenth and nineteenth century expositions in Beldon Scott. The Shroud used to be exhibited as a relic on its feast day but after about 1703 it was only brought out at family weddings. In 1821 it was only exhibited in the cathedral ( when before it was shown in the open air in the Piazza Castello ) because of fears of demos against the dynasty, whose symbol it was, among liberals. There were only three expositions in the entire nineteenth century, 1842, 1868 and 1898. The 1868 was within the cathedral but only for four days and there is no record of many crowds as the dynasty had now relocated itself as kings of a united Italy. The lithograph that Beldon Scott reproduces from 1868 suggested that much of the paint from one of the images had fallen off by then but I leave it for yourself to view the lithograph yourself.
        3) The photos of 1898 did indeed go round the world but in the early 1900s the conservative Catholic Encyclopedia said that few Catholics thought it was authentic. There were complaints between the wars by authenticists that no one was listening to them. Things had moved on in the relic world.
        It was the television broadcasts in the 1970s which made it truly international and you get the creation of new , hitherto unrecorded, legends of an early origin which had, after the researches of Chevalier, to include Lirey again. These new legends have not found any support among medieval or Byzantine historians.
        If you don’t yet have a copy of Beldon Scott then they are available second hand and essential if you want to know e history of the expositions and the way the Savoys tried to manipulate and create a legend of authenticity which airbrushed the Lirey origin- especially after the ecclesiastical courts repeatedly proclaimed that it was not de Charny property in the first place!

        1. ‘ entire nineteenth century’ – after 1821, I mean. By 1898 the Savoy dynasty had lost interest and only sent a cousin up for the exposition. The Church tended to run the expositions from then on even though they did not own it until1983.
          All in Beldon Scott!!

        2. And then again, after 1898 there was only the 1931 exposition (marriage of Umberto II- on show behind glass 3rd to 24th May with a brief public viewing on the steps of the cathedral) and the 1933 exposition (1900 years after the Crucifixion) which again involved only one brief external exposition and the Savoys did not even turn up in Turin at all.
          This simply was not a big news relic! The Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907-14 states that ‘the immense preponderance of opinion among learned Catholics was adverse to the authenticity of the relic.’ One really does have to see the authenticity movement as essentially a newly minted one of the 1970s.

        3. Charles, I was a bit sarcastic about my questions, because your statements were outlandish. Beldon Scott, of course, cited in my book on the Shroud of Besançon.

          You provided no references or approximate numbers to support your claims. Beldon Scott does not provide the number of pilgrims at Turin.

          You wrote “Meanwhile the shrine at Cadouin was on the way to Compostela and was packed out with pilgrims on their way there.” We are talking of pilgrims at the exposition of the Shroud of Cadouin, not yearly pilgrims at Cadouin on their way to Compostela. Any approximate numbers to support your claim about the popularity of the Shroud of Cadouin? Which periods are you referring to in terms of centuries?

          For the Shroud of Cadouin, you have a summary of the expositions provided at http://www.amisdecadouin.com/le-saint-suaire-de-cadouin/ with references.

          Between 1392 and 1455, the shroud of Cadouin is not exposed in Cadouin but in Toulouse. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the number of pilgrims to the expositions is going down to the point that there were no expositions between 1797 and 1866. In 1866, when the pilgrimage was reinstated, the number of pilgrims at Cadouin was estimated at 6000. After that it appears to go down (in the 1920s there is small procession in the city) until it is stopped in 1932 because it was found to be clearly inauthentic. This is the only number I have seen published and it is quite inferior to the number of pilgrims to the Shroud of Besançon, estimated at several ten of thousands at some point. Cadouin was a very small town compared to Besançon. Cadouin, today has a population of about 400, Besançon above 110,000. If there was a more popular Shroud then the Shroud of Turin during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, it is the Shroud of Besançon, not Cadouin. As for the 13th to the 15th centuries, I have never seen any published numbers of pilgrims to the exposition of the Shroud of Cadouin, although you appear to have some, you provided no numbers or references.

        4. Mario. They did not count the numbers of pilgrims at each shrine although sometimes they recorded the number of miracles and these were read out on the feast day of the relic in question. If you look at the evidence for the expositions of the Shroud you will find that it makes a very small impact before 1578, largely because it did not have a fixed base until brought to Turin. Overwhelmed as I was by the major cults of Europe in the Middle Ages, e.g. before 1500, when I was writing my book on relics,I had no need even to include the Shroud as an also ran. It just did not feature among other more prominent shrines.

          I think Beldon Scott has enough details on the expositions of the Shroud to show that it was only between 1578 and 1703 that it had widespread popularity. I do not need to say more when anyone with an interest in the Shroud should have a copy of Beldon Scott to refer to- it is always the first book I recommend as it is the only one that relies on the original documentation in Turin and has a wonderful set of illustrations of the Shroud. One of the problems with the Shroud was the very small number of miracles associated with it- Beldon Scott illustrates those known in the sixteenth century but it did not, compared to some relics, have a healing tradition associated with it. Neither did it have a backstory ( e.g. The shroud at Cadouin was indeed brought back from the Holy Land) until the Savoys concocted their story of the Jerusalem- Cyprus- Lusignon connection by the 1580s. If we go back to 1517 de Beatis was actually given an earlier story that it was brought back from the First Crusade!

          There is nothing outlandish in referring to the cult of the Shroud, other than the period 1578 to c.1703, as a minor one before the 1970s. It appears that it was the international television coverage that brought so many, over three million, pilgrims to Turin in 1978.

          The single figure on the Shroud of Besancon did have a miracle of raising a man from the dead associated with it but I understand that many of the medieval sources relating to it were lost in a fire. The Shroud at Besancon, with its very different iconography ( e.g. no emphasis on the blood) ,and only a single figure, was, to my mind, another example of a Quem Queritis
          ceremonial burial cloth.

          The basic issue is that the number of pilgrims to a shrIne had nothing to do with the authenticity of a relic, unless it was of a recent saint. It is almost certain that the original stone that closed to the tomb is one of those apparently still to be found in Jerusalem but there is no way of knowing which one!

  2. Modern interest in the Shroud originates with the then startling photos of Secondo Pia in 1898. In 1902 Yves Delage presented the forensic work of biologist Paul Vignon and associates to the Paris Academy. The secular mood prevailing within the Academy at the time, created problems for Delage which are a matter of record, the Secretary of the Academy for instance refusing to publish the full text of the presentation.

    Both the photos of Pia and the work of Delage & Vignon presented a challenge to a certain dangerous Modernist trend within the Catholic Church at the time as it seemed that the Shroud imagery corroborated the texts of the gospels to the extent that the texts could no longer be dismissed as mere mythology according to the Modernist agenda.

    By manipulating the Pierre D’Arcis texts, Ulysse Chevalier was able to create an impression that the Shroud was an artifact dating from medieval times, and this argument was picked up by Herbert Thurston. The Catholic Encyclopedia article of 1907-14 was authored by Thurston, is solely based on Chevalier’s thesis and slanted history of the D’Arcis memorandum, with no consideration of what was then known of the image, such as its peculiar photo-negative properties and the work of Delage and Vignon. His judgment that ‘the immense preponderance of opinion among learned Catholics was adverse to the authenticity of the relic’ is fundamentally his own opinion, with its sole basis being a questionable interpretation of history with no consideration of any scientific aspect.

    Following the publication of his ‘Shroud of Christ’ in 1902, Vignon carried out further research, travelling extensively, studying icons and identifying features common to the Shroud image, culminating in 1938 with publication of his “Holy Shroud of Turin: Science, Archaeology, History, Iconography, Logic” and was accordingly awarded the French Academy Prize, the Academy seemingly relenting on its 1902 response to Delage’s presentation.

    In 1931, much improved photographs were provided by Guiseppe Enrie, These were studied by forensic pathologist Pierre Barbet, who conducted several experiments on cadavers and amputated limbs, and who published works 1935-1950. Further forensic studies were carried out by Dr David Willis in England. The reaction of Pope Pius XII upon being informed of Barbet’s findings was the tearful response: “We did not know; nobody had ever told us!”

    Until 1969, King Umberto and the Turin guardians had resisted all attempts at scientific investigation and the taking of samples, notwithstanding that the Savoys had from time to time taken threads or other small samples for occasional gifts to family members or other notables. All investigations up until then were solely based on the Pia and Enrie photographs. The Pellegrino secret Commission of 1969-76 appears to have been the first time that the Shroud was ever subject to any kind of direct scientific scrutiny, but was limited in scope. The Raes textile samples, and Frei’s pollen samples date from this time.

    There had been some general awareness of the Shroud image among the Catholic faithful, as I recall seeing copies of the facial image among family homes during my childhood and youth during say 1948-60 and I recall reading magazine articles about it. Fr Peter Rinaldi had published his article in the Passionist monthly magazine “The Sign” in 1934, and also creating some interest in Scientific American”. The more recent film “The Silent Witness” also created considerable awareness.

    But perhaps it was only with the publication of Ian Wilson’s book in 1978, that propelled the Shroud to a greater awareness among the anglophone public. Whatever the shortcomings in Wilson’s own research, the sheer scope and coverage of the many different aspects of the Shroud in his book, certainly acted as a major catalyst for public awareness.

    1. I read once, I have no idea where, that the second most popular syndicated newspaper photograph in 1898 was Pia’s. First place went to Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders charging San Juan Hill
      Rough Riders

      I suspect that the 1898 photograph was far more significant and better seen than the 1970 television showing.

      1. Dan , the photos certainly went global but it does not seem to have meant much to Turin. One had to wait thirty-three years after 1898 for a new exposition and that was a family one, the wedding of Umberto II, which was in line with well established family tradition. Then the Church took over for the 1933 commemorative exhibition. Neither drew enormous crowds and then you had to wait another FORTY years for the next exposition. This does not suggest widespread interest.

        1. Dan , the photos certainly went global but it does not seem to have meant much to Turin. One had to wait thirty-three years after 1898 for a new exposition and that was a family one, the wedding of Umberto II, which was in line with well established family tradition. Then the Church took over for the 1933 commemorative exhibition. Neither drew enormous crowds and then you had to wait another FORTY years for the next exposition. This does not suggest widespread interest.



          “May 3-24, 1931: Eighth public exhibition on the occasion of the marriage of Prince Umberto of Piedmont, later to become Umberto II of Savoy, to Princes Maria Jos of Belgium. Cardinal Fossati officiates. Two million visitors flock to Turin for this occasion.”

      2. Try Googling a combination of one of “photo”, “shroud” and “san juan hill” with one of “most syndicated”, “most popular” “most published”, “most printed”, or any other similar formula.

        1. Here what I have found about
          “a cartridge developed in the early 1890s”:

          >… The .30-40 Krag (also called .30 U.S., or .30 Army) was a cartridge developed in the early 1890s to provide the U.S. armed forces with a smokeless powder cartridge suited for use with modern small-bore repeating rifles to be selected in the 1892 small arm trials. Since the cartridge it was replacing was the .45-70 Government, the round was considered small-bore at the time. The design selected was ultimately the Krag–Jørgensen, formally adopted as the M1892 Springfield. …


          Of course, a war has to be fought
          with weapons more appropriate …
          What a sad story the history of wars! …

      3. I don’t know where the two million figure comes from- that would be 100,000 a day (how many a day went through in June?) and in the extensive study by Beldon Scott of the 1931 exhibition, pp 304-13, he makes no mention of crowds at all, except in the final exposition for one day outside and that only from the cathedral steps and not in the larger Piazza Castello (a planned exposition outside for the opening day was cancelled as a result of rain).
        There were unverified accounts of 1.5 million in newspapers but even this seems too high considering that the Shroud was in the cathedral. Plate 12 in Beldon Scott shows the Fascist Government’s advert for the ostension and he notes, p. 311, how Mussolini, flushed with success of the Concordat of 1929, saw it as a propaganda event to link the regime, the monarchy and the church. ‘Seizing the ostension as an opportunity to solidify further its advantageous positive rapport with the church, the fascist regime employed various means for advancing this goal’ and this included a fifty per cent reduction in train fares from Italian stations. As Beldon Scott goes on: ‘In effect, a government subsidy, this arrangement encouraged pilgrimages to Turin, solidifying a mutually beneficial relationship between church and state’. The poster links the exposition to the royal nuptials ( Umberto was still Crown Prince at the time and the king did not even turn up.) Knowing how the press was controlled by the Fascists at this time, the 1.5 million may be no more than propaganda put out by the regime. I think Beldon Scott would have mentioned the crowds if they had been this big as they would have brought the city to a halt!
        We also have Peter Rinaldi’s memoirs (‘When America First Heard About the Shroud’, Spectrum, no. 12 Part 3) which notes that after he went back to the US after the 1933 ostension, no one had heard of the Shroud.
        The evidence does suggest, however, that the breakthrough to the Shroud as an international icon is in the 1970s following television broadcasts. The fact that lots of people turn up to a shrine has no relationship, of course, with authenticity, especially when you have a Fascist government encouraging them as in 1931.

  3. Last week I bought the book by Ian Caldwell …
    But I have not finished reading the text interesting.
    Moral of the story: we have to read a book at a time …

    Ten years have passed since the publication
    of the first novel: “The Rule of Four” and
    the release of “The Fifth Gospel”.
    I think that the authors should have an
    adequate period of time in order to be
    able to improve their style and their knowledges.

    …and then, eventually, you will see the book
    on the stalls…
    For example, today I have seen that the famous
    book written by an “Art historian” (Thomas de Wesselow)
    is sold at only 4 Euros and 90 cents on
    a “bench of books”…

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: