June 1, 2009
(STARRED) Farley, David
AN IRREVERENT CURIOUSITY: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town
In a lively blend of religious history, humor and quirky travel narrative, accomplished travel writer Farley (Writing/New York Univ.) chronicles his capricious journey to a tiny medieval Italian village in search of a controversial relic-the foreskin of Jesus Christ.
This shriveled bit of flesh was for centuries a popular and powerful relic, elevated by Charlemagne and revered by Constantine, but when rival prepuces started popping up everywhere, the Catholic Church began to doubt its authenticity. Stolen from Rome by a German mercenary and hidden under a pile of manure in Calcata, the scrap became the town's spiritual nucleus despite threats of excommunication for anyone who venerated it. Yet in 1983, it disappeared, seemingly without a trace or much of an uproar. The mystery Farley sought to solve was twofold: Where did the prepuzio go, and why did no one care? The author's qualifications were a Catholic childhood and his good-natured but unquenchable curiosity. With few clues and only a rudimentary knowledge of Italian, he managed to communicate with nearly everyone in the area who might have useful information. He even gained entrance to the Vatican library.
Farley's gift for timing and comic understatement makes the book seem like a madcap adventure solely attempted for the pleasure of writing about it later-the text seamlessly alternates between medieval religious history and anecdotal travelogue. Farley makes the history and culture of venerating relics almost as entertaining as his encounters with the colorful assortment of half-cracked locals and aging artists in this village of "freaks." While savoring the local meals, customs, hangouts and hang-ups, the author learned at least as much about Calcata and its people as about the missing relic. In his quest to uncover the fate of a piece of pious history through a series of unorthodox-though not exactly blasphemous-escapades, he offers an unforgettable glimpse of Italian provincial life.
Genre-bending at its best.
June 1, 2009
An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town. By David Farley. July 2009. 304p. Gotham, $25 (978 1 592404544).
Farley's idiosyncratic travel memoir limns his search for the, uh - the foreskin of Jesus Christ. Farley is an indefatigable sleuth, relentlessly crusading to find this most unusual of devotional items. He follows tips that lead nowhere and pursues others that initially look promising, only to prove disappointing in the end. Much of the fun of this humorous and irreverent memoir is, therefore, the search itself. The reader becomes almost as obsessed as Farley in his various adventures in Italy.
A good chunk of his time is spent in an isolated Italian village, Calcata, where he meets various locals and clerics. Not everyone is pleased with his mission. Some find it tasteless, especially since the church, in 1900, declared that anyone who talked or wrote about the holy relic would face excommunication. And some are offended by what they consider Farley's ridiculous line of questioning - the Vatican's outpost at the UN hangs up on him - while others take it in stride. Quirky and entertaining. - -June Sawyers
May 12, 2009
An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town
Gotham, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-592-40454-4
Until one mysterious day in 1983, the foreskin of Jesus--once one of the Catholic Church's holiest of relics--lay nestled in a box in a small church in Calcata, a village in the hills of northern Italy. On that fateful day in December, however, priest Don Dario announced to his tiny congregation that the foreskin had disappeared. What happened to this holy relic? Who could have taken this piece of the divine that medieval saint Catherine of Siena was purported to have worn as a ring around her finger and about which writers as diverse as Joyce, Stendhal and José Saramago have written? In this humorous narrative, journalist Farley sets off to solve the mystery of the missing foreskin. Part travelogue, part mystery story and part religious history, Farley's tale involves local winemakers, actors and priests, many of whom are tight-lipped about the relic's disappearance. In 1900, the Vatican decreed that anyone who talked about the holy foreskin would face excommunication, and thereby cut off its status as a holy relic.
Farley discovers that no one really knows whether this piece of holy skin ever existed in the first place, and that no one knows its whereabouts now. Although Farley's often repetitious tale might have been sufficient as a magazine article, his fast-paced storytelling and winning humor raise thoughtful questions about the nature of faith. (July)
From Transitions Abroad, "Calcata, Italy: Life in an Italian Hippie Hill Town" by David Farley
"Calcata," yelled the bus driver as we came around the bend. He hardly needed to make the announcement. Besides being the only one on the oversized blue bus, this village of 100 people, rising 450 feet above a verdant valley, has a way of announcing itself. It sits like a cupcake atop a mound of volcanic tufo stone; the rickety-looking houses are made from the same material from which they sit, giving the appearance that the structures had simply sprouted from the rock during some ancient magical age we are now far removed from.
As I hopped off the bus, slung my backpack over my shoulder, and began sauntering up to the village, I reminded myself that I was here to stay a while--about a year-and did not know a soul here.
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"Searching for Christianity's Most Sensitive Remnant," The Toronto Star, December 15, 2007
Francis X. Rocca
VATICAN CITY-When freelance writer David Farley first visited Calcata, Italy, five years back, he figured it would make for a colourful article for a travel magazine.
The picturesque hill town 30 miles north of Rome featured a medieval castle and narrow cobblestone streets, as well as an international population of artists and ex-hippies who had saved the abandoned village from demolition.
Locals called it the "paese di fricchettoni" ("village of freaks"), and on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, one could find residents dressed in Indian saris strolling across the historic main square.
But Calcata's most remarkable attraction - and the subject of a book that Farley is now writing - turned out to be something no longer there: the supposed foreskin of Jesus Christ.
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