THE SIGN OF THE CROSS by Colm Tóibín

THE SIGN OF THE CROSS

Travels in Catholic Europe
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KIRKUS REVIEW

An Irish novelist (The Heather Blazing, 1993, etc.) and journalist reports on his visits to centers of Catholic devotion in Europe, as he attempts to make sense of his own conflicted relationship with the faith he has abandoned. Beginning with reminiscences of his Irish upbringing, Tóibín takes us to Poland, France, Italy, Spain, the post-communist worlds of the Balkans, Lithuania, and Estonia, and to Great Britain. Much of the material has been reworked from pieces written for the Irish press, and the result, though occasionally uneven, is a stimulating blend of vivid travelogue and passionate inner searching. We read of Holy Week processions, such as those of Seville, with their life-size statues of the crucified Christ and the sorrowful Virgin, accompanied by brass bands and hundreds of hooded penitents. We follow our author in the pilgrimages to Compostella and up the rugged heights of Croagh Patrick in Ireland. Midway through his narrative he tells of his searing experience in group therapy, when he first acknowledged his grief over his father's death and, in spite of himself, found the sign of the cross emerging from his psyche as a healing symbol. Throughout his travels, Tóibín has the keen eye of an intrigued skeptic: What does all this mean to these people? How can they believe in it? Only once, when he is blessed by Marija, one of the young visionaries of Medjugorje in Croatia, does he briefly move beyond his own experience of Catholicism as a form of social control. Always the outsider, he interviews many interesting people, such as Catholic Slovakian intellectuals and prominent English converts from Anglicanism, but he holds back from speaking to, rather than about, the very people whose devotion so disturbs and fascinates him. A very Irish view of Europe and Catholicism, likely to appeal to those whose inner search also takes them beyond themselves.
Pub Date: Sept. 20th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-44203-0
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995




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