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A cultural history of how Christianity was born from its martyrs.
Though it promises eternal life, Christianity was forged in death. Christianity is built upon the legacies of the apostles and martyrs who chose to die rather than renounce the name of their lord. In this innovative cultural history, Kyle Smith shows how a devotion to death has shaped Christianity for two thousand years.
For centuries, Christians have cared for their saints, curating their deaths as examples of holiness. Martyrs’ stories, lurid legends of torture, have been told and retold, translated and rewritten. Martyrs’ bones are alive in the world, relics pulsing with wonder. Martyrs’ shrines are still visited by pilgrims, many in search of a miracle. Martyrs have even shaped the Christian conception of time, with each day of the year celebrating the death of a saint. From Roman antiquity to the present, by way of medieval England and the Protestant Reformation, Cult of the Dead tells the fascinating story of how the world’s most widespread religion is steeped in the memory of its martyrs.
About the Author
Kyle Smith is Associate Professor and Director of the History of Religions Program at the University of Toronto. An award-winning teacher, he is the author or coauthor of four other books about Christian saints and martyrs.
"Reading this book conveys the feeling of bouncing over bumps at high speed on a sunny day in an all-terrain sports utility vehicle. How can such lugubrious topics provide so much fun? The tale is animated by the telling. With sly wit, subtle humour, agile prose and empathetic imagination, Kyle Smith narrates the growth of one of Christianity’s defining traditions."
— Times Literary Supplement
"Cult of the Dead is the rare academic book that shows empathy; for the martyrs themselves and for those with devotion to them. . . . Smith does our dearly departed the ultimate favor: He allows the dead to speak once more."
— National Catholic Reporter
“For a topic that encompasses millennia of fascinating history, Smith’s digestible book offers a compelling and comprehensive introduction to the role of the lives and afterlives of Christianity’s martyrs in Western society from late antiquity to the present day.”
— New Criterion
"In this beautifully produced book. . . Kyle Smith brings alive devotion to the martyrs over the centuries and demonstrates how it helped to shape Christian devotional life, art, architecture, literature, and spirituality."
— Journal of Religious History
"Carefully researched and accessible."
"The great accomplishment of Smith’s book is that it manages to both revel in the macabre appeal of the martyrs, and, at the same time, take the Christian cult of the dead sympathetically and seriously."
— Reading Religion