Book ReviewsThe strange, fascinating story of a Catholic book no one should miss

The Vulnerary of Christ The Vulnerary of Christ/ Angelico Press

The story of The Vulnerary of Christ could have been written by a Catholic-friendly Dan Brown. But how it ended up being printed and distributed by Angelico Press is not a novel, but a true story.

First, let's talk about the book's unique content. The Vulnerary of Christ, compiles the history of emblematic depictions of the Five Wounds that Christ suffered at the Crucifixion (vulnerary means a remedy to cure wounds). It is thus a uniquely Catholic compilation of essays and images that explain the rich symbolism and representation in religious art, liturgical objects, heraldry, and even household items, of Jesus' five wounds.  

Now, here is the fascinating story of the book:  the manuscript upon which this book is based was completed in 1946 by French scholar Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (1871-1946) - an author of other books on Catholic symbolism - shortly before his death. 

After his death, the manuscript was stolen by someone claiming to be a publisher, and has never surfaced again. 

Hold to your hat, Dan Brown: since certain chapters in the book deal with carefully guarded materials known only from a 15th-century manuscript associated with a mysterious Christian society called the Estoile Internelle (Inner Star), some have speculated that a contemporary member of this organization may have carried it off to maintain secrecy.

Fast forward to 2016. After a remarkable series of events, a French researcher in symbolism acquired the original, and extensive, archives of Charbonneau-Lassay, and was able to reconstitute the content of the Vulnerary of Christ by reference to thousands of files, sketches, and woodcuts preserved in the archives. In 2018, the book was finally published in French, 75 years after its intended publication.

Angelico Press engaged a gifted translator with a special interest in Charbonneau-Lassay. They went to Kickstarter to crowdfund the cost of printing 586 pages and almost 600 illustrations, plus the massive work of copyediting and bibliographic/indexing work. 

The result is this absolutely fascinating, even dreamlike set of stories, images, and carvings. Among other fascinating things provided by the book is evidence of extensive devotion to the Heart of Christ, centuries prior to official recognition of devotion to the Sacred Heart by the Catholic Church in 1765, and its connection to the legend of the Holy Grail.

When Catholicism in many corners is being voided of its historic, rich symbolism, this book is a must have both in Catholic homes and, for much needed reference, in Catholic schools  and colleges.

The Vulnerary of Christ, Angelico Press

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