The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs

The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs

Emma Anderson
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Harvard University Press
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    The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs
    Book Description:

    In the 1640s, eight Jesuit missionaries met their deaths at the hands of native antagonists. With their collective canonization in 1930, these men became North America's first saints. Emma Anderson untangles the complexities of these seminal acts of violence and their ever-changing legacy across the centuries. While exploring how Jesuit missionaries perceived their terrifying final hours, she also seeks to comprehend the motivations of those who confronted them from the other side of the axe, musket, or caldron of boiling water, and to illuminate the experiences of those native Catholics who, though they died alongside their missionary mentors, have yet to receive comparable recognition as martyrs. In tracing the creation and evolution of the cult of the martyrs across the centuries, Anderson reveals the ways in which both believers and detractors have honored andpreserved the memory of the martyrs in this "afterlife," and how their powerful story has been continually reinterpreted in the collective imagination. As rival shrines rose on either side of the U.S.-Canadian border, these figures would both unite and deeply divide natives and non-natives, francophones and anglophones, Protestants and Catholics, Canadians and Americans, forging a legacy as controversial as it has been enduring.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-72616-1
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 1-13)

    The small crowd clusters around the altar. Their many-hued faces are uniformly turned toward the skull of revered saint and martyr Jean de Brébeuf, a missionary killed in an elaborate death-by-torture ritual in March 1649. Each pilgrim patiently awaits the chance to kneel in prayer before the relic. Competition is most intense for the coveted spot at the end of the altar, where Brébeufʹs skeletal face is fully visible. There, one can meet with oneʹs own gaze the shadows of his empty eye sockets in a kind of Christiandarshan, or exchange of auspicious glances. The lucky ones who have...

  4. 1 A Spectacle for Men and Angels
    (pp. 14-53)

    Standing before the leather door flap of the Mohawk longhouse where he had been peremptorily summoned, the gaunt Jesuit paused, mentally forming one last prayer of thanks and of promise to his God. Despite the warning from his fellow French captive, donné Jean de la Lande, to ignore the command, Isaac Jogues was glad he had come. Much of the last four years of his life, it seemed, had been spent in preparation for the moment he suspected, and even half-hoped, had finally arrived. There had been so many false starts and so many unexplained reprieves. So many others had...

  5. 2 The Blood of Martyrs Is the Seed of Christians
    (pp. 54-97)

    The newly professed nun lay prostrate on the dark churchʹs cold stone floor. A single candle flickered in its red glass sconce, signaling the presence of the consecrated host, which, displayed in its encircling monstrance, glowed red-gold in the dim light. Arms outstretched, the new sisterʹs body echoed the cruciform position of her bridegroomʹs on this, their wedding night. Above the altar, his nearly nude form hung, stretched in suffering, limbs alternately drenched and shadowed in the flickering rosy light. Though it was early May, the unforgiving granite chilled the side of her face like a winter grave. The thin...

  6. 3 Souvenirs des Jésuites
    (pp. 98-164)

    Clutching his hat, from which he thoughtfully shook the snow, the priest was led by Madame Légaré through the long downstairs hallway to her husbandʹs studio. As he made small talk with the artistʹs wife, following her swishing skirts down the length of an echoing corridor garnished with gloomy, gilt-framed paintings, he could hear the voices of the Légarésʹ five children faintly floating down to him from upstairs.¹

    Twirling his hat nervously in his hands, the priest was somewhat ill at ease. The artist he was going to meet, Joseph Légaré, was a well-known supporter of thePatriotes, French Canadian...

  7. 4 For Canada and for God
    (pp. 165-213)

    It was probably the single most engrossing thing ever to have happened in the sleepy town of Midland, on the shores of Ontarioʹs scenic Georgian Bay. In the hot, languorous summer days of July 1949, the town was abuzz with excitement over the lavish pageant celebrating the three hundredth anniversary of the martyrdoms of Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant, set to open in just a few days.¹ The hype, even away from its epicenter at Midland, was virtually inescapable, the spotlight white-hot. One veteran newspaperman, half admiringly, half impatiently, called the pageant ʺthe most publicized event in the history...

  8. 5 Bones of Contention
    (pp. 214-254)

    The driving rain beat down on the heads of the thousands assembled by the outdoor altar.¹ Gusts of wind sent autumn leaves scurrying along the ground, slapped soaked tendrils of hair against drenched faces, and suddenly turned umbrellas inside out, exposing their fragile, radiating metal spines, like the delicate skeletons of sea urchins. Though it was only late September, it was cold. Noses were raw and reddened. Some eyes streamed as rain and wind-induced tears comingled. Even as they shivered, many pilgrims worried that the inclement weather would delay the historic ritual they had gathered at the Midland Martyrsʹ Shrine...

  9. 6 The Naked and the Dead
    (pp. 255-308)

    The small group of Mohawk women hesitated on the threshold of Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine Museum in Auriesville, New York. Temporarily blinded, they waited for their eyes to adjust from the brilliant sunlight outside to the greenish, aquarium-like darkness of the buildingʹs interior. All around them they could hear the low, soothing murmur of voices as pilgrims and tourists alike scrutinized items in the glass cases or squinted at wall displays.

    As her vision began to clear, one of the women, veteran elementary schoolteacher ʺSarah Oldfield,ʺ¹ found her attention drawn to a dramatic plaster diorama displayed in the center...

  10. 7 Pilgrimsʹ Progress
    (pp. 309-358)

    The sound of latin plainsong, high and thin, permeates the gray, early morning chill and is answered by the sweet, intermittent soprano of birdsong. Pine needles bite deeply into my knees as I kneel with some 200 pilgrims, many of them children and young people, on the damp grass. Together we gaze expectantly uphill at the make-shift altar installed under an imposing figure—a giant statue of Isaac Jogues.¹ Caught midstride, the Jesuit saintʹs frozen gaze greets the dawn horizon. One of his mutilated hands clutches a cross, while the amputated digits of the other are upheld in a protective...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 359-378)

    The wind swept the tiny, crystalline flakes along the ground. Smoke, ash, and snow together performed a languorous dance, veiling and revealing the indistinct forms on the ground. Here, all was white, or gray, or black: no living colors enlivened the monochrome landscape. Even the dead grass that poked above the snow was sere and brittle. The nightʹs heavy snowfall had obscured all traces of the recent battle for Taenhatentaron/Saint-Ignace: erasing all footprints, extinguishing all flames, and softening the outline of what had once been walls. Snow lay thick on the broken, off-kilter lie of a fallen roof, on a...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 379-442)
  13. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 443-446)
  14. Index
    (pp. 447-463)