Archive shows medieval nun faked her own death to escape convent


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Archbishop’s register reveals how Joan of Leeds crafted a dummy of her body that was buried, while she pursued ‘the way of carnal lust’

A team of medieval historians working in the archives at the University of York has found evidence that a nun in the 14th century faked her own death and crafted a dummy “in the likeness of her body” in order to escape her convent and pursue – in the words of the archbishop of the time – “the way of carnal lust”.

A marginal note written in Latin and buried deep within one of the 16 heavy registers used by to record the business of the archbishops of York between 1304 and 1405 first alerted archivists to the adventures of the runaway nun. “To warn Joan of Leeds, lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house,” runs ...

The Four Horsemen review – whatever happened to ‘New Atheism’?


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, Harris ... were the apostles of atheism as fearless as they thought?

Whatever happened to “New Atheism”? It was born in the febrile aftermath of 9/11, when belief in a deity – or, let’s be honest, specifically in Allah – seemed to some people a newly urgent danger to western civilisation. Sam Harris began writing The End of Faith (2004) immediately after the World Trade Center attacks, and it became a bestseller. There followed the philosopher Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, and Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great. The men toured vigorously, but they all met together only once, and this book is the transcript of what ensued, with new brief introductions by the surviving members, Hitchens having died in 2011. Contrary to the book’s subtitle, the “atheist revolution” was not sparked by this cocktail-fuelled pre-dinner round of chat and backslapping, ...

The Boy Who Followed His Father Into Auschwitz by Jeremy Dronfield – review


This post is by Miranda Seymour from Books | The Guardian


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Jeremy Dronfield’s account of a father and son’s experiences of the Holocaust is horrifying and important

The photograph at the beginning of this devastating book shows what may have been the last gathering of the Vienna-based family of Gustav Kleinmann, upholsterer. In 1938, during what Austrian Jews would later bitterly name “the November pogrom” – it began with Kristallnacht – peace-loving Gustav, a decorated war veteran, and his son Fritz, 15, were rounded up on the eager testimony of their non-Jewish neighbours.

A year later, Gustav, after failing to rescue his boy from a second arrest and instant deportation – the Kleinmanns’ crime, on both occasions, was to be Jewish – was snatched at night from the family home he had courageously refused to abandon. In October 1939, he was dispatched to Buchenwald. And so, by a freak of fate, was Fritz.

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‘Terrible times are coming’: the Holocaust diary that lay unread for 70 years


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Jewish teenager Renia Spiegel was executed in Poland days after her 18th birthday. Decades after her diary resurfaced in America, it is finally set to read by the world

Seventy years after writing her final entry, the diary of Polish teenager Renia Spiegel, who has drawn comparisons to Anne Frank for her moving account of life as a Jew during the Nazi occupation of Poland and who was shot on the streets days after her 18th birthday, appeared in English this week for the first time.

Running to almost 700 pages, Spiegel’s diary begins in January 1939, when she was 15, and ends on the last day of her life, 30 July 1942, when she was executed by German soldiers. The last lines in the journal are written by her boyfriend, Zygmunt Schwarzer, who ended it with his account of her death and that of his parents: “Three shots! ...

Moral Kombat: How Narnia and Harry Potter Wrestle with Death and Rewrite Christianity


This post is by Leah Schnelbach from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Hagrid carries Harry's body

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has been on Broadway for about six months and collected six Tonys after a successful run in London. I was lucky enough to see the play a few months ago, and while I liked it enormously, I can’t stop thinking about how odd it is. With Cursed Child, Rowling foregoes the possibility of a simple fun adventure and instead adds a coda to the series-long meditation on death, and continues her ongoing tickle fight conversation with the moral fantasy of C.S. Lewis.

Has there ever been a blockbuster/franchise/pop-culture-phenomenon more death-obsessed than Harry Potter? The Narnia books at least give us pages full of whimsy and adventure before cranking the stakes up. Death looms over The Hunger Games, obviously, but the books are also about political strife and governmental overthrow and class warfare. Star Wars tends to sanitize its deaths, with lightsabers ...

Aslan dead
story of the Deathly Hallows
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Hagrid tied up
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All Hail Brimstone, The 90s Supernatural Cop Show that Deserves a Cult Following


This post is by Leah Schnelbach from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Twenty years ago a television series premiered about a man returned from the dead, stalking monsters through Los Angeles, hoping for a second shot at life and redemption.

No, not AngelBrimstone.

Brimstone was an early entry in the urban horror genre, before Angel, Constantine, or Supernatural, even beating out the rash of apocalyptic religious horror that hit movie theaters the following year. It only lasted a single short season, aired out of order, with nowhere near enough promotion to help audiences attach to its high concept. Which is a shame, because the alternate universe where the show was a hit is probably a much more interesting place.

Revisiting the show for its anniversary, it’s a conflicted but fascinating work of horror shot through with ’90s cheesiness, but also dotted with moments of brilliant writing and heart.

Created by Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, who went on to write ...

Living with the Gods by Neil MacGregor review – the nature of belief


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From stones laid 11,000 years ago to modern Japanese temple offerings … reflections on objects and faith

Neil MacGregor has chosen to open his new book with a statement of what it is not. Living with the Gods, he writes, is neither a history of religion, nor an argument in favour of faith, nor a defence of any one belief. Rather, it is an attempt to define the nature of belief, the way it influences people and the countries they inhabit, and to show how fundamental it is in explaining who we are and where we came from. For, as he says, it is in deciding how we live with the gods that we decide how to live with each other.

MacGregor has spent many years using art and artefacts as a means of looking at the past, and once again his new book has been accompanied by a ...

Belief is back: why the world is putting its faith in religion


This post is by Neil MacGregor from Books | The Guardian


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Fifty years ago, religion was on the retreat as science advanced. Now it is centre stage of global politics. What does it offer the modern world, asks Neil MacGregor

It must surely be one of the most beguiling and evocative posters of the 1970s. High above the Earth, floating serenely among the stars and loosely tethered to a speeding spaceship, Yuri Gagarin smiles out at us and salutes. The first man in space is dressed in brilliant communist red, and emblazoned on his helmet are the letters CCCP (the Russian initials for the USSR). Above the skies, he looks around and tells us what he can see, or rather what he can not see: Boga Nyet!: There is no God! Below him are the toppling towers and domes of churches and mosques, left behind and condemned to imminent collapse by the soaring achievements of Soviet science. The old religions ...

Thomas Cromwell: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch review – the definitive biography


This post is by Jessie Childs from Books | The Guardian


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A virtuoso life of a self-described ruffian, who rose to become Henry VIII’s fixer, making enemies along the way

Diarmaid MacCulloch, who is presumably no stranger to mispronunciation, thinks we’ve been getting Thomas Cromwell wrong. It should be “Crummle”. This matters more now that Cromwell is a household name, or, as Hilary Mantel has put it, “an industry”. There have been several biographies of him recently, but this is the one, according to the Booker-winner, “we have been awaiting for 400 years”.

The admiration is mutual: Mantel appears in MacCulloch’s introductory material as well as the main text, where he refers to a scene in her novel Wolf Hall in which Cromwell’s glowering portrait is unveiled. He adds that Cromwell put up with it, whereas Thomas More’s image took Holbein “quite a lot of adjustment to get right”. The two are now locked in a duel in the Frick collection in New ...

Five Religious-Themed Horror Movies That Are Scarier Than The Nun


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This past weekend, The Nun scared up over $53 million at the domestic box office, and over $130 million worldwide; both numbers are record highs for the Conjuring universe, which has two more films in production (potentially three, depending on whether The Crooked Man gets off the ground or not). And while The Nun’s success is a product of the popularity of its parent franchise (a series of successful, well-made films will do that), there’s also something to be said about the movie itself; this is the first film in the Conjuring universe to explore religious horror, and there’s something wickedly appealing about that.

Whether you’re devout, atheist, or somewhere in between, there’s a twisted pleasure to be had in flirting with the dark side of religion—in imagining that, beneath the piousness and the virtue and all that, there’s this nasty darkness just waiting to get out. Sometimes it’s ...

A different kind of emission: the religious roots of ‘pollution’


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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The word may have initially been used to describe male wet dreams – but now there is no aspect of our environment that we are not intent on profaning

Air pollution in big cities, we learned this week, causes large reductions in intelligence, which is perhaps one good reason for moving Parliament out of London. Toxic air is a scientific and health issue, but the way we speak of it has religious roots.

“Pollution” comes from the Latin for the desecration of a sacred space, spiritual or moral corruption, or general filth. In the middle ages it was adopted in French for nocturnal emissions of the kind that emanated from sleeping male sinners. Nowadays, of course, we happily chuck all kinds of stuff into rivers, seas and the air, including warming carbon dioxide and NOx, or nitrogen oxides. Add noise pollution and light pollution, and it seems there is no ...

Rare medieval bible returned to shelf at Canterbury Cathedral


This post is by Maev Kennedy from Books | The Guardian


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Small illuminated volume lost to monastic library in 16th century bought for £100,000

A 13th century bible, one of a handful of books which survived intact when the library of Canterbury Cathedral was broken up at the time of the Reformation, is back in the building after almost 500 years.

The Lyghfield bible – named for a monk at the cathedral who once owned it – is the only complete bible and the finest illuminated book known to have survived from the medieval collection. The cathedral won a grant of almost £96,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and raised £4,000 more to buy it at a recent rare books sale in London.

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Ambition, desire and the search for meaning: inside the mind of a cult leader’s lover


This post is by Chris Johnston from Books | The Guardian


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Writer Laura Elizabeth Woollett tells the author of The Family why she was drawn to the story of Jim Jones’s mistress

Melbourne writer Laura Elizabeth Woollett is talking about one of the worst men who ever lived, and also – because she can identify with her – the woman who became his mistress. The man was Jim Jones, the cult leader who ordered 918 people to kill themselves in Jonestown, Guyana. The woman was Carolyn Layton, a California woman who became his lover and enabler.

Woollett, 28, has based her second novel around the character of Layton. She has called her Evelyn, “sleek-haired and oppressively brilliant”. With her young husband, Larry (Woollett calls him Lenny), she was a central member of Jones’s Peoples Temple, which was founded in Indiana in the 1950s, peaked in California in the 1960s and imploded in the most sinister of ways in 1978 when those ...

Five Books About Invented Religions


This post is by Ruthanna Emrys from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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I’ve always been fascinated by religion. My own—I maintain that the Talmud is the world’s first fix-it fic—and others, real and imagined. The way that the same underlying morals and ideas show up again and again, justified through different cosmologies, canons, and deities—and the way the same sets of core beliefs are used to justify wildly contradictory obligations.

Delve deep enough into linguistics, and eventually you’ll want to try constructed languages, with new vocabularies and grammars that illustrate the principles and limitations of those that occur naturally. Spend enough late nights arguing theology, and you start wanting to make up your own. My first-ever business card was for the half-joking Discount Deities: custom pantheon creation and appropriately biased origin myths.

For the Innsmouth Legacy books, I’ve had a lot of fun adapting Lovecraft’s Mythos into a believable faith that isn’t just an apocalyptic cult. (Not that there aren’t plenty of ...

The House of Islam by Ed Husain review – a powerful corrective


This post is by Christopher de Bellaigue from Books | The Guardian


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The religion is too often simplified in western commentary. This nuanced study considers it as a force for good

Of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims a very large number – perhaps a majority – observed the Ramadan fast last month. This doesn’t simply mean abstaining from food and water during the hours of daylight (as well as sex and cigarettes), but in many cases involves a deliberate reappraisal of one’s relation to God and the world, with more prayers and philanthropy and less shopping.

Of all the obligations that define Islam, Ramadan arouses perhaps the most irritation among some outsiders. A practice that places such a strain on the body is surely an affront to reason. Nor does it seem to make economic sense for workers to be tired and unproductive while declining to perform their allotted roles as consumers with credit ratings. And yet the west has absorbed ...

The Crossway by Guy Stagg review – a long walk towards wellness


This post is by Peter Stanford from Books | The Guardian


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Golden prose illuminates this moving account of a pilgrimage taken for the good of the author’s mental health

In our increasingly secular times, people may have stopped going to church, yet growing numbers are embracing another religious tradition: the pilgrimage. Guy Stagg quotes a striking statistic. When Spain joined the EU in 1986, fewer than 10 people a year were walking the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrim way of Saint James, towards the city of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Nowadays the annual figure is upwards of quarter of a million.

Why they are doing it is nowhere near as clear as it was 500 years ago. Some like the physical challenge, or the away-from-it-all life of basic, roadside pilgrim hostels and making-do out of a rucksack. Others enjoy the companionship of a shared adventure with strangers. For some of the band of celebs who walked the Camino recently ...

Antonia White’s Frost in May explores and invokes the rituals of power


This post is by Tessa Hadley from Books | The Guardian


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With its twisted ethic and casual cruelty, this 1933 classic about convent school life reads as dystopian fantasy today

First published in 1933, Frost in May is based on Antonia White’s own pre-first world war girlhood experiences at a convent school in Roehampton, and its enthralling story has become part of our history of women’s lives and women’s writing. Something happened to her at that school, by all the biographical accounts, which marked her for life – obsessed her and damaged her. The experience prevented her from writing for years, but in the end it also gave her this small masterpiece of a novel, exquisitely poised between a condemnation of the school and a love letter to it. Even as White – who died in 1980 – anatomises and sees through the school’s twisted, self-punishing ethic and its casual cruelty, she’s still under the spell of its seductions. That’s how ...

King James Bible’s classic English text revealed to include work by French scholar


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Academic discovers contributions to the translation by Isaac Casaubon, who helped with knotty translation questions despite speaking little English

A scholar has discovered that the King James Bible includes work by a previously unsuspected French translator, whose contribution to the quintessentially English work has lain undetected for 400 years.

The landmark work, first published in 1611, was drafted by more than 40 translators. But according to Dr Nicholas Hardy from the University of Birmingham, few documents survive from the drafting and revision stages of the translation and little is known about how the translators worked together.

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Passages from the Bible discovered behind Qur’an manuscript


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The only recorded palimpsest in which a Christian text has been effaced to make way for the Islamic holy text is to go on sale at Christie’s

An “extraordinary” discovery by an eagle-eyed scholar has identified the shadowy outlines of passages from the Bible behind an eighth-century manuscript of the Qur’an – the only recorded palimpsest in which a Christian text has been effaced to make way for the Islamic holy text.

French scholar Dr Eléonore Cellard was looking for images of a palimpsest page sold a decade earlier by Christie’s when she came across the auction house’s latest catalogue, which included fragments from a manuscript of the Qur’an which Christie’s had dated to the eighth century AD, or the second century of Islam. Scrutinising the image, she noticed that, appearing faintly behind the Arabic script, were Coptic letters. She contacted Christie’s, and they managed to identify the Coptic text ...

Elena Ferrante: ‘God didn’t make a good impression on my teenage self’


This post is by Elena Ferrante from Books | The Guardian


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I have no liking for the throne we have assigned ourselves by declaring that we are beloved children of God and lords of the universe

When it comes to religion, I recognise myself in the three Marys, who, when they go to the grave and learn from an angel that Jesus has come back to life from the dead, begin trembling, beside themselves with fear. My religious experience stopped there.

It happened when I was around 16. I read the gospels one after another, and the entire life of Jesus seemed terrible to me. The resurrection itself I found terrifying: not a comforting conclusion. I hope I’ll have an opportunity to recount that adolescent experience of reading in detail. Here I will say only that the story of the gospels seemed to demonstrate at every step that human nature, beyond some arrogant declarations of its centrality, was depraved, devoted to ...