A provocative thought from the wonderful new book A Very Brief History of Eternity, by my friend Carlos Eire:

. . . few contrasts can be starker than that between John Calvin’s burial and that of Teresa of Avila. Buried in an unmarked grave outside the walls of Geneva, as per his own instructions, Calvin intentionally made himself disappear from the world of the living. After his death, no one prayed for his soul and no one prayed to him. Aside from his many texts, which continue to be read to this day, Calvin ceased to have any relations with the living. How different it was for Teresa. Continually exhumed and reburied, cut, sliced, carved, and scattered all over the world in pieces large and small, Teresa’s miraculously incorruptible body became the focus of intense veneration, even to this day. Even as Machiavellian a dictator as the Fascist Francisco Franco tried to claim her hand for himself. Though some masses and prayers were offered for her, as for all souls, no matter how holy, Teresa was soon venerated as a saint and prayed to instead. Canonized in 1620, elevated to Doctor of the Church in 1970, she remains alive among Catholics in myriad ways, beyond her texts.

Which raises the question: which of the two, Calvin or Teresa, has a greater influence upon the living?

Text Patterns

December 14, 2009


  1. Calvin has certainly had a larger influence of History—which probably means that he exerts a larger influence on the living, broadly speaking, though that influence is, in most cases, rather tangential.

    If you look at personal narratives—ironically more protestant—it seems likely that Teresa has had a stronger influence. How many people derive hope form Calvin on a regular basis, save for the legions of (very vocal) reformed seminarians?

  2. Michael, now you need to go on — in the spirit of Carlos's paragraph — and add numbers of body parts and locations thereof, pilgrims to said body parts, and pilgrims to other (body-partless) shrines dedicated to the person. Then we'll be getting somewhere!

  3. Then there is Wyclif–buried, dug up, burned, and scattered. Everyone should read Thom Satterlee's great poetry collection href="http://www.ttup.ttu.edu/BookPages/0896725766.html>Burning Wyclif . Here is the poem about the exhumation and cremation:

    Burning Wyclif

    Sometimes you have to raise the body up
    to burn it down. So it was with Wyclif,
    who rested forty-two years under chancel stone
    condemned by the Papacy, protected by the Crown.
    Finally, a bishop came with a few men,
    spades, shovels, a horse and cart. By then,
    not much was left of Wyclif—hair and skin gone,
    his bones slipped out of place inside the simple alb
    they’d buried him in. The bishop gathered what he could.
    Beside the River Swift, he lit a pile of wood
    and tossed the bones on one at a time,
    cursing the heretic from limb to limb.
    Afterwards, they shoveled ash into the water
    and no one even thought the word martyr.

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