Plastic pirates

I’m a little shocked at how many figures in my backlog fall into the “pirates and swashbucklers” category. Doing another sweep I remembered I still had 20+ plastic pirate crew from the “Weapons & Warriors” game, 10 or so dwarves with guns and horned helmets that seemed seaworthy, and about a dozen Landsknechte (who technically would be a little early and landlocked for Age of Sail gaming but who are a) flashy, b) mostly unarmored, and c) armed with guns or Zweihanders, so they really fit in better here than Medieval fantasy or Modern/Sci-fi which are the other two categories I tend to put RPG minis into).

The plastic pirates were a challenge because there are so many and they ought to be non-uniform. What I ended up doing was limiting them to 20 and breaking them up into groups of five, each of these four groups getting a single color for their shirts and trousers. Then I chose five different colors for their bandannas and sashes, and used them on up to 1 from each group of four. Lastly I used dark brown on half and black on half for their vests and shoes. So, no two are exactly alike but I can easily form groups of various sizes (4 blue bandannas, or 5 blue shirts, or 8 blue anything, or 10 black vests, etc.). I will probably number their bases too.

I used a lazy but fast shading technique that I’ve been experimenting with a bit: a black wash (which I used to do back when I started painting, knowing no better) but with some Future Floor Finish mixed in to greatly reduce the surface tension and allow better pooling into crevasses than plain paint and water would. This basically creates an effect like black lining (which is very tedious) and adds a simple shading in one step. I’ve tried Minwax “Polyshades”for the same purpose (with has the added benefit of being a polyurethane varnish too) but it tends to make things look too dirty, like a regular black wash. The new wash mix is not perfect, especially on the orange and yellows, but pirates should be dirty so I’m OK with it. I can’t imagine getting 20 pirates done in three 1 hour painting sessions otherwise!

At some point I may add eye patches (to the ones with the sloppiest eyes) and mustaches (the figures look like they either have bushy mustaches or really heavy sneering lips). I might also go back and give half of them darker skin tones, since historically pirates could be from anywhere.

They all seem to have a pistol in one hand and a sword in the other, with what might be a knife tucked into their sash. (One detail that I like is that the swords are manifestly NOT cutlasses, which only became common in the early 19th century. In the golden age of piracy, the swords might be anything, and the short hangers they have look right).

Published in: on April 14, 2017 at 12:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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GaryCon

I won’t be at Gary Con, which is starting tomorrow. But I understand that my book Burgs & Bailiffs: Trinity will be there. If you’re there, you’re probably not reading blog posts, but if you are, stop by Black Blade Publishing‘s table where I’m told it will be available in print. And say hi for me.

Published in: on March 22, 2017 at 3:10 pm  Comments (2)  
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Dungeon? Check! Dragon? Check!

Back when my daughter was in second grade, she drew this for me — a dragon slayer! The vertical bars on the left, she explained, were to show that this is in a dungeon. She later told my wife that in hindsight, maybe she overdid it with the blood.
This drawing is now framed in the basement (sorry about the flash glare) where all the gaming takes place.

Published in: on March 22, 2017 at 12:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Saint Patrick’s Purgatory (now with leaked material!)

Forget leprechauns and banshees … here’s your St. Patrick’s Day adventure!

Fortunatus, we are told, had heard in his travels of how two days’ journey from the town, Valdric, in Ireland, was a town, Vernic, where was the entrance to the Purgatory; so thither he went with many servants. He found a great abbey, and behind the altar of the church a door, which led into the dark cave which is called the Purgatory of S. Patrick.  In order to enter it, leave had to be obtained from the abbot; consequently, Leopold, servant to Fortunatus, betook himself to that worthy, and made known to him that a nobleman from Cyprus desired to enter the mysterious cavern. The abbot at once requested Leopold to bring his master to supper with him.  Fortunatus bought a large jar of wine, and sent it as a present to the monastery, and followed at the meal time.

“Venerable sir!” said Fortunatus, “I understand the Purgatory of S. Patrick is here; is it so?” 

The abbot replied, ” It is so indeed. Many hundred years ago, this place, where stand the abbey and the town, was a howling wilderness. Not far off, however, lived a venerable hermit, Patrick by name, who often sought the desert for the purpose of therein exercising his austerities. One day he lighted on this cave, which is of vast extent.  He entered it, and wandering on in the dark, lost his way, so that he could no more find how to return to the light of day.  After long ramblings through the gloomy passages, he fell on his knees, and besought Almighty God, if it were His will, to deliver him from the great peril wherein he lay. Whilst Patrick thus prayed, he was ware of piteous cries issuing from the depths of the cave, just such as would be the wailings of souls in purgatory. The hermit rose from his orison, and by God’s mercy found his way back to the surface, and from that day exercised greater austerities, and after his death he was numbered with the saints.  Pious people, who had heard the story of Patrick’s adventure in the cave, built this cloister on the site.”

Then Fortunatus asked whether all who ventured into the place heard likewise the howls of the tormented souls. The abbot replied, ” Some have affirmed that they have heard a bitter crying and piping therein whilst others have heard and seen nothing.  None, however, has penetrated, as yet, to the furthest limits of the cavern.”

(From Sabine Baring-Gould’s Curious myths of the Middle Ages)

Via Wikipedia, here is a map of Station Island. Click to Embiggen. “Caverna Purgatory,” noted between the two large buildings, denotes the site of the cave.

St. Patrick features rather prominently in my book, Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity: The poor pilgrim’s almanack. Some excerpts follow below in italics. He was a very important saint, and had several hagiographies written on his life and miracles. Unsurprisingly many different places claimed to house his remains or other relics important to him. The disputes began right after he died:

In cases of disputes about the proper home of a relic, ordeals might be held to settle them. After the death of St. Patrick, the churches of Saul and Armagh both claimed his body. To settle the dispute, two untamed bulls were yoked to the cart which bore his body and left to go where they would. They stopped at the spot where the church of Downpatrick was built and Patrick buried.

(From the chapter “Furta sacra” (holy theft))

Here are three pilgrimage sites in Ireland from the chapter “Whither Pilgrim”?

 

St. Patrick’s tomb
Location: Downpatrick, Ireland
Miracles: Sticks to Snakes, Snake Charm, Speak with the Dead, Dispel Magic
Downpatrick is the most likely of the several claimants to St. Patrick’s tomb; he is also said to be buried with St. Briget and St. Columba. When Downpatrick wasn’t being looted and burned by Vikings (as happened at least seven times), it was one of Ireland’s most popular pilgrimage spots. But since most of Ireland was usually being looted and burned by invaders anyway, it was still a top attraction even in the “off season”.

Croagh Patrick (Mount Patrick, also called The Reek)
Location: County Mayo, Ireland
Miracles: Dispel Magic, Silence 15’ Radius
This was a pagan pilgrimage site for the summer solstice for thousands of years. But as a Christian site, it is said to be where the Saint fasted for 40 days. The best time to visit was the last Sunday in July (Reek Sunday), when the pious celebrated the time Patrick killed a witch by repelling her spell back onto her. Pilgrims, usually barefoot, circle the mount clockwise seven times saying seven prayers.

St. Patrick’s Purgatory
Location: Lough Derg (a lake island, also called Station Island)
Miracles: Detect Magic, True Seeing, Plane Shift, Speak with Monsters, Resist Fire
Restrictions: Visitors must convince the shrine keepers to unlock the door over the cave, and then spend a night inside. They will face various demons and devils inside.
Supposedly the cave was created when Patrick asked for a visual aid to convince sinners of the reality of Hell.

He also has a tomb in England:

Glastonbury Tor
Location: Glastonbury, Somerset, England
Miracles: Holy Word, Commune
Restrictions: Must approach with peas in shoes (-2 to Dex for a week afterward); possibly guarded by fairies or knights
This mound was the site of an ancient monastery, but in the 12th century, in legend it grew into “ground-zero” of Christianity on England. So in 63 CE, Joseph of Arimathea arrived with the Grail. The Chalice Well provides healing waters. His staff grew into a hawthorn tree — the Holy Thorn Tree or Glastonbury Thorn. The Thorn blooms every Christmas. Many minor saints, as well as King Arthur, Guinevere, and St. Patrick are said to be buried here, and Christ spent some of his missing years here, building a church.
Pilgrims used to walk the 512-foot-high Glastonbury Tor with peas lining their shoes for penance.
The tor or hill also has pagan associations (as a fairy mound and entrance to the Otherworld, and abode of the king of the fairies) and later with the Arthur legends (the tor is known was the Isle of Avalon to the Britons and the final resting place of King Arthur).

“Appendix I: an index of saints, spells, and relics” mentions a few more spots to visit if you need some relics of St. Patrick.

St. Patrick (Snake Charm, Dispel Magic, Speak with Dead, Snakes to Sticks) [crosier, tooth, and bell: Dublin; lower jaw: Derriaghy]

This appendix lists nearly 200 saints and Biblical figures with miracles associated with them. Each entry in Appendix I follows the format: Name (Miracles) [relics: places], so every miracle associated with a given saint is in one place, and any relics of the saint not mentioned in “Whiter Pilgrim?” are also indicated. These matter because the book also gives a couple of systems whereby clerical magic requires either relics for casting, or pilgrimages for learning, spells. Off to fight the snake cult? Better stop by St Patrick’s tomb to learn Snake Charm, or possibly swipe one of his bones to take with you.

Published in: on March 17, 2017 at 9:02 am  Leave a Comment  
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Charmed, I’m sure

Everybody steals everything online, it seems. I never mind when someone legitimately swipes pictures or quotes from my blog when they’re writing about swords, dorkery, or swords and dorkery, but occasionally weird content farmers steal entire posts just populate their awful little adfarms. Most recently “Cellulite Planet” started swiping my posts, in their entirety, though I have jack-all to say about cellulite. Must be hard to sell cellulite on its own merits or something.

They even took the trouble to the text through some kind of paraphrasing script, too.

I don’t mind admitting I’m kind of psyched that my book is now available on DriveThru RPG. The Lost Pages store is the place to get the hard copy, shipped from Scotland (I also hear some copies may be showing up at the better conventions too). But obviously Drive Thru RPG is an important distributor, and I’m glad people might be able to stumble upon my book even if they’ve never heard of it. 

becomes

I don’t thoughts admitting I’m sort of psyched that my schedule is now readily available on the subject of DriveThru RPG. The Shed Pages keep is the put to grab the tough copy, shipped from Scotland (I likewise hear some copies could be showing up at the much better conventions too). Yet obviously Drive Thru RPG is an crucial distributor, and I’m pleased individuals could be able to stumble upon my schedule also if they’ve never ever heard of it.

They paraphrased my title as “The Unsatisfactory Pilgrim’s Almanack” too. That’s pretty harsh for a robotThey didn’t even have the decency to include a link to buy my damn book. But they are like #5 or 6 on the Google hit list if you search “Poor pilgrim’s almanack” (as I might do occasionally to see if anyone has taken notice of it).

As a librarian, I’ve run into some really shady operations that publish books this way swiping Wikipedia entries, which they’d be allowed to do if they gave proper attribution, but then no-one would buy their crap books, so they leave out the attribution. When people started catching on to this, the next evasive action was to paraphrase the articles, much like my post was paraphrased above. It gets dangerous though with some of these — I’ve seen books like this on various medical and legal topics, which could probably get someone killed or in jail.

Published in: on March 9, 2017 at 4:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack now on Drivethru RPG!

I don’t mind admitting I’m kind of psyched that my book is now available on DriveThru RPG. The Lost Pages store is the place to get the hard copy, shipped from Scotland (I also hear some copies may be showing up at the better conventions too). But obviously Drive Thru RPG is an important distributor, and I’m glad people might be able to stumble upon my book even if they’ve never heard of it.

What is the Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack? (And here I begin just quoting the blurb:)

An historical supplement on pilgrimages, relics and religion in the European Middle Ages.

The Poor Pilgrim’s Almanack is filled with painstakingly researched essays on religious life (and death) in the middle ages. It lets you use relics and pilgrimage as the basis of an alternative conception of clerical magic. Also included are details on travel, burial customs, catacombs, and the business of relic theft. A travelogue of shrines and other pilgrimage sites, detailed rules for relics and reliquaries, and a listing of historical miracles (corresponding to familiar clerical spells) make this 128 page sourcebook a treasure trove of inspiration. Dozens of adventure seeds and tables for generating encounters on the road, graves and grave goods, and randomized catacomb generation and stocking round out the contents. A new class, the Palmer, provides a novel take on religious adventurers. 
But wait! Don’t take my word for it. Here’s something someone said:

An excellent and necessary supplement if you’re wanting your campaign’s religious culture to feel more European Medieval and less the polytheistic/pantheon style used in mainstream D&D

– James Raggi, Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Published in: on February 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm  Comments (1)  
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Are you ready yeti?

The first large box of D&D minis I remember seeing was the “Monsters” assortment. Those Grenadier boxes were a little bit like boxes of chocolates because you never really knew for certain what would be inside — almost every box seemed to have a miniature broken or missing, and/or a miniature not shown on the insert, and/or a duplicate of some miniature. It never occurred to me back in the day to complain to the company or ask for a replacement; I have no idea if they would have. The “Tomb of Spells” was perhaps the worst offender: I didn’t get the lamia or night hag at all, which were on the insert, though I did get alternative sculpts of the djinn and efreet (not the ones on the older insert though; the ones in the blister).

Anyway in the case of the Monsters box, I got the set as shown on the insert except that my Yeti was the later version. (For some reason I always remembered having both versions in my collection, but I can’t think of way to account for having two yeti, so maybe I never had the original.) Anyway a recent trade yielded not only the cone-head yeti but a sort of missing link between the two sculpts: the ogre from the Wizzards & Warriors range. (I also got the earlier, smaller ogre with a similar face but he’s not hairy enough to pass for a yeti so I haven’t painted him yet.  So here are the three yetis side by side.

3yetis

The original design is closest to the Monster Manual version — especially if that is not just a tuft of hair but a misshapen cone-head.

Image result for yeti monster manual

Yeti from the Monster Manual, via Wikipedia. By David Sutherland.

yeti-cone

His replacement has a more rounded head. Mine has had his nose squashed a bit from falling on his face, and looks more upturned than it would be fresh out of the mold.

yeti-final

So the interesting thing to me is that the older Ogre design was clearly the source of the new face. (In this picture you can see a really severe mold line on his outstretched arm. I filed away as much as I dared but the dry-brushing really betrays all the imperfections.)

yeti-ogre

If you look at the three of them, what’s interesting is that the final yeti design incorporates the older yeti’s pose but many elements are clearly from the ogre. The loincloth is different on all three, but look closely at their backs and feet.

yeti-backs

yeti-bigfeet

 

Published in: on February 20, 2017 at 1:52 pm  Comments (3)  
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Another mystery mini (solved)

A friend of mine was recently gifted a nice cache of old-school minis — mostly Grenadier AD&D stuff, with a handful of Heritage Dungeon Dwellers and Ral Partha. Apart from a detached set of wings, the only one we could identify is below. I have only seen this photo so I can’t say if there are base markings of any kind but it looks like an old Citadel figure to me. (That’s the bottom half of another figure behind her, not a cape btw!)

Mystery mini

I couldn’t find anything quite like her in the Armory’s Guide to Fantasy Miniatures (all the other figures dated to the early 1980’s so it seemed like a possibility). The Lost Minis Wiki and Collecting Citadel Miniatures didn’t turn up any thing either. Early Ral Partha seemed like a possibility too, or perhaps something from Asgard or Castle Creations — the details are very “Sword & Sorcery” to my eyes, and the sculpting is a little primitive.

Update: A list minute look at Grenadier’s Wizzards and Warriors line provided the solution! It’s from Grenadier W11, Female Adventurers. That last bit I wrote about the base made me reconsider and think “that sure looks like a Grenadier base.” Bingo.

As an aside, the Wizzards & Warriors line was a very uneven range. Many were repackaged as the AD&D line, some were revived after the AD&D license was lost, and some are converted picked from the older ancients & medievals ranges. A number of them were modified or re-sculpted repeatedly, perhaps because Andy Chernack was getting better at sculpting, had ideas from improvements, or perhaps to have them cast more reliably. I am struck by the clear lineages for example the “Sorcerer with horn” clearly was redone as the Liche with horn (and the detail of the horn retained)  and the W&W ghoul was converted to the kneeling AD&D pose. The very early vampire was eventually redone with much more detail too. It’s fascinating to see Chernack evolve as an artist, while sticking to the original designs.

Published in: on January 13, 2017 at 9:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Repost: Old school figures part two: Minis on the web!

A longer version of this post originally appeared in 2010 but was in need of updating. I’m not completely done but here’s a start. Thanks to Anthony Emmel for bringing just how out of date this was to my attention!

A lot of miniatures people turn their noses up at old Grenadier and Heritage and Minifigs figures. I will grant that many modern figures, which take advantage of sculpting and molding techniques unavailable to the original manufacturers (and an aesthetic sharpened by the intervening years of fantasy illustration, comics, etc.) are often quite impressive. The level of animation, and the overall quality are amazing. The crisp detail, and the fact the pieces fit perfectly make them a joy to assemble and paint. But I still love the old school minis too. They often have a gritty realism modern figures just lack.

Heritage Models has a number of sites and yahoo groups devoted to it. There’s Dungeon Dwellers info, a great site for all things Dungeon Dwellers. If you didn’t know, this line would have been their “Dungeons & Dragons” line, but the license agreement never got signed and instead Grenadier would get the license for AD&D miniatures. There are several Heritage Yahoo groups, devoted to collecting the figures, providing documentation, and so on. Disciples of Heritage and the Heritage Models Reference groups are worth checking out. The collectors Yahoo groups for Ral Partha and Grenadier are great too.

I love and hate Games Workshop/Citadel figures. They are certainly nice looking. The only things not to like are the scale creep and cost. Citadel minis, back in the late 1980s, were the first figures I had that just didn’t quite fit with my Grenadier, Ral Partha, and Heritage stuff. Ral Partha was always a slight bit smaller than the others, but with Citadel I could tell the scale was actually shifting. Of course nowadays, almost all modern figures are a little bigger than before. “28mm”, “30mm”, “heroic 28mm scale”, even “32mm” are bandied about, whereas in the olden days everyone claimed to be making 25mm figures, whether that 25mm was toes-to-eyes, toes-to-tip of head, or just 25mm=6′. Some of my newer Reaper and Kenzer Co. figures absolutely tower over my old figures. And that is too bad, because no-one chooses a Ral Partha figure any more for their PC in the games I’ve been playing. They just look too runty. In fact we’ve been using a Ral Partha mounted fighter as a Dwarf on a pony, and I’m probably the only one who realizes the figure was “meant” to be a human! Still, when Citadel was making RPG minis instead of exclusively Warhammer/Warhammer 40k/other branded IP minis, they made some seriously awesome figures. And they made so many that there is a whole wiki just for Citadel, which rivals the Lost Minis Wiki! But readers of this blog may be more interested in another site that just focuses on Citadel’s old AD&D/D&D lines.

The Lost Minis Wiki was created last year with the explicit intention of covering all the out-of-production lines and models, and I can kill hours there. Update: The wiki is now also awash in newer and current lines. Mission creep, I guess. But you can still find lots of old stuff. The Lost Minis Wiki has vast amounts of unpainted lead, but we really want to see the painted stuff, right?

Stuff of Legends hasn’t been updated much lately, but as far as I know it was the first site devoted to classic minis. Another great site is the Blue Mule, which showcases well-loved and well-painted old figures. Silverblade’s Suitcase has a collection of very nice looking figures too, many of them very old. There is even one site devoted just to dwarves!

Anyway I found a legal copy of the Armory’s Buying Guide to Fantasy Miniatures at the Mega Minis Magazine site. There is a stunning array of old catalogs there to drool over, with images of miniatures that you can only hope to scrounge up at a convention or eBay. But if you love classic minis, the good news is that there are both new lines that are inspired by older lines, and a few companies still casting the classic figures. Update: although Mega Minis is out of business, the first link still works. The second is now a link to the Wayback Machine’s backup.

Center Stage is still getting off the ground but I have high hopes for their Swords & Wizardry line. Update: Center Stage had a disastrous and possibly fraudulent Kick Starter campaign that did the company in, but good news, the minis are being cast be Pacesetter Games.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to know about Otherworld Miniatures, which is creating minis directly inspired by the classic illustrations of Sutherland, Trampier, etc. Update: But they are in 28mm scale, not classic 25mm. 

Classic Miniatures is recasting many Heritage models, and also has a number of interesting things in the pipeline, including “Unreleased figures by Dave Sutherland III.” Update: Link broken; some classic Heritage and Archive recasts are available; check out the Disciples of Heritage yahoo group for info.

Games Figures Inc. is producing some Minifigs, some Heritage Models not owned by Classic Miniatures, and a few other ranges. Update: link broken; GFI apparently out of business. 😦

Ironwind Metals, which rose from the ashes of Ral Partha, is producing some of the old RP lines. Update: Ral Partha is more or less resurrected here.

Thunderbolt Mountain, Tom Meier’s company, is producing figures similar to his Ral Partha classics, but in a more “modern” 28mm scale. Update: also 30mm scale Arthurian stuff, and some true 25mm.

Mirliton, an Italian company, is producing some of the latest Grenadier lines, but sadly not the old Wizzards & Warriors/AD&D lines. Update: Some older Fantasy Lords and earlier models are in fact available.

Mega Minis produces original figures as well as an extensive array of older lines. They are providing a great service but I wish they didn’t cancel lines after short runs. Update: Mega Minis, sadly, is out of business. Their molds may have been picked up by other companies. Their original stuff is now at Johnnyborg Castings. These seem to be Kick Starters so caveat emptor.

Viking Forge is producing classic Asgard minis … the ones illustrated in the Armory ads in old Dragon Magazines!

Next time, maybe some more revived  or old-school style lines? I wanted to add Barony Miniatures, Max Carr’s company which republished the Warlord rules and had a new line of medievals similar to his Heritage sculpts but the site is offline since the spring of 2016. 😦

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 9:23 am  Comments (3)  
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Research mathoms III

I’ve been noting what’s NOT in Burgs & Bailiffs Trinity : The poor pilgrim’s almanack, or, The handbook of pilgrimage and relic theft. But what’s in there? Here’s a screencap of the table of contents. It doesn’t list sidebars, but it does drill down to the section headings within the four main essays: On the road (which covers travel generally); Death, Burial & Grave Goods; Furta Sacra (all about relics and their theft); Into the catacombs (all about catacombs); Whither pilgrim? (a gazetteer of shrines, holy wells, tombs, and other pilgrimage destinations); and Relics & Clerics (which offers a revised clerical spell casting system and a completely different kind of cleric that is dedicated to pilgrimage). Click to embiggen.

toc-screenshot

 

Here’s one more mathom.

Beheaded martyrs

If you read much about martyrs, you will quickly notice that a large number of martyrs went through multiple executions before being really, sincerely martyred. They might be broiled, beaten, shot with arrows, crushed, hung, trampled by animals, or have any number of brutal treatments and still survive until they are finally beheaded. While we might be tempted to imagine the persecutors shouting “There can be only one!” scholars speculate that the beheadings are often later additions to the stories, because by the Middle Ages, only beheading was considered an appropriate execution for high-status individuals. For the saints to be killed by lesser — even common — means was incongruous with their status as God’s elect, so the hagiographies were amended to end with a more aesthetically pleasing (to the generally noble or high-ranking patrons of the scribes) death.

More fancifully, the trope of saints being beheaded also spawned another category of saints: celaphores. These were saints who are depicted — visually in icons and statues, or narratively in their hagiographies — as carrying their own severed heads. Celaphores are often said to have carried their severed heads to their burial places, in some cases preaching as they walked; most famously, St. Denis of Paris did this, but folklorists have counted more than a hundred cases. Apart from making memorable miracles and dramatizing the saint’s power over death, this behavior helps legitimize the final resting place of a saint, and discourages further translation.

 

 

 

Published in: on December 13, 2016 at 8:00 am  Comments (2)  
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