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From "the world's greatest tour guide," a deeply-researched, captivating journey through the rich history of Christianity and the winding paths of the French and Italian countryside that will feed mind, body, and soul (New York Times).
"What a wondrous work! This beautifully written and totally clear-eyed account of his pilgrimage will have you wondering whether we should all embark on such a journey, either of the body, the soul or, as in Egan's case, both." --Cokie Roberts
"Egan draws us in, making us feel frozen in the snow-covered Alps, joyful in valleys of trees with low-hanging fruit, skeptical of the relics of embalmed saints and hopeful for the healing of his encrusted toes, so worn and weathered from their walk."--The Washington Post
Moved by his mother's death and his Irish Catholic family's complicated history with the church, Timothy Egan decided to follow in the footsteps of centuries of seekers to force a reckoning with his own beliefs. He embarked on a thousand-mile pilgrimage through the theological cradle of Christianity to explore the religion in the world that it created. Egan sets out along the Via Francigena, once the major medieval trail leading the devout to Rome, and travels overland via the alpine peaks and small mountain towns of France, Switzerland and Italy, accompanied by a quirky cast of fellow pilgrims and by some of the towering figures of the faith--Joan of Arc, Henry VIII, Martin Luther. The goal: walking to St. Peter's Square, in hopes of meeting the galvanizing pope who is struggling to hold together the church through the worst crisis in half a millennium.
A thrilling journey, a family story, and a revealing history, A Pilgrimage to Eternity looks for our future in its search for God.
In this engaging but underdeveloped travelogue and exploration of European Christianity, journalist Egan (The Worst Hard Time) undertakes a 1,000-mile pilgrimage from Canterbury to Rome along the Via Francigena, a pilgrim's trek well-known during medieval times. Egan's reflections on faith, religion, and history are informed by his own scholarship, but mainly by the religious leaders, fellow pilgrims, and locals he meets along his journey. He encourages readers to confront uncomfortable truths about violence done in the name of Christianity and to consider the waning of Christian power worldwide. Unfortunately, Egan's attempts at levity often miss, as when the Archbishop of Canterbury whimpers and is "so self-effacing you want to slap him" and that Martin Luther's marriage to Katharina perplexes because she was younger "and much more attractive" than "jowly, raisin-eyed" Martin. The work also repeatedly fails to distinguish between Christianity and the wider world of religion and faith, as Egan makes sweeping generalizations that, in practice, only apply to Christian Europeans. For example, Egan implies that "literacy in the spiritual canon," and the need to "understand religion" pertains only to Christian theology or Catholic history, and glaringly never includes a discussion of European Islam or Judaism. Readers will also question Egan's declension narrative equating a thriving spiritual Europe with a hegemonically Christian one. While Egan's loose writing style works well as a travel narrative, his narrow perspective limits this work as a meditation on 21st-century Christian faith and practice.