Book review: The Bone Church: A Novel by Victoria Dougherty


The Bone Church: A NovelThe Bone Church: A Novel by Victoria Dougherty

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I received this book as a digital ARC from the publisher through Net Galley in return for an honest review.

This book is made by a double plot: the first one occurs in 1956 where there is a rescue mission in order to get a woman out of the Czech Republic with the aid of the Vatican; the second one is set in German occupied Moravia and Prague.

The bone church which gives the tittle for this book is the Church of All Saints which is a small Roman Catholic chapel located in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. Beneath the Cemetery , there is the Sedlec Ossuary. In this ossuary it is estimated to contain the skeletons of between 40,000 and 70,000 people, whose human skulls and bones cover and decorated the chapel. These people died of the plague in 1318 and during the Hussite wars in the 15th century.

The pictures of this Ossuary reminds me the Capela dos Ossos – Chapel of Bones located in Evora, Portugal which I have visited a couple of years ago.

The second church mentioned by the author is the Carmelite Church of Our lady Victorious located in  Malá Strana, Prague. In its interior there is the famous statue of the Infant Jesus of Prague, which was made of wax-coated in the 16th century. This statue portrays the child Jesus holding a globus crucifer: some legends state that it once belonged to Saint Teresa of Avila and allegedly holds miraculous powers.

The history of the miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague is available at National Shrine of the Infant Jesus of Prague.

There is an interesting book The Holy Infant of Prague by Josef Forbelský which describes both the Church and the Infant Jesus as well. See my review here.

Paul Claudel also wrote a beautiful poem L’Enfant Jésus de Prague dedicated to the Infant of Prague:

Il neige.
Le grand monde est mort sans doute. C’est décembre.
Mais qu’il fait bon, mon Dieu, dans la petite chambre !
La cheminée emplie de charbons rougeoyants
Colore le plafond d’un reflet somnolent,
Et l’on n’entend que l’eau qui bout à petit bruit.
Là-haut sur l’étagère, au-dessus des deux lits,
Sous son globe de verre, couronne en tête,
L’une des mains tenant le monde, l’autre prête
À couvrir ces petits qui se confient à elle,
Tout aimable dans sa grande robe solennelle
Et magnifique sous cet énorme chapeau jaune,
L’Enfant Jésus de Prague règne et trône….

Well, let’s go back to the book under review here.

The author makes use of these two important and historical monuments as the scenario of the main plot, which makes gives a hint of drama into the narrative itself.

Location 1755:

Goebbels paid your father a considerable sum to get him to steal the Infant. He wanted to replace the Infant with a fake and wait for its obsessive minders to discover the fraud. Goebbels could then publicize the fact that the Czechs had been praying to a false god and present the real Infant as proof of the Reich’s invincibility.

Location 2272:

It had been a regular cathedral, lorded over by a monk who devised a most macabre solution to the considerable problem of storing the dead…the monk commissioned a carpenter to ornament the interior of his church entirely with human bone.

“Legend has it that if you enter the Church of Bones with malevolence in your heart, you will remain there with the dead forever,” Felix recalled.

A quite enjoyable and promising reading since this is the first novel of this author.

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