A Review of
History and Presence
Reviewed by Ben Brazil
In 1988, Robert Orsi, an eminent historian of American religion, visited a shrine in a dead boy’s bedroom. The shrine’s story had begun a decade earlier, just after the boy’s death, when a circle appeared on an image of Jesus hanging in his bedroom. According to the boy’s parents, the circle grew and changed shape until it took the form of their son’s face.
A miracle, a comfort, a divine gift: such was the judgment of the grieving parents and a priest they consulted. Word spread, and others flocked to the house, seeing both comforting images of their own dead loved ones and disturbing images of the living.
Yet Orsi’s own visit to the home, which he recounts in History and Presence, also involves a distinct dramatic question: when the great historian looks at the image himself, what will he see?