By Cynthia Lee
Pray, hope and don’t worry. That was the advice of Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, one of the world’s most beloved and controversial holy figures, to his worshippers. The popular 20th century saint was beloved by millions of believers around the world for his alleged healing powers and stigmata. But, not everyone believed in his gifts. Many considered the Italian Capuchin priest to be a fraud.
For his work about the polarizing figure, Padre Pio: Miracles and Politics in a Secular Age (Metropolitan Books), Italian author Sergio Luzzatto was named the winner of the 2011 Cundill Prize in History at McGill University.
“Luzzatto’s book is masterful,” said Cundill Prize jury member Ramachandra Guha. “The research is staggeringly deep and wide – embracing runs of archival arguments never before consulted and rare books and pamphlets preserved in obscure libraries. The framework is trans-disciplinary – this is the work of a historian who knows his anthropology and his political theory. The writing is enviably lucid, and never lush – for which the translator surely deserves some credit, too. ”
Luzzatto, a professor at the University of Turin in Italy, was given unprecedented access to Vatican archives and unearthed new material to shed light on Padre Pio, who had been the subject of numerous tomes.
“In fact, insofar as illness, sorrow and evil will endure among us, human beings – and particularly the most fragile among them – will still need to look at figures such as Padre Pio to get, if not miracles, then at least consolation and hope,” said Luzzatto after hearing of his win.
Luzzatto’s book was selected from 132 eligible entries, representing publishing houses from around the world. The two finalists, Timothy Snyder for Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic Books) and Maya Jasanoff for Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Alfred A. Knopf) – UK title: Liberty’s Exiles: The Loss of America and the Remaking of the British Empire (HarperPress) – were awarded ‘Recognition of excellence’ prizes of $10,000 (USD) each.
The Cundill Prize in History at McGill is the world’s most important non-fiction historical literature prize, with a grand prize of $75,000 (USD) and two ‘recognition of excellence’ prizes of $10,000 (USD). The prize was established in 2008 by McGill alumnus F. Peter Cundill, who passed away in January 2011, and is administered by McGill University’s Dean of Arts, with the help of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC).