All the Saints of the City of Angels: Seeking the Soul of L.A. on the Streets by J. Michael Walker / Heyday Books, Berkeley, 2008; 230 pages, paperback
Reading about the extraordinary lives of the saints is like discovering hidden treasure, especially for anyone whose excellent, prolonged and costly education contains this particular knowledge gap.
This is a real coffee table book, beautifully illustrated, that presents the unique and unforgettable life stories of the 103 saints for which Los Angeles streets are named, along with a brief history of the location of each of the streets.
Tradition has it that places named for saints are good luck. The idea is that the place somehow is protected by the saint. In matching the stories of each saint with the street named the saint, some amazing coincidences emerge.
More than a handful of the streets are so perfectly matched with their saint’s name that you might just come away believing in the guiding hand of providence.
San Julian Street, for example, in the heart of skid row in downtown Los Angeles, is home to the largest mission for homeless people in the United States. Formerly known as LAMP, the mission now merged with ThePeopleConcern and serves thousands of the estimated 58,000 homeless people in L.A., including the cello virtuoso played by Jamie Foxx in the film “The Soloist.”
By some major coincidence, St. Julian of Le Mans, France is the patron saint of destitute wanderers. Born into nobility, St. Julian ran away to avoid a dark prophecy and spent most of his life as a penniless wanderer. He found redemption by giving comfort to beggars like himself. Just two blocks long, both sides of San Julian Street are lined with modern day wanderers, people who can count on being able to receive a meal and assistance through the mission.
It matters little that St. Julian almost certainly was not a real person in history, but most likely was invented as part of the Roman Catholic Church’s propaganda machine. There must be tremendous longing, praying and tears directed at the saints, particularly the patron saints. Perhaps this psychic energy somehow manifests around places named for the saints, and like a self-fulfilling prophecy, places named for saints really do become different from other places.
Author J. Michael Walker does an admirable job of pointing out the divinity in us all in this book. The art portrays the saints not as idols, but as people, broken vessels like ourselves who in their imperfection managed to become useful to God on earth. Every page is a reminder that we are alive only to do good works and help one another so that our joy will be full and our radiance will shine as bright as the sun until every tear is wiped away, all the captives are set free, and all darkness is banished from every corner of the earth forever (Revelation 21:4), exactly as prophesied.
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