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Earthquakes and Gardens

Saint Hilarion’s Cyprus

Essays about ruination, resilience, reading, and religion generated by a reflection on a fourth-century hagiography.
In Jerome’s Life of Saint Hilarion, a fourth-century saint briefly encounters the ruins of an earthquake-toppled city and a haunted garden in Cyprus. From these two fragmentary passages, Virginia Burrus delivers a series of sweeping meditations on our experience of place and the more-than-human worlds—the earth and its gods—that surround us. Moving between the personal and geological, Earthquakes and Gardens ruminates on destruction and resilience, ruination and resurgence, grief and consolation in times of disaster and loss. Ultimately, Burrus’s close readings reimagine religion as a practice that unsettles certainty and develops mutual flourishing.


“This is a book about care. Burrus thinks with the reader about tenderness, fragility, loss, protectiveness, and the quiet fact of being alive in a place, and in so doing gives us a walled and green early Christian world that is deeply entwined with our own. It is a pure pleasure.”

Catherine Michael Chin, University of California, Davis

“Quaking and flowering, this captivatingly beautiful book twists free of disciplinary inhibitors to perform a literary cartography of illimitable place. In its dazzling multidimensional collage, a startling spiritual geography unfolds. From the Greek island where she poignantly is not, through earth-bursts of the here and there, then and now, Burrus takes the reader on an unprecedented journey.”

Catherine Keller, Drew University

“With agile imagination and lyrical prose, Burrus troubles how we do history. From the seismic eons of a tectonic earth to bits of Jerome laid out like poetry, Burrus reveals a world of destruction and regeneration on a mythic and literary Cyprus. Translating, fragmenting, recombining, and repurposing, Burrus composes chamber music, a small masterpiece.”

Derek Krueger, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

"Earthquakes and Gardens is hard to classify. It’s not really a religious book, but those interested in saints and hagiography will find much to appreciate. Certainly there is plenty here for those who enjoy the study of antiquity. There is material for people who enjoy reading about agriculture and horticulture. Certainly those who like geology and are interested in the study of earthquakes will find plenty to appreciate. Most of all, however, the book is simply good reading for anyone who loves fine writing and a well-constructed essay."

Mike Christie | My Point Being

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Part One: Points of Departure
Three Notes on Method
Setting Out, with Jerome

Part Two: Paphos
Poetry and Place
Curating Earthquakes
Life in Ruins
Part Three: The Mountain
Geographies of the Remote
Entropic Gardens
Literary Cartographies

Part Four: Coda
An Ocean of Possibility

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