A Trifling Monograph on the Religious Affiliation of the World's First Consulting Detective
Author's Notes: Dedicated to March Hare, because she wrote such interesting Holmesian monographs. Inspired by a very odd but interesting documentary on Shakespeare (In Search of Shakespeare, by Michael Wood. You can look it up on the PBS website). Relevant for my fanfictions The Great Hiatus and Curtain Call.
To call this a monograph in the strictest sense would be misleading, because this is meant more as a collection of what I believe to be compelling clues as to the religion of one Sherlock Holmes. Simply put, I believe Holmes is a Catholic. I do not mean that he attends Mass every Sunday, or any such thing, but that he may, like many in our modern world, carry certain spiritual beliefs that inform his deeply secular life.
If Holmes is to be believed, his grandmother was French, a descendant of the artist Vernet. France is traditionally a predominantly Catholic country, and if we discount the fact that Mlle Vernet was a Huguenot, then she must have been Catholic herself. As many people who are raised with a strong cultural belief in the importance of faith, Mlle Vernet is then likely to have married a Catholic. Whether she married a Catholic in France, or perhaps have found one of the few native British faithful, we will never know. However, that leaves Holmes with at least one set of Catholic grandparents. Since it is generally in the interests of a minority (religious or otherwise) to protect itself, it might even follow that the Catholic grandparents may have made sure that their offspring married a fellow Catholic.
Even in mid-nineteenth century England, life for Catholics was difficult. Prohibited by ancient law from taking office and even studying at institutions of higher learning, it was a hard life. No doubt, the Holmes clan would have had to pass as Protestants. Mycroft and Sherlock might not have attended a Catholic primary school, but by the time Holmes would have entered college, these restrictions were lifted. As my fellow fanfiction writer, mierin-lanfear, has commented, Holmes' interests and methods are very reminiscent of Jesuit (therefore Catholic) attitudes toward learning and nature. I quote her:
"Magis : an Ignatian (therefore, Jesuit) term which roughly means, "Going the extra mile."
If Holmes isn't a Catholic, he must at least be Jesuit-trained. He personifies "magis" in literature. If Dominicans like St. Thomas Aquinas did theology and rhetoric, the Jesuits did the natural sciences, especially in the fields of physics and chemistry, in the spirit of "magis".
Certainly, Holmes' methods are filled with the Catholic spirit. While his encouragement of criminals he has tracked to confess may have something to do with the restrictions on English police Before forensic evidence was legally admissible in court, police could convict only if the criminal was caught in the act, or had confessed to the deed., it may also be an echo of the rituals of confession and absolution. How many times has Holmes allowed a criminal to go free simply because he is satisfied of his remorse and is certain that the culprit's own inner torment is punishment enough? Certainly, some Sherlockians have seen the sacraments veiled in certain stories. Rosemary Michaud, of The View Halloa, says:
We are devil-ridden, Mr. Holmes: What with devils and vicars and the like, The Devil's Foot is a tale with a lot of religious overtones and undertones. And interestingly enough, all seven of the Christian sacraments are represented - either explicitly, symbolically or perversely - within the pages of this story. Would any Hounds care to play the game of "Find the Sacraments?" For those who didn't have this list drilled into them in their childhood education, the seven sacraments are: Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Matrimony, Holy Orders, Penance and Extreme Unction.
Certain comments Holmes makes in the stories suggest religious overtones When relating the story of his miraculous survival after Reichenbach Falls in The Empty House, Holmes credits "the grace of God." Certainly, when taking on the persona of an Irish American Altamont in His Last Bow, knowledge of the catechism might have been useful to prove his identity. The roster of unpublished cases is also illuminating: an investigation of the murder of Cardinal Tosca, and the affair of the stolen Vatican cameos, undertaken by special request of the Pope. Is Holmes' attention to the number and condition of stairs in a flight due to his knowledge of the symbolism of penance?
We may never know to what extent Holmes was a practicing believer. However, his faith may have been another reason for him to deny the offer of a knighthood. If he was not American (as some have speculated), then being a recusant Catholic might have prevented him from receiving an honour that his ego may have greatly desired.
Within the rules of the Great Game, such arguments might add something to the little knowledge we have about Sherlock Holmes' private life, unmediated by Watson's biased narrative or the mists of time. Outside the Game, we know that an author often leaves impressions of himself in their character. Conan Doyle himself attended a Jesuit institution, Stonyhurst College. While stopping short of calling Holmes a Mary-Sue, it is possible that Doyle wrote in elements of himself into Sherlock. It is not something we can fault him for; indeed, it makes the character that much more compelling.
Here endeth the lesson.