Thursday, July 22, 2010
The main character, the Welshman Brother Cadfael, is an unusual example of a Benedictine monk who lives in the Shropshire village of Shrewsbury. I say unusual because he has come to his monks' habit late in life after having spent many years in the Holy Land as a Crusader in his younger years. His rich life experiences give him an eye for seeing people and events in a different light than most of his cloistered brothers.
As the novel opens, Colambanus, one of Cadfael's brothers is overcome at Mass by a fit of religious fervor and falls into a coma. A brother standing vigil in the night over the stricken brother is visited by a mysterious personage who instructs him to bring Columbanus to the Well of St. Winefride in Northern Wales. By no coincidence, St. Winefride has been shortlisted as a saint whose relics the Abbey (or more specifically, the overbearing Prior Robert) has an interest in acquiring. Getting a hold of a saint's relics was a big deal in medieval times, when housing such a religious relic would guarantee a constant stream of pilgrims (and revenue) for a church .
Columbanus is miraculously cured at the well and insists St. Winefride herself appeared to him and expressed a desire to be moved to a place more hospitable to pilgrims. The majority of the book revolves around a journey undertaken by the monks to translate her remains from the village of Gwytherin to the Abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in Shrewsbury.
Needless to say, the residents of Gwytherin are none to happy with the sudden interest taken in their Welsh patroness by English monks. Despite having the permission and authority of both the church and local lord, the village is reluctant to allow the brothers to remove St. Winefride's body. At a village-wide meeting, an influential landowner, Rhisiart, clashes with Prior Robert and cements the village's intention to deny the monks their prize. The following day, Rhisiart is found foully murdered by an arrow through the chest. Being Welsh himself, Cadfael feels especially close to the involved parties, and he undertakes a full investigation of Rhisiart's murder. Using his uncanny ability to read people, Brother Cadfael unravels the mystery after several twists and turns.
Ah - but does St. Winefride ever make it to Shrewsbury? You'll have to read to find out!
I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. Brother Cadfael's character is delightfully written. He is both irreverent and witty at times -two traits one does not usually associate with a medieval monk. He's the kind of guy you'd love to sit down and have a drink with. I look forward reading about his further adventures!