Select one of the keywords
Brigid of Kildare    by Heather Terrell order for
Brigid of Kildare
by Heather Terrell
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2010 (2010)
Softcover, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Brigid of Kildare, Heather Terrell switches back and forth in time between three points of view - two in fifth century Italy and Ireland, and one in the modern day - to tell a tale of early Christianity's first and only female priest and bishop, and show how her efforts might have led to the emergence of the Virgin Mary as 'a female image worthy of worship, against the opposition of the Roman Church.'

Brigid is portrayed as an intelligent and studious young princess (baptized by Bishop Patrick himself and later consecrated by him as a bishop and his successor) who rebels against her father's plans to marry her off in order to forge a strong alliance. She flees from her family and founds an abbey at Cill Dara, a 'center for religious study and reflection'. Her mother Broicsech donates her own library, including a manuscript that sowed seeds in Brigid. The Gospel of Mary the Mother was 'a narrative utterly different from any other Brigid had read with Broicsech in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.'

In A.D. 470 Rome (ruled by the Visigoths in all but name) earnest young Decius, a Roman priest and scribe, is suddenly assiged a secret mission by the pope's senior counsellor Gallienus - to seek proof of heresy in Brigid's Kildare abbey and scriptorium. Decius writes regular letters to his elder brother, even though he has no means of dispatching them to Italy. In Kildare, Decius works closely with Brigid 'to demonstrate to the Roman Holy See that this remote, backward island is capable of producing manuscripts of breathtaking artistry and undeniable piety.'

In modern times, Alexandra Patterson, a skilled appraiser of medieval religious artifacts, travels to Kildare, Ireland. There, Sister Mary explains how her order has protected and hidden a chalice, a paten and reliquary (all believed to have belonged to Saint Brigid) for over a millennium, but has now decided to sell them, in order to properly disseminate the message 'that early Irish Christianity had at least one very impressive woman.' Inside the reliquary, Alex discovers a beautiful illuminated manuscript. She consults a Dublin expert, Declan Lamb, with whom she had worked before and who would 'happily pass through any door she opened.'

Alex learns about second chances from the writings of Brigid and Decius and, though conflicted about her own role in the sale of the relics, concludes that perhaps it was meant for the manuscript's 'image of the Virgin Mary to be a helix, bending and twisting and morphing to fit the needs of the times.' I recommend Brigid of Kildare to you as a most intriguing - and illuminating - story.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Historical books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews