A Saint, More or Less


Paris of 1594, having endured brutal religious fighting culminating in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestant Huguenots, was well “worth a Mass” in the notoriously faith-prostituting words of Henri IV, France’s new and newly Catholic king. Into this city of clashing lights comes Nicole Tavernier, a woman of no means and an unknown past who proceeds to work miracles and win the hearts of layman and cleric alike in need of something to believe in. She finds a home for herself with Barbe Acarie, a powerful and devout woman, a mystic in her own right. Presently, however, Barbe, whose religion leans to embracing establishment religion and the eventual founding of a very strict Carmelite order, turns against the woman she sheltered. Nicole must endure an exorcism for her demonic possession and is forbidden from ever preaching or healing again, even when people need her gifts. This ecclesiastical abuse brings her to a very difficult pass for a woman of faith, the doors of conversion to Protestantism.
What a great story Mr. Grunwald has stumbled upon and, by his own admission, been pursued by for many years. Full of nuances for the understanding of how the powers that be paste and cut individual belief for their own purposes, this could have been a rich, moving tale, as the lavish cover promised. Unfortunately, to my mind, a lifetime in journalism has made of this the sort of report that might have appeared in the covers of the author’s beloved Time magazine, throw-away prose to fit around more riveting photos for those with short attention spans. I felt no real commitment to character, and religion was treated in the safe, eviscerated manner of Hollywood. “Economic,” one reviewer called Grunwald’s style. Alas, I found it down-right miserly, with much telling and flashback to put us at a safe, journalistic distance.

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