Brigid of Kildare
Brigid is a king’s daughter and warrior-trained, but reading The Gospel of Mary the Mother influences her to reject the marriage her parents arranged and instead choose a religious life. She establishes an abbey at Cill Dara, to which Roman scribe Decius is sent by the Church, charged with investigating Brigid’s heresies: she ignores Church hierarchy, keeps forbidden texts, performs masses herself, and has even been consecrated bishop. Brigid tells Decius that Roman ways will not succeed in Gael and manages to draw Decius into her circle by persuading him to help create an illustrated manuscript and a history of the abbey. The two develop a relationship which, while still platonic, could easily develop into one which would conflict with their religious vows. Then a messenger arrives from Rome to collect Decius’s heretical evidence. Should Decius obey Rome by betraying Brigid?
Alternating with the 5th-century story is that of modern-day Alex Patterson, a medieval art evaluator. She is summoned to Ireland to assess relics associated with Brigid before the owning convent sells them. Alex discovers a secret compartment in the reliquary, which hides a gorgeous illuminated manuscript. Could it be the lost Book of Kildare?
I knew little about Ireland of this period, and appreciated learning about it via period detail. The 5th-century sections are more compelling in both setting and characterization, although Brigid is close to being an almost too-good-to-be-true character: kind, wise, caring, and a proto-feminist. Terrell’s story postulates a direct link between Brigid’s views of women’s roles and the Church’s growing veneration of Mary. Decius is the most rounded character, with the reader being privy to his thoughts in letters to his brother. Fans of early Celtic history and of strong female characters who defy convention will enjoy the story.