Gold of Pleasure: A Novel of Christina of Markyate

Written by Ruth Mohrman
Review by Sally Zigmond

Very little is known of Christina of Markyate, the daughter of a fabric merchant in Huntingdon, England, but by all accounts, she was a remarkable woman. Even when young, she vowed never to marry but devote herself to Jesus. This angered her parents, who expected her to make a good marriage.

It would seem Christina (whose birth name was Theodora) suffered not only mental cruelty from her parents, who tried to force a husband on her, but what today would be called sexual abuse from the Bishop of Durham. She then ran away and was hidden and protected by a group of hermits. When she was able to travel freely, she was admired as a religious visionary. Even so, she remained a sensual woman who loved men but always protected her virginity. As a visionary, she “saw” and spoke to people although they were physically far away. She also predicted the future, but what are we to make of her today?

It was for this reason I was initially drawn to read this novel, and I was not disappointed. It is well-researched, beautifully written, and fascinating. The author has laid before us a remarkable woman who struggles between sin and sanctity. She loves beauty, whether it be fine fabrics, food, or the natural world, yet she denies herself these pleasures and welcomes hunger, discomfort and cold. The author has avoided the modern propensity to cherry-pick clues to a historical character’s psychological or psychiatric development and running with them, instead leaving such things up to her readers. Intriguing and highly recommended.