The Oblate’s Confession

Written by William Peak
Review by Elizabeth Knowles

In 7th-century England, the boy Winwaed is given to the local monastery by his warrior father, Ceolwulf. Winwaed, an oblate, is raised there. Like the other monks and boys, he lives a godly life filled with hard work, hunger, and at times danger and disease. Winwaed is assigned to assist the hermit, Father Gwynedd, who lives on the nearby mountain. The boy learns woodland skills and how to pray effectively from this hermit. Father Gwynedd is more of a real father to Winwaed than Ceolwulf is.

When Ceolwulf asks Winwaed to pray against someone instead of for someone, the oblate faces conflicts in loyalty and faith. Should he follow the tenets of his biological father, or of his spiritual father – a man who would never want him to harm someone through prayer?

This is a long, deep book. Anyone who likes Anglo-Saxon times before the Vikings or tales of early medieval monastic life will want to take a look. Winwaed is a contemporary of the Venerable Bede and the Abbess Hild. A nod is given to the pagans of the time and to the feared Cumbrogi tribesmen across the mountain. There are echoes of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Bishop Wilfrid (offstage) is painted negatively, but historically he has many supporters as well as detractors. This is a minor quibble, as the story is really about the fictional but all-too-human Winwaed and his very rich but isolated life. Recommended.