Brigid of Kildare

Brigid of Kildare

by Heather Terrell

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Overview

Rich in historical detail, Heather Terrell’s mesmerizing novel Brigid of Kildare is the story of the revolutionary Saint Brigid and the discovery of the oldest illuminated manuscript in the annals of the Church, a manuscript that contains an astonishing secret history.
 
Fifth-century Ireland: Brigid is Ireland’s first and only female priest and bishop. Followers flock to her Kildare abbey and scriptorium. Hearing accounts of Brigid’s power, the Church deems her a threat and sends Decius, a Roman priest and scribe, on a secret mission to collect proof of Brigid’s heresy.

    As Decius records the unorthodox practices of Brigid and her abbey, he becomes intrigued by her. When Brigid assigns Decius a holy task—to create the most important and sacred manuscript ever made—he finds himself at odds with his original mission and faces the most difficult decision of his life.

Modern day: Alexandra Patterson, an appraiser of medieval relics, has been summoned to Kildare to examine a reliquary box believed to belong to Saint Brigid. Hidden within the sacred box is the most beautiful illuminated manuscript Alex has ever seen. But even more extraordinary is the contents of the manuscript’s vellum pages, which may have dire repercussions for the Catholic Church and could very well rewrite the origins of Christianity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345505125
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/09/2010
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 317,723
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Heather Terrell is also the author of The Chrysalis and The Book of Kildare. A lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies, Terrell is a graduate of Boston College and of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Rome

a.d. 470

Brother,


I write you in the utmost haste, trusting in God that I will find a safe way to deliver this letter unto your hands. For this very eve, I must leave Rome for an island so far outside the bounds of civilization it has never merited the attention of our dear Republic: the land of the Gaels.

That the Lord has summoned me to this mission, I have no doubt. Yet, as dawn broke and I finished my prayers this morning, I would have sworn on the cross that the day would progress like every other.

I settled at my desk in the chambers of the papal secretary just as the sun's rays began their full celebration of God's good day. Capturing the clarity of the earliest light is as critical to my work as a scrivener

for the Lord as it is to your work overseeing the family land; thus I was alone in the study. I was preparing to record the edicts emanating from a recent council meeting when I heard my name.

I turned toward the sound and, to my surprise, saw a papal page in the doorway. He said, "Brother Decius, you are to follow me to an audience in the chambers of His Holiness Pope Simplicius, bishop of Rome."

The page started off down the long and winding corridors that lead to His Holiness's inner sanctum. I raced after him, wary of losing him in the labyrinthine route connecting the church's official buildings to the palace. I kept his pace, and he left me at the entryway to the pope's own chambers.

A crimson tapestry separated the sacred inner sanctum from the bustle of the rest of the palace. I approached it, and though I pulled the heavy fabric aside with reverence and care, my fingers caught on the pearls and rubies sewn into the silken embroidery. In that moment of disentanglement, I know not why, I hesitated before crossing the threshold.

My body began shaking, as it had never trembled before. Yet I knew I could show no fear. Courage is necessary-nay, mandated-for selection to one of Christ's missions. And somehow I knew that this was the purpose of my summoning.

To expel the devil's own trepidation from my heart and soul, I steeled myself with the image, oft described by you, of our father and mother stoic in the face of the barbarians. If our parents could suffer at their hands and never flinch before the final swing of the crude battle-axe, then, I told myself, I could take the simple step of entering the private chamber of Saint Peter's own representative on this earth.

Peace descended upon me, almost as though our mother and father spoke from heaven. I left the tapestry to swing in my wake and immediately knelt before His Holiness. Or so I believed.

"Rise, Brother Decius," the order sounded out.

I readied myself to confront the intimidating phalanx of aristocratic councillors that accompany His Holiness's every movement, which I had witnessed during my three prior papal audiences. Yet as I rose from my deep genuflection and lifted my eyes, a single figure greeted me. I knew the man only by sight and rumor, as he would never deign to enter the secretary's study: it was Gallienus, a priest and the most senior of the pope's councillors.

I bowed my head in respect, yet could not help but note the comfortable, nearly languorous, manner in which he leaned against the empty papal throne. "Your Eminence," I said.

"The twelfth eagle will soon fly," Gallienus said.

I did not answer at once, uncertain as to his meaning and even more unsure as to the safest response.

"Are you not familiar with the Prophecy of the Twelve Eagles, Brother Decius?" Gallienus asked.

"I am, Your Eminence." Indeed, I guess nearly every Roman citizen has heard the divination that the Republic's supremacy will last twelve centuries only, each one represented by an eagle. Even the masses must have heard it bandied about in the bars and streets of the bustling Aventine Quarter in recent times, as the Visigoths rule Rome in all but name and other hordes conquer more and more of the Roman provinces every day. Oh, but this is old, sad news to us true Romans.

"Then you know that twelve centuries of the Roman Empire's rule as foretold by the twelve eagles are nearly at an end?"

I paused before answering. I hate to speak ill of a fellow Christian, but the elite Gallienus is known for his wiles and I feared that the question was a trap. If I admitted to an awareness of the prophecy and the few years remaining on it, I could well be confessing to giving credence to pagan lore-a punishable confession, since Christianity was proclaimed the state religion almost one hundred years ago, as you know well.

I delivered a measured response. "I do, Your Eminence. Yet I also know that such prophecy is but heretical conjecture spoken by the masses."

Gallienus stared long at me, never blinking but keeping his eyes hooded in shadow such that I could not read his reaction. Then he nodded slowly and said, "That is true, Brother Decius. Still, we must be prepared."

"Of course, Your Eminence." Wary of this man, I was apprehensive of accusations that I had discounted the empire's military might with my answer. So I said, "Though the empire maintains a vast army."

"We cannot leave the fate of the Roman Christian Church to Emperor Anthemius's troops, can we, Brother Decius?"

Understanding that Gallienus's question brooked no response other than agreement, I said, "No, Your Eminence. We cannot leave the fate of the Roman Christian Church to the Roman army."

"I am glad we are of like mind, Brother Decius. Heartily glad."

I watched Gallienus saunter around the pope's chamber as if it belonged to him, pausing to touch the gilt arms of the papal throne and the intricate wall mosaic of birds in flight. As he gazed out between columns to the surging metropolis below, still crowded with marble temples and colonnaded forums dedicated to the pagan gods, despite the edict banning their worship, I waited for my mission.

"We must secure the land of the Gaels, Brother Decius," Gallienus pronounced without turning back toward me.

"The desolate isle beyond Britannia, Your Eminence?" My brother, I regretted the question the moment it slipped from my tongue. I knew, of course, where the Gaelic land lay, but I could not believe that the church would trouble itself with the unimportant, rocky outcropping on the precipice of the known world, an island so inconsequential that Rome did not bother to colonize it even in the Republic's prime. Not to mention that with Gael's lack of a central ruler, subduing its countless chieftains would have required more than fifty thousand troops, which Rome could ill afford due to mounting pressures on nearly all other frontiers. But I did not want the man to think I was a fool or, worse, an insubordinate in need of punishment.

"The very same," Gallenius answered, without rebuke or surprise at my response. He faced me. "Rumors are surfacing that its chieftains are uniting in power under the newly formed Christian monasteries. This news would be hailed-indeed, we always embrace new sheep in our flock- but for the reports that the Gaelic brand of Christianity is rife with heresy. We would not want Gael to unify under a Pelagian Christianity, now, would we? We must determine whether these reports bear truth."

Gallienus did not continue with any details, though, of course, I had long heard rumblings about Pelagius, the rebel monk from Britannia who had maintained that original sin does not exist and that man has free will, a belief condemned by the church's Council of Ephesus in 431.

"Would Bishop Patrick not be able to serve in this regard?" The Roman Christian Church had sent Patrick to Gael as a missionary some years before, in an unprecedented posting. The church had never before assigned a missionary to an uncolonized land, but Patrick had made constant, persuasive arguments about God calling him to convert the people who had once enslaved him.

"Inexplicably, Bishop Patrick is too enamored with the Gaelic people to report upon them objectively." Gallienus then made a broad gesture toward me.

I finished for him, as he clearly wished: "You would like me to make this appraisal, Your Eminence."

"Yes, Brother Decius. I wish you to study a particular abbey that grows in power, the Abbey of Kildare which is run by a woman, Brigid, no less." He paused and then asked, "Do you understand the critical importance of this work?"

"I welcome Your Eminence's wisdom." I felt the need to remain guarded in my responses, though I had begun to intuit his designs.

"If, in fact, the Gaelic monasteries and churches preach heresy as charged, we must stamp out the leaders of this profanation and replace them with our own. Only then can we unite this disjointed, backward land under the true Christian faith and present it as a tribute to the emperor. To help him bolster the empire and . . ." He left the sentence unfinished.

"And, in turn, bolster the church, Your Eminence?" He seemed to want me to say this aloud.

"You do see, Brother Decius. I am well pleased."

And see I did, when he put it so plainly. The Roman Church stands on increasingly unsteady ground as the Roman government falters. It needs to shore itself against the barbarian onslaught by routing out all heresy. Efforts to keep the remote island fully Roman Catholic could prevent it from becoming barbarian-and create a fitting honorarium for the Roman emperor in the process.

Gallienus sidled up near me, drawing so close that, despite the early hours, I could smell his sour, wine-laden breath. "Do you wonder at your selection for this task?"

I lowered my head, away from his probing stare and his stench. "I trust in the sagacity of God, Pope Simplicius, and his learned councillors, Your Eminence."

Gallienus smiled. "Always cautious, Brother Decius. Almost as cautious as myself. It will serve you well." The smile vanished, leaving an unpleasant grimace on his lips. "We chose you not for your ardent faith or your private hatred of the barbarians, though you have both of these excellent qualities in abundance. We chose you because we need a scribe."

My dear brother, the light fades, and the horses assemble for the long journey. I have not the time to complete the description of my encounter with Gallienus or my mission to the Gaelic land, though I suspect you would reel at the notion of your pious, careful younger brother, whom you always protected as you dashed off on some adventure of your own design, heading off into the dark unknown. I pray with fervence to our Lord that He will deliver unto me the means to transport this letter to you. Until then, I will be in His hands. Pray for me, brother, as I pray for you.

Decius

ii

Gael

a.d. 456

brigid: a life

Brigid readies her sword. She sizes up her competitor and fashions a fresh strategy. The call to battle sounds, and they rush at each other headlong.

The metallic shriek of their locked swords overtakes the battlefield. Brigid begins with a thrust and parry so they will seem even matched. But she knows her combatant well, and her standard swordplay serves as a trap. The rhythmic clash of their blades lulls him into thinking he commands the lead and wipes any strategy from his overconfident mind. She lures him to the edge of a ditch bordering the field and prepares her final strike.

An almost imperceptible tremor passes through the watching soldiers. Brigid averts her gaze momentarily and sees that her father has arrived. A faint smile curls on her lips as she thinks about the fortune of having her father watch her victory. She shifts her weight to muster all her force for the winning thrust.

But her competitor marks her fleeting distraction and subtly changes his position. When Brigid swings forward with all her might, she stumbles to the ground in pain and embarrassment. It is her opponent who delivers the ultimate blow-not Brigid.

She rises under her own strength, pushing aside her competitor's outstretched hand. If she must fall to another's sword, she will prove to her father that she can shrug off a blow as easily as his fiercest warriors. Brushing away a servant's attempt to dress her shoulder wound, Brigid passes her blade back into the scabbard hanging from a loop off her metal belt. She unrolls the hem of her long robe, which she had tucked into her belt, and strides off the field as if she had won.

Brigid glances in her father's direction. She hopes he has observed her stoicism, if not her victory. But he is gone, leaving her to wonder just what he witnessed.

She curses to herself as the crowd dissipates. Her overeagerness had caused her fatal misstep, one only a rank beginner would commit. She is furious with herself.

"Ach, don't beat yourself up about it, Brigid. Everyone knows you've got better sword skills than me."

She turns toward the voice. It is her opponent, her foster brother, Oengus, who has been sheltered by her family since the age of seven, according to Gaelic custom. He will return to his own family at seventeen, taking the newly made bond with him as a tie to his own family. "Easy for you to say. You just won to a warrior's crowd of a hundred, with my father at the center."

Oengus does not respond. Wisely, Brigid thinks. For she knows-and he knows-that she is right, that her father expects her to dominate in every respect. Even on the battlefield against a man. For her father is Dubtach, king of the Fothairt people of southern Gael, and he demands nothing less of his only natural child.

The long walk across the crop fields to the stone cashel ringing the royal homestead lessens her inner anger. As they pass the cattle and sheep fields, she forgets her troubles for a moment and unconsciously counts the animals' heads: they are the measure of her father's power, along with the slaves captured by raiding parties. By the time they cross the rampart over the ditch encircling the inner wall of the cashel, Brigid has even mustered a laugh at Oengus's imitation of their instructor, an aging warrior of her father's. Oengus alone can make her laugh. At their approach to the two vast earthen mounds used by Dubtach for his ceremonies, she is able to pretend that she has forgotten about her humiliation. But she never really forgets.

Brigid and Oengus near the large heather-thatched building used for their studies. Though they are well ahead of their appointed time, they notice a number of unfamiliar people entering the structure. Brigid picks up her pace, pushes open the heavy oak door, and enters with Oengus hard at her heels.

"Fresh from the battlefield, I see?"

Brigid's eyes adjust slowly from the bright spring light to the dim interior. She does not need to see the face to recognize the speaker. It is her mother, Broicsech, queen of the Fothairt people, and from her tone, Brigid understands that she is fuming.

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Brigid of Kildare 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Sam1219 More than 1 year ago
Appraiser Alexandra Patterson has been called to Kildare when the Sisters of St. Brigid decide to sell some sacred relics to fund their proselytizing and attempts to rehabilitate the image of St. Brigid in Ireland and throughout the world. While studying one of the relics, Alexandra discovers an ancient manuscript hidden within a secret compartment. Based on the beauty of the illuminated manuscript and the estimated age of the relics, Alexandra believes the manuscript might be the lost Book of Kildare, an illuminated manuscript containing the four Gospels that is said to rival even the beauty of the Book of Kells. On an impulse, Alexandra "borrows" the manuscript as well as some letters she finds buried away and long forgotten in the church's archives and consults an old flame, Trinity College professor and expert Declan Lamb for help. What is the mystery document Alexandra has discovered and why was it hidden away? Who is Decius, the scribe whose name appears on the beautiful manuscript, and what was his relationship to Brigid? Originally sent there by Rome as a spy, did he fulfill his mission, did he find no evidence of the heresy he was sent to root out, or was he drawn in by Brigid's magnetic personality? Were Decius and Brigid scribe and abbess, friends, or lovers? Once Alexandra finds answers to her questions, how will she explain to her client why she took the manuscripts from their resting place within the church? Should the manuscript and letters be sold with the relics, or will the Catholic Church try to repress the content in them? SPOILER ALERT!!! I generally try to avoid any kind of spoilers in my reviews, but there are a few things that must be addressed in this case, so be warned. Here is where you should stop reading if you hate spoilers.... This imaginative story is told from two perspectives: Alexandra's quest for truth in modern times and Decius's mission for the church in the fifth century. The author does a good job of blending the two story lines, however, the device of Decius's letters to his brother, while convenient for revealing Decius's innermost thoughts and motivations, is awkward and contrived. A spy for Rome would never take the risk of revealing so much about his mission in writing in the first place, and if he did feel the need to so unburden his soul as a means of confession as Decius himself mentions as a reason for writing the letters, a spy would then burn the letters to mitigate the risk of getting caught. Additionally, if Brigid did indeed know Decius for a spy from the beginning as she later claims, someone with her warrior's background would never have allowed him access to the sensitive information in the scriptorium, in particular the banned texts, in the first place. Finally, while a nice dream, the Vatican's response to the manuscript and its sale seems naive and unrealistic as well. After actively--and often violently--suppressing any notion of texts other than those strictly defined by its own sanctioned councils, the idea that the Vatican would suddenly capitulate and tolerate any text, much less one as controversial and progressive as one in alignment with the Gospel of Mary the Mother (and without months and months of study, reflection, reevaluation, and miles of bureaucratic red tape), seems far-fetched. While it would be nice to think that the Vatican would be as open-minded as it is portrayed by Terrell, history suggests otherwise. Ending notwithstanding, however, the story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So my father got be this book in paper back like 10 yrs ago and the covers awesome but i thought eww i dont want to read this.... Idk if ive ever been so wrong, when i finally got to reading it a few nights ago i loved it and found myself enwrapped in the story about five pages in. Its so entangled with history and culture. Well ill just let you find out for your self but dont get turned away from the history part of it like i first did .. Its a short read but a great one ur two hours wont be wasted
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the paperback version... this book is a great read. It's a fictionalized portrait of St. Brigid of Kidare. Couldn't put the book down. It's a great read!
harstan More than 1 year ago
Brigid of Kildare Heather Terrell Ballantine, Feb 9 2010, $15.00 ISBN: 9780345505125 In Ireland desperately in need of money, the Sisters of St. Brigid plan to sell valuable ancient relics. They hire art appraiser Alexandra Patterson to evaluate their collection. Exhilarated with the assignment, Alex begins to catalogue the collection. However, she is stunned when she finds a beautifully scribed tome from apparently the fifth century. She wonders if this illuminated text could be the legendary lost Book of Kildare. Her colleague and former lover Trinity College Professor Declan Lamb supports her belief. Apparently the Church, fearing the imminent collapse of the Roman Empire could take them down too, turn aggressive against anyone who may cause dissension. In that regard, Brother Decius travels to Gael to accuse Abbess Brigid of heresy. Once there he finds her faith as inspiring and asks her to let him scribe her tale to convert the Gael pagans. As Heather Terrell did with The Map Thief, the author weaves a past and present duality into a delightful cohesive tale. The Brigid of Kildare subplot is a terrific look at the Church's efforts to survive the collapse of Rome mostly told through the relationship between Decius and the title Saint. However, the modern day art sleuths fail to attain the same level of caring and passion that the ancient couple possesses especially Brigid's efforts to bring the Gael to Christianity. Still fans will enjoy this fine thriller starring a woman whose belief was so strong she not just converted the locals, she persuaded the Roman to join her quest and leave readers admiring her. Harriet Klausner
Anonymous 6 months ago
Good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gives+me+new+insight+of+Brigid.+makes+me+glad+I+chose+Brigid+as+my+Confirmation+Saint+name.
Kasthu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Brigid of Kildare is a split-time novel. The story goes back and forth between Bridgid, a 5th-century woman chosen by Saint Patrick himself to convert the Irish into Christianity; and a modern-day appraiser of medieval objects named Alex, who is invited to Kildare to appraise a book that the nuns there own. The story is told as both a straight narrative and a series of letters written by a Roman spy named Decius, sent to Ireland to uncover possibly heresy.The idea of the story is appealing, but the execution of the book is rather lackluster, I¿m afraid. It¿s rare that I complain that a book I don¿t like is too short; but I thought that the story could have been fleshed out a lot more, especially the characters of Alexandra, who never comes across as more than a cold appraiser. Where¿s her personality? Even Brigid herself wasn¿t that appealing of a character, suffering from a lack of character development over the span of about 15 years. The author¿s grasp of early medieval Christianity is sound, but I thought she resorted to clichés in many places, especially when it came to the Irish people. Another reader here says that there¿s not a lot of historical detail here, and I agree with their assessment. In fact, had the headings of the chapters not given the dates, I wouldn¿t have known that parts of the book took place in the 5th century. The book might appeal to fans of religious fiction, but those looking for a good historical tale will be disappointed.
MaelBrigdeTWO on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In comparison with Cindy Thomson`s book of the same name: The structure of the novel and the writing generally is more sophisticated, although at no point does it become a compelling or memorable novel. The fact that it is more sophisticated could be deemed a mark against it, though, as it gives a greater sense of truthfulness to a book as flawed in its portrayal of history and hagiography, in some ways, as Thomson`s novel.
Schmooby-Doo More than 1 year ago
I read this in one sitting. History well blended with a modern day researcher. Brigid came alive for me. I wish there really WERE those ancient books. Excellent book.
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