Brigid of Kildare

Brigid of Kildare

by Heather Terrell

I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation. The book is Brigid of Kildare by Heather Terrell.

Every picture tells a story, as Rod Stewart once reminded us. It’s hard to imagine a world before certain pictures. What would a world be like without Mickey Mouse? And the fat cat with the monocle and the top hat — to my mind from the Monopoly game but certainly much older — what an easy way to draw a mental picture. Icons are the sort of mental shorthand we can’t get along without. So let’s go way back and be the first artist who drew or sketched or painted the Virgin Mary and Christ child. This image is hardly a part of my personal theology but its power and ability to inspire is beyond debate. But it didn’t simply come into existence, someone created the first one. That act of art is the heart of Heather Terrell’s newest novel, Brigid of Kildare.

Saint Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints, Brigid was a powerful pagan Irish goddess, and the Brigid of this book is the Abbess and mother of an early Christian convent set at the very end of the known world — even the Romans barely bothered with 5th century Ireland. Things are put into motion when Decius, a spy sent by more worldly Christian clerics back in civilization, is sent to find Brigid and make her behave, as even then, in Ireland it was all politics. The plot heads back and forth between the 5th century and this one, with growing affection between the spy and the Abbess, and a modern art historian who finds a priceless illustrated manuscript with Brigid’s fingerprints all over it — and that icon to end all icons right there on the front page.

The chapters set in the dim, glowing past resonate more than those in the frantic present, as I think the author simply found their ancient but certainly not irrelevant struggles simply more interesting.

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