Sunday, 18 September 2011
Past and Present Converge in A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE
The past does impinge on the present, church history lecturer Father Antony keeps reminding his student Felicity Howard. But this young American woman studying at a theological college in a monastery in remote Yorkshire isn't having any of it. She's going to change the world— Now.
Until she finds her favotire monk Father Dominic brutally murdered and Father Antony soaked in his blood. Felicity and Antony are catapulted into a race against death across England and Scotland that takes them to ancient holy sites and forces Felicity to learn truths both ancient and modern in order to save her life.
It all began in the year of our Lord 698 on The Holy Isle of Lindisfarne:
Hands folded, heads bowed, the black-robed brothers gathered in the front of their monastery church. The candles glowed beside the rough stone altar, casting flickering shadows on the hard-tamped earthen floor, marking the spot where their beloved Cuthbert had lain for eleven years.
Now the brothers must perform their solemn task. Eleven years was the prescribed period. Eleven years buried in the earth. Plenty of time for worms, rot and decay to have done their work. Plenty of time for the body of the holy Cuthbert to achieve the end of all mortal flesh. The Prior, presiding in the absence of the Abbot who was on retreat, read out the solemn words, "My strength is dried up like a potsherd; my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death."
And the brothers replied, "All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust."
The Prior strengthened his voice, "The Lord pitieth them that fear him. For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. He takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust."
And again the reply, "All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust."
"All are of the dust, and all turn to dust again. The dust shall return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it."
"All flesh shall perish together, and man shall turn again unto dust."
Their brief litany ended, the brothers set about their task, digging in the consecrated ground. A few feet down their shovels hit the lid of the stone sarcophagus. Now they dropped to their knees and did the rest of the digging with their hands, brushing the soil from the stone until they could grasp the handles on each end and lift the heavy stone box from the ground. Now the precious bones could be washed clean and enshrined above ground in order to be more accessible to the steady stream of pilgrims that made their way to Lindisfarne to pray at the holy man's grave.
The brothers knelt around the coffin while the Prior led in a prayer of petition for rest to attend the soul of their dear departed. "And may light perpetual shine upon him," the brotherhood replied. The prior sprinkled the coffin with holy water and blessed it with incense. Then the two strongest brothers lifted the heavy stone lid.
All held their breath as stone grated on stone. The cloud of incense cleared, and the brotherhood crept forward to view the remains.
One brother fainted. Another shrieked. Several fell back, crossing themselves. The Prior began babbling.
There before them was not the skeleton they had expected. The casket which had been buried in the earth, untouched, beside their own altar for eleven years held a fresh, fully intact body. Cuthbert looked more like a man who had been asleep for eleven hours than one who had been buried for eleven years. Even his vestments were clean and fresh, unstained by water, mud or worms.
One brother kilted his robe to enable him to run to the shore. The tide was in, so he was obliged to shout across the neck of water to the abbot who was making retreat on tiny Hobthrush Island, just beyond the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne. The abbot paddled over in his tiny coracle and brought order to his astonished, agitated community.
He gave precise orders: dress the uncorrupted body in fresh vestments; place it, along with Cuthbert's portable altar and other holy objects, in the wooden coffin already prepared; and proceed with the elevation ceremony. God had spoken clearly.
Cuthbert was a saint.
Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 36 books, mostly novels dealing with British history. The award-winning GLASTONBURY, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work. A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. Book 2 A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH will be out this month and she is at work on book 3 AN UNHOLY COMMUNION scheduled for 2012.
Donna and her husband live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener.
To see the book video for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE and pictures from Donna's garden and research trips go to: www.DonnaFletcherCrow.com.
Her blog is at: http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/articles.php
and you can follow her on Facebook at: http://ning.it/eLjgYp