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A Vision of Light: A Margaret of Ashbury Novelby Judith Merkle Riley
Synopses & Reviews
AT THE WEST END OF THE GREAT NORman nave of St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, a tall, angular figure in a nondescript, threadbare old gray gown lurked by a pillar, intently watching the throng of merchants, pious ladies, servants, and clerics as they went about their business. St. Paul's was a good place to find work: at one pillar unemployed servants stood, waiting for offers, while at the north Si quis door, priests did the same thing more discreetly, posting neatly written little notices that they were available for any vacancy. Here at the west end twelve scribes of the cathedral sat at desks to write letters and draw up documents for the public; it was around this place that Brother Gregory had prowled for the last several days, waiting to snap up any copying business that might fall unattended from their tables. Two days ago he had written a letter for an old woman to her son in Calais, but since then there had been nothing, and Brother Gregory had begun to have indecent dreams of sausages and pig's knuckles.
It was odd how voices reverberated and were lost in the nave. From somewhere far away the thin thread of a melody descended, to be interrupted by the rattle of voices from one of the nearby bays. A knight had entered by the main door without remembering to remove his spurs. There was a chatter and a flurry as white-surpliced choirboys swarmed around him to demand their customary tribute. As Brother Gregory watched the scribes' desks, he noticed a young matron, followed by a serving girl, as she went up to the first desk, but the sound of their conversation, although it was fairly close, floated away and was lost. He watched her walk to each of thedesks in turn. As she paused at the second desk, the clerk at the first desk turned to see what his colleague would do. When the second clerk looked down his long nose at her as if he smelled a bad fish, the first clerk laughed behind his hand. As she turned to go to the next desk, Brother Gregory could see her profile. Her chin was set hard.
A stubborn woman, thought Brother Gregory, as he watched her stand behind an old man waiting at the third desk. Stubbornness is a bad quality in a woman.
Then she passed to the next scribe. This one, a fat red-jowled cleric, laughed in her face. Then he leaned conspiratorially over to his colleague and whispered behind his hand. The next man whispered in turn to his colleague on the other side, who, when she stood at last before his tall desk, pointed over in Brother Gregory's direction. She turned suddenly and stared at Brother Gregory across half the width of the nave, to where he stood by his pillar. She looked a little puzzled and disappointed but then started toward him.
She didn't look as old as he'd supposed at first. Not more than a year or two over twenty, he thought. A dark blue cloak with the hood pulled up covered her dress entirely, revealing only the edges of her white linen veil and wimple. She looked well off: the cloak was lined in rich fur and fastened with a gold filigree brooch. She had come through the spring mud on foot, her wooden pattens were still strapped beneath her embroidered morocco-leather slippers. She was of medium height, but even on the high, carved pattens she seemed smaller than she actually was, for she was slender and fine boned. Brother Gregory thought he saw a sort of lost look on her face, but somewomen seem always to look a little confused. After all, many of them were incapable of dealing with a man's world and really should not be allowed out-of-doors alone. It couldn't be much of a job she wanted done, if all the cathedral scribes thought it was a joke, Brother Gregory mused to himself. Well, it would be better to take a small job than have none at all. These unpleasant dreams had been interfering with his meditations; maybe he'd get a good dinner out of this woman. Then he could continue his search for God undisturbed.
The woman hesitated f
In 1355, Margaret of Ashbury depends on renegade friar Brother Gregory to record her life story and her experience of a state of Mystic Union, and he is forced to accept the state of grace of this "mere woman." Reader's Guide included. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.
The bestselling novel that introduces Margaret of Ashbury and launches a trilogy featuring this irrepressible woman
Margaret of Ashbury wants to write her life story. However, like most women in fourteenth-century England, she is illiterate. Three clerics contemptuously decline to be Margaret’s scribe, and only the threat of starvation persuades Brother Gregory, a Carthusian friar with a mysterious past, to take on the task. As she narrates her life, we discover a woman of startling resourcefulness. Married off at the age of fourteen to a merchant reputed to be the Devil himself, Margaret was left for dead during the Black Plague. Incredibly, she survived, was apprenticed to an herbalist, and became a midwife. But most astonishing of all, Margaret has experienced a Mystic Union—a Vision of Light that endows her with the miraculous gift of healing. Because of this ability, Margaret has become suddenly different—to her tradition-bound parents, to the bishop’s court that tries her for heresy, and ultimately to the man who falls in love with her.
About the Author
Judith Merkle Riley is a professor of political science and has a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.
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