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The Heretic’s Apprentice



by Ellis Peters

Published 1990

This is actually one of my favorites of the Cadfael series (and, fear not, I finished these on vacation, so you are almost done reading about Cadfael! :-D).

In this story, a young man returns to Shrewsbury, bearing the body of his employer, whom he had accompanied on a pilgrimage that had lasted the last several years.  Although the older man had died on his trip, he had desired to be buried at his home church, and had charged (before his death, obviously) Elave (the young man) to bring his body home.  However, when Elave arrives at the abbey, another guest has arrived first–an Augustinian canon, Gerbert.  Gerbert’s horse has been lamed, and so he has had to unexpectedly stay at Shrewsbury for several days.  A strict (some may even say narrow-minded) man, Canon Gerbert is swift to pounce when he finds out that the reason that Elave’s employer went on a pilgrimage to begin with was because he had been accused to heresy.

While the mystery is good, per usual, my favorite part of the story is the non-mystery part–the part where Peters really studies human character.  She does a beautiful job working with the concept of heresy, managing to show several perspectives as reasonable, reminding all of us of the importance of humbleness (especially when it pertains to spiritual matters).  There is even a point where Brother Cadfael experiences a sudden understanding of Canon Gerbert’s viewpoint–

As for Gerbert himself, Cadfael had a sudden startling insight into a mind utterly alien to his own.  For the man really had, somewhere in Europe, glimpsed yawning chaos and been afraid, seen the subtleties of the devil working through the mouths of men, and the fragmentation of Christendom in the eruption of loud-voiced prophets bursting out of limbo like bubbles in the scum of a boiling pot, and the dispersion into the wilderness in the malignant excesses of their deluded followers.  There was nothing false in the horror with which Gerbert looked upon the threat of heresy…

The entire topic of heresy at this point in history is a fascinating one anyway.  Sometimes we forget that, at this time, the Catholic Church was the law and THE religion.  You were either Catholic, or you were a heretic, an outcast.  But Peters handles this beautifully.  Per usual, this book made me fall in love with Father Abbot quite a bit more.  He is my favorite character by far.

Since I haven’t posted in a while, I haven’t mentioned it in a while–you MUST read these books!

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