It is late summer in the year 1270 and England is as weary as its aging king, Henry III. Although the Simon de Montfort rebellion is over, the smell of death still hangs like smoke over the land. Even in the small priory of Tyndal on the remote East Anglian coast, the monks and nuns of the Order of Fontevraud long for a return to tranquil routine. Their hopes are dashed, however, when the young and inexperienced Eleanor of Wynethorpe is appointed their new prioress over someone of their own choosing. Nor are Eleanor's own prayers for a peaceful transition answered. Only a day after her arrival, a brutally murdered monk is found in the cloister gardens, and Brother Thomas, a young priest with a troubled past, arrives to bring her a more personal grief. Now she must not only struggle to gain the respect of her terrified and resentful flock but also cope with violence, lust and greed in a place dedicated to love and peace.
During the dark morning hours of a winter day in the year 1270, an aged prioress realized she was dying.
To her surprise the dying was much easier than she had ever imagined. The crushing pain in her chest was gone and she felt herself drifting upward with an extraordinary lightness. She was floating above the rush-covered floor, over which a dusting of sweet-scented petals had been scattered, and away from that narrow convent cot where her earthly remains lay so still. Indeed, she wasn't frightened. She was very much at peace.
Below her, a semi-circle of nuns continued to chant with haunting harmony, their warm breath circling around her in the bitterly cold air. Many had tears in their eyes at her death, she noted, especially Sister Christina, whose grief meant the most to the old prioress. She could not have loved the nun more if she had been a child of her own body, but Christina had become the child of her soul instead, and, knowing the young woman...
From the Author's Foreword:
Although Tyndal Priory and its inhabitants never existed, the Order of Fontevraud most certainly did. It was a very powerful religious institution from its founding at the turn of the twelfth century by Robert dArbrissel until shortly after the French Revolution. Like the Order of the Paraclete (once headed by Heloise, whose correspondence with her husband, Peter Abelard, is one of the treasures of medieval literature), Fontevraud was one of the rare Orders of double houses where a woman was in charge of both male and female monastics......
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