Wednesday, March 01, 2006

A Literary Tour: Day 11

Day 11: Shrewsbury (Ellis Peters)

I am not a big fan of mysteries and detective stories, although I enjoy them on occasions. One of several exceptions to this rule is the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Cadfael, the crusader turned Benedictine monk, is an inspired choice of sleuth, and I love the way she captures the atmosphere of mid-twelfth century England during the civil war between King Stephen and his cousin Matilda. The setting is Shrewsbury Abbey, another of the great religious houses of medieval England. The monks went when Henry VIII dissolved the English monasteries, but Shrewsbury - like Bath Abbey - was one of the fortunate churches to survive more or less intact as a place of worship for the townspeople.

Shrewsbury is a town I have never visited so I'm looking forward to this trip. Browsing for pictures has whetted my appetite, and I was intrigued to discover that Shrewsbury Abbey now has a "Cadfael window", in honour of its fictional son. The Abbey was also home to the shrine of St.Winifred, thanks to a raiding party of monks who simply appropriated her body from its burial place in North Wales in the twelfth century. Unfortunately the shrine did not survive the Reformation. Purloining the relics of saints was something of a medieval hobby. My favourite example is the monks of Fleury in France, who travelled to Italy and carried off the bones of St.Benedict himself. They justified this with the impeccable logic that if St.Benedict had not wanted to come with them, he would not have let them take him.

I have found a nice book to whet our appetite for this trip, Cadfael Country: Shropshire and the Welsh Borders, by Rob Talbot and Robin Whiteman. I'm almost sure my mother - who lived in Shrewsbury during the 1950s - has a copy, and I'm planning to browse through it next time I visit her.