Bearing the Saint, by Donna Farley

Anyone with an interest in the Vikings knows of the island and monastery of Lindisfarne. The start of the Viking Age is generally dated to 793, when a devastating and unanticipated raid from Scandinavia brought about its sacking. After centuries as a place of sanctuary, the island became from that day on a target, getting hit again and again by plunder-hungry Northmen. In 875 the entire Lindisfarne community, monks, priests, and lay folk, packed up the monastery treasures, including the remains of Saint Cuthbert and a holy book (thought to be the Lindisfarne Gospels), and set off to find a safer place.

They wandered the land like the children of Israel until 882, when a new monastery site was found (it was relocated to Durham some time after).

Bearing the Saint by Donna Farley is a young adult novel dramatizing the adventures and sufferings of that company during its period of homelessness. As the story begins, the hero, a boy named Edmund, is mourning the loss at sea of his fisherman father. Soon he has much more to worry about as he becomes part of the exodus. Over the years that follow he grows up, becomes one of the bishop’s official “saint bearers,” suffers hunger and exposure, has adventures, falls in love, and comes to terms with Danish rule in Northumberland.

I found the book’s pace a little leisurely for my taste. It was episodic, but that’s the nature of this kind of story, so I can’t call that a criticism. The narrative engaged me, but I wouldn’t call it compelling. It did educate me on an aspect of the history of the Danelaw with which I hadn’t been much familiar.

The book is published by Conciliar Press, an Orthodox publisher, and was sent to me by an Orthodox friend. Considering that fact, along with the monastic elements of the story, I would have expected there to be a lot more promotion of monasticism in it than there is. In fact, none of the main characters becomes a monk or a nun in the course of the story, which surprised me. Evangelical readers won’t find the sacramental aspects offensive, I think (unless the idea of saints’ miracles offends them).

I’d say Bearing the Saint is a good, wholesome book that might be especially useful to homeschooling parents who want to teach their children some history.

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