Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review: The Pilgrim by Davis Bunn

Abandoned by her husband and in danger because of her faith, Empress Helena embarks on a perilous pilgrimage from Caesarea to Judea. Although she encounters friends and foes alike in her travels, miracles follow her. Join her as she wins hearts for God and discovers the true cross of Christ!

Empress Helena was a woman who life would forever be linked with the Holy Land and the Crucifixion, in the sense that she reputedly discovered the True Cross.

Helena's life had humble, if not slightly seedy beginnings as one of her father's "supplementary amenities" at his drinking establishment in Bithyna (Asia Minor). She married well - Constantius, a man on the make under Emperor Aurelian - how they met is speculative. However, she was a "first wife" - when abandoned (c.289) in favour of a younger woman who provided the basis for a politically advantageous - though short-lived - marriage for her former husband, who by now had risen to the rank of Emperor (dc.306). 

With the enthronement of her son Constantine as Emperor (306), Helena returns to imperial court life - but there can only be one Imperial First Lady, and Helena had a distinct dislike for her daughter-in-law Fausta - the daughter of Maximus, whose stepdaughter Theodora, stole her husband so many years ago.

With the new religion of Christianity now the "official" court religion, Helena embarks upon a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (326 - 328) - she is by now a passionate convert to Christianity, and her pilgrimage is ostensibly a tour of the principal shrines. And yet, whilst in the Holy Land, Helena was said to have unearthed the True Cross, part of which she sent back to her son - the Emperor Constantine - in Rome, along with other relics of the Passion. Her finds were endorse by her son, who order the construction of a church to house them - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

Helena's was, in fact, one of the first recorded Christian pilgrimages - and I guess you could say she was also one of the first documented archaeologists. 

So, knowing so much, I was looking forward to reading Bunn's novel on Helena. Its short - less than 200 pages - but it certainly packs a lot into those pages. Helena's story is spell-binding - you are captivated by her courage, you endure her hardships and struggles, and celebrate her triumphs. A reader can easily posit themselves in Helena's shoes (or rather, sandals). The reader never loses interest - and Helena's story, courtesy of Davis Bunn's, still resonates long after it is finished.  I read this back in August 2015 - and the story is as fresh in my mind today as if I had just set it aside.

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