Brother Pacificus

(creator: Henry Vyner-Brooks)

Henry Vyner-Brooks
Brother Pacificus was aged about 50 in 1536. He was a Benedictine monk, responsible for repainting the rood screen in St Benet's Abbey in Norfolk, the last Benedictine house in England, but he had had a dramatic past involving fighting the Saracens and still carried the scars on his wrists. He has other secrets too that are revealed as the story progresses. He is "not the most sociable man in the abbey" and was quite prepared to resort to violence. He regards faith as "always something amorphous and unattainable" but hopes that "when I paint, I worship God by it." He is a troubled man living in tumultuous times.

Henry Vyner-Brooks (1972 - ), who also uses the name Henry Brooks, does not claim to be an expert historian, but taught himself history (as well as much else) while providing home education to his five children. After ten years as a landscape architect and property developer, and becoming assistant pastor at Cockermouth Christian Centre, he contracted testicular cancer in 2006. Despite being dyslexic and unable to read until he was 12, this spurred him on to write his first novel (The Shoulders of Giants) for his sons. Since surviving cancer, he has focused on his teaching ministry, working as a writer, a key note speaker and recording artist. He lives with his wife Ruth and their children in Loweswater in the northern Lake District in England.

The Heretic (201A4)
The Heretic is set in
1536, a year when the king's dissolution of the monasteries overturns the customs and authorities of centuries. The story gets off to a dramatic start with the rescue of three endangered children by Brother Pacificus of the Abbey of St Benet's in Norfolk. Helped by the leper Simon (who also has secrets to reveal), he sends them to live with old Pieter, a Dutch eel catcher and his wife, whose lowly abode is to provide them with a loving home.

Meanwhile the children's parents have both been arrested on charges of treason and heresy, and their father is soon to be executed. When this happens, there were "no last words from the condemned today, no chance for recantation. Even the smallest (children) watch intently, without too much ado, their faces flickering orange as his blackens and blisters. He screams hideously all the time, braying like a donkey, his head back and forth on the post." Other victims are later hung drawn and quartered to the cheers of the crowd - and we are spared no details of what this involved.

Before this, Pacificus had returned to his job of repainting the Abbey rood screen in the hope that his Abbey would be spared. But then the body of one of the monks had been discovered, and Pacificus had found himself under suspicion. And the body count had continued to rise.

There are other graphic and gruesome descriptions of people being burnt at the stake, when we are told told that "In those days indulgences were offered for children bringing faggotts, to start them young", and there is much other violent action. Pacificus himself is not averse to using the violent skills that he had learnt while fighting the Saracens, and he remembers how to give "the mercy stroke - the misericordia" that a "soldier will give to a dying comrade to speed his end."

Cranmer (who, we are told, has "froggy eyes"), Thomas Cromwell (who has "ox-like features", "the jowls of a butcher" and surprisingly small eyes that are "hard as cannonballs") and even King Henry ViIII himself are amongst the real-life characters who make a personal appearance. And there is an exciting description of a tournament in which Richard, now aged 17 and the elder son amongst the rescued children, proves his courage. It is interesting to read how his close-fitting armour had been based on a cast for which Pieter's daughter Margaret had had to apply and smoothe "plaster about his calves and loins, and him too embarrassed to say anything as he stands and lets her do it."

Pacificus wishes that he had the certainty of faith of those he sees executed, but the nearest he gets to it is when he feels the beauty of bees fluttering in the palm of his hand that "feel like the extended hand of a God he has never known, pure as honey, gentle as a shimmering wing, hot with love, vibrating with a cleansing forgivness." Right at the end, he feels himself to be a changed man and is ready for a new start. He has been on a long and exhausting journey that is told at such length (there are 603 pages of it) that at times it gets wearisome for the reader too: there is, for example, too much unnecessary detail about his exploits with the Saracens - and it seems odd that a Christian pastor author should come up with quite such a doubting hero. However, although It is very episodic and by no means an easy read (it is all written in the present tense), the violent historical background certainly grabs attention.

The author contributed an interesting guest post to the Samantha Wilcoxson blog and there is an interview with him about how he came to write The Heretic on the lovereading site.

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The Heretic cove
The cover effectively suggests a world in turmoil.
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