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The Priest's Madonna by Amy Hassinger
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The Priest's Madonna (edition 2006)

by Amy Hassinger, Anna Fields (Narrator)

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665180,945 (3.22)1
Member:riofriotex
Title:The Priest's Madonna
Authors:Amy Hassinger
Other authors:Anna Fields (Narrator)
Info:Listen & Live Audio, Inc. (2006), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
Collections:Your library, Reviewed
Rating:****1/2
Tags:2009, audiobook, 2012, historical fiction

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The Priest's Madonna by Amy Hassinger

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[A version of this review appears at Bookin' It.]

This historical fiction is based on the real priest Bérenger Saunière, who takes over the parish of the small town of Rennes-le-Château in France in 1885. He becomes inexplicably wealthy while renovating the church. Author Amy Hassinger explores the theories that he found historical treasure, but also incorporates the more mundane possibility that he got rich through simple fraud.

Saunière's story is told in first person by his housekeeper (and some say lover, nicknamed "the priest's madonna" in the village), Marie Dénarnaud. For me, the most interesting parts of this book were the intriguing theological arguments between Marie and Bérenger - and, of course the obvious sexual tension. (Every Catholic schoolgirl has had a Father What-a-Waste in her life.)

Intertwined with the story of Marie and Bérenger is that of Mary Magdalene and Jesus - here referred to by their Hebrew names of Miryam and Yeshua. The little church in Rennes-le-Château is named for the saint, and a subplot involves the town's mayor's wife, Madame Simone Laporte, a Jew who may be descended from a child of Jesus and "the Madeleine." That plot hints that there might have been a physical relationship between the two.

The eye-catching cover artwork incorporates an 1824 painting by French Romantic painter Eugène Delacroix I imagined this to be Marie, and indeed, it looks like a photograph of her.

Sadly, the print version of this book is out-of-print and difficult to find - otherwise, I might recommend it for book clubs. The audiobook is still sold, and it is a gem. The late Anna Fields is outstanding as a narrator. She pronounces the difficult French and Hebrew proper and place names with ease. Listen & Live Audio's production includes romantic strumming guitars at the beginning of chapters narrated by Marie, and exotic woodwinds and tambourines playing at the start of the Mary Magdalene interludes. The auhtor's explanatory note (where she highlights some of her sources) is included in the audiobook, but the acknowledgements and glossaries (Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic and French/Occitan) are not.

© Amanda Pape - 2012

[The audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my university library. A print copy for reference was borrowed and returned through interlibrary loan.] ( )
3 vote riofriotex | Dec 16, 2012 |
This book is really quite thought-provoking, with just enough mystery to the story line to keep the plot moving along. It is not a "bodice-ripper," although the cover might suggest otherwise. The book explores various relationships and types of love--the various familial relationships as well as those of lovers and friends. Nothing much more than a few intense kisses are described in detail. Questions of spirituality, belief, church vs. state, Catholic and Jewish doctrines, gnosticism, atheism, and death and afterlife are the main focus of the book. And the notable subplot of the book, and the secondary narrative, investigates Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus (both as man and god), and the possibility of their female child being smuggled away to Gaul and continued Jesus's bloodline (a la [Dan Brown]). I did find the ending a little disappointing, however.

The audio version deserves special mention--the reading was wonderfully characterized and the French pronounciation is beautiful. ( )
  pkw87 | Jul 31, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0399153179, Hardcover)

For readers of The Birth of Venus, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and The Other Boleyn Girl, a historically lush, lyrical, and thoroughly enthralling novel about the forbidden love between a woman and a holy man and the moral and spiritual struggles of faith.

In 1896, the priest in a small village in southern France suddenly came into possession of immense wealth. This much is true. What no one knows for sure is where his money came from. The history of the region suggests that he may have stumbled upon clues to a hidden treasure of the Knights Templar. An even more tantalizing possibility is that he discovered coded documents hidden in the structure of his church, documents so threatening to the Catholic Church that he was paid to keep silent. At his death under mysterious circumstances in 1917, his secrets died with him.

Yet there is one other person who may have known all-Marie Dernanaud, the priest's housekeeper and, some say, his lover. Interweaving the history of France at the turn of the twentieth century, scenes of ancient Judea, and the romantic and religious journey of a spirited and intense heroine, The Priest's Madonna gives Marie a chance to tell her version of what transpired-as well as her own story of belief, doubt, and illicit passion.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:21 -0400)

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"In 1884 in southern France, sixteen-year-old Marie Denarnaud's family is forced to move when their house burns to the ground. They find a new home in nearby Rennes-le-Chateau, a beautiful village set among hills steeped in history - from stories of a Visigothic presence in the Dark Ages, to tales of Cathar heretics who may have fled crusaders through rumors of gold buried in the caves that perforate the hillsides." "Marie and her family face a chilly welcome in Rennes until the day a new parish priest is assigned to the village. By coincidence, the charismatic young priest is a friend of Marie's mother, and because his presbytery is in ruins, Berenger Sauniere takes up temporary residence with the Denarnauds. Young Marie is enthralled by the passionate Berenger, and she revels in his priestly attention, though heavily conflicted by her own growing attraction to him." "Meanwhile, Berenger has attracted the patronage of a wealthy aristocrat who is willing to fund reconstruction of the church. His only condition is the Berenger keep an eye out for anything unusual he might find. Marie begins to suspect that the request has to do with the local legend of a woman who claimed to be descended from the bloodline of Jesus Christ from Mary Magdalene. Berenger grows secretive, even as their affection deepens, and Marie must seek the truth without his help." "The Priest's Madonna blends fact and fiction. Interweaving scenes of ancient Judea with the spiritual journey of a vibrant and intense heroine, it tells a tale of faith, doubt, forbidden love."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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