The early medieval age is difficult to research, and yet author Mary Delorme has pieced together enough evidence to bring us the origins of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. In this story of the orphan Rahere, raised by monks, a lover of music and healing, the author takes us into the world of 12th century England, where kings and bishops were all-powerful, and education could only come through the Church. This is a well-written and beautiful novel about the power of faith. Freed from the monastery, Rahere goes on to become a remarkable court musician. But his talents bring him to the attention of William II, the Conqueror’s son. A brutal and dissolute monarch, William Rufus takes Rahere, beats and abuses him, and leaves him incarcerated – until the King himself is killed in mysterious circumstances. Enter the more enlightened monarch Henry I – and as Rahere is released, we meet a very different man. Gone is the light-hearted innocent. On a pilgrimage to Rome, we learn something of his suffering and despair, although the details suggested rather than spelled out. But thanks to a meeting with a young woman whose faith restores him, he experiences a spiritual moment that changes his life. Returning home to devote his life to God, he vows to build a hospital in the name of St Bartholomew, dedicated to relieving the poverty and suffering of London’s poor. The description of this bleak place on the marshes – formerly a place of execution – made the idea of building anything there seem like madness. How the hospital rose from the mud, and the talents utilised, makes a fascinating story in itself. The characters who turn up to be rescued are each touched in turn by Rahere’s energy and loving kindness, willing to repay in whatever way they can. If I have any criticism at all, it concerns the later chapters. The conflict between monarchs Stephen and Matilda – which erupted into civil war after Henry I’s death – felt somewhat rushed. Hardly surprising, since this was a complex and appalling period. But the account of Rahere’s death, with the hospital functioning, and his demons finally exorcised, made for a satisfying ending. This is a beautiful and heart-warming story – well worth the read.
As an ex "Barts" nurse I was particularly interested to read about the founder of St Bartholomew's hospital, having known the name of Rahere but very little about him. Given the paucity of historical facts about Rahere and the building of the hospital, Mary Delorme has produced an enticing, easy to read story, augmenting it with the saga of Henry I, his wife Queen Matilda, and after he died, King Stephen and his nemesis, Empress Matilda, Henry I's daughter who was a claimant to the English Throne. This certainly helped put the story of Rahere into context but I agree with another reader regarding time and place and suggest it would be helpful to have maps and dates to which the reader could refer, without making the book too academic.
However I have had to dock one star because I found that the book was full of errors of punctuation which for me really detracted from the story (far too many occasions when speech marks have been used instead of apostrophes). This is apparently a common mistake in typography but I do wish the book had been proof read before being put on sale.
This is an absorbing novel about monastic life in the middle ages; and the interaction of religion and authority in days when conditions were so harsh they are difficult to comprehend.A number of emotional cameo stories are woven into the central theme of Raheres's vision of St Bartholomew requesting him to build a hospital.A good read.
'St Bartholomew’s Man' follows the life of Rahere, from his childhood growing up as an orphan in a monastery, where he was one of the singing children, and he helped the monks in their healing work. Later Rahere became a court jester to Henry I and he was also instrumental in the foundation of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1123.
It is a book that left me knowing a lot more about the late 11th and early 12th centuries. It tells of the lives of ordinary people, of the monastic life and above all of the dangers and turbulence of life, moving through the oppressive reign of the irreligious William II (William Rufus), the more settled and peaceful reign of Henry I, followed by the violent conflict that ensued with the reign of Stephen and Matilda. I liked the historical setting and the detail both about healing and building methods.
The plot kept me interested to read on to find out whether Rahere succeeded, despite all the suffering he endured and the challenges he had to overcome, in fulfilling his vow to build a hospital to care for the poor in London. The characterisation is good and I felt all the main characters came over as real people, who grew and developed throughout the book.
Set against the turmoil of 12th century England, St Bartholomew’s Man is a moving story of one man’s battle between the spirit and the human condition. The reader accompanies the protagonist, Rahere, on his life’s journey as he experiences a full range of emotions by discovering his purpose then being plunged into utter despair. But his enduring faith and God’s perfect grace will not allow him to succumb to his oppression. His beliefs sustain him until he can fulfill a sacred vow to build a sanctuary for those seeking healing of the body and solace for the mind.
Delorme’s smooth flowing prose and vivid imagery bring the characters to life and impart a valuable and inspirational lesson filled with beautiful moments of human kindness. The classic narrative style is perhaps a little old-fashioned with less dialogue than the modern reader is used to, but this did not bother me in the least. St Bartholomew’s Man is a timeless tale that will appeal to longtime readers of historical fiction and anyone seeking a compelling sojourn into a time gone by.
This is historical fiction at its best. The author has obviously gone beyond due diligence and has the ability to make the archaic language flow as if she lived within the time. I have lost count of the times I have marveled at the terminology , yet I have never once felt bogged down by the historical aspect. It is so expertly crafted that I hardly realize I am learning about history while my emotions are riding the wave of Rahere's life. For me, that is the true measure of historical fiction. Saint Bartholomew's Man is a lovely, soul-filled story that gently guides the reader to a foreign place and time, while filling our hearts with familiar emotions. The characters are so well fleshed out, I am certain they will stay with me long after the book is closed. Piety, thy name is Rahere.
I want to use the word gentle when describing this book, but the fact is that the content the author shares is not always gentle, telling as it does, of the often turbulent life of Rahere, a boy left in the care of monks, who grows into a holy life almost despite himself, and who ends up responsible for the founding of St. Bartholomew's church and hospital in 12th Century London. The gentleness, I think, comes from the author's care and love for her subject and her ability to inhabit the mind of Rahere with such care that he really leaps from the page and comes to life. A fascinating story, well told.
This historical fiction set in 12-th century England follows the life of Rahere, court minstrel/jester and monk, who founded the famous hospital for the poor, The Royal Hospital of St Bartholomew in London. St Bart's is the oldest hospital in Europe, founded in 1123, and the oldest in Britain that still occupies its original site.
The author transported me to medieval England as she describes the clothes, contemporary names like Ranulph and Leofric , monastic life, the Benedictine monks' care for the sick and poor, musical instruments - a psaltery is an ancient stringed musical instrument resembling a zither - and the archaic language. I became fully absorbed in the surroundings and life at the time, cringing when I read of the oppressive rule of King William Rufus, breathing a sigh of relief when King Henry 1 succeeded him, and wondering how ordinary people survived the turmoil between Stephen and Maude for the throne. It's obvious that the author has done her research and is fully engaged in life in medieval times.
I like the character development. All of the main ones come through as real people, even though Rahere seems too good to be true at times. I was reminded of how faith played an important role in daily life in earlier times. I like the description of the healing methods used by the monks and the building methods of the time, marveling at the ingenuity, the human talent, of people who were able to produce such great buildings that have weathered time and events.
I highly recommend this excellent historical novel.
This is a refreshing angle for a piece of historical fiction writing, viewing the post Norman Conquest world from the viewpoint of the minstrels' gallery. I was interested to read that the author is a writer of music herself. The love of music and understanding of its power to touch others whether it is a hymn or a tavern song shines through and one can identify with Rahere as he finds joy in it. His abuse at the hands of Rufus has shocking impact and is made all the more effective by the fact that we know nothing of his fate as the next chapter opens. Beautifully written and with a perfect level of historical detail, particularly concerning the instruments etc, which makes it interesting as well as entertaining.
I enjoy historical fiction from all periods, and this certainly did not disappoint. This is a wonderful tale set in a period in English history that is little discussed. I particularly enjoyed the characters; the detail of their lives made it easy to immerse oneself in the story. I found myself walking or riding beside them, watching the events described unfold or looking at the architecture. It’s a very human story, at once compassionate, cruel, joyful and desperate. I highly recommend it, not only to aficionados of the genre, but to anyone who likes a good tale.