Although this story is carried by Conrad, an ascetic Franciscan friar, a secondary character, sixteen year old Amata, carries enough of the plot to warrant our review. Conrads deceased mentor, Brother Leo, has given the friar the task of uncovering the mystery behind the disappearance of St. Franciss body, and why the Franciscan Order promoted an official hagiographic account of the Orders founder while suppressing diverging early biographies. And, might there be a non miraculous explanation for the marks of the saints stigmata?
The plot draws upon the early split in the Order between Franciscans, like Conrad, who tried to follow in the saints footsteps of wandering evangelists practicing self-denial and extreme poverty, and by those who constructed a more institutionalized Order feeling that in the future Friars Minors would be educated, university-trained preachers. The result? Several of the most venerated companions of Francis were dealt with as heretics, sometimes imprisoned, exiled, and even tortured.
Amata, who befriends Conrad, is a maidservant given to the convent of San Damiano as dowry by the daughter of the family who killed Amatas relatives, and then kidnapped and abused her. Amatas search for revenge highlights the brutality of the period. The habits, clothing, and restricted lives of upper class women are described as well. Fate allows Amata some control over her destiny when she manages to rise above medieval beliefs in the innate lack of reason and seductiveness of the female to select her own husband and learn to read and write.
Sacks story seems intent on mentioning as many relevant period events as possible, as well as many of its luminaries. Among many others you will find Marco Polo, Pope Gregory X, Frederick II, St Clare (foundress of the Poor Clares), Fra Elias (driving force behind the famous Assisi basilica), Brother Leo (Franciss constant companion), Bonaventure (who created the official Francis Legend), and Fra Jocaba (the woman Francisco christened as an honorary friar). Given the intricate but well researched content, some authors historical notes would have been most welcome!