In The Guardian today, Imogen Russell Williams writes about memorable holy men – both saintly and sinful – who ‘walk the hushed cloisters of children’s fiction’. Her favourite is from Rosemary Sutcliff‘s work. Rahere’s tomb is at the Church of Saint Bartholomew the Great, in Smithfield, London.
My favourite of all not-quite-fictional monks comes late to his calling – Rahere, Henry I’s one-time jongleur, who later became an Augustinian canon and founded St Bartholomew’s hospital. In The Witch’s Brat, Rosemary Sutcliff creates a seductive, imaginative portrait of a charismatic and difficult man, gifted in demanding the best from people even when it’s almost too painful to give. It’s Rahere who gives Lovel, the titular protagonist, hope that he may become a healer, rather than remaining an unwell burden on the priory that takes him in. He’s dark, slender, encountered first in motley and then in the sober canon’s habit … it dawns on me that perhaps my early monastic yearnings might have had something to do with a hopeless passion for a jester-turned-ascetic.
Other monks she cites include Brother Snail in Pate Walsh’s The Crowfield Curse; a monk in Thom Madley’s fantasy about life in Glastonbury, Marco’s Pendulum; and the abbot in Terry Jones’s ‘gloriously surreal’ Nicobobinus.