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The Priest's Madonna: A Novel
by Amy Hassinger

Published by Putnam Adult

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At the end of the nineteenth century, a priest in the village of Rennes-le-Château suddenly came into possession of immense wealth. Legend has it that he found some documents that threatened the Catholic Church -- and that he was paid handsomely for his silence. And while his secret died with him, there may have been one person, a young woman -- his housekeeper and lover, Marie Dénarnaud-who knew the truth.

In 1884 in southern France, sixteen-year-old Marie Dénarnaud's family is forced to move when their house burns to the ground. They find a new home in nearby Rennes-le-Château, 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 rumored underground passages, to 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, Bérenger Saunière takes up temporary residence with the Dénarnauds. Young Marie is enthralled by the passionate Bérenger, and she revels in his priestly attention, though heavily conflicted by her own growing attraction to him.

Meanwhile, Bérenger has attracted the patronage of a wealthy aristocrat who is willing to fund reconstruction of the church. His only condition is that Bérenger 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 and Mary Magdalene. Bérenger grows secretive, even as their affection deepens, and Marie must seek the truth without his help.

Historically lush, full of romance and intrigue, 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 mesmerizing tale of faith, doubt, forbidden love, and illicit passion.

pub date: 2006-04-06 | hardcover | 9780399153174