Not long ago I happened upon a series of programs based around the life of a 12th century Welsh monk named Cadfael, and I have quickly become an ardent follower of his adventures.
My local library has the entire series (four seasons, 13 episodes in all), and I have watched more than half of them already.
Cadfael is a Botanical Herbalist at an Abbey in the town of Shrewsbury (along the eastern border of Wales), an elder monk with a long and sordid history.
He was a soldier during the First Crusade (1096-1099), and a rather carnal “man of the world” before taking the sanctuary of the cloth in his advanced years.
This, itself, is a facet of his character that often drives the narrative; for he is, more so than his more “innocent” peers, imminently qualified to discern the motivations behind the many illicit goings-on of the local citizenry.
Equal parts the perceptive detective, after the fashion of Sherlock Holmes, with the “redeemed sinner” angle of a worldly-wise Augustine (and a little bit of Francis of Assisi thrown in as well) Cadfael moralizes without becoming didactic.
Playing very much the role of the “born-again” rehabilitated hellion, Cadfael draws upon a prudent understanding of human impetuousness with a certain patient toleration that just stops short of becoming compromised.
“I have learned that in GOD`s hand vengeance is safe.
However long delayed, however strangely manifested…
…the reckoning is sure.”
Cadfael lives during the turbulent anarchy between Henry I and Henry II (he of “Lion In Winter” renown), when Empress Matilda and King Stephen (youngest son of William the Conqueror) ravaged the nascent England for the crown – a tumultuous and feverish backdrop that, more often than not, hastily intrudes upon the timorous peace Cadfael has sought within the quiet forests of Cymru.
Personally, I find a lot in Cadfael`s words and actions that resonate with my own sensibilities about things… though there are frequent head-scratching and eyebrow-furrowing theological blunders I notice from time-to-time. It is, after all, only a television program.
Cadfael is adroitly portrayed by the always-brilliant Derek Jacobi, who infuses the character with a strange urbane wildness as well as an impassioned tenderness.
The rest of the cast is equally as impressive in rounding out the little world that brother Cadfael inhabits, depicting an engaging drama with the wit and sparkle of Shakespearean drama.