In early 1145, subsiding flood waters reveal a robbery has been committed on church grounds, and Brother Cadfael thinks the robbery is connected to a murder.
Less predictable and far more complex than many of the 18 previous Brother Cadfael chronicles, this 12th-century mystery pits the sacred against the secular, and cleric against cleric. A sub-prior and his young novice appeal to the abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul in Shrewsbury for aid in rebuilding their own monastery at Ramsey, which had been defiled by outlaws. Craftsmen, building materials and even jewelry are gladly given and are to be transported to Ramsey. The promise of spring floods makes haste imperative, and in the confusion another item is slipped aboard the cart: the casket containing the remains of St. Winifred, Shrewsbury's revered patron saint. The Shrewsbury monks grieve over its loss, and the faction at Ramsey sorely covets it. When the one person who could identify the sacrilegious thief is murdered, Sheriff Hugh Beringar is summoned and Cadfael's special skills are put to the test. Cadfael--a herbalist, matchmaker, detective and medical examiner--must now be a psychologist as well, soothing egos, calming nerves and finding a killer. Twelfth-century Shropshire comes vividly alive when peopled with Peters's aristocratic ladies, sturdy lawmen, eager squires and, above all, devout--and devious--monks.