Why Cadfael is better than CSI, and if I were a neglected cat, being adopted by monks would be the best thing ever!

I asked myself, what do I know about monks?

Well, I have read the Shardlake books, so I know towards the end of their reign some were fat and rich and had mistresses, and their homes and businesses were destroyed by Henry who didn’t like their lifestyle, religion, or wealth. I know he sent inspectors to search under their beds and in their walls for their jewels and prostitutes, and if he found it all well and good, but if not, they made it up (according to a documentary on BBC4 at one convent they found two knocked-up nuns, which seems plausible until they mentioned the ages, one nearly fifty and the other in her seventies, hmmm). I also know some remains have been examined and some had syphilis, which is a way more Byron and way less St Benedict thing to have.

I also know they started out living lives of hardship and seclusion with the aim of spiritual purity and devotion, and that they were also medical pioneers, the gatekeepers of the written word, a lot of arts and crafts, and er, good at making booze.

They also solved murders. And they solved them in awesome style, because they farmed, sang, nursed the sick and dodged swords at the same time. Take that, CSI!



Cadfael with the author Ellis Peters


Cadfael, about to make a herbal remedy that will catch a killer.

However, I do not know the difference between Carmelites and Augustinians, that the dissolution was not the same in Scotland as it was in England, and boat loads of other things, so I’ve been on a non-fiction binge with the aim of educating myself over the summer. I did the same with Irish Independence/troubles/sectarianism a couple of years ago, with the result of later utterly nailing a round on University Challenge. Let’s hope in future Jeremy Paxman has some questions about tonsures, the differing colours of habits and Cistercians up his sleeve.

This interest was mainly prompted by a recent trip to 11th century Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin. I’ve been there a few times, it’s somewhere to take guests when they come to visit, it’s in a beautiful location, very peaceful, and the monks makes some lovely beeswax lip balm you can buy in the little shop. I did take some pictures, but none of them are as good as the ones on their (very swish) website.


Photo- Peter Chalmers

They also have an elderly rescue cat there, that has a little stool to get in and out of its cat flap. While I was in the toilets my daughter was talking to it through the glass (as you do when you see cats on window sills) when a monk came by and told her its story.

And these are two recent book purchases, with some others on the way –




I hope they too have stories about rescue cats and crime solving, though I doubt it.