St. Fiacre and Brother Cadfael

by Mimi Hedl

St. Fiacre shrine before the wind storm

I’d gone out to the Park to sow poppy seeds in Cadfael’s garden when much to my surprise I found him sitting on the bench in his garden, head bowed and looking somewhat serious. Usually I stay out of his garden when he’s around. If he wants to visit, he leans over the boundary of either the Culinary or Cottage gardens that touch his. Braced on his shovel, he greets me, smiles, comments on the new growth of the betony or other herb, then turns around with a wink and goes back to his world. We respect each other’s solitude. Both of us need and want the silence when we work, only the birds and insects, the wind and sun accompanying us. But on this day, with a light snow on the ground, I felt concerned and stood at the entrance to his garden clearing my throat to catch his attention. Brother Cadfael is a man of few words. He said, “It’s the shrine to St. Fiacre.” I looked at him with astonishment. He’d never complained about Fiacre’s shrine. I asked him, “Do you object to us honoring him?”

I must interject this. Brother Cadfael lived mostly in England during the 12th century. St. Fiacre was raised in Ireland but left for France to find solitude when his healing skills became too much in demand, building a small hut in the forest surrounded by his garden. That was in the mid-15th century. And you say, hmmm…now we’re in the 21st century. Yes, yes, I realize that. Please do not expect me, humble me, to explain how such things happen. You know they just do. I feel sure you have secret communications with folks from other centuries, you simply keep it quiet so as not to make people look at you with THAT look. I’m beyond that. I accept my eccentricities and feel pleased we don’t live in times when they burned witches at the stake. But we’ll keep that quiet, now won’t we!

Anyway, Brother Cadfael slowly shook his head. “You know how often I visit his shrine, how many bouquets and special herbs I leave there. Have you seen him today?”

Downed shrine

And that’s when I knew something had happened. I did an about-face and hurried out to the shrine in the fence row. As I approached I understood Brother Cadfael’s sadness. I fell to my knees. The strong, even violent winds had taken down the wooden structure Ron built 35 years ago. And St. Fiacre laid, face down, on the snow. Unharmed. I picked him up and with utter joy raced back to Brother Cadfael. As I approached I held up St. Fiacre and shouted, “LOOK!” He lifted his tired head and burst into a “glory be”. He invited me to sit by him. We sat silently together as he marveled at how St. Fiacre had survived the fall, how he never thought to go closer when he saw the shrine laying on the ground, that he thought that was the end of his pilgrimages to his shrine and the communion the two gardeners shared. I assured him I would repair the shrine and we would put it back up, better than ever. He smiled at that.

Then he did the unexpected. He asked a favor of me. “Would you, could you, ah, do you think, would it be possible…could we possibly put the shrine in my garden? I could watch over him then and he’d always have fresh greenery, everyday I’d put something beautiful on his altar.” He caught me off guard. I didn’t know what to say. First of all, the repair will take me a good while. Just getting the nails out of that seasoned oak will challenge me. I’ll need help. Everything weighs so much. And then transporting the shrine a thousand feet… I just didn’t know about any of it. It seemed like too much to think about, but at the same time, he’d never asked anything of me before and is always grateful when I give him seeds or another plant or when I opened up that new garden spot for him. I didn’t want to disappoint him nor did I want to put the shrine in danger of future damage. There are these huge white willow trees, the mimosa tree in the corner and any of those branches could fall on the shrine. I started going in circles. All this time Brother Cadfael remained silent. He allowed me time to think it over.

St. Fiacre on white willow

Finally I told him, “Brother Cadfael, I’d love to put the shrine in your garden. It seems appropriate to have him closer to your monastery garden. I know he would feel at home here. While I’m repairing the shrine, we can hang his statue on the white willow’s trunk. If you’d think about a good, safe spot for the shrine during that time, I’ll trust your judgment, one way or another. Does that sound agreeable to you?” He nodded and smiled. I left St. Fiacre with him while I went back to the house for a hammer and nail to hang the statue.

Lichen and moss on downed shrine

Within a few days of the accident, I had the nails out of the oak boards with the help of a pry bar. The pieces we can still use have moss and lichen growing on them, gorgeous and rustic, just what I admire. The restoring process will be slow as other chores come first, burning the plots, sowing seed that needs stratification. Brother Cadfael doesn’t mind. He has St. Fiacre with him.

We sowed the poppy seed after I’d hung up St. Fiacre and Brother Cadfael’s already thinking of the potions he’ll make from the flowers and seeds. Peace has been restored and Ron, or Thirsty as he liked to be called, would be shaking his head and laughing, saying something like, “How many projects of mine have your hands touched?” And I’d smile, because I never would’ve thought I could’ve rescued any of them.

Burned meadow

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