In a number of visions, a young monk of the Benedictine abbey of Saint Peter and Saint Paul at Shrewsbury believes he has encounters with St. Winifred, in her earthly life a girl from a remote Welsh village decapitated by an evil-spirited nobleman. The saint, Brother Columbanus claims, tells him she is unhappy with the lack of care and dedication her grave receives from the local village folk, and wishes to be relocated nowhere else but to Saint Peter and Saint Paul. After a heated discussion over the appropriateness and dangers of such an excursion, the monks decide to mount an expedition to Wales to save the maiden saint's bones.
Thus begins the first of what would ultimately come to be twenty Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, former crusader turned herbalist monk living in the 12th century world of Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England. Predictably, the monks are anything but welcome in Wales – not only are they emissaries from an English abbey, which in itself would be bad enough already; they also seek to take what village folk consider their greatest treasure and, more importantly, the village's holy protectress. When wealthy squire Lord Rhysart, who has led the village in opposing the monks' mission, is found murdered, the monks quickly find themselves implicated. Cadfael, of Welsh descendance himself but now part of a mission from an English abbey, finds himself between all lines of allegiance in trying to find Rhysart's murderer; but find the murderer he must, to ensure the success of his brothers' mission and their safe return home. And it will take all his world-wisdom and all his understanding of the divine to unravel the mystery.
"Meet every man as you find him, for we're all made the same under habit, robe or rags. Some better made than others, and some better cared for, but on the same pattern, all."
"It's a kind of arrogance to be so certain you're past redemption."
"God, nevertheless, required a little help from men, and what he mostly got was hindrance."