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The Virgin in the Ice

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The Virgin in the Ice

The Virgin in the Ice
Cover of the Sphere new Edition (pub. 1995)
Author Ellis Peters
Series Brother Cadfael
Genre Mystery novel
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date 1982
Published in English 1982
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback) & audio book
Pages 224 pp
ISBN 0-333-32914-7 / 978-0-333-32914-6
OCLC Number 12522294
Preceded by The Leper of Saint Giles
Followed by The Sanctuary Sparrow

The Virgin in the Ice is a medieval mystery novel by Ellis Peters, set in late 1139. It is the sixth novel in The Cadfael Chronicles, first published in 1982 (1982 in literature).

It was adapted for radio by BBC Radio 4 in 1993 and for television in 1995 by Central for ITV.

Forces of Empress Maud destroy Worcester, scattering two noble children far from home and friends. The battles invite marauders with no political agenda to pillage and burn. Cadfael is sent to treat an injured monk in the abbey at Bromfield, where he tracks murderers, kidnappers, and a brave young boy.

Plot summary

In November 1139, the Empress's armies have attacked and pillaged Worcester. Among those who fled the city were two noble children in the Benedictine Order's care: Yves Hugonin and his sister Ermina, with Ermina's tutor, Sister Hilaria. They have since vanished. Their uncle, Laurence d'Angers, aligned with the Empress, is refused permission by Sheriff Gilbert Prestcote, to enter King's lands to search for them. Prestcote promises instead to find them and send them to safety.

On 5 December, Prior Leonard of the Benedictine Priory at Bromfield near Ludlow asks for his friend Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury Abbey to tend a monk who has been beaten, stabbed and left for dead in the snow. Cadfael is given leave until the monk is recovered, proving to be nine days. The injured Brother Elyas babbles about a party of refugees who might well be those sought. Cadfael rides into the snow-covered countryside to search for them and finds the boy Yves sheltering with a forester. As they ride back to Bromfield, Yves tells Cadfael that he, Ermina and Sister Hilaria, stayed at the smallholding of John Druel. Ermina eloped the night of 2 December. When Yves tried to pursue them, he got lost in the woods, leaving Sister Hilaria with Druel.

Cadfael dismounts to lead the horse across a frozen stream, and sees the body of a young woman frozen into the ice. Fearing it is that of Ermina, he conceals his discovery from Yves. At Bromfield, Cadfael finds that Deputy Sheriff Hugh Beringar has arrived in response to his message. They retrieve the body from the ice to rest in the chapel at Bromfield. As it thaws, Cadfael sees that the short hair is not dark, as Ermina's was described, but fair. There is blood on the corpse, from whoever ravished and smothered her. Yves enters the chapel unaware, recognising the corpse of Sister Hilaria.

Cadfael, Beringar and Yves go to Druel's smallholding to find it looted and burned by brigands, though Druel escaped to Cleeton. His place was attacked on the night of the first blizzards; Sister Hilaria had left with Brother Elyas a few hours before. The villagers tell Beringar that a swarthy stranger, a woodsman with a sword concealed under his cloak, came to Cleeton asking after the children and the nun.

Beringar hears from Josce de Dinan of Ludlow Castle that the brigands attacked other settlements, committing indiscriminate murder. Cadfael surmises that they met Elyas and Hilaria on their way, murdered Hilaria and left Elyas for dead. Before that night, the manor of Callowleas was attacked, which belongs to Evrard Boterel, Ermina's lover. Most inhabitants were killed; Beringar finds evidence that Evrard and Ermina escaped to his second manor at Ledwyche. At Ledwyche, Boterel tells Beringar, Cadfael and Yves that Ermina is not with him. She left Ledwyche to search for her brother. Boterel rode out after her into the blizzard, not finding her. Then he took fever from the knife wound in his shoulder.

At Bromfield, Yves stays with Brother Elyas, who is disoriented. When he understands that Sister Hilaria is dead, Elyas walks out of the priory to a shepherd's hut, wearing only his habit in the blizzard. Yves pursues him, but cannot turn him back. At the hut, Elyas talks in his sleep. Before dawn, Yves hears noises nearby and goes to seek help. He runs into the arms of the brigands, who take him prisoner, tied by a halter to a pack horse laden with plunder from yet another village they have destroyed. Yves leaves a trail of wine drops in the new-fallen snow.

That same dawn, Ermina arrives at Bromfield Priory, escorted by a handsome stranger who vanishes before anyone but Cadfael sees him. Ermina feels guilty that her reckless conduct led to Sister Hilaria's death. Cadfael says that weight of guilt belongs to Hilaria's murderer. Ermina tells Cadfael that the stranger is Olivier de Bretagne, a squire in her uncle's service, masquerading as a local forester's son. She is smitten with Olivier.

Wondering why Elyas walked into the blizzard, Cadfael asks to be taken where Elyas was first found injured. He then goes to the brook where Sister Hilaria's body was found, more than a mile away. He finds the hut a half-mile away, with signs that Yves and Elyas sheltered there in the night. Inside, Cadfael finds Elyas's cloak and Hilaria's wimple and blood-stained habit, both well-hidden. The distances are puzzling until he sees signs of a horse having been tethered to the hut, explaining her body being moved. Following tracks of Yves or Elyas, he finds the trail of wine drops. The trail leads him to discover a rough fort on top of Titterstone Clee Hill, stronghold for the marauders.

Cadfael guides Hugh Beringar's armed men to the fort. Dinan recognises the brigand leader as Alain le Gaucher. They attack, but Alain le Gaucher forces them to withdraw by holding a knife to Yves's throat. Yves is left on top of the fort's tower. As night falls, Olivier de Bretagne enters the fort by stealth, reaching Yves on the tower. Beringar and his men attack again, and set fire to the fort. As the fire threatens Yves and Olivier, they move out. Yves collides with le Gaucher and is taken hostage again. Brother Elyas appears, seeking Yves. Elyas confronts le Gaucher who is unnerved by the sight of a man he had left for dead. Yves escapes. Olivier then kills le Gaucher in single combat before disappearing. Leaderless, the bandits are done; Beringar and Dinan seize them.

At Bromfield, Yves tells Cadfael what Elyas said. Cadfael realises that when Elyas and Hilaria sheltered together in the hut, Elyas, tormented by desire, left her alone but with his cloak for warmth. Elyas was attacked where he lay outdoors by le Gaucher. His failure to protect Hilaria has tortured Elyas; with the evidence of all he did well, he begins to reconsider life.

Evrard Boterel arrives at Bromfield to reclaim property. Cadfael invites him into the chapel where Hilaria's coffin awaits burial; Beringar joins them. Dressed in Hilaria's wimple and habit, Ermina confronts Evrard. She turned against Boterel when he fled Callowleas in cowardice. Boterel tried to take her by force; she wounded him with her knife, and hid in the woods. She saw Boterel ride out and return with his wound opened. Faced with facts, Boterel confesses his crime. He came upon Sister Hilaria in the hut; he raped her and smothered her in a vain attempt to stop her screams.

Ermina tells Cadfael that Olivier will come for her and Yves after Compline. When Olivier arrives, Cadfael suggests waiting until Matins, when they can leave undetected. Olivier tells of his early years in Syria and of his mother, Mariam. Cadfael realises that Olivier is his own son.

Elyas is recovering his peace of mind, Hilaria's murderer is in prison, the brigands are exterminated, and Yves and Ermina are on their way to their uncle's care. With their respective tasks accomplished, Beringar and Cadfael return to Shrewsbury, with Cadfael in a daze.


  • Brother Cadfael: Benedictine monk at Shrewsbury Abbey. In his youth, he has been on Crusade as a man at arms, has been a seaman and lived for some years in Syria near Antioch, but a monk since he was about 40; now nearing 60 years old. He is the herbalist in the monastery.
Main article: Cadfael
  • Hugh Beringar: Deputy Sheriff of Shropshire. He and his wife take a house in town so he can better cover the south of the shire in this time of unrest, and be nearer friends when their child is born. He thinks much like Cadfael despite his youth, about 24 years old. They are good friends, already with several adventures together. In appearance, he is wiry, not tall, with dark hair and eyes, and an expressive eyebrow to one who can read his otherwise unrevealing face. In this story, he is both an active sheriff against the brigands and low-key when assuring the safety of the children. He builds ties for the King with Dinan, and avoids a conflict by being letting Cadfael handle Olivier. Hugh was introduced in One Corpse Too Many.
  • Aline Beringar: Wife of Hugh. She is about 20 years old, and begins the story about to have her first child. The blonde haired boy Giles is born on 5 December, thus introduced in this book. She was introduced in One Corpse Too Many.
  • Gilbert Prestcote: Sheriff of Shropshire, King Stephen's man. He moves to the north of the shire for the month of the Christmas feast, requiring his deputy to come down to Shrewsbury.
  • Sub-Prior Herward: Brother from the Benedictine Abbey at Worcester. He rode to Shrewsbury in search of the Hugonin children, gaining the Sheriff's promise to look for them as their guardian was of the other side in a tempestuous time.
  • Prior Leonard: Benedictine monk in authority at the Priory at Bromfield. He spent some years at the Shrewsbury Abbey before his promotion, where he became friends with Cadfael and familiar with his skills in the healing arts.
  • Reyner Dutton: Tenant to the Bromfield Priory. He found Brother Elyas, near death. Later, he showed Cadfael the place, leading them to discover the hidden bundles of clothing in the hut.
  • Brother Elyas: Recently widowed monk in his 30s. He joined the Benedictine abbey at Perhsore in search of peace in his life. He is a tall, strong man.
  • Ermina Hugonin: She is a beautiful 17-year-old girl of the nobility. She is orphaned, living in the Benedictine convent at Worcester for her education. She is considered quick-witted and of strong will.
  • Yves Hugonin: Younger brother to Ermina, and son of the late Geoffrey Hugonin. He was living in the Benedictine abbey at Worcester for his education until the rout of Worcester. He is 13 years old, sturdy, and a boy of the nobility.
  • Sister Hilaria: She is a young, blond, beautiful woman who is a nun at the Benedictine Abbey in Worcester and tutor to Ermina Hugonin.
  • Josce de Dinan: A middle-aged lord in Ludlow whose allegiance King Stephen strives to maintain, first by giving him the castle there, along with lands once belonging to Lacy. He joined forces with the Deputy Sheriff and his force to deal with the brigands near Ludlow, to survey the damage and then to capture them. He is the overlord for Boterel's manor at Callowleas. He is a real historical person.
  • Evrard Boterel: Handsome young landowner in Sheriff Prestcote's writ. He is pursuing Ermina for marriage. He holds manors at Ledwyche and Callowleas.
  • Laurence d'Angers: Brother to the late mother of Ermina and Yves Hugonin, a baron of Anjou. He is guardian to both his niece and nephew. He returned from the Holy Land after the attack on Worcester, and immediately seeks his niece and nephew. He is aligned with Empress Maud in the Anarchy, impairing his direct search in Shrewsbury, their reported destination.
  • Olivier de Bretagne: Squire in the service of Laurence d'Angers for six years. He is of mixed parentage, his late mother a Syrian woman, his father a man at arms in the First Crusade, unknown to him. He is a personable and handsome young man, with black hair and golden eyes, clean shaven in the Norman style. He speaks French more comfortably than English. He is in England for the first time, in his mid twenties. He is met first as Robert the forester's son, his disguise for moving unnoticed in pursuit of his quest. He shows himself to be determined, patient, clear in his goals, and skilled in the arts of war, especially "sword play".
  • John Druel: Smallholder of land near Bromfield. He is known to Ermina and kind to the errant noble children before his holding falls victim to the renegades.
  • Alain le Gaucher: Illegitimate scion of landowning nobles (the Lacy family) in the Ludlow area. He had been fighting in France before making his fortress in Shropshire. He is the leader of renegade men at arms. He wears his hair long, beard untrimmed, and is named thus simply because he is left-handed.

Themes and Setting in History

The theme of the story is family ties, their challenges and surprises in this era of civil war.

The Hugonin children's ordinary life events become life threatening adventures between the siege of Worcester, highly political,[1] and the brigands of Shropshire, thieves out for themselves in a lawless era. The Earl of Worcester quickly moved to avenge this attack, keeping the dispute for the crown of England moving at its damaging pace. This novel makes real the effect of the Anarchy on ordinary people, even noble children being educated in monasteries and convents. This period was named The Anarchy, not simply civil war, because so much chaos and danger befell the land, "when Christ and his saints were asleep".[2][3]

This novel is set in real places in England of the Anarchy, the period of civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. King Stephen had besieged and taken Ludlow Castle in 1139, bestowing it on Josce de Dinan, a man he viewed as loyal to him but with other forces influencing his ambitions. The Benedictine Abbey in Shrewsbury was and is a real place,[4] as are the surrounding locations, such as the Bromfield Priory[5] near Ludlow. Pershore Abbey, the home location of Brother Elyas, is now an Anglican parish church. He first encountered the Hugonin party near Cleobury, on his route from Pershore to Bromfield, as the two abbeys negotiated over relics. Cadfael rode out to a holding of Wenlock Priory at Godstoke,[6] returning via a shorter route between Brown Clee Hill and Titterstone Clee Hill, when he found the forester who sheltered young Yves. The village that was the safe place on the hill for the smallholder John Druel is now named Cleeton St Mary. The area of one manor held by the man pursuing Ermina is in the real location of Ledwyche.[7] From Worcester to Shrewsbury is nearly 50 miles on modern roads, and longer via Cleeton Saint Mary, the trip made by Herward to ask the help of Shrewsbury Abbey, and then the Sheriff of Shropshire, in finding the missing children and the tutor.

Abbot Radulfus and Prior Robert of Shrewsbury Abbey (home of Brother Cadfael) are both based on the real monks of 1139, as was Josce de Dinan of Ludlow Castle.

The siege of Worcester did occur. Noncombatants were subject to considerable violence if the battles erupted near them, or to violence from brigands (or lawless barons) with no battles in the vicinity.[8] This time in English history is described in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles in this way:

"To till the ground was to plough the sea: the earth bare no corn, for the land was all laid waste by such deeds; and they said openly, that Christ slept, and his saints. Such things, and more than we can say, suffered we nineteen winters for our sins."[9]

The Crusader now herbalist monk in the Benedictine Abbey, Cadfael learns by the return of the Empress's supporters to England that he fathered a son all those years ago. Cadfael learns of him when he first sees him, a grown man in his twenties. Nor can he spend much more than a few hours with him, as this son is squire to a supporter of the Empress in a shire now held by the King and must move to safer ground. He keeps this news to himself, letting his son go without learning who he had met.

Critical Reception and Reviews

These two reviews accompany the Second Cadfael Omnibus (paperback 10 October 1991), which include The Virgin in the Ice.[10] "A more attractive and prepossessing detective would be hard to find." SUNDAY TIMES

"If this is a first-time read then it will be sheer bad luck if the reader does not fall for Cadfael." THE TIMES

Kirkus Reviews is liking the series less:

Back to the 12th century again with wise, worldly herbalist Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury's Benedictine monastery—who, called to a neighbouring priory to nurse a visiting monk, finds the frozen body of Sister Hilaria, raped and murdered. And he soon learns that young Sister Hilaria was giving sanctuary to sturdy 13-year-old Yves Hugonins and his headstrong older sister Ermina—orphans of an aristocratic family, refugees in the latest civil war. (Their uncle, just back from a Crusade and unable, because of his allegiance to the wrong cause, to look for them in enemy territory, has sent his trusted, half-Moorish aide Olivier de Bretagne to the rescue.) Further events embroil Brother C. deeply in the fortunes of the Hugonins; his usual astute detective work unmasks the murderer; with old friend Hugh Beringar, he also succeeds in wiping out the band of savage marauders terrorising the area. . . and makes a personal, euphoric discovery. Peters' reliable medieval performance as always—though the formula is starting to show slight signs of fatigue.

Pub Date: April 21st, 1983

Publisher: Morrow[11]

Publishers Weekly comments on an audio edition in 1992, finding the story pleasing.

The mystery itself eventually yields to the clamour of civil war, but this historical adventure is bound to please mystery fans and history buffs alike. Actor Stephen Thorne provides a superb narration that intensifies the listener's immersion in Peter's medieval world of chaos and suspense. Siser M. Anna Falbo CSSF, Villa Maria Coll. Lib. Buffalo, NY March 15, 1992[12]

"This chronicle ranks as a favorite in the series." From AudioFile,[13] Vanessa Benjamin read the audio cassette version.[14]

Cecily Felber,[15] author of A Winter's Tale (2010, set in 1141 England and Wales) says

Confession: This is my absolute favorite Brother Cadfael story! (although The Sanctuary Sparrow and Dead Man's Ransom follow closely)

She adds these comments about the whole series, the times in which the novels are set, and the main character

Brother Cadfael (pronounced Cad-file) has definitely entered the ranks of great fiction detectives alongside Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Wimsey. But these stories are more than just murder mysteries in medieval drag. Ellis Peters actually lived in Shrewsbury, England, where Cadfael's monastery of St. Peter and Paul can still be visited. Her knowledge of the land and people and history permeates her work and gives her the incredible gift of transporting her reader into the past. You really do feel as though you are in that long-lost world lit only by fire, where it's quiet and green and life moves at a pace most people can be happy in.[16]

Publication history

One site lists 18 English language editions, including hardback books, paperback editions, and audio tape versions. One Italian language paperback is also cited.[17] They span the original in 1982 through 1998. The site deals with e-books, suggesting this title is also available in that format.

Four hardback editions in the US and the UK are listed as published from April 1982 to January 1999.[18] There are eleven paperback editions in English, again published in the UK or the US, from March 1984 to October 2011 (ISBN 0751547174 / 9780751547177, UK edition, Publisher Sphere).[18] Audio books began on cassette in November 1991. A dozen audio editions were releasd, the latest in July 2012 on compact disk (ISBN 1441724796 / 9781441724793, Publisher Blackstone Audiobooks).[18]

In addition to English language editions, GoodReads lists editions in six European languages, published from 1990 to 2001.[19]

  • Italian: La vergine nel ghiaccio, Published 1993 by TEA Mass Market Paperback, 236 pages, Author(s) Ellis Peters, Elsa Pelitti (Translator) ISBN 8878193135 ISBN13 9788878193130 and again on 1 March 2011 by TEA ISBN 8850224648 ISBN13 9788850224647
  • French: La vierge dans la glace (Frère cadfael, #6), Published 7 June 2001 by 10/18, Mass Market Paperback, 300 pages, Author(s): Ellis Peters ISBN 2264032863 ISBN13 9782264032867
  • German: Die Jungfrau im Eis (Bruder Cadfael, #6), Published 1986 by Heyne Deutsche Erstausgabe, Paperback, 252 pages, Author(s) Ellis Peters ISBN 3453022246 ISBN13 9783453022249
  • Dutch: De kille maagd (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #6) Published 1988 by De Boekerij, Paperback, 218 pages, Author(s) Ellis Peters, Pieter Janssens (Translator) ISBN 9022508404 ISBN13 9789022508404
  • Swedish: Mördande vinter (Broder Cadfael #6), 236 pages Author(s) Ellis Peters
  • Portuguese: A Virgem Presa no Gelo (Crime Perfeito, #19), Published 1990 by Publicações Europa-América, Paperback, 220 pages, Author(s) Ellis Peters, Mafalda Ferrari (Translator) ISBN 9721030872

Also, editions in Spanish, Korean, Russian, Czech, Slovenian, Hebrew and two versions in Polish are listed at World Cat, among its 52 listed editions.[20]

  • Polish: Dziewica w bryle lodu, by Ellis Peters; Irena Doleżal-Nowicka, 2000 Poznań Zysk i S-ka, ISBN 8371506554 (ISBN13 9788371506550)
  • Polish: Wyprawa w śniegi, by Ellis Peters; Anna Kacmajor; Magdalena Kacmajor 1993 Gdańsk: Phantom Press International, ISBN 8370755062 (ISBN13 9788370755065)
  • Spanish: La virgen de hielo, by Ellis Peters 2001 1a. ed. en Mitos Bolsillo Barcelona Grijalbo Mondadori, ISBN 8422672480 (ISBN13 9788422672487)
  • Korean: 얼음속의처녀 : 엘리스피터스장편소설 /Ŏrŭm sok ŭi ch'ŏnyŏ : Ellisŭ P'it'ŏsŭ changp'yŏn sosŏl by Ellis Peters; In-sŏk Ch'oe 1998 Ch'op'an 북하우스, Sŏul-si Buk Hausŭ, ISBN 8987871096 (ISBN13 9788987871097)
  • Russian: Pogrebennai︠a︡ vo lʹdakh shestai︠a︡ khronika Brata Kadfaėli︠a︡, by Ellis Peters 1996, Sankt-Peterburg Izd-vo "Azbuka" Izdatelʹskiĭ T︠s︡entr "Terra", ISBN 5768400133 (ISBN13 9785768400132)
  • Czech: Panna v ledu : případ bratra Cadfaela, by Edith Pargeter; Zora Wolfová, 1996, Vyd. 1 Praha Mladá fronta, ISBN 8020406123 (ISBN13 9788020406125)
  • Slovenian: Dekle v zrcalu, by Ellis Peters; Andrej Novak, 1989, V Ljubljani, Prešernova družba, OCLC 439026944
  • Hebrew: Betulat ha-ḳeraḥ, by Ellis Peters; ʻImanuʼel Loṭem 1993, Tel Aviv: Bitan, OCLC 28765176

Although all the books in the series have been translated to languages other than English, this is the longest list of languages found for one specific novel so far, thirteen.



Main article: Cadfael (TV series)

The book was shown the first episode in the second series (and fifth episode overall) in the Cadfael series by Central Television in late 1995. The plot of the episode differed more than most from the original novel. The action was moved from Ludlow to Cadfael's "home" abbey of Shrewsbury; Brother Elyas's part was replaced by that of Cadfael's young and callow assistant in the herb gardens, Brother Oswin, and extra plot elements were introduced to explain the presence of the brigands and the final unmasking of the murderer.[21]


The Virgin in the Ice was adapted in five parts for BBC Radio 4 by Bert Coules in 1993:

  1. Casualties of War – News comes to Shrewsbury of two missing noble children, Yves and Ermina Hugonin, but Cadfael's search for them turns up a terrible discovery.
  2. Danger From All Sides – Cadfael, Hugh Beringar and Yves' tracing of Ermina's movements also uncovers traces of the outlaws' atrocities and of a mysterious stranger also searching for the Hugonins.
  3. Found and Lost – Brother Elyas flees into the night, tormented by unresolved memories, pursued by Yves, while Ermina walks into Bromptom Abbey on her own ... or so it seems.
  4. The Wolves' Nest – Cadfael tracks Yves and Brother Elyas to the outlaws' stronghold, uncovering more clues concerning Brother Elyas and Sister Hilaria on the way, but rescuing Yves won't be so easy.
  5. Discoveries – The battle to rescue Yves continues, but its conclusion still leaves more mysteries and a murder to solve ... and, for Cadfael personally, a revelation.

and starred Philip Madoc as Brother Cadfael, Douglas Hodge as Hugh Beringar and Sir Michael Hordern as the Narrator. The serial has since been repeated on BBC Radio 7 and Radio 4 Extra and is available as an audio book.[22][23]


External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • The Cadfael Chronicles Screenplay for The Virgin in the Ice; see Quotes tab also. Retrieved 6 May 2012
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