Bright Dark Madonna

Bright Dark Madonna

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A Novel (The Maeve Chronicles)

Elizabeth Cunningham

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After playing an intimate role in the mystery of the Resurrection, what is left for Maeve, the Celtic Mary Magdalen? Never a follower, will she emerge as a leader of the early church? Will she retire quietly to mother a sacred bloodline? Will she set sail for France to proselytize and go spelunking? The answer: all and none of the above. No sooner does Maeve open her mouth to preach the gospel her way than a fierce debate begins about what to do with the child she is carrying. Maeve has her own ideas about where best to raise the savior’s scion. When she returns to Temple Magdalen, the holy whorehouse she founded, a custody battle of biblical proportions ensues. Maeve, her infant daughter Sara, and Jesus’ mother flee to the remote Taurus Mountains where they live in hiding among the Galatians until a mysterious man is dumped on their doorstep more dead than alive. When Maeve discovers the identity of the man she has healed, she is appalled and determined to keep her family’s secret. But Maeve has reckoned without the will of her brilliant, angry adolescent daughter who resolves to find out the truth about her father—for herself.

Required reading for fans and accessible to those new to The Maeve Chronicles, Bright Dark Madonna takes the reader on a breathtaking journey from the temple porticoes of Jerusalem, to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, to the south of France, and, as always, to the treacherous, beautiful terrain of the human heart.


“The best one yet!” —Catherine MacCoun, author of On Becoming an Alchemist

"As usual, Cunningham provides plenty of juicy controversy embodied by vivid characters and expressed in vigorous action, all in crisply drawn biblical settings." —Booklist

"Gleefully iconoclastic. For that dwindling demographic with a sense of humor about religion, Maeve’s profane skewering of the all-too-human foibles of the Church fathers is a hoot." —Kirkus Reiews

""Elizabeth Cunningham has again delved into her fabulous treasure trove of impeccable research, and come up with gold. In Bright Dark Madonna, her interweaving of Biblical-Celtic themes brings the first century to life with unexpected freshness and many surprises." —Katherine Neville, author of The Eight and The Fire


Elizabeth Cunningham is the direct descendant of nine generations of Episcopal priests. She grew up hearing rich (sometimes terrifying) liturgical and biblical language. When she was not in church or school, she read fairytales and fantasy novels or wandered in the enchanted wood of an overgrown, abandoned estate next door to the rectory. Her religious background, the magic of fairytales, and the numinous experience of nature continue to inform her work.

After being altogether too good and studious during her earliest years, Cunningham was expelled from a progressive boarding school for nudity. She subsequently earned a GED and went on to The College of General Studies at Boston University. From there she transferred to Harvard-Radcliffe College where she graduated in 1976 with BA in English and American language and literature. Somehow, she resisted the temptation to go to seminary to study for the Episcopal priesthood. The possibility was especially tempting, because, at that time, ordination of women was not allowed. When the church ruled in favor of women's ordination a few months later, she heaved a sigh of relief and went on writing The Wild Mother, her first novel, hailed by Publishers Weekly as a beguiling tour de force.

The Passion of Mary Magdalen, the centerpiece of The Maeve Chronicles, is Cunningham's fifth novel, and the book she believes she was born to write. Her other novels include The Return of the Goddess, a Divine Comedy; The Wild Mother; and How to Spin Gold, a Woman's Tale (re-released by Epigraph, May 2009). Magdalen Rising, the prequel to The Passion of Mary Magdalen was published in 2007. Bright Dark Madonna, the sequel, was published in April 2009. Red-Robed Priestess, the fourth and final Maeve Chronicle, was published in Novemeber, 2011.

Cunningham is also the author of two collections of poetry Small Bird, and Wild Mercy.

Although Cunningham managed to avoid becoming an Episcopal priest, she graduated from The New Seminary in 1997 and was ordained as an interfaith minister and counselor. Both The Maeve Chronicles and her interfaith ministry express Cunningham's profound desire to reconcile her Christian roots with her call to explore the divine feminine.

Since her ordination, Cunningham has been in private practice as a counselor and maintains that the reading and writing of novels has been as important to this work as her seminary training.

The mother of grown children, Cunningham lives with her husband in the Hudson Valley.