Red-Robed Priestess

Red-Robed Priestess

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A Novel

Elizabeth Cunningham

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After a life of passion and adventure that has brought her through slavery to the Resurrection garden, through the controversies of the Early Church to a hermit cave in southern gaul, Maeve, the Celtic Mary Magdalen, returns to the Holy Isles accompanied by Sarah, her daughter with Jesus. Their mission: to find Maeve's first-born child, stolen from her by the druids more than forty years ago.

Since then, Maeve's homeland has suffered it's own trials--Roman invasion and occupation. The Celtic tribes to the east and south are under direct rule, and the Romans are determined to rout the resistance of the western tribes, resistance fueled by the druids of Mona.

Just before she crosses the channel from Gaul to Britain, Maeve encounters a man she mistakes for Jesus's ghost. This familiar stranger is equally haunted, and the two are drawn into a moonstruck liaison that will entwine their lives in "an impossible Celtic knot." For unbeknownst to Maeve at the time, he is none other than General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the newly-appointed Roman Governor of Britain.

Maeve keeps this troubling tryst a secret even after she finds her long-lost daughter Boudica, the fierce and charismatic queen of the Iceni tribe. Druid-trained in her youth, Boudica married the Iceni king, hoping to rally him to a rebellion for which he has no stomach. Now estranged from her husband, Boudica keeps the old ways, sustained by her pride in her descent form her father (and Maeve's!) the late great druid Lovernios.

Seeking to circumvent disaster, Maeve travels back and forth from Iceni country to Mona, from the heart of native resistance to a Roman fort on the Western front, steadfast in her conviction: "Love is as strong as death."


"With Red-Robed Priestess, Cunningham, a storyteller as crafty as J.K. Rowling, ends the Maeve Chronicles befittingly and beautifully, with a fourth novel as fully fruited as the first. Maeve, the Celtic daughter of eight warrior mothers in the first century, is also a prescient storyteller who speaks 21st-century colloquial ('now here is where it gets a little dicey'). Throughout the books, she is a Druid, a prostitute in Rome, a healer 'with the fire of the stars in her hands,' a weather witch at sea, a priestess, and, as Mary Magdalen, the wife of Jesus and mother of their daughter, Sarah. On a quest near the end of her saucy, savvy life, her red hair gray, Maeve finds her first daughter, taken from her at birth by the Druids, in Boudica, Britain’s legendary rebel queen. The battle of the Iceni against the Romans, famed in song and story, contrasts with the peace Maeve finds at last. Cunningham, always excellent when detailing bloody battles and earthy sex, exercises well her skills with description, history, and myth in and out of the Bible, character, song, and poetry, especially in the fine and final poem." —Starred PW Review

"The latest addition to Elizabeth Cunningham's outstanding 'The Maeve Chronicles' series, Red-Robed Priestess is a riveting read from cover to cover. Highly recommended, especially for community library General Fiction collections." —Margaret Lane, Midwest Book Review


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.