Season 4 Episode 3

The Pilgrim of Hate

Aired Sunday 8:30 PM Dec 28, 1998 on ITV
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Episode Summary

The Pilgrim of Hate
The dead body of an elderly man is found at Shrewsbury Abbey hidden in a sack, and it looks as if the old man was murdered. The main suspects are a group of pilgrims, who include two known thieves. Cadfael locks them up, but he sees this as a bid to draw out the real killer.moreless

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  • Very disappointing (SPOILERS)

    I've been spoiled by the excellence of the other episodes that I've seen, which do a fine job of keeping the essence of the novel while judiciously trimming it down to fit the length of the television presentation.

    I had started out watching an episode or two that passed through our library, then decided to read the novels. I put off watching any more episodes until I had read the matching novels.

    I needn't have troubled where this episode is concerned. The plot was not judiciously trimmed; it was ripped apart and thrown back together. The visiting characters (as opposed to the regular ones) have been so distorted as to be almost unrecognizeable, to the point where saint becomes sinner, villain becomes hero, and hero becomes villain!

    I cannot understand why they made such drastic alterations. The original plot is marvelous (one of the most intriguing I've read so far) and I see no reason why they could not have kept to it.

    To begin with, there is no dead man in a sack; the murder takes place in Winchester, roughly two months prior to the beginning of the story. Perhaps they felt that they had to have the murder right on site, but I thought that it was great that Cadfael could solve a murder completely out of his territory. King Stephen is currently a prisoner of the Empress Maud, and his brother the Bishop legate is artfully realigning his and the Church's loyalty to Maud's faction. While doing so, a courageous young clerk who serves Stephen's queen, Matilda, stands up and reads out a plea from the queen for everyone to stand fast. Men from both factions are trying desperately to smooth things out, so when a group of thugs from Maud's faction later assault the young clerk in the street, an intrepid knight, also from Maud's faction, heroically rushes to the clerk's defense, despite their being on opposite sides. The thugs scatter--only one of them turns back and cravenly stabs not the clerk, but the knight--in the back.

    Some two months later, Shrewsbury is celebrating the anniversary of transferring St. Winifred's bones from Wales to the abbey. No reason they couldn't have kept that; just make it the one year anniversary instead of the fourth year. It was a festival to which many pilgrims journeyed, not necessarily in hopes of healing. People of all classes came--and included pickpockets, gamblers and other criminal elements hoping to take advantage of the situation. The abbey was well prepared for the expected guests, arranging for plenty of extra food, extra beds, and extra medicines. The television version turned it into "Cripple's Day", which did honor St. Winifred, but the only pilgrims they expected were specifically the lame. The abbey was not especially prepared, which seems ridiculous for an annual event; the prior attempted to shut some of them out. This also made no sense; Prior Robert is always concerned with the image he projects, and shutting out pilgrims is not exactly the way to go.

    Among the pilgrims in the book are a talkative woman who is raising her niece and nephew. The niece is a beautiful girl with a doubtful future, as her aunt cannot afford a good dowry. The niece cheerfully and devotedly looks after her crippled brother, whose leg inexplicably became knotted up as a child. He was not born with it, nor was there any accident to account for it. The aunt is hoping for a miracle, but the boy, whose name is Rhun, does not consider himself worthy of it, as there are others in greater need. He suffers uncomplainingly, offering up his pain as a sacrifice, and spurning the anodyne Brother Cadfael gives him to help him sleep. A genuine miracle occurs, and the saintly young boy elects to remain at the abbey. In the episode, the aunt is dispensed with, and the girl serves her brother because she caused his injury as a child by playfully pushing him into a river and has sworn a sacred vow to look after him. They earn their keep by thievery. The boy, Walter, is an utterly self-centered brat, who, in early childhood, made the decision to ruin his sister's life and seriously constrict his own by pretending to be a cripple. The genuine miracle is changed to a cynical fraud, both to skirt around the fact that Cadfael and his sister have discovered the ruse, and to rake in cash from well-wishers who have witnessed the "miracle".

    Two other pilgrims of the book are Ciaran and Matthew. Ciaran is making a penitential pilgrimmage to Wales, barefoot and wearing a heavy iron cross on a thin cord. Matthew appears to be his devoted companion, constantly urging him to give up the painful penance, yet bound to remain with him until it is completed. Ciaran, in fact, was the knight's killer, sent away by the Bishop under a penance. If he cheated, any outsider would be free to kill him. Matthew was the knight's devoted companion--not quite his adopted son, but close enough--who did not manage to capture Ciaran after the murder, but did hear the Bishop laying the penance on him, and vowed to follow Ciaran as a constant, terrifying presence, patiently waiting for him to make a mistake. Matthew, whose real name was Luc, found his vow shaken a bit when he falls in love with Rhun's sister Melangell, and she with him. Ciaran takes advantage of this to slip away. In the television version, Luc and Ciaran are actually brothers, Luc a religious fanatic, and Ciaran forced into his pilgrimmage after believing that he killed his father.

    Apart from the fact that I like the original plot better, the revamped version just doesn't work. The murdered man is crammed into a sack and brought along as part of the "penance". Well and good, but do you think either Luc or Ciaran would have left the sack behind to be discovered by the prior? They would not have let that sack out of their sight. Moreover, it seems unlikely that they would take their putrifying father into an enclosed, hot room--and why didn't any of those close-packed pilgrims notice the stench? Far more likely that they would "mortify the flesh" by remaining outside in the cold.

    Brother Cadfael, somehow unable to diagnose a crack on the head, ends up boiling the poor man down to the bones (which I strongly suspect is the main reason for the altered The naked, unadorned body somehow boils down to bones and a cross, which Cadfael cannot account for. I accounted for it instantly. The plot is moved along by the actions of Brother Adam--who, in the book, is a visitor and fellow herbalist from another abbey, who pops in to see the festival, talk shop with Cadfael, and perchance acquire cuttings and seeds from Cadfael's rarer specimens. Here, he's Cadfael's new sidekick, who starts off the episode by flagellating himself, apparently for impure thoughts. Despite this, despite listening to Luc's mad orations, and despite the holiness of the day, Brother Adam abruptly decides to steal the cross and abandon the bones which Cadfael had ordered him to keep strict watch over. This, of course, gives a man with badly injured feet the opportunity to race in, grab up the bones, and head off for Wales. Cadfael and Beringar both assume the guilty party is Simeon Poer, a seller of bogus relics. Poor Beringar ends up looking like an indiot, and Cadfael avoids the same fate by pure chance. Simeon presumably goes off on his merry way. In the book, Simeon and several compatriots are gamblers who play with loaded dice, who travel to various festivals and carefully calculate just how long they can cheat the locals before it's time to move on. Beringar just barely misses catching them at a dice game; they scatter into the countryside, there to wait to pounce on any solitary pilgrims moving on after the festival. This leads to an exciting climax and a very moving ending.

    The book also included a return visit by Cadfael's son Olivier, who is searching for Luc at the behest of the knight's widow. (As a result of his sudden disappearance, people were starting to think that Luc had killed the I was very annoyed that Olivier was not in the episode.

    There are still several episodes that I haven't watched yet; I dearly hope that this episode proves the one exception to the overall quality of the series.moreless

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Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


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  • NOTES (2)

    • The Pilgrim of Hate is the last episode of Cadfael to be filmed.

      Although Edith Pargeter is now dead, there are still seven of her twenty Cadfael books which remain to be dramatized. They are -

      Dead Man's Ransom (1984),
      An Excellent Mystery (1985)
      The Hermit of Eyton Forest (1987)
      The Confession of Brother Haluin (1988)
      The Heretic's Apprentice (1989)
      The Summer of the Danes (1991) and
      Brother Cadfael's Penance (1994).

    • This episode is based on the book by Edith Pargeter (writing as Ellis Peters) The Pilgrim of Hate (1984).