Booktalk for Crossing to Paradise
From a field girl to a lady’s maid, from the Welsh countryside to the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, from peasant to pilgrim — Gatty had never dreamed she’d make such a journey and change her life so much — but she did.
Gatty was a peasant, a girl who worked in the fields of Caldicot Manor. She expected to live out her life on Caldicot land. In medieval times, peasants didn’t travel more than a few miles from their homes, and Gatty had no reason to expect herself to be different. But she was. She saw London, crossed the English Channel and the Alps of France, watched boats in the canals of Venice, sang at the Holy Sepulcher on Jerusalem, and prayed at the manger in Bethlehem. She was kidnapped, and abandoned, and kissed, and then heartbroken. She did all these things because Lady Gwyneth, cousin to Gatty’s own Lady Helen, chose Gatty to be her second chamber servant, and travel with her on her pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Even though Gatty knew it was an honor to be chosen for such a great adventure, it still meant she had to leave her home, the only place she’d ever known. And it meant that she had to change from a field hand to a lady’s maid, a change greater than any she’d gone through before. She had to learn to speak and dress and act differently. She had to learn to read and to sing right, while sitting and breathing correctly. She had to learn to make friends with people she’d never met before, not all of whom were happy that Gatty would be a part of their group. There were nine pilgrims in all: Lady Gwynth and her two lady’s maids, Nest and Gatty, her priest, her choirmaster, and her cook, Austin, Everard, and Snout; a stableman to care for their animals and his wife, who was a wise-woman, Emrys and Tilda, and Nakin, the merchant.
The morning they began their journey, that once-in-a-lifetime morning, when Gatty opened her eyes when the first cock crowed, and darted outside to break the thin layer of ice on the rainwater barrel, and splash herself with its icy contents, she had no idea what experiences, or dangers, or trials lay before her, nor what lessons she would have to learn before she could sing in the temple in Jerusalem.
Even today, long journeys are sometimes dangerous, and they were even more dangerous in Gatty’s time. There’s no guarantee that she will get to Jerusalem, much less get back home again. The girl who started on a new adventure that frosty morning would go through many changes before she could choose whether or not to return home.