The Priest’s Madonna fits into the historical fiction genre. The main story takes place between 1884 and 1917, in a small village in France. Marie, and her family (her parents, foster sister, and younger brother) move into a small village due to some misfortune. They are not greeted very warmly at all.
Marie is sixteen-years-old at the time. Soon, a friend of her mother’s comes to live with the family. Berenger Sauniere is good looking and charismatic, and catches the attention of the young Marie.
Unfortunately for both of them, the reason he has moved to the village is because he was assigned there. He is the new priest. Marie and Berenger Sauniere both really existed, and while Amy Hassinger has used some known facts about these two people and how they lived, she has also imagined a great story to fill in the gaps.
Marie has also made friends with the eccentric rich woman who lives with the Mayor. Her conversations with the woman cause Marie to begin questioning everything. Who is this woman, really? How much of the stories that Marie has been told about the woman are true? Should Marie believe what the woman told her, or the rumors that she has heard? Things do not quite add up.
Marie discovers that this woman is Jewish, the first Jewish person that Marie has ever known. This raises questions for Marie, who has been told by her church that the Jews killed Jesus and are evil. But, her friend is smart, and kind, and loving – and Jewish at the same time.
Her friend is also well educated, and teaches Marie more about the history of the church, including the Crusades. Marie has lots of questions about God, Christianity, and right and wrong. Some of these questions become arguments between Marie and Berenger Sauniere, adding to the tension between them.
Berenger Sauniere is desperately trying to resolve himself between the oath he took when he became a priest, and his feelings for Marie. Is God testing him? Is God trying to tell him to be chaste and stay away from Marie entirely in order to be more spiritual? Or, is God trying to tell him to become more in touch with the world he physically exists in, which God has not only made but also placed him into?
Some of the chapters in the book go back in time, and are told through the eyes of a character named Miryam, who is plagued by several demons. Miryam is following around a man named Yeshua (who has lots of other followers). Yeshua performs miracles.
It soon becomes clear that Miryam is Mary Magdalene, and Yeshua is Jesus. Familiar Bible stories are told through Miryam’s eyes, and anyone who has read that part of the Bible knows what will eventually happen. Hassinger has retold these events in a fresh way, and very beautifully. She makes the reader want to meet both these characters in person.
There are some obvious parallels between Marie, who loves a priest she cannot marry, and Miryam, who loves a Rabbi who might be a God, who she cannot marry, either. There are other connections between the two women as well. Marie finds something hidden in the church when it is being renovated. This find leads her and Berenger Sauniere on a treasure hunt that just might answer some of the questions that Marie has been wondering about.