Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A group of monks seek to acquire the bones of a saint, leading to murder and mayhem in their Welsh community.


"A Morbid Taste for Bones" is the first installment in the popular historical mystery series "The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael" by Ellis Peters. Set in the 12th century, the novel takes readers on a thrilling journey through medieval England, where the protagonist, Brother Cadfael, unravels a complex web of deceit, murder, and religious intrigue. The story combines elements of historical fiction, mystery, and human drama, offering readers a captivating and immersive narrative.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story is set in the year 1137 in the Welsh borderlands of England. The Benedictine monastery of Shrewsbury is the focal point of the novel, where Brother Cadfael resides. The peaceful life of the monastery is disrupted when a group of monks, led by Prior Robert, sets out on a mission to the remote village of Gwytherin in Wales. Their goal is to retrieve the holy relics of Saint Winifred and bring them back to Shrewsbury, with the hope of attracting more pilgrims and thus increasing the monastery's wealth and prestige.


The novel is set in medieval England, primarily within the confines of the Benedictine monastery of Shrewsbury and the Welsh village of Gwytherin. The time period is characterized by religious fervor, social stratification, and the lingering influence of feudalism. The rugged Welsh landscape provides a stark contrast to the relative tranquility of the monastery, adding to the atmosphere of the narrative.

Main Characters

The novel features a diverse cast of characters, each with their own motivations and complexities. Below are the main characters:

Brother CadfaelA former soldier turned monk with a keen intellect and profound understanding of human nature.
Prior RobertThe ambitious and rigid leader of the Shrewsbury monastery, driven by a desire for wealth and power.
SionedA young woman from Gwytherin, whose unwavering faith and determination play a pivotal role in the story.

Summary of Different Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-3: The Mission to Gwytherin

The monks, led by Prior Robert, embark on a journey to the Welsh village of Gwytherin to acquire the relics of Saint Winifred. Brother Cadfael, who possesses a deep knowledge of herbal medicine, joins the expedition.

Chapter 4-6: The Discovery of the Relics

In Gwytherin, the monks encounter resistance from the villagers, who view the relics as sacred and integral to their community. Prior Robert is determined to obtain the relics by any means necessary.

Chapter 7-9: The Murder and Suspicion

A local villager is found murdered, and tensions rise as suspicion falls on the monks. Brother Cadfael undertakes his own investigation, delving into the complexities of village life and religious fervor.

Chapter 10-12: Unraveling the Truth

Brother Cadfael's astute observations and shrewd deductions lead him to uncover the truth behind the murder and the villagers' steadfast protection of the relics. The resolution brings about a profound shift in the dynamics between the monastery and the village.

Main Events

  1. Prior Robert's Ambition: The fervent desire of Prior Robert to bring the relics of Saint Winifred to Shrewsbury sets the stage for the unfolding events, driving the narrative forward.
  2. Murder in Gwytherin: The discovery of a murder in the Welsh village disrupts the tranquility of the mission, casting suspicion on the monks and the villagers alike.
  3. Brother Cadfael's Investigation: Brother Cadfael's keen observations and insightful inquiries lead him to unravel the truth behind the murder and the villagers' protective stance on the relics.
  4. Resolution and Reconciliation: The resolution of the mystery brings about a shift in relationships between the monastery and the village, ultimately leading to a sense of reconciliation and understanding.

Themes and Insights


  1. Ambition and Greed: The novel explores the themes of ambition and greed through the character of Prior Robert, whose relentless pursuit of the relics reflects a darker side of human nature.
  2. Faith and Tradition: The clash between the monastery's quest for the relics and the deeply rooted traditions and faith of the Welsh villagers serves as a central theme, highlighting the complexities of religious devotion.
  3. Human Nature and Redemption: Brother Cadfael's understanding of human nature and his ability to seek redemption for the characters involved in the conflict serve as overarching themes that resonate throughout the narrative.


The novel offers insights into the intricate interplay between faith, tradition, and human ambition, highlighting the enduring relevance of these themes across different historical periods. It also provides a window into the complexities of medieval society and the challenges of reconciling conflicting interests and beliefs.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers of "A Morbid Taste for Bones" are treated to a rich tapestry of historical detail, compelling characters, and a thought-provoking exploration of human nature. The novel's seamless blend of mystery, historical fiction, and nuanced characterization offers a captivating reading experience that transports readers to a vividly depicted medieval world.


In conclusion, "A Morbid Taste for Bones" stands as a testament to Ellis Peters' skill in crafting a gripping historical mystery that resonates with readers of diverse interests. Through its vivid setting, multifaceted characters, and thematic depth, the novel offers an immersive experience that lingers in the reader's mind long after the final page is turned. With its rich storytelling and profound insights, the book continues to captivate audiences and remains a timeless addition to the historical mystery genre.

A Morbid Taste for Bones FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Morbid Taste for Bones'?

    The genre of 'A Morbid Taste for Bones' is historical mystery.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Morbid Taste for Bones'?

    The author of 'A Morbid Taste for Bones' is Ellis Peters.

  3. What is the setting of 'A Morbid Taste for Bones'?

    The book is set in the 12th century in the Welsh Marches.

  4. Is 'A Morbid Taste for Bones' part of a series?

    Yes, 'A Morbid Taste for Bones' is the first book in the Brother Cadfael series.

  5. What is the plot of 'A Morbid Taste for Bones'?

    The plot revolves around Brother Cadfael's investigation into the bones of a saint and the conflicts that arise in the process.