This book is Volume 2 in a four-volume set chronicling church history from its very beginnings through the 1800s missions movement. Subtitled "History Lives," these historical books intermingle historical essays with fictionalized historical biographical accounts of key people in church history to bring history to life for young readers (ages 9-14). Volume 2, Monks and Mystics, covers the period from AD 550 to 1500, starting with Pope Gregory the Great and ending with John Wyclif and John Hus. Thirteen great historical figures are featured, including St. Francis, Charlemagne, and Catherine of Sienna.
In addition to the 13 short biographical accounts in this book, there is a detailed timeline of key events for this period and several short chapters providing deeper insights into key issues specific to this period--explaining how the Pope got his name, the beginning of Islam, the great church schism in AD 1054, the Crusades, the rise of universities, the councils of the medieval church, and the beginning of the Renaissance. At the end of the book is a chapter that summarizes several more important figures in this period of church history.
And now the line I will write for every book in this series: These books are awesome! Although they are targeted for ages 9-14, I don't know of a single adult who would not be educated, moved, and challenged by these incredible stories and essays. Authors Mindy and Brandon Withrow are obviously some of the finest professional historians. Their passion, attention to truth and detail, and extensive research shows from the first page to the last. Knowing that much of the information was based on the actual journals and letters of those involved, I felt confident that I was not reading false information or stories that were based on assumptions or overly fictionalized.
But best of all, Mindy and Brandon are fantastic writers. The descriptive writing is captivating and leaps off the page like a surround-sound theater. The character descriptions and personalities are painted vividly and established solidly. Kings came to life, and I could hear their grand voices, the swish of the heavy fabrics, and the clang of metal as a sword was drawn from its sheath. I could see the glittering jewels and feel the sunlight streaming into the cathedral. I felt the mental anguish of the bishops as they struggled over whether or not to support the Crusades and fight for religious freedom in the name of the Lord, or whether to hide away from the invading Muslims. Thomas Aquinas became my friend as I sat with him in the library at his university. And as I read how the church struggled through mistakes and errors yet showed tremendous strength and faith, I finally understood more than I ever have about church history, the rise of the Catholic church, the popes, the Crusades, and how it all ties to the issues we face in our churches today. This book grew me as a Christian, inspiring me to do my best for the body of Christ as a whole.
Monks and Mystics and the other three books in the series are a blessing and an inspiration, and that is an understatement. I won't even loan them out! I'll tell others where to buy their own! Hint: Visit the website, and soon!