Reading Group Guide
1. When Maureen begins having dreams about The Book of Love, she immediately plans to embark upon a search for the sacred text. What factors motivate Maureen in her quest?
2. What similarities does Maureen share with Matilda of Tuscany and the other Expected Ones? Compare and contrast Maureen’s and Matilda’s roles as Expected Ones within the context of their respective eras, taking into account religious, social, and political factors.
3. Discuss the symbolism of the labyrinth. What does Isobel hope to illustrate by recounting the “labyrinth legend” (133) to Matilda? In what ways does the legend mirror events that take place in Matilda’s life?
4. In medieval times, women were “pawns in the affairs of men, with no right to choose in their own future” (133). How was Matilda able to overcome the limitations imposed on women in that era? How was she not? Why was Matilda able to earn the adulation of her soldiers, which Conn asserts “was not in spite of the fact that she was a woman, but because she was a woman”?
5. Maureen and Berenger parted ways under strained circumstances two years earlier, and she admits that while she’s attracted to him she has concerns about his reputation as a playboy. What ultimately brings them together? How does knowing that Berenger is the bearer of his own legacy as a Poet Prince alter Maureen’s feelings about their romantic relationship?
6. Matilda and Gregory’s first meeting was “an intense, stimulating game of wit and banter, highly charged on both sides” (399). What attracts them to one another? Why are they each willing to risk their prominent standing—and possibly their lives—to have a relationship?
7. Is Matilda and Gregory’s relationship one that is truly equal in power? How does their disagreement over Henry’s act of “penance” alter their relationship? What was the strategy behind Matilda’s decision to relinquish all of her property to the church—and into Gregory’s control?
8. Matilda “was, in many respects, the first modern woman” (619), writes Kathleen McGowan. What examples from the book support this premise? What can women today learn from Matilda?
9. How do the excerpts from The Book of Love and The Libro Rosso enhance the storyline? How does the tale of Solomon and Sheba in particular resonate throughout The Book of Love?
10. How interested were you in reading The Book of Love for its theological premise? Did your own religious views affect your reading of The Book of Love? Why or why not? Has reading the book altered your religious outlook in any way?
11. Discuss the theological implications of The Book of Love and The Libro Rosso. Why are they considered such a threat by the Vatican? Why do you suppose the idea of Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene and fathering children is such a disturbing notion to some religious leaders? If a document substantiating this premise were to come to light, how do you think it would be received by society?
12. Father Girolamo de Pazzi lures Maureen to the crypt of Chartres Cathedral under false pretenses. Why does he later have a change of heart and allow Maureen to leave? Did you guess Father Girolamo’s true identity in the story before it was revealed? If so, what clues did you pick up on? Did the revelation of Destino as Longinus come as a surprise?
13. Father Girolamo wants Maureen to “repent” and say that she forged the Magdalene gospel. Why does Maureen refuse to give in to his demand even at the risk of her life? How does she draw on her faith to see her through this situation?
14. Have you also read The Expected One, the first book in the Magdalene Line series? If so, how does The Book of Love compare? In what ways have the characters, including Maureen, changed over the course of the two stories?
15. In the Afterword, Kathleen McGowan writes, “In homage to the Lady Ariadne, I have attempted to weave a ‘clue’ for all of you to follow in and out of the labyrinth. As such, I have written this book using the ancient mystery school technique of ‘layered learning.’ The more you read it, the more veils will be removed and the more truths revealed.” What “clue,” if any, did you pick up on while reading The Book of Love? Are you inspired to re-read the novel a second time? Why or why not?
Enhance Your Book Club
In addition to The Book of Love, read the first book in the Magdalene Line series, The Expected One, which features Maureen Pascal’s search for the gospels of Mary Magdalene.
Visit www.KathleenMcGowan.com for resources and background information about The Book of Love.
Learn more about the life of Matilda, the warrior countess, in Michele K. Spike’s biography Tuscan Countess: The Life and Extraordinary Times of Matilda of Canossa.
To view images of Chartres Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, go to: whc.unesco.org/en/list/81.
Decorate with lilies and roses. The beautiful blooms are “symbolic of Mary Magdalene.”
A Conversation with Kathleen McGowan
“Her passion for the role of women in history was one of the driving forces in her life. To discover something of this magnitude was true treasure, worth more than gold” (119). This is clearly something you have in common with Maureen. Why is it important to you to share the stories of women throughout history?
My own “promise” is to dig, uncover and share these stories of forgotten women and their contributions to history, particularly as they pertain to leadership in spirituality. I believe that if we had not lost the feminine principle in both of those areas that human history would not have been so bleak and bloody. It is my hope that by restoring the stories of the extraordinary women who lived and died to bring change, equality, love and spirit to the world, that we can begin to heal this war torn and divided planet. If that is too lofty a goal, then I hope to at least inspire each individual reader to search internally and externally for a little more truth.
What was it about Matilda of Tuscany’s story that resonated so strongly with you? You say in the Author’s Notes that there is a manuscript about her life in the Vatican. Were you able to gain access to this manuscript?
It seems that with each book I write, there is always an amazing woman who takes control of it and demands to be heard. The Book of Love started out as a very different story, one in which Matilda was a minor character. But, like her ancestor, Mary Magdalene, Matilda had a different plan for me. The more I discovered about her, the more I couldn’t let her go. She completely claimed this book, demanded that her story be told, and I ultimately saw how she was the perfect device for expressing the concepts within The Book of Love. And she still demands my attention. In an amazing turn of events, my youngest son goes to school in Los Angeles with a little boy who is a descendent of Matilda! His grandmother is from the noble Canossa family, and we have become quite good friends.
As for the manuscript in the Vatican, I have not accessed the original, but I have seen it in both Latin and Italian translations. I believe it was entirely a Benedictine PR piece, and that the real Matilda exists outside of that document as I have presented her here.
What can you tell us about the Celtic tradition of storytelling and how it factors into The Book of Love?
In ancient times, the Celts believed that it was inappropriate to write down their sacred history. It’s interesting in contrast, how in modern times we tend to accept everything that is written down as credible or authentic, but disdain the folkloric and oral traditions as whimsical fantasies. The Celts believed the opposite, and I think they were on to something. Through them, the bardic tradition was born, wherein the legends of the people were preserved very carefully through specifically chosen and highly trained spiritual leaders. Preserving the oral traditions, the stories, was an enormous and sacred responsibility. In contrast, it was believed that writing down a spiritual lesson was risky in that it might not be presented properly. I think that this applies in many ways to what was happening with the early Christians, and even Jesus himself. As it says in the book, Jesus never meant for his writings (The Book of Love) to be disseminated to billions of people via printing presses! Nor did the other, early apostolic authors. They wrote their gospels for those with ears to hear, to be preserved as teaching tools that would be interpreted by those who were properly trained. We see with the Gnostic Gospels that we have a lot of material that is difficult to read and interpret, because it was never meant for untrained eyes.
Further to this, incorporating the Celtic tradition was important for me because I wanted to show how this “heresy” of The Book of Love spread across Europe, and became important to Ireland through the legacy of Saint Patrick, before returning full circle to Italy via Saint Finnian (aka San Frediano). I love all the connections between these traditions and cultures, and it was very much like holding on to Ariadne’s thread to find my way out of that labyrinth sometimes! But it was very exciting to watch those stories connect. There is a diagram of all the saints and their connections that I designed for my website, www.KathleenMcGowan.com, which readers might find really helpful.
You describe Chartres Cathedral as “a monument of unequalled beauty, a testament to the power and grace of human accomplishment borne out of heart and spirit” (667). How did you discover the link between the cathedral and The Book of Love?
Ah, Chartres. There really is no place like it in the world. As it turns out, I am writing a non-fiction book that, among other things, tells the story of how I came to understand the mysteries of Chartres Cathedral. (The Source of Miracles will be out in late 2009). But the quick version is that in studying the “heretical” traditions of the early Christians in France, I came upon the teachings of the labyrinth and the six-petal rose. They changed my life. And they made me realize the importance of the Lord’s Prayer, which is why I emphasize it throughout Matilda’s story. From there, it was a journey of discovery, not so different from Maureen’s. I uncovered a lot of evidence on my own, and then worked backwards to see how it all fit together. The cathedral constantly plays out that it is a book in stone, and a very unique book that must be read in many layers. Everything I write about Chartres is true, and it really only scratches the surface. Studying Chartres is a lifetime project. I really do hope to one day write a book about how to “read” the cathedral, but that is a project for when I am older and don’t have kids at home – because it will require moving to France for several years and waking up in its shadow each day. Ah, something to look forward to in retirement. Which is quite a long way off and really won’t be so… retiring.
Why is the labyrinth such a powerful ancient symbol? Have you walked the labyrinth on the floor at Chartres Cathedral?
I visit Chartres Cathedral every year on a pilgrimage. The labyrinth is only open on Fridays during certain times of the year, so I plan carefully to ensure my ability to spend a day in the labyrinth. It is a very special experience, and one that restores me. As for the symbolism, well I think that the eleven circuit labyrinth specifically is powerful for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that I believe it was developed by Solomon and Sheba to represent a true temple space where God could always be accessed, by any sincere seeker at any time. I think when we look at the labyrinth that it speaks to our subconscious and our spirit, that we recognize it as the tool that takes us directly to God. We know it is powerful. Jesus added the six-petal rose to the center, enhancing an already perfect design. And it has been pointed out many times that the circuits in the labyrinth mirror the appearance of the brain, which is interesting. I really want to create an enterprise or foundation that brings labyrinths to youth facilities and prisons, as well as hospitals. It is so therapeutic and restorative, I really think it could be an exceptional tool in all aspects of rehabilitation.
Like Maureen, have you encountered controversy for opting to write novels rather than nonfiction accounts of the evidence you’ve uncovered about the Magdalene gospels and The Book of Love?
Absolutely, and like Maureen it was the right decision. In my case, more people have read my books because they are fiction, because they are written in the storytelling traditions of the ancients. Also, I love what Destino teaches Maureen at the end of The Book of Love, which is this: to present this information to people in a way that isn’t factual actually forces them to consider it for themselves. It’s a good thing that there are no documents available to be viewed and torn apart by academia. Seekers need to make a faith based decision on what feels authentic to them and what doesn’t, rather than be told what they should and shouldn’t believe. I treasure my fan mail, and I get it from all over the world from those who say that these stories resonate with them, that they just “feel like the truth.” And those are the people I write for, the people who inspire me to keep going no matter who criticizes me or how harshly. And as I said in The Expected One, the irony is that writing fiction gives you so much more freedom to tell the truth than you will ever have with non-fiction!
What have you discovered about your own faith while researching and writing The Expected One and The Book of Love? Has your spiritual quest mirrored Maureen’s in any way?
Okay, I hate to sound like a commercial for my forthcoming book, but this is the subject of the non-fiction Source of Miracles, and it really takes an entire book to answer this question. My journey of faith has been long and complicated, but also wondrous and astonishing. Using the teachings from The Book of Love transformed my life in the most amazing ways imaginable, and many of them unimaginable. It has been literally miraculous and I can’t wait to share it with the world. I am an extremely devoted Christian – I pray every day and I read some kind of inspirational or scriptural material in study every day – but most would likely not view me as a “traditional” Christian as much of the material I revere are these “heretical” teachings.
In general, how have readers responded to The Expected One? What are some memorable comments you’ve received?
It’s just so overwhelming to read the mail I receive every day from all over the world. I think that The Expected One really reached people who feel disenfranchised by the institutions of religion. So many of the comments are along the idea of, “this book restored my spirituality after so many years of turning my back on religion” or my personal favorite, “Mary Magdalene brought me back to Jesus.” I think that would make Mary very happy to hear, and it also is my own sentiment. I had to find this version of Jesus, a depiction of him that I think is very accessible and one that I discovered through Mary Magdalene’s story, in order to find and claim my own faith. I encourage readers to take a look at my website, www.KathleenMcGowan.com and click on the link to my Guest Book. There they will see thousands of letters from readers all over the world who have been moved by The Expected One. Those letters nourish me and keep me going. I read them all, and I answer as many as I can. I hope that The Book of Love continues to feed the hearts, minds and spirits of those readers, and that it reaches some new ones who need to hear its message!
Gregory VII’s contributions to the papacy include the creation of the College of Cardinals. Where does he stand in the long line of popes? Is he revered or reviled? How much of his legacy does he owe to Matilda’s influence?
Well, I think you would have to ask a Vatican spokesperson that question to get the official answer. In my research, I found that he was a little bit of both. He’s a saint, by the way, canonized in the 18th century, so somebody revered him! His reforms were significant and shaped the Church in many ways as we still know it today. As for Matilda’s influence, well certainly Gregory’s controversial and, for their time, earth-shattering Dictates of the Pope with their assertion of equality, were entirely influenced by Matilda. I’m not convinced that she didn’t draft them! It was just the kind of thing she would do. I think Gregory is remembered as “great” and was ultimately beatified and canonized because of what Matilda was willing to surrender to him and for him. She enabled him to carry out his philosophy that the Church should not be subject to a secular law. It was her military might as well as her personal support that allowed Gregory to challenge Henry and assert independence for the Church. He gets a lot of credit for emphasizing celibacy in the priesthood, but I think that is largely misunderstood in the context of history. Gregory was trying to stop Church property from trickling out to wives and heirs as part of his attempt to strengthen the papal position. It was quite brilliant at the time, but I’m not sure that such a feudal approach was was meant to last 1000 years…
The book’s settings range from the Tuscan countryside to Vatican City to the Ardennes forest in Belgium. Have you visited each of the different locales depicted in the book? Does one place in particular stand out for you?
I have visited each of those locations and all of them had a dramatic impact on me and the story. Orval, particularly, is a very special place. It is lush and magical and still carries Matilda’s essence in a strange way that I tried to convey within Maureen’s experience there. Meanwhile, everyone in my family has really fallen in love with the Tuscan countryside on this journey, and what’s not to love? My kids want to live in Lucca! But in addition to the abundance of art, food, and natural beauty came the extraordinary discovery of this underlying heresy that has simmered in Tuscany for 2000 years. I was totally unprepared for how powerful and present it is. While France gets a lot of deserved attention for its heretical undercurrents, no one ever mentions this about Italy! As a result, it is a gold mine of rich and previously unexplored material. The third book in this series, The Poet Prince (due to be released in 2010) looks at this secret Tuscany in great detail through the eyes of Lorenzo de Medici, and his “Expected One” mistress, Lucrezia Donati – the latest historical character to take over my life and demand the telling of her story!
In The Book of Love, Peter gives Maureen a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City. What was your impression of the basilica when you first visited?
Wow. Just… wow. It is an overwhelming place on so many levels. For me, both sides of my brain spin when I walk in there, and I am in total conflict every minute. I’m a huge art lover so I am inspired by the masters of Renaissance and Baroque who are represented there, specifically Michelangelo and Bernini. Then there is the spiritual context – that Peter is buried there – and the religious and political implications, which are daunting and complicated for me, much as they are for Maureen. Finding Matilda in the middle of the basilica years ago is what really started me on her story. I needed to know who she was and why she was buried in the Vatican – and no one could tell me. So that was a mystery I had to solve. The Vatican is full of mysteries that I want to solve, of course. Some more accessible than others.
It appears that Berenger will be exploring his legacy as a Poet Prince. Can you give us a hint about what’s in store for Berenger and Maureen in the next book in the series?
Berenger will come face to face with some very interesting characters from history who have shared the title of Poet Prince. Most significantly, he will discover that he shares some similarities with Michel de Nostre Dame, better known as Nostradamus, and the real hero of the next book, Lorenzo de Medici. Berenger will also come up against the fact that those men had very deadly enemies, and that those enemies have equally dangerous descendants. The legacy of the mad monk Savonarola will come into play in a big way, and Sandro Botticelli and the young Michelangelo are significant characters who come to life. I fell madly in love with Lorenzo de Medici as I researched him, so that will bleed into Maureen’s experience as she gets lost between the past and the present. There are complex and exciting themes about love and time explored within the art of the Poet Prince as Maureen and Berenger are taken through the deepest lessons of both. I first discovered “Les Temps Revient” or “The Time Returns” while researching Lorenzo. He carried that phrase on a banner in Florence, and no historian has ever been able to explain why. It was a clue that drove my research on these books for years, and one that I laid the foundation for here n The Book of Love. That journey into eternal love and endless time continues with the legacy of The Poet Prince.