Journey to Zürich: Excerpt: Martin of Gfenn

Today author Martha Kennedy joins us once more for our Zürich series in which we are introduced to the city and a bit of its history, seen through historical fiction and the author’s own experiences. We are given a glimpse of life as a leper in the Middle Ages via excerpt from Kennedy’s first novel, the indie B.R.A.G. Medallion-winning Martin of Gfenn.

mog-2nd-edition-frontThis is the story of a young Zürich artist, Martin, who in the mid-thirteenth century, contracts leprosy at age nineteen. He fights the disease’s physical effects and ensuing social stigma to paint fresco – what he believes is his destiny and in so doing, encounters the Knights of St. Lazarus and his own philosophical focus of Christ’s teachings. Here we join the narrative at Christmas as Martin struggles to reconcile the turn his life has taken.

Do see below for a fascinating video compiled by author Martha Kennedy, who provides background to the story and that of medieval lepers overall, including how the Knights of St. Lazarus would have come to be. The last link takes us on a tour of the city through the author’s eyes.


Martin’s First Christmas at the Lazarite Community in the

Village of Gfenn

Introduction and background:

At this point in the novel, Martin of Gfenn, Martin has been part of the community for two months at the most. The chapel belonging to the community of the Knights of St. Lazarus is new, just finished, and Martin has no way of knowing at this moment how important it will be for him. He is mentally, emotionally and spiritually numb, trying to reconcile his circumstances — a shortened life of diminishing powers — with his artistic drive and vision. He doesn’t want to be in this place; he doesn’t want to have leprosy; however, he has leprosy and there is nowhere else to go. 

The new chapel is about to be sanctified by the Preceptor of the Knights of St. Lazarus. Some of the other residents — all lepers — have asked Martin to join them as they go to the forest to find the Christmas tree, though then it was not called a Christmas tree; it was called a Paradise Tree and hung with red apples, symbolizing humanity’s return to Eden with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Chapel at Gfenn, winter 2016

From Martin of Gfenn

by Martha Kennedy

Christmas Eve morning, Brother Hugo spoke to Martin, “Come with us. We are going to the forest to cut a tree and boughs to decorate the sanctuary. The Preceptor arrived last night.”

Martin had no interest in the chapel though all around him saw it as a great boon, a sanctuary for those banished from all others, but his habit had become simply to go along. He followed Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich outside the gate where a peasant waited with a sled. The sun had finally risen, though fog-bound and dim.

The four lopsided men in long black tunics followed the sled across the frozen fen and into the wood, the ice-covered pine needles clinking like crystal as they passed. Martin felt the forest’s magic pull and filled his lungs with the open air, cold though it was. “Take care, Brother; you are not used to this. You’ll catch your death,” warned Brother Hugo.

They stopped in a small clearing surrounded by pines. With a sharp saw, the peasant cut branches, while the four lepers looked for a fir the right size for the Paradise Tree.

Chapel at Gfenn Christmas tree, 2016. Elegant and lovely in its simplicity.

“Will this one do?” called Brother Heinrich a few yards away.

“We may find nothing better.” Brother Lothar was anxious. He and Brother Heinrich were assisting at the mass, and he feared they would not return in time.

After a few strikes of the peasant’s axe, the tree fell in a cloud of fresh snow.

Martin and Brother Hugo lay the pine boughs around the base of the altar and set high candelabra and large candles throughout the chapel to light the dark corners. The peasant made a stand of two boards for the tree, and Sisters Regula and Ursula tied apples and candles to its branches. For this day, the sisters had sewn a new altar cloth of white linen embroidered in white silk thread, with symbols of worship and the Lazarite cross entwined with grapevines. Benches were set near the front for those who could not stand or kneel. Minutes before the midday mass in which the chapel would be consecrated, the dark room had been transformed.


Some great links to peruse …

What is “Gfenn” and where is it?

Lazariterkirche Gfenn

Quartierverein Gfenn

Zürich Through Time and Space

 And a video with fantastic background, but also vibrant, beautiful images that shed some light on the dark …

Follow Martha Kennedy to learn more about the author and her books at her website, Facebook, Amazon, Goodreads, Twitter, Indie B.R.A.G. author page, or her Savior blog and Facebook pages, and the Martin of Gfenn webpage.



Images courtesy Martha Kennedy.

Stay tuned for more in our “Journey to Zürich” series.


3 thoughts on “Journey to Zürich: Excerpt: Martin of Gfenn

  1. Pingback: Christmas Excerpt from Martin of Gfenn – Historical Fiction by Martha Kennedy

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