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Ceremony, Author Note Topic 1: The Chapel

· Murders of Substance

Ceremony (Coming August 17) is the first mystery novel I've written that's not a Fenway Stevenson book. It's the first book in a (hopefully) long series about a brilliant forensic toxicologist with a nose for trouble and the disgraced federal investigator who gets one last chance for redemption. Together, they solve some of the most baffling poisoning murders across the nation.  I had to do a lot of research for Ceremony, and the stuff that made it into the book is about 80% real, honest-to-goodness fact, and about 20% fictionalized versions of events or real places. This is the first blog post in a series of the behind-the-curtain research that went into making Ceremony

 Topic 1: The Chapel 

In my novel, the (fictional) campus of the university houses a 15th century chapel dedicated to the martyr Anne Askew that was disassembled in London and rebuilt, stone by stone, in Milwaukee, and, ultimately, serves as a mysterious and slightly mystical backdrop for the first murder of the series.  

In real life, the chapel was in France, southeast of Lyon—and the martyr was Joan of Arc. In the 1920s, a railroad heiress (and a superfan of Joan of Arc) learned of the chapel, originally called St. Martin de Seysseul. She acquired it, then had it dismantled and shipped across the ocean, and renamed it the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. She owned property in New York where she’d also reassembled a French Renaissance chateau. A few years later, Pope Pius XI gave his permission to hold Mass in the chapel.

In 1962, the heiress sold the property—including the chateau and the chapel—to an American entrepreneur and his wife, but the week before he was to move in, the house was ravaged by fire. Miraculously, the chapel was left undamaged. The couple, after the fire, donated the building to Marquette University (which is a Jesuit college), and it took nine months to disassemble the chapel again and load the stones onto a fleet of trucks to Milwaukee. The chapel opened its doors on the Marquette campus in 1966.

Although I live two thousand miles away from Marquette University, I used to work in Milwaukee and my oldest will be attending Marquette in the fall. We were able to visit the chapel as part of our campus tour—even a January snowstorm couldn't dissuade my son from attending Marquette. There’s a stone near the altar of the St. Joan of Arc Chapel which, though not part of the original building in France, was said to be kissed by Joan of Arc before she went into battle. The stone is supposedly cool to the touch—much cooler than the surrounding stones. We touched the stone when we visited the chapel, and it is colder—I can’t explain it.

While many of the details of the “Anne Askew Chapel” are different than the real-life Joan of Arc chapel, there is an analog for this cold stone in the Anne Askew chapel. I hope it’s one of the details that captures some of the ambiance and mystery I felt in the Joan of Arc chapel.

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