Robert Ward

“…open-minded, thought-provoking and, best of all, highly entertaining. This is a notable debut from a writer we’ll hear from again.”
-The Globe and Mail

“…hilarious, moving, thoughtful, and delightfully written…”
-The Georgia Straight

“…a celebration of the power of stories…”
Winnipeg Free Press

In Medieval and Renaissance Europe, many humble journeyman painters made their livings depicting the Virgin Mary. Their identities have long been erased by time and they are remembered today only as madonnari, madonna painters. In Virgin Trails, Robert Ward sets out to become a modern-day madonnaro, painting a contemporary portrait of the most beloved figure in Catholic theology.

Mary has little to say in the Bible; our image of her has been built piece by piece over two millennia. So to understand how we have come to view her, Ward returns to the great Marian cathedrals, shrines and pilgrimages of Christian Europe. From Paris to Lourdes, from the Camino de Santiago to Loreto, his curious, wry and intelligent quest to find the truth of Mary unfolds.

Full of Chaucerian colour, character and conversation, Virgin Trails is as much a portrait of the people Ward meets and the places he visits as it is of Mary. It is at once a thought-provoking examination of the nature of religion and belief and an affirmation of the beauty of the human spirit.

From the Author:

Maybe I’m not the author the Catholic Church would have commissioned to write Virgin Trails. An atheist writing a book about the Virgin Mary? Yet I don’t think you need to be Catholic to feel drawn to this universal Mother.

My original plan was to write a general book on pilgrimages, but in the course of my travels I grew fascinated at how Mary kept taking on new forms. She was whoever people needed her to be; in Lourdes, a figure of light; on the Camino, the Earth Mother with her child in her lap; at the Atlantic shore, Stella Maris, the star of the sea, rescuing sailors from the wild waves. So I decided to seek out some more of the Virgin’s holy places, collecting as I went some of the beautiful stories that have accrued around her.

I saw the book at first as a sort of Mary for Dummies (like me). What took me by surprise was the warm response it received from many Catholics. Before my first public reading, a very earnest lady came to let me know that she had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin and if I said anything “wrong” about her, she would “stand up and holler.” Not only did she stay seated through the reading, she picked up a copy of the book afterwards. You can imagine who I thanked for that.