Davis Bunn: The period when Constantine became the first Christian emperor is one about which so much has been written, and yet so little detail is known. No one knows for certain where his mother, Helena – the main character in The Pilgrim – was born. There are three main legends, and I used the one that has the greatest sense of historical resonance, that she was British, and her father ruled one of the provinces taken over by the Romans. Her husband was a general who met Helena in the local market and fell in love at first sight.
Q: What is the appeal of writing about a historical figure? What was one special challenge you faced in doing so?
First and foremost, Helena is a saint in the eyes of the Catholic church. Her son, Emperor Constantine, was the first Roman leader to convert to Christianity. His death marked the moment when Christians were freed from persecution. Constantine was led to faith by his mother. The Pilgrim is her story.
While I am a fervent evangelical Protestant, my wife is Catholic. My mother is a Catholic convert. As is my sister, who has raised her two daughters as Catholic. So part of what I wanted to do here was to grow closer to the heritage that these dear people treasure. Their faith has had such an impact on my own life. It was important that I use this story and this opportunity to create something that would honor their perspective on faith. I also wanted to share with readers the enormous life lessons we can learn from the lives of the saints.
So many, many different issues came up as a result of this quest. It proved to be a beautiful and intense growing experience. Although this book is not particularly long, the actual writing took as long as some of my much bigger books. Part of this was honing the story so their faith, and their history, was honored, but done from a foundation that reflected my own personal walk in faith.
My hope, my fervent prayer, is that the story will resonate with readers from both faith communities.
Q: The end of The Pilgrim leaves the reader wanting more. Will you revisit this story down the road?
I am working on a second book, The Fragment, which is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2016. The Fragment carries some of the concepts from The Pilgrim into the early twentieth century, when the U.S. came to possess a reliquary with a supposed component of Jesus’s cross. It ends in a vignette that happens today, when a couple travels to Rome.