The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers
Abridged by Libby Spurrier
Read by Lesley Manville
There is something special about the ancient cathedral in Chartres with its mismatched spires, astonishing stained-glass and strange labyrinth. And there is something special too about Agnès Morel, the mysterious woman who is to be found cleaning it each morning.
No one quite knows where she came from - not the diffident Abbé Paul who discovered her sleeping in the north porch one morning twenty years ago; nor lonely Professor Jones whose chaotic existence she helps to organise; nor Philippe Nevers whose neurotic sister and newborn child she cares for; nor even the irreverent young restorer, Alain Fleury, who works alongside her each day and whose attention she catches with her tawny eyes, colourful clothes and elusive manner. And yet everyone she encounters would surely agree that she has touched their lives in subtly transformative ways, even though they couldn't quite say how.
But with a chance meeting in the cathedral one day, the spectre of Agnès' past returns, provoking malicious speculation from the prejudiced Madame Beck and her gossipy companion Madame Picot. As the rumours grow more ugly, Agnès is forced to confront her history, and the mystery of her origins finally unfolds.
The Cleaner of Chartres is a compelling story of darkness and light, of traumatic loss and second chances. Told with a sparkling wit and beguiling charm, but infused throughout with deeper truths, it speaks of the power of love and mercy to transform the tragedies of the past.
Producer: Joanna Green
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.