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The main character is Godric, an Anglo-Saxon peddler who seeks to atone for his sins and overcome further temptation by retiring from the world as a hermit and devoting his life to prayer. Godric's father, Aedlward, is hard-working but emotionally distant from his son. Aedwen, his mother, is more concerned with the practical side of life than prayer but she is "a friend to all." Brother William is a loquacious character whose very talkativeness drives people away. Burcwen, Godric's sister, is an adventurous woman whose affection for her brother leads to incest.

The sinners Godric meets include Roger Mouse, a shipowner who carries pilgrims to Jerusalem and swindles them on the way; the nobleman Falkes de Granvill whose wife describes herself as "the Devil's Bride"; and the corrupt Churchman Bishop Flambard. Godric encounters holiness in St. Cuthbert, St. Ailred and the austere Elric who initiates Godric into the life of a hermit. Godric's friends include a young man, Perkin, whose death Godric predicts through his visionary powers. Fairweather and Tune, two snakes, are also somewhat unconventional companions until Godric sends them away because they distract him from his prayers.

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