Research, we writers love it. And often get so involved we forget we’re supposed to be writing our next book. In THE VICTORIAN Series, the second book which I’m working on presently, wanders from Victoria, Kansas to Hays City and Fort Hays. In going over the research, I ran across an interesting image of St. Fidelis Church, located today in Victoria, Ellis County, Kansas. It’s known as the cathedral of the plains.
Now, you have to know right away that the church wasn’t built when my story takes place. But could I resist? Of course not. So into the story I waded. Found a photo and the biography of the man who founded the church.
From the windows of this church the prairie appears to stretch flat as a fritter plumb to the horizon. That’s western talk, which I try to use occasionally. However, The Smokey Hill River has cut a deep valley in that prairie which is only seen when the horse one is riding reaches the steep decline. In the valley, red grasses once marked the wandering banks, the river a shimmering silver ribbon lined by trees on an otherwise treeless plain. Buffalo and antelope grazed the tall grasses. Okay, I can use that. Right?
Already deep into my story, I became interested in the church, though it wouldn’t be built until my series ends. St. Fidelis Church was founded in November, 1881 by Father Anthony Mary. It was completed in the fall of 1883. The church building is 50 x 123 feet, but the sacristy makes it 169 feet long. The walls are of cut Magnesia limestone, 30 feet high and 2 feet thick. Have to stop, get on with my writing.
But look at this. The nearby town of Herzog was built by the Germans, who took over Victoria as well, but Russians built the church. Three countries that would continue to be entwined for another century. How interesting.
Then I reach the real reason my brain won’t let go and get back to writing. Serendipity ties this church to my story, something that happens with authors all the time. Just ask one. When going over the biographical sketch of Rev. Father Anthony Mary, I found he was born in Westphalia, in the kingdom of Prussia, and served as chaplain during the 1870-71 Franco Prussian War.
The hero of the second in the Victoria Series, Rowena’s Captain (or maybe Hellion), Lord Blair Prescott fought in that war prior to emigrating to Victoria in 1873. When I learned this little tidbit I had already set my hero up as a veteran of that war suffering from what we today call PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Then they thought those men were having “spells” and weren’t quite sure what to do with them.
This creates many of the problems experienced by my heroine Rowena and Blair, who enlists with the Zuoaves, an elite French fighting force under Napoleon III, which was ultimately defeated in the siege of Paris. One more step before I stop. The Zouaves also fought on the Union side in our Civil War, something I can put back for later use.
So, research into this famous church, led me step by step right back to my series, The Victorians. While Blair probably came in contact with Father Mary during the war, he would not have met him again until 1881, long after my story ends. Yet the fragile connection is there, and fascinates me.