The Bridge of San Luis Rey,
by Thornton Wilder

Thornton Wilder - The Bridge of San Luis Rey

BBC Radio 4: Classic Serial

Broadcast: Sunday 12th May 2002 @ 3:00 p.m.

On July 20, 1714, the famous bridge at San Luis Rey in Lima, Peru, breaks, killing five people. A Franciscan missionary, Brother Juniper, witnesses the accident as he returns from a trip to convert some Peruvian Indians. He views this event as an opportunity to prove the existence of god and, finally, to elevate theology to the rank of the hard sciences. Juniper instinctively believes that there must be a divine reason for those five to have been chosen for death. He senses god's powerful, latent hand in the bridge's collapse and commits himself to learning all there is to know about the victims in order to discern the plan and prove god's existence.

Who were the victims? What were their lives like? Why did they die?

Dramatisation by Judith Adams of Thornton Wilder's 1927 novel, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey", winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

With Annette Badland [The Abbess, Madre Maria del Pilar], Michael Feast [Uncle Pio], Frederick Forge [Jamie, Camila's Son], Robert Glenister [Brother Juniper, a Franciscan Missionary / Captain Alvarado], Tom Goodwin-Hill [The Orphaned Twins, Esteban and Manuel], Jasmine Hyde [Pepita, the Marquesa's Maid / Doņa Clara], Helen McCrory [Camila Perichole, a Celebrated Actress], and Sian Philips [The Marquesa de Montemayor].

Directed by Gaynor Macfarlane

60 minutes


Thornton Wilder's second novel, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey", was published in 1927 to worldwide acclaim. The plot is deceptively simple: On July 20, 1714, "the finest bridge in all Peru" collapses and five people die. Brother Juniper, a Franciscan missionary, happens to witness the tragedy, and as a result, he asks the central question of the novel: "Why did this happen to those five?" He sets out to explore the lives of the five victims, and to understand why they died. Ironically, his quest will lead to his own death.

In later years, when someone asked Thornton Wilder about his purpose in writing 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey', he replied that he was posing a question: "Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual's own will?"


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