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Friday, May 11, 2012

Chapter 3, Disaster At The Monastery, parts 104 - 179


104. I was stunned! Why would I need a gun to visit the famous miracle working shrine of the lost finger? I sat there in the car waiting for an explanation, which was not long in coming. The old man took two or three asthmatic breaths and explained the situation to me, he said, “It’s bad goings on out there.” Then he turned and walked away.






105. And then, using the farmers figure of speech Buboni shouted, “Jesus Joseph , and Mary, just our God dammed luck to run into the village idiot to ask for directions” out of the back seat loud enough for the old man to hear. 





106. “The expression is “Jesus Mary, and Joseph, not Jesus Joseph and Mary” the Duck said, just to me in order to give Buboni a little dig. This was the wrong thing to say to a man like Buboni, and was just asking for more trouble from that continually aggravated, argumentative man. “And How is that ” Buboni replied, banging his fist on the car seat for emphasis.





107. “God”, Buboni said, “I just hate it when people correct your pronunciation and turns of phrase. Why if it was up to people like the  Duck we would still be speaking Elizabethan English. There is no such thing as a ‘correct’ way to say
something."






108. “I did not intend my remark to correct either your pronunciation or your inflection,” replied the Duck, dragging out his words in that condescending manner of his. “The question of if you say ‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph’ rather than ‘Jesus Joseph and Mary’ is strictly a theological one. And it was resolved for all time at the  Council of Trent in 1379.  




109. “Council of Trent,  Council of Trent, Jesus” replied Buboni, “who gives a flying mongoose what was said at the Council of Trent back in 1397.  Everybody knows that there is no such thing as the resolution of a theological question, I mean, how could there be.”




110. “Only a didactic idiot who spent too many years in libraries would ever imagine that there is some proper resolution to a theological question,” roared Buboni, getting into a fever about it. “Religion being one hundred percent subjective, there can be no resolution of any theological questions. Discussions of theological questions are just a prelude to inquisitions.




111. The duck did not respond. I think that when Buboni said he was didactic it hit  a nerve, and he was reluctant to continue the conversation. Instead he asked me to open the glove box and get out the guide book and see if  I could find the map and the location of the shrine. I found the guide book but their was not a single word devoted to the Shrine



112.  The Duck had a better guide book in the trunk of the 2 CV so he got his satchel out and consulted it. The Duck’s guide book was not up to date, it was written my Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1798, so it did not have any hotels or restaurants listed, but it did have a section on the 'Shrine of the Holy Finger', as Goethe called it.





113. Goethe’s guide book had been written on the way home from his trip to Italy when he got lost in a snow storm and had the spend the night at the shrine. Because of that accident Goethe wrote a short history of the shrine. The Duck had the only copy of this document other than the original manuscript he had found in a Berlin Library.  He had copied it out in his own handwriting.





114. First he read the introduction to the guide book that he had copied out, it was about the landscape, clouds and rain. There is no way that I could explain what the introduction was really  like, so I will just have to copy it out for you and you can read it for yourself. I go to the bother to copy it out for you because i think it is really good.




115. This is what Goethe had to say about the clouds and rain:  “Spring had come in all its brilliancy; a storm that had been lowering all day went fiercely down upon the hills, the rain drew back into the country, the sun came forth in all its splendor, and upon the dark vapor rose the lordly rainbow.”




116.  Goethe: “I was riding toward it, and the sight made me sad. ‘Ah!’ said I to myself must it be that the fairest hues of life appear to us only on a ground of black? And must drops fall if we are to be enraptured? A bright day is like a dull day if we look at it unmoved;and what can move us but some silent hope...”




117. Goethe: “And what can move us but some silent hope that the inborn inclination of our soul shall not always be without an object?”




118. Now do you see why I liked the Duck so much. It is true that he was always putting me down and ridiculing  my ideas, but then he would read something like this and it made you feel full of  strange secret longing.  “the Inborn inclination of my soul”, what a beautiful phrase, I felt it was about my plan to make plaster casts of Roman artifacts, it was clear as day to me, but I kept it to myself so the Duck and Buboni would not make fun of me.



119. The Duck read the passages about the shrine in the Goethe guide book. Goethe said there was a small monastery on a hill just to the south of the town of Danversville. This monastery had been there for a century but was not well known.







                               

120. In the spring of 1156 a wandering hermit monk name Simon Agonisties showed up at the monastery claiming to have had a vision of the Virgin. The Virgin directed him to go to the monastery and tell them to build a miracle working shrine on their property, and dedicate it to Saint Eustace. Why this particular saint was not explained in the guide book.




                                 
121. The monks of the monastery were full of doubts. They were sick and tired of wandering hermits, crazy people, and heretics showing up at all hours with visions provided by the Virgin telling them to do various things, but Simon said he could show them a sign so they would have no doubts. At dinner he cut off the pinky finger of his left hand and told the monks it would grow back.



                                                 

122. The monks did not know what to make of it. The finger did not grow back at once. Simon explained that since it took three days to raise Lazarus from the dead, fingers usually took about twelve hours. In the morning  when Simon got up he was disappointed to find that his finger had not come back. 




                                       

123.  At breakfast Simon presented his right pinky finger to the monks and kept his maimed hand in his pocket. The monks rushed to have a look at the cut off piece of finger still on the table and to their amazement they found it was still alive and breathing. This miracle that the finger was still alive convinced the monks and they built the shrine as Simon had requested. As you may imagine Simon Agonistes departed as soon as possible.





124. The monks at the Dannersville Monastery being very poor, they were only able to build a modest chapel to house the piece of finger Simon left behind. This finger died a few days later but for many months retained a pink and healthy appearance. The Dannersville monks made the best reliquary they could manage, taking apart several old icon frames and reusing the parts. The reliquary was not much to look at but it was the best they could manage at the time.




                        

125. The Duck said that at this point there were a few pages missing from Goethe’s manuscript, and when he took up the subject of the Dannersville shrine again almost a month had elapsed. During this time several cripples had been cured of their ailments because of Simon Agonisties finger. These cripples had not visited the shrine seeking a cure, it just happened as if by accident, right out of the blue, a complete surprise to everyone.


                           

126. But here Goethe’s  story takes a peculiar turn. On the same day that a cripple had a withered foot restored at Simon’s Shrine, a house painter in the village fell off a ladder and broke his leg. The following day, after two visiting nuns were cured of fainting fits near the reliquary, down in the town two elderly Siamese twin women  tripped on a curbing, fell down and broke their hips.










127. It was perfectly obvious to everyone what was happening; the sicknesses and disabilities which were being cured at the shrine were being transferred to the people down in the town of Dannersville. There was an obvious reason for this seeing as most of the folk in Dannersville were of the Costanozian Sect, obvious heretics most of them.



128. Goethe explained that what was happening had its precedent in the Bible,  so Goethe inserted the bible passage into his manuscript: "When Jesus arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met Him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way.  “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”





129. Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”  He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.




130. Goethe did not stop there, he wrote further about one of the pigs named Nemo. Nemo was about twelve at the time and just before he was entered by the devils he had been planning to eat some more corn and then have a little lay down in some mud. Suddenly, as if by some terrible magic trick, Nemo became convinced that he was Napoleon and the other pigs were his Field Marshals. The last thing he was heard to say before he plunged into the lake was, "Marshal Ney, don’t desert me."




131. “It is well known, illnesses can be transferred from one place to another because of metaphysical influences,” remarked the Duck. But Buboni did not agree with him. “Metaphysics has nothing to do with it Duck, both the people in Dannersville and the simpletons in the Bible believed that one thing causes another just because they happened about the same time.”


132. Buboni thought that all the things in the Bible were just pathetic mythology functioning like the incorrect signposts the Germans put up during the Battle of the Bulge to confuse the allies and send then in all sorts of mistaken directions. “Events out in the monastery could never cause people to fall down and injure themselves in the town, thank God we live in a time when such ideas are just something to laugh at,” said Buboni.  But the Duck just shook his head.


133. We drove through the town of Dannersville without stopping because there was nothing to stop for. If you have ever driven from Albany to Syracuse on Route Five you would know what Dannersville looks like. Picture a small town in which ever store downtown has been closed for twenty years and boarded up for ten years, but there is one Stewarts gas station and Mini Mart open till late. Now subtract the Stewarts and you have Dannersville.




134. Three kilometers south of the town we came to a sign that said “Dannersville Shrine”. We drove up a long hill and came to the Monastery. The small Shrine building was in the front by the parking lot and there were other buildings going back for a half a mile. In the distance we could see an ambulance, three fire trucks, and a crowd of people. Behind the shrine was a gigantic pile of smoldering ruins where the Cathedral was supposed to be. The cathedral had burned to the ground during the night. 


135. There was only one person to greet us at the door of the shrine, but it was not a monk or a member of the Monastery, it was one of those Moroccan or Libyan immigrants that sell fake Louis Vuitton Handbags to tourists. He was sitting there in front of the entry to the shrine on a canvas bag with his wares spread out, and he was looking down and seemed to be doing some calculations on his calculator.

136. These Nigerian or Algerian migrants are a very curious lot. Often they are dressed in tattered rags. The duck noticed him and said, “Look at the man there in the door way. He reminds me of Odysseus the time the suitors said of him, 'the stranger has brought such a thigh out of his old rags that soon there will be nothing left of Irus.'"



137. As we approached the Nigerian, he cramed all his handbags into the canvas duffel bag he had been sitting on. It was clear that he expected no good from us.  Once the bag was full he ran off, and just then a police car pulled into the parking lot, so it was not us he was trying to avoid.



138. The Abbot  came out from the shrine and was not happy to see visitors. “I am sorry the shrine is closed now as we have had a terrible disaster, a terrible terrible disaster.”  “I see” said the Duck, “One of the most magnificent Gothic cathedrals in all Christendom has burned right down to the ground." “Yes, that too”, said the Abbot. Then he locked the doors of the shrine and rushed off in the direction of the crowds in the distance. 



139. A few minutes later a young boy, out of breath came running up to us and said. The Abbot sent me to say that he is sorry to have to turn you away. He said to tell you that we had a disaster, a terrible terrible disaster.”  “Yes I know" said the duck, "but what is it besides the burning of the Cathedral.”  “Our water main was shut down three days ago, and then we had this fire", the Abbot's boy explained.





140. “Everyone is meeting at the pumping station. The only person not there is Frangeopani,” said the boy.   “Could we  talk to Frangeopani?” asked Buboni.  “ you could try”, he replied. The boy proceeded to  tell us about Frangeopani as if the monk were an exhibit as important as the shrine of the finger itself.  “Father Frangeopani is the most holy holy monk in the Monastery, he has eaten nothing for twenty years but acorn nuts, and stays always chained to a stake,”  he said with reverential awe.





141. “Unfortunately Friar Pani gets along with nobody. Sinfulness is unbearable for him and he lives alone in a shack. He used to take his meals with the brothers regardless of their gluttony, but then he decided to withdraw from the world completely. He built the shed, drove a stake in the ground, and chained himself to it.  He lives there like a dog and we bring him food and water. Usually he is asleep this time of day;  later he will take his flagellation and then cast out devils.” That was the boys story.




142. The Duck was excited to meet Friar Pani. “This monk”, exclaimed the Duck, “is a classic type of character and there have been many in history. He is one of the extreme self-flagellating ascetics. Rasputin was one, and Simon of the desert was another. Simon lived for 36 years on top of a column in the desert.  A film was made about him, by Bunuel, or Bresson, I do not know which. 



143. “I have been collecting information about these types. Collecting ascetic monks is for me what baseball cards are to a child; I have hundreds of them. Some are my favorites. This Frangeopani sounds very much like a character in a Russian novel I once read, I think it was called ‘The Sisters of Kutuzov.’”


144. “Talk to him about his project of re-writing the scriptures,  he is willing to talk about that.” said the Abbots boy. “He depends entirely on Divine desperation in his work; he says all modern translations are corrupted.



145. The Abbot’s boy went off to talk to Friar Frangeopani for us. We watched as he crossed a long field of dried corn stalks, and entered the old man’s shed at the edge of a wood. Shortly thereafter the old man came out. In the distance he looked like a pencil with burdocks stuck to the top. He started waving his arms about and across the field we could hear his basso profundo voice shouting, “Be gone devil’s spawn, casting out, I cast out.”


146. Soon the Abbots boy was back again and he said, “Father Frangeopani will see the Duck and the simpleton, but the rat can go back to the devil from whence he came. Then he explained, “By rat he means the gentleman with the bowler hat here, and then the Duck.” Then after a long pause he continued, “I am not sure whom he means by the simpleton.




147. Buboni had to wait in the car and the Abbot’s boy went with us across the corn field to meet Frangeopani.  As we crossed the corn field the Duck wondered aloud about Frangeopani. “Can he have actually known that Buboni is a rat, or was it just a lucky guess.”



148. Meanwhile the Abbot’s boy told us more about Frangeopani.  “He spends most of his time re-writing the scriptures. Since all the modern sources have been corrupted, he will read a passage, and then go into a trance and wait for God to give him the correct wording. For one passage this can take several hours.”



149. “Once Frangeopani has the correct script by Divine revelation he transcribes it into his illuminated manuscript book. He uses medieval methods, elaborate over sized first letter, a border around the page done in egg tempera on parchment. The text goes in with a quill and bestre. One passage can take a week, and he expects to be finished before his 110th birthday. After he is done with the illumination in the manuscript he will post the passage to his blog.”



150. Indeed when we arrived at Frangeopani’s shack he was deep in a trance. He did appear to be a very holy and devout old man. He had the physique of a man who never eats anything, and close up his face looked like burdocks, just as it did from a distance, but in the middle of the burdocks, those kind of deep set penetrating eyes that blind men have, when you wonder if they can see anything or not. He was sitting on a bench at the foot of a walnut tree, at the farthest reach of his chain.



151. Since we had to wait the Duck immediately got out his ipad and did a google search for Frangeopani and his blog came up on the first page, the fifth entry. The Duck clicked on it and we had a look. I admit I expected to see a very cheap sentimental page set up like most religious people use, but Frangeopani had a very austere layout, just the text, and no graphics.  First there was an entry of corrupt text followed by the corrected text without commentary  or explanations.



152. I am no Bible scholar so I did not know what to think of Frangeopani’s divinely inspired transcription of the scriptures, but I am going to write out an old corrupted passage, and the passage corrected by Frangeopani, and you can judge for yourself. Here they are...



153. “Consider the lilies of the field how they grow. They toil not neither do they spin. Yet I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.” Now  Frangeopani version of the text runs like this: “Consider the lilies of the field how they grow. They toil not neither do they spin. Yet I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was never eaten by cows!”




154. When Father Frangeopani came out of his meditation the Duck was the first to speak. “Holy Father”, he said, “I am so sorry about the disaster, the terrible terrible disaster the Monastery has suffered in the loss of your famed cathedral.




155. “Disaster? You call that a disaster? Our Lord is very busy but he manages to get around to burning down our Cathedral at least once every three hundred years. So now we are rid of the Harlot of Babylon. The disaster is the digging up of the cow pasture where the lilies of the field grow; what are the cows going to eat now?”


156.  When Frangeopani said this I thought we were dealing with a simple lunatic, but Duck, turning to the Abbot’s boy asked, “Why are they digging up the cow pasture?” “To install a septic system.” he replied. “Why a septic system?” asked Duck. “Because of the  cholera epidemic down in the town” replied the Abbot’s boy. ‘That’s the reason the town’s people burned down our cathedral.


157. Utter silence greeted this revelation, but then Frangeopani offered everyone a drink of water from the bucket next to his food bowl. Everyone refused, as he knew we would. Eying all of us over the brim of his bucket he took a long drink and in his eyes could be seen his contempt for people like us, atheists or worse, people of little faith.


158. Setting his bucket down he addressed us saying, “There is no use for a septic field in a monastery. The brothers should not be eating so much in the first place. My weekly production is little more than a goose dropping.” At this the Duck shifted his weight a little but did not say anything. “And that one goose dropping fertilizes the lilies of the field I was talking about earlier,”  he said, showing no concern for the feelings of the Duck. 



159. “The brothers have no choice about the septic field, the health department requires it or the monastery will be shut down. Some people think our lack of modern sanitary facilities caused the epidemic down in the town,” interjected the Abbot’s boy who had been silent all the while. “Some people”, said Duck, “are probably the chemists at the health department.”



160. It was now time for Father Fangeopani’s afternoon flagellation so we bid him farewell and walked back across the corn field, past the burned remains of the cathedral, past the shrine and arrived at the 2cv where Buboni was asleep in the back seat.  We woke up Buboni, got bottles of Perrier water out of the trunk, and passed them around. Just then the Abbot returned and, seeing the Perrier water bottles guessed at once that we were appraised of the cholera epidemic.




161. The abbot did not apologize to us but he did offer to unlock the shrine and let us have a look at the reliquary. The abbot was very proud of this treasure of his monastery so before we  entered he gave us some information much like a tour guide does at a museum. “This relic that we possess is now one thousand years old and, unlike most relics, was created on this very spot, as is documented with a complete provenance.”

162. “As you know,” continues the Abbot, “Many cathedrals have pieces of the true cross as their relic and there are enough pieces of the true cross to build a bridge across the Danube. Amiens cathedral has the head a John The Baptist, but so does San Silvister’s in Rome. But we have the one and only finger of Simon Agoniestes, because it was cut off a thousand years ago, here on this very spot." 

163. “Our finger, over the years hardened and turned black as relics always do. Then, by a  process much like calcification it turned into a porphyry like stone, but still retained all of its delicate details. Art historians who have viewed the finger claim that it is simply a beautifully wrought piece of sculpture, but that is impossible because biologists who have studied it say that the detail at the cross-section could not be other than flesh and blood, like any fossil.”






164. The Abbot continued, “Others claim that it is a simple casting that was painted black. That would explain the detail to skeptics, but it is simply impossible and Rodin himself when he was here was heard to exclaim, ‘Hogwash, you can’t pour porphyry into a mold.’” 


165. "Porphyry is a stone that only the Egyptians knew how to carve in sculptural forms, and even in the Renaissance it could not be sculpted, but only used for paving.  As for Rodin’s opinions, he was himself accused of casting his figures from life rather than modeling them.”  All this Buboni said apropos of nothing and almost to himself. He was turned away from the rest of us and seemed to be addressing the wall of the shrine rather than any of us.



166. At that moment I was struck with a deep sympathy for Buboni.  All along he had been so angry and sarcastic, but it was easy to see that he knew a great deal about art,  perhaps more than the Duck himself. And then I  was  staggered by a thought. I had left home, traveled to Europe to make plaster casts of Roman artifacts and this had become my purpose in life, and now...



167.  Now, here I was at this Monastery discussing carved and cast fingers, seeing how the simple form of a finger could be important for a thousand years. This was a strange coincidence, and I wondered about its possible significance and pointed it out to the Duck. “What it comes down to”, said the Duck, “is that you are here in search of yourself, and not Roman artifacts, and it is yourself that you are finding.” 

168. Finally the Abbot unlocked the doors of the Shrine. As we went in I said aside to the Duck, "And what about your short leg, do you think it will be miraculously restored?" "That's just it", he said, 'It already has been restored, my legs are now the same length, it is a miracle."




169. "You know Duck", I said, "I really think your legs have been the same length all along, and you have just been standing often on uneven ground. And you know what else? I think you have come here to this shrine seeking to find your true self, and not in search of some miracle."



170. The Duck could hardly disagree, since I was treating him to his own argument. All he said was, "Perhaps people make a pilgrimage to a shrine to give them the chance to declare to the world and to themselves that they are what they believe themselves to be, or what they aspire to be."




171. "Yes, I suppose it is entirely solipsistic." I said, using the Duck's word for the first time.  And he said,"That is very nearly the truth, because what we think of ourselves is like a mountain, and what others think of us is like a grain of sand."

172. Once inside the Shrine Buboni and the Duck got into a discussion of the architecture, the Abbot went off to check on the water pump and I was left alone with the venerated relic.  I approached it with mingled awe and curiosity. A thousand year old finger, reputed to have caused miracles, and yet it looked like a nothing so much as something a cat produces.


173. I looked very carefully at the place where the finger had been cut off to see with my own eyes the biological detail, but I could see nothing of the sort, on the contrary, it just tapered to a fine point.  I looked for the finger nail, and the pours of the flesh the Abbot was talking about, and I has seen in my own casting  of my hand, but there was nothing. It was just smooth, slightly glossy and wet looking.


174.  When the Abbot came back into the room I said to him, "You know Abbot, I do not mean to be unappreciative of your Holy Relic but I can not for the life of me see any of the fine detail you were talking about."



175.  The Abbot looked into the Reliquary, took two steps back, spread out his arms and said, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph, first a cholera epidemic, then the cathedral burns down, and now someone has stolen our precious finger and replaced it with... with...  duck excrement."   This is indeed a disaster, a terrible terrible disaster." The words 'duck excrement' caught the Duck's attention and he came over to see what we were talking about.

Richard Britell May 27, 2012









176.  We were all gathered around the reliquary and the Abbot repeated "The sacred finger has been stolen and replaced with duck excrement" He put especial emphasis on the last two words of his sentence, and I then realized that he considered the Duck to be the primary suspect. The Duck was not bothered by this in the least and began to examine the reliquary itself to see if one of the crystal panels was missing which indeed it was.



177.  Although the Abbot had not come right out and accused the Duck, nevertheless I wanted to defend him so I said, "You know Abbot the reason why we are here in the first place is to cure the Duck of his short leg, and this has happened, and the Duck has has a miraculous healing.  Therefore he is the last person who might be inclined to disturb holy relics.


178. "If this finger", intoned the Duck in his most serious tone of voice, "was missing when we got here then my leg would still be too short.  Therefore it is logical to conclude that the theft has taken place in the last few hours." 


179. The Abbot offered to put the three of us up for the night in the brother's dormitory for a modest charge, and we accepted as it was getting late.  I suspect he wanted to keep us around because of his suspicions about the theft of the relic. "Woe betide the thief, because what a relic can cure a relic cause; blindness, lameness and insanity; who ever has it now is in for a difficult time." Said the Abbot.

Richard Britell May 28, 2012

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