As had been decided the previous day, the three friends left the town in the morning brightness to visit a nearby monastery. Dominating the hilly surroundings high upon a rocky outcrop, the landmark resembled more a defiant castello than a place of prayer and peace.
On the top there was said to be a wonderful view to enjoy over the range of hills strewn with picturesque villages and hamlets, beyond which lay the sea, hemmed in by an extensive bay.
The climb, however, an old pilgrimage path sanctified with the stations of the passion of the Saviour, was described as demanding and for the most part unshaded. So they were concerned that if at all possible, they should reach the monastery where refreshments for the body awaited them, before the sun reached its zenith.
The intention was to spend the hottest hours of the day at the top in the open air, resting and possibly continuing the conversation which had begun so promisingly the previous day. They would then return to the town late in the afternoon.
They had provided for their needs with some provisions – as much as could be carried in their pockets – including the juicy fruits of the land.
Thus the three men set off – the youngest in the middle – stepping out fresh along an almost dead straight, dusty country road. Despite the early hour they could already feel the heat of the sun.
The wheat in the neighbouring fields already stood high with green ears; each narrow strip of land was edged in the same way by hanging grapes which climbed among the low elms and occasionally on mulberry trees, so that the whole tree often looked like a vine, since its own foliage almost completely disappeared under the vine leaves.
In between there were fields of artichokes and allotments with other vegetables. There were wild bushes by narrow water ditches, overtaken by young, slender poplars whose branches had been cut away along their trunks so that their crowns resembled bushels on top of tall steles in the silvery white, silky shining sky.
On their right, towards the sea, a verdant landscape of meadows stretched into the distance, occasionally intersected by stunted, gnarled willow trunks. In the distance on the beach they could see a few half-derelict fishermen’s huts.
Ochre and orange pointed sails glistened from the turquoise surface of the sea; completely motionless they appeared fixed to the spot.
The three wanderers showed no signs yet of wanting to talk. So it was that they let their eyes survey the scene without comment.
Now and again a few words were exchanged. Either something had aroused the interest of one or the other or they wanted to give expression to their surprise that the sun’s rays could be felt so powerfully at such an early hour.
A good hour, perhaps even more, had passed when they found themselves in front of a small enshrined crucifix where the smaller path branched off. This was the route they were to take if they wanted to get closer to the rocky outcrop which was still a considerable distance away. Its shaded side rose upwards, submerged in milky air, providing a brutal backdrop to the gentle hilly countryside.
At least they had now left behind them the tiring monotony of the dusty country road, and it was not long before the path, climbing slowly and bending frequently, lead upwards through tall groups of bushes and trees of elder and chestnut, bestowing some welcome shade.
The three wanderers gradually approached the foot of the rocky outcrop. Here they decided to have a brief rest at a sparse spring surrounded by stones before the actual ascent.
They were already below a steeply rising wall of rock. From it an earthquake had probably hurled down some blocks which now, covered in soft moss, offered most desirable seating to rest in the thick shade provided by the cliff among mighty walnut and chestnut trees.
The stony ground around them was covered in a thick layer of husks and countless shrivelled and desiccated chestnuts. The husks crunched under their feet. They recognised this shady spot as a resting place for many a procession of pilgrims before starting their steep ascent along the sin absolving path leading upwards past the stations of the cross to the high monastery.
Although the water trickled out of the stone gully of the spring very sparsely, the three men still saw it as a precious balm; each one waited patiently for his beaker to fill before downing its contents in one draught.
Some time passed among light-hearted conversation as occurs naturally on such occasions.
Sufficiently refreshed from what they had brought with them and from the water from the rocky spring, they now thought it best to set off and climb the penitents’ path.
When people with something to say to each other walk side by side for a long time maintaining their silence, they do not suddenly lose the words they had only just found!
This could also be observed with the three worldly pilgrims who now saw ahead of them, not far from their resting place, worn, awkward steps hewn into the rock at a small chapel of the Mater Dolorosa. The path followed these steps along the other side of the rocky outcrop and led endlessly upwards, winding under the full strength of the sun and without the slightest prospect of a shaded canopy.
“I thought this way of the cross would have been a bit easier,” said the man with the white beard, although he had shown that he, despite his age, could easily keep up with the youngest of the three.
“Well, let’s hope it doesn’t stay so uneven all the way,” replied the other, while the youngest interrupted with a laugh and said:
“I fear we’re still looking at the most tempting part of our ascent. Till close to the top, when we seem to have almost reached the refreshments waiting at our journey’s end, the reverend fathers of the monastery will have saved the hardest part!”
But the white-bearded companion responded laughing:
“You don’t scare me with your prophecies of gloom; I don’t see myself as an old crock yet! I’ll get up there, even if it means climbing as though I was on the wall of one of the Dolomites! The regular and strenuous mountain tours I did a couple of years ago will not have been in vain! Also there the sun shone well and still we managed it!
But whether our dear sturdy friend here will lose the desire is another matter!”
The old man had assumed youthful energy during the challenging hike. If it hadn’t been for his external appearance, which made him look well into his sixties, you might have reckoned him to be considerably younger today.
Now he was enjoying flirting with his age full of youthful vigour and stamina. The other two felt this and avoided spoiling his enjoyment.
“Yes, yes,” replied the friend who had been mocked a little for his corpulence, “at the end of the day, our friend here is the youngest amongst us despite his years!
Although he grazes through all the libraries and sits for weeks at a time browsing, he still finds time for his mountaineering. There’s hardly a mountain tour that he hasn’t done at one time or other in his life. Every alpine hut has put him up for a night!
Granted, the likes of us can’t join in!”
The old man parried the point and said that it really was not that hard. Just credit him for quite decent achievements at the age of sixty-three!
With such jocularity, badly suited to the depiction of the saintly woman mourning her tortured dead son found in the rather naïve, painted wood carving in the small chapel, they gave each other encouragement and had already climbed a fair section of the way.
Fourteen times they encountered depictions of the gruesome torture of a man by other men. The first of these, just as naïve as the representation of the ‘Mater Dolorosa’ standing guard at the start of this way of sorrows, looked towards the climbers from its position in the rock wall…
On the very first of these images they saw a younger man, wracked with pain, but with a noble, royal bearing, his torso bare and bleeding all over from the many wounds caused by his flagellation and with a thick crown of thorns on his head.
Depraved tormentors with infernal faces and gestures drag him before a judge who in cold, emotionless silence washes his hands in a bowl held before him by an ignorant youth.
The three men tarried there instinctively, and their conversation fell into silence …
Whether from shock caused by this depiction – in the midst of verdant nature shamelessly yielding to the very bright light of the southern sun, with bees buzzing and butterflies fluttering, – whether it was because their sensibilities were being repeatedly tortured before every new image; whether as a result of the demanding climb under the sun’s increasing intensity, – – in short: the three friends now climbed in silence the ceaseless steps, worn beyond recognition by thousands of wayfarers, until they stood before the last of the images showing the poor martyr being laid in a grave.
They finally reached the monastery where a seat carved in the stone welcomed the tired travellers.
On one of the later depictions they had observed with horror the man, tortured from the very beginning, being nailed by his hands and feet to a cross. Now at the summit, they saw before them as they rested the same scene, only this time in a perfected form created by one who knew how to create, infused with the passion of suffering which only those who have suffered themselves can depict – suffered at the hands of his torturers and yet he could forgive them …
Standing under the martyr’s cross they could see, fashioned with the same artistry, the shape of a beardless man, who – apart from his rich locks, – had something in common with the youngest of the three companions; and of a hand-wringing, utterly dejected woman, who was most likely the same Mater Dolorosa keeping watch below at the entrance to the way of the cross below, so that
no-one incapable of comprehending the mystery of this passion should walk it …
The friends sat here for a long time, – they no longer thought of the refreshments awaiting them at the summit they had reached, – they no longer paid any heed to the burning rays of the sun, – no longer did they want to see the famous view enjoyed from the other side of the nearby monastery. – –
It would be a mistake to suppose that this was the first time these three wayfarers had seen such depictions of human cruelty or to think that the martyr’s story was strange to them. –
Far from it!
The old man came from a very pious Christian background. One of his brothers had risen to a high position in the priesthood he had vowed to join in his early youth.
The other, similar in appearance to a reverend father, had had every intention to become a priest
himself; the torture of his doubts caused him to choose a different course of studies.
The third and youngest of the three, however, was not a child of the Church of Rome. Before rejoining the students’ bench at the foot of the cathedra to study for his current profession, he had in his youth served as a pastor and had spoken with feeling about the way of the cross to a receptive congregation. He was the would-be servant of the one who had trodden this path, as he stood at the pulpit with his church overflowing, even attended by those who before they heard his words only knew the church doors from the outside …
“Whatever you think about the time-honoured pious beliefs,” the white-bearded companion eventually said, breaking the silence bearing down heavily upon them, “you have to admit that this visual presentation of the sufferings of a man, regarded as divine, with the purpose of arousing pity and in it’s wake, the resolve to a purer life, has a classical grandeur about it!”
“That’s undeniable,” said the ‘abbot’, still wiping the sweat from his brow, “but I don’t think many of those coming up here feel any of that grandeur!
I am all too familiar with this sort of piety…
They utter the appropriate prayer in front of each of these images. Perhaps they try with a dulled sense of guilt to root around within themselves, trying to access a feeling approaching horror and pity before these representations of human dreadfulness towards an innocent, familiar to them from childhood. Then they wander off, contented that they have done their bit and have earned a ‘reward in heaven’, at peace in their souls until they get to the next image. And so on until the end. –
Apart from that, this insistent emphasis on the barbaric strikes me as unnatural!
Is this really the right way to banish evil instincts in men!?
Evil and malice, represented by graceless art, but with such evident pleasure in the faces and gestures of the executioners, touches our ability to empathise more powerfully – precisely because these artisans were much more in their element – than the longsuffering dignity of the tortured one. What is more, the whole thing is understood as an unique event on earth; while not even in dreams is it realised that later even more bestial acts have been carried out in the name of the tormented one! – – –
A ‘priest’ naming himself after the crucified one writes in the ‘year of salvation’ nineteen hundred and one in his ‘Institutions of Church Law’ these philanthropic words:
‘Secular authority must carry out the death penalty on heretics on the command and under the auspices of the Church. It can not withdraw the death penalty from any person handed over by the Church to secular power.
This penalty should not just apply to those who as adults have lapsed from faith, but to those also who are baptised and have drunk heresy with their mother’s milk, continuing to hold on to it stubbornly as adults.
The penalty, where introduced, should also befall those backsliding heretics, even if they wish to convert, and to all those who, after repeated warning, persist’. – – –
I have to say that it seems to me we need a ‘Redeemer’ to redeem from his thinking such a person capable of conceiving such dreadful thoughts in his brain! – –
He doesn’t belong in the company of him you see represented as the martyred. Rather he could take his honoured place with the executioners showing such lustful pleasure in their bestial acts!”
“You take such statements too seriously,” replied the old man. “I wouldn’t want to blame either the
society founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, to which my brother belongs and among whose members I count many scholarly friends who know all too well that I tread my own religious path; nor would I want to blame the Church itself for these statements, familiar to me, uttered by a Roman hothead!
The gentleman in question is stuck in his own subjective corner!”
“Oh, he is, is he?” responded the physicist.
“But the Roman Church has the infamous notorious institution of the ‘Index’!
Why doesn’t it put such works which promote acts of inhumanity on the ‘Index’? This inhumanity is pushed in the name of the one by whom the foundation is established, on which their proud edifice was constructed. In doing this the Roman Church would at least distance itself formally from such outrages!
As far as I know this has not happened!”
“But the papal church,” contradicted the old man, “is completely tolerant in its practice today. In particular the society to which that priest belongs is more likely to be criticised for showing far too much indulgence towards human weakness!”
“Yes where it suits it,” parried the other. “As far as the ‘more tolerant practice’ practised today is concerned, it really is about making a virtue of necessity; or one might say that this tolerance is very subjective in nature. It doesn’t seem at all rooted in what has been painstakingly compiled throughout history in the form of ecclesiastical jurisdiction. Here, unfortunately, people today still think – by applying it more cautiously – they can find their own support. Nevertheless, worse and really dubious sophisms are needed to bring all this into apparent harmony with the Nazarene’s teachings, even amongst augurs! – – ”
“You speak here of the teaching of the Nazarene,” interjected the youngest of the three men, “as though it is something you can easily get to know!
I have to object. There are few things on earth
men speak about with such naturalness, but without real knowledge, than the teaching of the Nazarene! –
What we possess as the literary record of this teaching – the so-called ‘Gospels’ – is from the start second-hand. Before it got to us it had been unscrupulously remodelled by the most diverse of editors. Each of them sought to use the authority of the exalted Master to confirm his own limited scholarly views. – Every one of the early copyists read what he could understand in the fragmentary reports of the teaching; in all good conscience he felt he was justified in changing what he didn’t understand. In the end the last version of the copies emerged which still only represents the earliest, accessible texts. On these is based all our external knowledge about the teaching of the Master of Nazareth. – –
But those who believe that, apart from these literary documents of such dubious credibility, something like an oral tradition could have been preserved, they exhibit little knowledge of men and history …
Already everyday experience alone teaches every judge that even the most credible witnesses to an easily ascertained event give the most varied accounts, despite the fact that each one believes he is recounting the whole truth. – –
If we examine more closely the history of mankind we really do not need much critical capacity to see how words and events can change, even in the course of a few decades, to suit the wishes of the powerful or the needs of the masses. – –
Therefore I’m going to speak quite frankly and in full cognizance of the scope of my words, when I say: – that no person on this earth can know or experience anything certain about the person and teaching of Joshua of Nazareth unless he has access to the teachings of the ‘Luminaries of the first First Light’. For this man at the centre of the ancient accounts was a member of this spiritual union of those at one with God. What he taught, he taught in the way the ‘Father’ had commanded, – the ‘Father’ of these Luminaries, whom each of his ‘sons’ knows and of whom each can say:
‘I and the Father are one!’
‘Whoever sees me, sees the Father!’ – – –
Every one of the many communities of faith today calling themselves after the name of this exalted Master, this ‘Anointed One’ or Christos, possesses in some fragmented form parts of his teaching. Try as they might to adapt it to their understanding, it is, of course, mostly the best that is lost in this way. – –
Some wipe away anything that goes beyond their rationalist way of thinking and falsify the Master’s teaching into an elevated human ethical system. Others, meanwhile, attempt to preserve through compulsion their own mistaken interpretations.
The Church of Rome suffers as a result of its pride in its forbears; it is like so many aristocratic families for whom the number of forbears became more important than nobility itself. On the other hand, those branches which have separated from it forget that nothing thrives without ‘earth’; they can therefore not complain when they gradually lose their vital power! – – –
Those who really want to become disciples of the Master of the Gospels must not think that this depends on these human institutions, even though he can find, in one or other, much that does accord with him and speaks to his soul!
But he will also not get any nearer to the Master by separating himself from such communities, but only through deepening of his own understanding which may be brought to shine in every form of belief!
So let us not quarrel about the folly of others but seek wisdom ourselves! – ”
The youngest of the three men stopped at this point; a deep, almost breathless silence followed his animated and moving words.
It was as if the Crucified One, under whose artistic representation the three men now stood, – having unwittingly risen to their feet during these words, – was spreading his punctured hands over them in blessing. It was as though the man and the woman, overwhelmed in stony grief under the cross, were wanting to draw consolation from the words of the enthusiastic speaker…
They had tarried here longer than intended; now, in a feeling of holy excitement which had emanated from the speaker and communicated itself to the other two, the three friends now walked towards the monastery through a blossoming garden lovingly cared for by the monks.
They stopped in front of the elaborately sculptured baroque portal.
A deep-toned bell responded to the heavy, wrought iron bell-pull. They could hear it resound within the monastery. A small door opened in the large carved gateway framed by the stone portal.
A fat Franciscan friar greeted the arrivals with a
smile. He shut the entrance immediately behind them which like a doorway within a doorway did in no way interfere with architectural arrangement when opened.
The friends found themselves in a high, fairly light hallway. Brother Doorman walked ahead of them, and led them, giving a warning about some steps, into a small vaulted room, more or less full of tables, benches and chairs. Its white-washed walls were unadorned save for a large, black, wooden crucifix.
Evidently responsible for revitalising visitors to the monastery, he suggested the three men wait awhile before returning with a large bowl of steaming ‘minestrone’, that delicious Italian vegetable soup, which he set down before them.
He fetched plates, spoons and glasses from a cupboard by the wall, disappeared once again and returned with a raffia covered long-necked bottle, a pewter plate on which there was a long loaf of white
bread, and a small bowl full of grated cheese to scatter on the soup according to local custom.
Seeing his guests catered for, he wished them bon appetit and left them to their meal.
The minestrone was excellent; bread and wine were welcome extras. Since they had begun to gradually feel very hungry before entering the room, Brother Cook was later able to see from the empty bowls that the refreshments offered had met with complete approval.
Just as they finished their last mouthfuls, the brother reappeared again and with a jocular gesture towards the empty bowls suggested that they were now fit again for further exertions. He would show them the old cloisters and the interior of the monastic church.
Refusing payment for the meal with a smile he said that they could make a pious donation at their discretion after he had finished his guided tour.
There is something wonderful about the hospitality of monks. You are left regretting that all too often there are visitors to the monastery who enjoy receiving without giving back something of what they possess. In the end the monasteries where there has been this trusting freedom with guests, will one day be forced to give up the good old custom.
On leaving the small guestroom the ‘abbot’, as he was called in jest by his friends, said in a state of contented ease: “Now that’s what I call practical Christianity!
You’re not asked whether you are heathen, Jew or Christian, or about your denomination. You’re not asked if you’ve got money in your purse. Complete strangers are trusted to have sufficient sense to reward generosity with generosity!
It is pathetic that the ‘pious’ in the outside world fear they are committing a sin if they as much as cast a friendly glance towards those not sworn to their articles of faith! –
This is a bit of ecclesiastical, indeed ancient, practice perhaps worthy of imitation!” –
But now was not the time to expound the desired state possible on earth if men behaved tolerantly towards each other, however much the other two agreed with the speaker. There is no doubt men can get on very well as long as it does not occur to them that they can abase shamelessly their most inner convictions as wares; then each one assigns to his own acquisitions the highest value so that he becomes fierce, indignant and malicious if another one says that his acquisition is the best and that his phantom would outlast all the others. – –
The three men, following the monk, had after a few paces reached a deep niche where the miracle of Pentecost was depicted in the same artless way as the earlier torture scenes in the form of a brightly painted wood carving.
In the midst of the twelve disciples of the Anointed One was no longer enthroned the bearer of ‘glad tidings’ but his mother.
The woman had taken the place of the man!
“The eternal feminine draws us upwards,” observed in passing the youngest of the group in deep seriousness.
The monk leading the way thought the representation was a great work of art, particularly as it was so closely connected to the name of the monastery. For the fiery tongues of flames above each head signified the Paraclete, the ‘Holy Spirit’. –
Gladdened by the evident pleasure the visitors experienced in what was, in his opinion, such a ‘naturally’ fashioned representation, he led them into the refectory where the monks ate.
A solemn elegance filled this room.
On the walls they observed reasonably good Biblical frescoes from the later period of Italian art. All around were long tables covered with linen; on them were already placed before each primitive
stool a small bowl and a loaf – ready for the monk’s supper.
At the front of the room, moderately illuminated by light from three narrow, small round-arched windows, they saw below an almost life-sized depiction of the Crucified One showing the ‘Man of Sorrows’ nailed to the black crossed beams, – above his head three silver crowns, one with five, another four and the uppermost with three points, – the superior’s table. Behind it stood a tall throne instead of a stool.
Facing it, where the three windows pierced the wall along the other narrow side, a pulpit with lectern was set up in the corner. The brother explained to the three – something they all knew already – that at meal times the reader carried out his duties so that the Holy Spirit should be present when the necessary physical refreshment was being taken.
A strong, but not unpleasant smell of cooked pulses filled the whole hall. It seemed to emanate from the walls, the stools and the small pulpit and gave a quite strange contrast to the smell of incense they had encountered in the high, long corridors leading to the refectory.
As always when rooms are entered when they are not serving their proper function, so too it was here: they were glad when they could leave the hall again and felt with pleasure the fresh garden air, coming to meet them in ever more tangible wafts.
After some maze-like angular paths they arrived in the famous cloisters, a highly artistic creation of early piety and high art.
A large quadrangle was completely covered in roses; even around the thin stone columns on the balustrades which separated the wide corridor from the garden’s soil, thorny rose branches trailed up to the vaulted ceiling.
Here was truly a paradise of delight. The brothers really were to be envied if they could enjoy the pleasure of reciting their breviary here every day.
How must the heart be sweetly elevated towards the ‘rosa mystica’ in this cool promenade around a rose garden!
How close one felt here to the blessed who for ever and ever sang their ‘laudamus te’ before the throne of the Lamb.
But in the end it was not fitting for men of the world to suspect and experience for too long the delights of divine blessedness of pious monks. They had to leave this place reserved for silent contemplation and holy conversation in order to be led by their kindly smiling guide into the monastic church.
What was most noticeable here was that this church stood on top of an earlier church. In the earlier, now the crypt of the more modern church, still stood today the old pagan sacrificial altar – now cleansed of all evil and consecrated by the bishop – on which the old pagan priests of pre-Christian times brought their sacrifices to a god they called the ‘giver of life’. That god had of course, in the light of the revelation, been long ago recognised as an evil ‘devil’ and driven out of his former temple.
After all the church was now called ‘Santo Spirito’, and after it the monastery where once was a sanctuary, gazed upon with awe from all around, as the rock on which it was built was regarded as sacred and seemed as though raised from the hilly terrain by divine command. – –
“Veni creator spiritus – Come creator spirit!” quoted the youngest of the three.
“How much longer will you have us wait?!”
And the monk nodded, smiling, as he heard these words he knew so well and he could not help but conclude that the one who had uttered them was a faithful son of the Holy Church …
In God’s wisdom there were also pious souls among secular men; although it was in truth very hard for them to attain salvation, familiarity with holy sayings gave witness to the fact that one was not totally lost. –
He led the three men up a steep staircase hewn
into the rock back to the main church, a building begun in the early days of Christendom, probably completed and then destroyed in warfare. It had risen again, on each occasion taking on the style of the century, and was finally preserved in that rich baroque so often found on Italian ground, as the style betraying high-spirited holiness.
Here they were meant to wonder at many altar works; but evidently these visitors were not well versed in the arts since they found little that aroused their awe.
The Franciscan monk was almost saddened!
They could not take their eyes off a penitent Magdalena depicted naturally as a sinful woman, – a picture supposedly by a pupil of the great Titian, which would have willingly been handed over to Florentine antique dealers, had they been prepared to pay the price demanded by the Superior, – not even the young man who had cited the holy words, – so that the monk became quite disgruntled and temporarily unable to smile his friendly smile, as was his wont with such refined visitors to the monastery.
It was really a cross he had to bear with these worldly men; the devil already had half a grasp on them!
Blessed was the man having found his refuge here, like himself, to be no longer deflected by worldly lusts and pride.
Unwittingly the poor monk crossed himself …
But he soon brightened up, as it was his office duty, bringing, after all, heavenly rewards, and he uttered a quick silent prayer for these foreigners who perhaps, despite speaking the melodic language of his land, were probably ‘heretics’. He cleared his throat and showed them, with never ending explanations, the graves of the aristocratic patrons of the church in a richly adorned side chapel, he was very disappointed when this sight also found little resonance among them.
Whilst leading the strangers through the long corridors towards the exit he considered all the many dangers the Lord had protected him from. – –
Not dangers to the body, for he had never particularly bothered about them, not even when he had thrusted a dagger through the brother of his Rosetta who had finally died from his wounds. – –
Why did he have to spy on them?!
Fortunately Rosetta had, as he found out, deceived him with another so that suspicion fell upon her other lover – indeed a just ‘punishment’, – and in the darkness the furious assailant, coming to avenge the honour of his sister, had not recognised the one he aimed to stab…
For many years now Rosetta had been a good married woman, with half-a-dozen children, and she cast down her eyes chastely whenever she came up to the monastery on special festivals and was likely to meet him, Father Isidoro. – –
Yes, – it was difficult to live in the world and yet become holy! – Very difficult!
Eternal thanks were due to the Holy Virgin that she once, after he had prayed so fervently to her after the funeral of Rosetta’s brother, was merciful enough to put into his head the idea that he could still find forgiveness for his sin as a penitent brother up here in the monastery! – The suspected killer too had been released owing to a lack of proof. – –
Sunk in these thoughts he reached, with his strangers, the same doorway which allowed individual visitors in and out without opening the large gate.
Here he was once again mindful of his duty and gave his friendliest smile, accepted in God’s name the unseen donation and closed the door behind them with the same feeling St. Peter must have when leading a couple of devils through the heavenly throne rooms, finally to get rid of them…
The office of Brother Doorman was really not an easy one!
Continually dealing with profane men of the world when you had dedicated yourself to heaven ages ago – that was hard penance indeed! –
Thanks be to God! – At least they were expecting no more guests today!
The three men now walked around the extensive monastic buildings, making occasional comments upon what they were looking at. Finally they reached the outside terrace; they had heard much about the view from it.
A panorama without compare, – even in Italy, – now offered itself to their eyes.
Looking down from the steepest rocky height they surveyed an extensive hilly terrain, villages, hamlets, individual farmsteads, nestling in dark grey green like bright embroidery in dark velvet.
Occasionally the dark green was lit by silver grey patches: olive groves snuggled in the hillside.
Standing out from each of the villages was the tall campanile; the paths, roads and tracks, all leading from the plain to some piazzetta or other, were like white spiders’ legs, protruding bowed or bent into the dark countryside.
The terrain evened out on the other side and lay like a map spread before their eyes.
In the distance they saw amidst the fields and meadows something reddish yellow in colour which could have been taken on a fleeting glance to be a earth slide, had not regular angled shapes betrayed the human hand at work.
The reddish yellow, subdued by a veil of opal mist, intensified by smoke from the kitchens, spread out in the form of a town with its, on closer inspection, recognisable palazzi and thin towers. Its borders were accentuated by the dark masses of parks among which bright patches: the villas in the outer districts, glistened brightly. Black tips of cypresses or the expansive crowns of pine trees often stood out high above the villas.
High on the horizon, however, this whole picture was encircled far and wide by the visible sea, spreading greyish green, and embraced by the turquoise stretch of sky as though by an endless, distant shining wall, on which pale violet streaks of cloud sought to draw a thin edge.
Higher up the pale blue of the sky intensified, making it more and more evident that it was but a thin veil in front of the endless world-night, and high above, hidden from the eye by the light of the earthly sun over the crest, the veil was so insubstantial that you thought you could see through it the black darkness of space.
Not a sound could be heard.
The eye alone bore witness; you could easily fall into the illusion that you were standing in front of a grandiose picture rather than being a tiny bearer of consciousness in the midst of a tiny area of one of the smallest planets, moving continually and measuring its orbit in hurtling speed around the distant life-giving mother-star. – –
The three men felt inclined to tarry here for a long time in silence. Without a word of agreement they seemed at one in renouncing the original intention to carry on their conversation from yesterday at this spot, particularly as the hour now summoned
them homewards if they wanted to reach the town before dark.
They set off without delay and were astonished at how quickly they were back, down at the place where they had rested that morning.
Although they exchanged an occasional word along the rest of the way, it seemed as though none of the three could find a reason for wanting a deeper conversation.
It was as though the thoughts, just like the water from the sparse source of the morning resting place, wanted to be collected in beakers before they offered themselves up to be enjoyed. –
Silently they doubled their pace without realising. Thus it was that they had arrived back in the town much earlier than they could have previously thought.
Despite the considerable distance they had covered this day, the walkers still felt too fresh to entertain the wish to spend the rest of the day, much less the evening, alone.
So they arranged to dine together that evening and settled on a trattoria famous for its food and wine. Apart from these advantages, it had, though in the middle of town, a pergola on the edge of an extensive garden. They could thus entertain the hope of enjoying out in the open one of those delightful southern nights.
Here – they thought – they would find in the evening coolness the opportunity to catch up on the conversation that had failed them this afternoon.