UKArchive ID: 36323franciman
Originally published on March 11, 2016 in Fiction
Proof that Christ did not die on the cross was reputedly found in the old church of Rennes-le-chateau, in South West France, at the turn of the 1910s.
‘Please take a seat Father Saunier. Can we get you something? Tea perhaps, some wine?’
The priest slumped into the chair, shaking his head in refusal. Behind a wide mahogany desk, the speaker sat at ease. Cardinal Jacques Doueze, Papal Nuncio, leaned his scarlet clad elbows on the desk, interlacing the fingers of both hands in front of his face.
‘Perhaps Father Remigius might find you a bed for the night? You look exhausted Father. We could meet tomorrow?’
"Please your Eminence, it must be now. I have to...it is too heavy..’ He rested his head in his open palms.
‘As you wish my son, let it be now. But Father Remigius here will tell you I have a very busy schedule. We must be... expeditious, No?’ He gazed out the window, watching Paris take itself seriously in the April sunshine. He returned to contemplation of the young priest when it became obvious that Saunier was reluctant to speak.
‘Father?’ he whispered. The priest stared at the floor. ‘Father Saunier, the Archbishop of Toulouse asked me to see you, at your request, on a matter of pressing importance.’
‘I must speak with you alone, Eminenence,’ a hoarse whisper, ‘For the safety of my immortal soul. Your's also, I fear.’
‘Father Remigius please.’ The Cardinal gave a flick of his wrist. The secretary glanced at the taciturn priest then left. ‘Now Father, what is this grave matter you wish to tell me, eh?’
‘How would we fare without the knowledge that the Lord rose from the Dead, Your Eminence? What are we without the Resurrection?’ The Cardinal heard the edge of hysteria.
‘Your crisis of conscience is hardly important enough to take up my time, Father. My son if you have lost your faith, you must speak to your own superior,’ he said in a softer tone.
‘With the greatest respect, Eminence, it's not my faith, but our faith. The question is for the Holy Father himself.’ Realising this last had been shouted, the priest put forward his hands in supplication. He drew both palms together in the attitude of prayer. ‘Believe me Eminence, I don't want to know what I know. I want to return to the simple faith of my childhood. Until recently I could do this with ease. Such simple steps are forbidden me now.’ The whisper.was almost inaudible.
The Cardinal leaned over the desk. ‘Father Saunier, you are an ordained priest of Christ. Of course you are forbidden to return to a childhood faith; we all are.’ Jacques Doueze shook his head in exasperation. ‘We aren't here to serve mankind Saunier, we are here to serve Holy Mother Church.’ He banged a fist on the desk. ‘Now tell me what you bring to my attention, and not the whining of a child. Do not anger me further.’
In the instant, the priest shed his heavy burden. He stooped to the bag at his feet and brought out a tube of hammered metal. The tube looked blue in the light, as the priest removed a cap from one end to lift out a rolled parchment. He walked across the intervening space to place the scroll on the desk.
‘And what exactly is this Father?’ The Cardinal gestured with a beringed hand.
‘We are rebuilding the Eastern wall of my church, Eminence. We found this, and others, in a lidded recess within the old foundations.’
‘Others? You mean there are more of these?’ He peered from beneath furrowed brows.
‘Yes, Eminenence. A further six. All from the same recess.’
‘You have them here?’
‘No. I felt it prudent to leave them somewhere safe, Eminence.’
‘Safe? From whom? From me?’ The anger was plain.. ‘Do not play games with me Father. Where are they?’
‘Please Eminence.’ Saunier pinned the scroll with one hand, rolling it open with the other, ‘Please read the scroll.’ Saunier walked to the tall window looking out over the Rue Rivoli. Silence crept tiptoe into the high-ceilinged room, and the priest was aware of the Cardinal's measured breathing. The crackle of the scroll re-rolling caught Saunier's attention. The Cardinal looked pale. He took a cigarette from an ornate box on the desk.
‘Cigarette Father?’ The voice had turned old and chilled. He rang a small bell. When Father Remigius entered, both churchmen were obscured in a veil of blue smoke.
‘Father Remigius will find you a bed on the premises and I will speak with you later. Would you be so kind as to bring me a magnifying glass Father, and a comprehensive Latin dictionary? I wish to remain undisturbed until further notice.’
The Cardinal sat there, long after the two priests had left. He slumped in the chair, elbow on the desk supporting his head. With an effort he roused himself and reached for the telephone.
‘Can you put me through to Cardinal Montefalcone please? It's Cardinal Doueze, the Papal Nuncio.’ The Cardinal lit another cigarette, aware as he did so that it was the third such in less than twenty minutes.
‘Lorenzo, it's Jacques here. It has finally happened. As we have long discussed.’ The silence seemed to vibrate. ‘Et in Arcadia Ego.’ Jacques Doueze looked all of his seventy years.
One week later to the day, Father Saunier was again travelling by train. The late morning train from Paris to Toulouse. In his overnight bag was a small box of fine Belgian chocolates for Marie, his young housekeeper. Also in there was a promisory note to draw on the bank for a budget of Five Hundred Thousand Francs to rejuvenate his ailing Parish. In the same misssive was a guarantee of a further Five Million Francs to be drawn against the Vatican Bank. The priest fondled the crucifix hanging from his neck. A well dressed, elderly woman sat opposite, watching him with some interest.
Saunier pulled the crucifix from his neck. He studied the brutalised Christ lying in the palm of his hand, before tossing it through the open window.
‘You have lost your faith, Little Father?’ The old lady’s voice was full of concern, of compassion.
‘No Madame,’ he said, a beautific smile on his face. ‘I have simply lost my chains.’
Archived comments for Et In Arcadia Ego
Mikeverdi on 11-03-2016
Et In Arcadia Ego
A theme you return to, but never better than this. You at your brilliant best. It held me from the start, the description of Paris...
Well done Jim.
pdemitchell on 11-03-2016
Et In Arcadia Ego
Yo, Jim! Perfectly weighted last line to round off a well-flowed narrative. A corker, my son, he said genuflecting. Paul