Alchemist Gift – Witches to Saints
Alchemist Gift continued: Father Silva was caught up in a swirl of excited parishioners pushing their way across the square to the Provost office. A bobbing crowd, some in prayer and others wiggling forward and insistent on being the first to see the miracle, already blocked the portico that lead into the court yard of the civic buildings. He heard the word “miracle” enter the different conversations several times.
Father Silva broke free; out of the corner of his eye he saw Monsignor Petri , Sergeant Gagliardi, Vito and Vincenzo Rizzo along with a half a dozen youngsters all standing in a circle looking down. Silva walked briskly toward the men. He felt it proper to have the monsignor with him when he witnessed the miracle.
Petri looked up at Father Silva. “Look Eduardo, there lies the voice of the church,” one of the boys tried to move the bell with his foot. “It seems lightning does strike the same place twice.” he had a twinkle in his eye.
“Our bell, this is awful.” Silva, with a knitted brow, knelt down and placed his hand on the bell; it was still warm. Irritated, he pushed the boy’s foot away from the bell, and then sternly added: “You children go back to your families, now.” Father Eduardo shooed them away with both arms. The children reluctantly obeyed at first. The oldest, a lad of eleven, clapped his hands and took the lead. The boys laughed and shouted as they held out their arms like wings and zigzagged across the square, running through every puddle they could on their return to their families.
“You know, it nearly struck the bishop and me; a few feet to the left would have been very unfortunate for us. It is good to know the lord watches over his servants. Speaking of whom, have you seen the bishop?”
“Yes, I just came from the rectory; he, the mayor, Patriarca and his doctor are there. I am to go to the Provost’s office. They say there is a miracle. Bianca Molino, she is cured.”
“No longer a witch, eh?” Petri smiled. “I’ll walk with you; the Provost’s office is much closer than the rectory.”
Father Silva didn’t quite know how to take the monsignor’s flip comment about Bianca Molino no longer being a witch. There was just enough playfulness in his tone to cause the young priest to pause. This was sacred business; it dealt not only with the lives of the five women but their immortal souls. Eduardo always carried the self-doubt about his fitness, or for that matter the fitness of any mere man to pass judgment on another human being. Of course he understood there must be penalties for breaking any of the commandments; after all, those are the words of God.
In seminary he held back sharing his thoughts during lecture, or even admit to having them. Is it a sin not to heed one’s calling? Were not these women called to become witches as he was called to become a priest; and since God has created everything; and everything God has created is good, how can one who follows the path given to them by our lord be bad or evil? Who is more to blame; the person who claims to practice witchcraft or the person who seeks out the witch?
The two men walked with their hands clasped behind their backs and their gazes on the ground just ahead of them. Silva had to check his pace not to get ahead of the lumbering monsignor. The young priest mulled these pestering questions over as he walked. Petri’s concerns were more venial; he hoped there would be a nice fire and some brandy in the Provost’s office.
A boisterous crowd, now forty or fifty people deep, surged against the barred door that opened on to the civic buildings. Sergeant Gagliardi along with Vito and Vincenzo Rizzo jogged ahead and vigorously cleared a path through the noisy and jostling faithful. The collection of curious men and women called to, and reached out trying to get the attention of the two clergymen as they struggled through. The opening immediately closed behind them as the men pushed all the way to the front door of the Provost’s office. The remaining guards, the escorts for the condemned earlier that day, were stationed at the front door; halberds crossed. The men gave Gagliardi a look of relief at seeing him and the two cousins.
“Open for the Monsignor and Father Silva.” Gagliardi yelled at the closed door. One could hear the sound of the bar being raised and the door opened no more than to see who was there. Upon recognizing his uncle, Carmen opened the door and quickly pulled the men in. Gagliardi along with Vito and Vincenzo and the two guards felt the brunt of the crowd as it pushed in against them. Those at the forefront tried to steal glimpses of the women and the more rowdy were roughly turned away as they tried to gain entrance.
Once inside, Petri and Silva with the massive door secured behind them saw their witches. The rain washed their faces clean and their hair was dry and neatly combed. Their clothing was clean and their faces were no longer so pale and careworn. They barely resembled the hated heretics who were going to be burnt to death that very morning. They were sitting on a bench Marta and Cinzia brought in from an adjoining waiting room and placed in front of the hearth.
Trance-like they ate steaming porridge that Cinzia prepared. Not one of the women looked up at their accusers. The little iron caldron that contained the porridge was sitting on the hearth stones very close to the fire. There was a bowl of apples and some candied figs in a basket sitting on a side table well within reach of the women.
Monsignor Petri and Father Silva stood in front of the hearth to warm themselves. They cast a wide shadow over the women. They could see it; a faint luminescence, that could not be ignored, surrounded the women and the glow was exceptionally strong and bright around Bianca Molino who sat at the center of the bench. The women on either side of her gave her loving, sidelong glances. The clergymen saw the light and stood in silent wonder. The monsignor’s lips parted and his eyes opened wider. Father Silva felt a shiver of joy fill his entire being. The two men eagerly looked into the eyes of each woman and were incapable of saying a word. The women looked up with expressions of calm and serene love.
The monsignor finally broke the spell by clearing his throat. Without a word he nodded to Eduardo and they headed off to the adjoining waiting room and closed the door. Once inside neither of them spoke for a moment. The young priest could not contain his excitement. “You saw it, yes? You saw the halos?”
“I saw something.” was the guarded reply. “We should send for the bishop. He knows so much better what to do.”
“Monsignor, can we really wait for him? We must do something to protect these blessed women.”
Before the monsignor could answer, the sound of breaking glass, shouts and chaotic noises filled the Provost’s Office. For a long few minutes the room resonated and then the noises abruptly stopped. It was obvious to the clergymen that the crowd had broken through and entered the room. Father Silva headed for the door. He was checked by the monsignor, who through great effort grabbed onto the young man’s arm.
“Don’t be foolish, nothing good can come if we interfere with such a crowd. I am going to remain here, I suggest you do the same, we must be very quiet.” For once the monsignor’s words had gravity.
“Stay if you like. We may be the only authority here. Who knows what has happened to Gagliardi and his guards? We must do something!” That said, Eduardo Silva broke the rather loose hold Petri had on his arm, opened the door and stepped into the room. To his surprise the room was empty. The women were gone, anything that was lying loose was gone, even the bench was gone.
Father Silva turned back to the room he just left. A bit disgusted with his superior, he called to him. “Nothing to fear, everyone is gone. You may come out now.”
The monsignor looked past Eduardo into the empty room. He entered and surveyed the damage. “They took the candle sticks, the ink well, even the pen, and the drapes from the windows. Oh my, oh my.” his casual tone returned. He sighed, “It looks to be out of our hands now.”
Father Silva shook his head slightly and left the monsignor whose farewell was a shrug of his rounded shoulders. Once outside he saw Gagliardi and his guards standing off to one side conferring. Each man was injured, Carmen, the worst with missing teeth and had a swollen jaw.
“What has happened?” Silva addressed Gagliardi.
Gagliardi shook his head and let out a very uncharacteristic chuckle.
“I have seen many things over the years, but I have never seen anything like this. The Provost’s Office emptied out. This mob of idiots hoisted the bench up above them, put the witches, who I think are now saints, on it, and carried the whole lot of them back to the square.” He turned and pointed. Silva and Petri and the guards looked past the broken down door and watched a now reverent and sober procession lead by Bianca Molino whose head was bowed and hands clasped in prayer. Bianca was followed by her four comrades and a host of new disciples.
The women were escorted up the steps of the dais. Half a dozen men and women fought for the honor of having their cloaks or shawls used to cover the rain soaked armchair and side chairs so recently reserved for the contessa and the churchmen. With great respect Bianca Molino was placed in the center, flanked by Monica Longo and Aurora Tocini on the right and Marias Cutri and Lillo on the left.
The crowd stood before the women and talked in hushed tones. More and more people added themselves to the gathering. Father Silva, Gagliardi, his men and the monsignor also came forth not as those in authority but now as children of God. Everyone waited until the last stragglers, which included Renaldi and DiMars, joined the rest.
“Show us, show us the miracle.” called out Alberto Superchi, a dealer in perfumes.
The request was repeated in a gentle and coaxing way by more and more people.
Bianca stood up. She untied the straps at the shoulders of her dress and let it fall to her feet. She stood naked; her face was raised to the heavens, her arms lifted up in a sign of prayer. “In the name of God I show his divine gift to me. I am no longer unclean.” It was true, her sores were gone; her pain was gone. Her skin was free of scars. From the belfry a white dove flew down and circled her three times, then flew straight up into the sky and out of sight. People dropped to their knees. Prayers were said and offerings, such as coins, were tossed to the dais. Even the coins that rolled off into the crowd, instead of being kept were tossed back onto the stage.
If the white dove wasn’t sign enough, Carmen Testo, the young man who escorted Bianca to the stake, balanced himself on the bell to make himself a head taller than everyone and turned to the crowd. “It is true; I had not the courage to even touch her when I took her to the stake, and now she is clean. It is true!” He pointed to Bianca and the crowd broke into applause and hurrahs. Bianca looked down on the people before her as if it was the first time she saw them. In a fit off modesty she let out a surprised whimper, covered herself with her hands and quickly turned her back to those watching. The other women on the dais sprang from their places, excepting Aurora Tocino as God did not feel a need to restore her reason, and stood in front of Bianca Molino. They helped her dress and calmed her fear of immodesty. They concluded she was in the state of grace and therefore unable commit a sin. Reassured with this reasoning she returned to her seat and accepted, with an open heart and humility, the reverence being shown her.
While this was happening, Bishop DiMars and Mayor Renaldi were pushing their way through the crowd. When they reached the steps of the dais and started to climb them they were met with catcalls and boos.
Bianca Molino held up her hand and the crowd stopped. Before the bishop or the mayor could speak, Bianca spoke. “I thank almighty God for the miracle he has bestowed upon me. From this day forth please let it be known that my four sisters and I will be known as the Sisters of Mary and Jesus.” She looked over her shoulder up at the bishop who was standing behind her. “Will you give us your blessing, your eminence?”
DiMars thought of many things to say to discredit her and many things to say to justify his actions as he was making his way through the crowd. All of his rhetoric fell away like petals from a dying flower. He acquiesced to the wishes of the many and gave Bianca and her four sisters his blessing. The people in the square cheered and called out the name “Bi-an-ca, Bi-an-ca, Bi-an-ca…”
The Alchemist Gift is a book about the lives of people in the Renaissance and the alchemy that brought them together with its repercussions on our modern-day hero, Roland.
I am writing the novel Alchemist Gift online in real time. I will share a few paragraphs of the book with each blog. I am still writing the book. I’d like to know how you like what you are reading. Please use the comments section to share. If you make suggestions in your comments, I may incorporate your ideas into the book. We hope you will enjoy the process as much as I do, follow the saga and share it with your friends and colleagues.
2013 Mark D. Giglio, www.theartofgiglio.com
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