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Erin Thompson

I did not always look upon the world with the same dispassion and disinterest as now constitute, in a manner of speaking, my only possessions. I used, indeed, to know the desire to be a defender of the sacred, even unto death. You see, I had a youthful zealous fondness for the operations of light in French Gothic churches, and so would haunt the corners of one Notre Dame or another for ages, watching the shadows slip from edge to edge of its notched interior – and as often as the flashings of touristic cameras obscured this architecture of shadows would I wish to set another type of light going – a pyre heap of photographic devices and even, if necessary, their owners. This sort of flickering and altogether more gentle illumination would throw, I thought, a light more congenial to the Church. At least, that was my opinion at the time; I might now be more inclined to attribute both my ardor and my distain to the fare I then ate – really, mostly drank – at student cafes – not exactly nectar and ambrosia. Not any more supping thusly, I am not so heated – and besides, I have found that works of art are quite able to protect themselves from their visitors. For instance, when loudspeakers were last tacked up in Notre Dame to pipe constant chansons, plainsongs, hymns of all sorts for tourists, that they might have a more authentic (albeit disembodied) experience, songs of a different sort than the pre-recorded soon began to play. In lyric and sound, they seemed as if composed and sung by a most peculiar type of choirboy, with voice perfectly youthfully sweet but mind grown much advanced in experience of the more salacious things of this world. All this, though, in medieval French, so that most cathedral-goers did not attend – though a few antiquated scholars did suffer fainting fits, either at the shock of what the choirboys intimated that they were enjoying in the realms to which they had absented themselves, or at an equally sudden vision of a paradise of academic fame, to be gained by a publication of these new-discovered lyrics. In either case, the affected were soon recognized and quieted by the authorities of the church, who know that professors of the mystical religions such as these are easily shamed by the suggestion that they might have undertaken to have a mystical experience themselves. The speakers were also soon taken down and disposed of with proper ceremony – given, I believe, to a church in Paris in the district most nearly coincident to the site of the houses of ill repute of the Middle Ages.

One might wonder, of course, about the fate of art in other nations not so known for such hostility towards visitors – Italy, for example, whose delicacies of the table alone put into danger those objects located on the track between lunch and dinner. The following narrative should assure you that some, at least, of Italy’s works are protected even more powerfully than those of the Church of France.
I had found it necessary to change my lodgings in Florence, after the events of which I believe that you have been apprised. Because these incidents had so much to do with what is called ‘the art world’, I determined to find a place not frequented by its members. After some thought, I remembered the isolation of the neighborhood around the church of San Pancrazio. This church lies on the lines most traversed by tourists, but somehow they always seem to be diverted, to shear off into side paths and detours. Even I on my walks – although I do not aim for all-mastery, but have merely a sort of disinterestedness leading to uniform coverage – had never before entered the neighborhood, having always found myself carried down one of the many streets that promise to approach, but in the end expel one, from the center and the church. It was only with much determination that I was this time able to find my way to the little piazza in front of the church, and indeed, I do not think it was until I had made a sort of annoyed promise to myself that I would not of my own free will enter this sanctuary, no matter how close to it I found my lodgings, since it seemed to find the possibility so repugnant, that the streets opened up and I found myself advancing right up to its door.

I did not, of course, go in; could not have, no matter what my vows, since a sign proclaimed it shut all week except for two hours on Saturday evenings, and for two months of the summer besides. This was a proclamation most suited to my own wishes, for it showed that not only was the place secured from tourists by its sinuosity of streets, but its main, and indeed only, possible attraction was quite as equally locked up, without even an appendage to tell the eager where to ring to acquire a key from the caretaker. And not only this, but below the first was tacked up another, handwritten, sign, declaring a suite of rooms to let in a building across the way. And so I came to live there, in the very house of the caretaker himself, and though he and his wife made insistent inquiry as to my reasons for stopping in the neighborhood, once they found that I had nothing to do, professionally or personally, with the church or its contents, they quite gladly took me in, and never once voiced reproval for my failure to visit their charge.

My window, though opening into a side street, faced the door of the church – to be precise, what was now its main door, though it had once been the side entrance. The main body of the church, you see, had been damaged during the war in some manner that unfit it for further sacred use, and had been mostly rebuilt by the government in a fashion suggesting some official purpose envisioned but never actually carried out, as the doors remained barred for all the time that I was there, at least, and the piazzetta in front of them stood similarly deserted. One side aisle had been exempted from this conversion, and, a pulpit introduced, the main altar moved and wedged in over the stairs to the crypt, and the former side door remade into the main, San Pancrazio resumed operations under the same name, if with a diminished property. The parishioners had similarly contracted, only over a greater space of time, as no new ones were admitted, at first out of consideration of space and then out of habit, so that now only a few, and decidedly grey-haired, were left. I could see them coming up to the door, carrying bouquets of flowers, on Saturday evenings – a wise economy operated, by which the church was open for visits in the same hours as it was open for the conduct of Mass – and rather thought that the last surviving member would use his last strength to put up on the door a notice declaring the church closed for renovations, and that it would thus remain forever locked, no one even seeking admittance – the tourist imagining the monuments draped, and the government avoiding a request to pay for this effort at upkeep.

I was confirmed in most of the above information by my landlady, the caretaker’s wife, who indeed, in so far as I could see, had assumed most of the actual duties of this caretaking. She had as well the trick of appearing in my rooms at just those moments at which I found myself looking at the church door for more than a passing glance, and she seemed to seek to lessen my interest by providing information about its object, which is indeed the method of most experienced professors. It was she who had provided the description of the reduction of the church, in tones that hinted at a rancor indicating a more complicated series of events that a mere official tidying-up of accidental aerial damage – and indeed, the secularization of the large part of a church did seem curious to me, and perhaps showed a certain withdraw of support of higher Church authorities, who do not often allow the Lord’s holdings to be so lessened. The parishioners, at least as represented in the person of my landlady, were still not reconciled with either the governmental subtractions or additions to their church. She told me, when I asked about the interior of the place, that the state had installed for a main decoration a half-life-sized statue of the Virgin and Child, in molded plastic with colors guaranteed not to fade, but that this object had recently developed a crack, running quite across both of Their faces, and that the caretaker had removed the statue to a repair shop, but whether he had lost the ticket or the address or the will, he had never yet fetched them back. My landlady said this without displeasure – indeed, even with a touch of satisfaction at a governmental object disposed of so well. For my part, I thought this and her other stories most notable for their failure to mention the most prominent object remaining in San Pancrazio – but enough will be said about this Sepulcher, in due time.

Indeed, all this is incidental, and serves only as the background for my true narrative, which began, in so far as I was concerned, at this same window of my rooms. I had seen through it one Saturday morning my landlady go into the church with her mop and bucket, and some time later my attention was again drawn to the church door, which was now open just a crack, through which a young woman appeared to be attempting to thrust her shoes. They were not very sensible shoes, and the consequence came out clearly in her voice, as she said to the door, in the sort of Italian that some tourists deem it an advantage to have, that she had been walking forever to find the place and that she would do anything to see it – including removing her shoes, so that she would not ruin the mopping, evidentially just finished. My landlady, at this, rather surprisingly, I thought, yielded, and opened fully the door; she was, however, obliged to glare at the visitor, who had been attempting to replace her shoes, and who was thus obliged to keep to her protestations.

The door shut behind them, and some time went by before it opened again to my landlady alone, who came across the street to her own house and engaged, downstairs, in muted communication with the caretaker. They both soon came up the stairs and into my room. “Could you,” they asked, “be a guide to the signorina who has just come to see the church? Her Italian is not good enough to understand the answers to the questions that she wishes to ask.” I was again somewhat surprised, but also resigned. My former host had demanded my time in the smaller measures of the courses of dinner parties, and now these hosts, until now having seemed so relatively willing to let me alone, would take their full share in one large piece. It was for this reason that I went to the church, and not, as should be clear, out of any curiosity to see its interior or the Sepulcher.

This was rather the aim of Miss Laus, who met me at the church door, having come outside because, she claimed, the inner air was a bit hard to breathe, with all its odors of sanctity and cleaning fluids, and also, in execution if not in admission, in order to put back on her shoes. She introduced herself with an insistence that I employ her Christian name, but as our subsequent interactions did not present the proper occasions for its employment, I will continue to use her fuller title. It is, though this, I must admit, is somewhat contrary to the customs of disguise attendant on such narratives as mine, her real name, and as in this story she shall be called by it by others than myself, I can find no way of changing it now. She presented me with her card, which proclaimed her to be as she looked, a professional woman connected with an American business – one of those with a vague name in which ideas of education serve to smooth a core of enjoyment – a company, I believe, of the type which promises to conduct the tourist around suitable locales during the day, but to leave his evenings strictly free. She herself appeared as a creature involved more with daytime operations – a fairly stout woman, dressed in the modern style calling for sleekness, as if to give the impression that the wearer has in this way escaped from the holds of this world. She, in turn, appraised me, but demanded no information, and turned back into the church, her heels now sounding on the marble floor. I followed, and the door shut behind us.

The Sepulcher was immediately prominent. It is, as I knew from some past researches, which will be discussed later, a sepulcher both literally and figuratively, for it is both a copy (on, of course, a reduced scale) after the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and as well the actual resting place of one Giovanni Rucellai, of Renaissance Florence – although, to be sure, he was not buried properly within the Sepulcher, for that would have been too prepossessing an imitation of Christ, but underneath it, in the crypt. A round of marble set into the floor around the back of the Sepulcher covered and marked his place, and had been made to be pried up by means of a loop set in its center in case new remains were to be added; however, in so far as I had read, this had never been done, since his family after his death had not kept to the level of those to whom burials under church floors are afforded. Rucellai had lived in the last years in which it was possible to make one’s fortune in Florence without belonging to the Medici family, who were just then beginning their rise to prominence. He had made his money, but recognizing the small probability of his children doing the same, had married them to various Medici cousins; the Medici had welcomed the fleshy additions, but not their spirit, and the family of Rucellai had been quickly subsumed into their greatness. Giovanni Rucellai would thus be remembered only as the most pedantic of footnotes to the history of Florentine banking, had not he been more discerning in his choice of artist than of artificial kinsmen. He had commissioned a man named Leon Battista Alberti, who stuck up so many and so prominent of works around Renaissance Florence that one cannot escape seeing them still, and, as they are inevitable, they have become famous, and he and his patrons with him. The most famous was just a few streets away – a new façade for Santa Maria Novella, designed by Alberti and funded by Rucellai. The square was, and is, large and frequented; the façade colorful and memorable; few tourists, whether wandering or guided, escape seeing it. It thus serves as an additional protection for San Pancrazio, for though many may delight in a glimpse of one work of an artist, few persist in seeing a second, especially when it is so much humbler and difficult of access.

But my reflections about the artist of the Sepulcher were interrupted by the reappearance of Miss Laus. She had been walking around it – which is, however, no great feat, as it is in form a rectangular structure of only about fifteen feet by ten, with a low grated door in the end closest to the church entrance, through which could be seen a wooden statue of Christ laid out on an interior ledge. Yet, though the Sepulcher was not so large in itself, the walls of the diminished church pressed rather close, and I found it difficult to imagine the aged congregation pushing past it to where the altar lay beyond. No wonder, then, that they showed themselves so unfond of art, if such a large example of it proved such a thwart to their ceremonies. This antipathy, I saw, was almost complete, for the remainder of the church was unfurnished with any figured decoration at all – now that the altar lacked its statue. There were, for decoration, only flowers – but there were these in profusion, with every possible surface heaped with bunches, all of the greatest freshness – with the dew, one would say, almost still on their petals. I thought this freshness somewhat strange, for although I saw the worshippers convening every Saturday with their offerings of flowers, what they brought on any one day would hardly have amounted to a fraction of the residing amount, and moreover this was Saturday morning, and from my window I had not seen anyone enter in a week – and these flowers were so fresh as to be almost still growing. True, though, my landlady had been here, with her mop, even before Miss Laus, and I thought that perhaps I had underestimated the horticultural activity that she carried out with that instrument. At least, I decided that what I could see from my window was most definitely not all that there was to be known about San Pancrazio; too, I resigned myself to the probability that I would come into more knowledge under the tutelage, or rather provocation, of Miss Laus.

“What a thick smell of these flowers,” this lady said, pausing in her circumambulation. “They will look perfectly lovely in photographs, but we’ll have to ban them once we open for the public – some people have such terrible allergies – and are so very indignant about even just a little bunch of roses like this –“ and she prodded with her foot the said bouquet, which was lying on the floor near the door of the Sepulcher. She quickly drew back her foot, exclaiming “Ah – well, what to expect of roses but thorns? But, has it – oh no, but look, for a moment I thought that the whole blasted bunch was covered with drops of blood, but it was only the red shining through the dew.” She then examined her foot with more signs of suspicion that it had been pierced that her optical explanation allowed for. Recovering from her stoop, she continued, “Do tell me more about this thing – why, I might even call you a scholar and make you write the pamphlet!” As she finished, whether in appreciation of her joke or to indicate the object of her request, she lightly slapped her hand against the side of the Sepulcher, from which then issued a loud, shrill ringing.

I suppose that I hardly need remind you that a loud ringing is an unorthodox sound for marble to return under any sort of stimulus. Marble is, by contrast, most usually silent, and it is this characteristic silence that so fits it for funerary use. Indeed, to this point I had heard from marble only an occasional faint scraping protest under the caresses of bejeweled touristic hands – but Miss Laus, as she quickly drew back her fingers, revealed no rings. I also suppose that you will not find it too much of an imaginative impossibility that I regarded this sound as a deterrent from further investigation of its source. Miss Laus, too, showed some hesitation; nearly, I thought, turned to leave – but instead, after a small pause, said, “What an effect! Surely we couldn’t have everyone who came give the thing a tap – it would be quite worn away – but perhaps the guide could do it, or even a visitor, if they were important enough –“ And here she reached out to administer another such tap, but, failing to demonstrate the privileges of her own importance, stopped before she touched. “It does give you something of a shock, though I really don’t know how stone would do that –“ and, to avert attention from her hesitation, she began to walk again, around the Sepulcher and into the body of the church, towards the altar.

She had evidentially come to some decision, having suffered the same doubts as to the advisedness of her presence as I had. She had not yet acquainted me with the purpose of her business – had probably thought that my landlady had done so, though, as I have said, she had told me nothing of it; however, it was evident from Miss Laus’ past comments and present construction of events that she was here as a forerunning scout for a project to bring San Pancrazio into public view – her agency undoubtedly to have its oversight. It was something of an axiom of American business of that period that obstacles were made to be overcome, and moreover that overcoming them did not usually require too deep of an inquiry into their source. Miss Laus, it seemed, had decided to make this her battle cry, and thus to take from San Pancrazio what she desired it to give, without consultation of what it might demand in return. That is, if she were truly acting on her own. It was also possible that Miss Laus was not such an indispensable member of her organization. Perhaps her superiors had already considered the dangers which she now was so eager to overlook, and had sent her on ahead, as when a group of partridges jostle each other among the underbrush until one is forced by its fellows to take flight, testing thereby for the presence and attention of the hunter.  But I must admit that Miss Laus’ status and motivations were no longer the main object of my attention; besides, whether willingly or innocently she would have taken the same course.

“Here”, she called out, “here we’ll have to put the entrance.” She was pointing to the wall at the opposite end of the church from the Sepulcher, near to the altar. “We can’t keep that door there,” – she pointed to the door through which we had come – “it’s too close to the thing – no one would pay for a ticket it they could see it from the doorway. And the ticket booth could be – here.” And she pointed very near to the altar. Diving around the back of this, she found the stairs to the crypt – “And perfect – we will be able to turn the crypt into storage, and perhaps even a little office. They can’t have buried anyone in here for centuries, no?”

I replied that I considered it unlikely that the Church had provided any burials in San Pancrazio for quite some time.

“The Church?” she asked. “Oh, I suppose you mean that there haven’t been any official burials – yes, I suppose that the neighborhood has chucked in a few bodies – but they can hardly admit to that, and so can’t protest, no? Why, I don’t think they could bury anyone rightly if they wanted – they don’t even seem to have a priest – at least, I asked the old lady if I could speak with the priest, and she said ‘No’!” And she returned to her plans for the uprooting of this so inofficious altar. My reminiscences confirmed what she had guessed, for I could not recall seeing from my window a priest ever mixed with the entering congregation. I had thought that the caretaker, perhaps, was vested with some minor religious orders and thus carried out whatever form of ceremony might hold in parishes decayed and depopulated beyond the attention and expense of a proper priest – but I now began to suspect the Church of more positive reasons for the withdrawal of her servants.

This idea, I must now insert, had come into my mind once before, when in my youth I had embarked on some research in the archives of the Vatican. Their greater purpose is not here of interest, but in my readings I came across, and could even be said to have amused myself with further research into, certain vague references to San Pancrazio – both the saint and his church. There had been events – harassment of churchmen, odours, miraculous growths, blasphemous reincarnations, disappearances – but there is hardly a church to which such events are not attached in some faintness of rumor or another, and not coming across any records of definite investigations I thought the gossip mostly the product of the fond idleness of past and present scholars. Yet – the name of the church and saint still raised these rumors above the common level for me, for not only did San Pancrazio – Saint “All-Powerful” – seem to me a somewhat presumptuous appropriation of one of the canonical and jealously guarded attributes of the Christian God, but I could find no hagiography of this saint, nor any other mention of him besides the bare fact of his church, which moreover seemed to have existed in the same place – with, of course, various remodellings and expansions – as far back as did the records. This last fact did not, however, much impress me, as I was finding from the frustration of my own research that fragmentation and even disintegration of the records was no very unusual state of affairs, and so I did not feel obliged to propose, for example, that San Pancrazio was the site of a mysteriously though tenuously continuous pagan cult, only marginally tolerated within the Church – an interpretation that certain scholars and ghost-story writers are ever fond of making.
These reflections of mine, though not new, had taken some time, but I found that Miss Laus was still standing at the far end of the church. The sanctuary, as I have said, was very simple, both in itself and in its furnishings, and even the most foredreaming of business-women would have found little to hold her fancy in the plain altar and few chairs there – especially once she had uprooted them, in imagination, in favor of contrivances much more profitable for speculation. She could have been admiring the flowers, but she was most careful not to have any touch her as she, seeing my attention, came towards me, moving along the narrow path left free of bouquets – I had not realized, before, just how many flowers there were on the floor. She came towards me, avoiding looking at the Sepulcher – this repugnance was, I think, the cause of her lingering – but she had made her decision, and was evidently going to deal with the thing, impressing me into use as a mediating agent.

“Tell me more about the artist,” she said, joining me at its front. “There must be something human – I mean, some human interest – in that.” I thought, and then replied that there wasn’t much more to say, especially since he had hardly mentioned at all the Sepulcher in his surviving letters or manuscripts – nothing more except to say that he was proud of its inscription, for which he had designed a special lettering, as well as making some emendations to the text. What I had been thinking in the pause before I replied was something like this: the first scholarly flower of the Italian Renaissance had distained the methods, though not the desires, of the medieval magicians. Such procedures had begun to seem overly physical, the results of the guesses of common sense instead of the refinements of intellect. To put it in another way, with a fitting mix of metaphor and facticity, the Medieval went in for hydromancy, while the Early Renaissance preferred to divine in ink. Alberti was one such thinker; however, what he or his associates did or found in their researches is unrecorded, and the magical practices of the later Renaissance quickly relapsed into what had been considered the mere mummery of the Middle Ages. Such silences and degradations might indicate ashamed failure on the part of these scholarly magicians, but I had found that it is precisely failure in magic which is voluble, glad to make known its confirmation of the separation of the unknown from our efforts. My researches had found, as well, in the library of the Vatican as in other places, that the records of some attempts, more subtle and serious ones, always reached a point of silence and even of excision. I had hypothesized that perhaps silence was a sign of success, that a lack of followers showed that all researches had been satisfactorily concluded, but though I had plunged into to darkest library cupboards and dullest collected documents in search of more information, I had never found anything to support my suppositions, and ended, as I have said, thinking myself imaginative and over-eager and the losses the accidental faults of careless librarians. I even, in my then fervor, had taken to investigating things that seemed innocuous but were not mentioned as much as was their due – over which I imagined that secrecy might have fallen. One of these things was the Sepulcher. I have mentioned my researches about its church, but I should now say that they began as a result of my finding it curious that hardly any mention of the Sepulcher was to be found in the copiously surviving documental remains of Alberti, though in the cases of his other works he so sedulously recorded the reactions of patron and public. He had mentioned the Sepulcher only in a letter to Sigismondo Malatesta, a man later prosecuted by the Church for being a magician and suspected by the populace of being the Devil himself. Alberti had written to him of the inscription what I had related to Miss Laus. Alberti was a vain man, and I was now, standing before this his work, beginning to think that perhaps his mentions of his plans for its inscription were the peaks of his love of renown coming up through a deep submerging silence of necromancy. But these were conclusions of my own private thoughts, and so I told Miss Laus only of the facts of the letter.

“Oh yes, the inscription. It’s so prominent – it draws the eye – but I can’t quite – well, you know, “little Latin” and all – I can’t quite read it. Would you be so kind?” And she was off around the corner before I could nod assent, but as the space was so small, I thought that she would be able to hear my voice, no matter where she stood, and so I began to read. The inscription, as I have said, runs in one line around the entire monument. This position meant that to read it I would have to circle the Sepulcher myself, and this would mean moving from the spot in which I had fixed myself ever since entering the church, but I did not hesitate. To read was the request of Miss Laus, and her requests for guidance were already granted by the caretakers, and as far as anyone could transmit requests from San Pancrazio, it must be them; and besides, there was a new calm in the church, a new quiet, as if some faint but persistent noise of rubbing and rustling had ceased. It was in this atmosphere of undivided attention that I began to read.

I confess that I thought, besides, that I would be penetrating no great mysteries in reading this inscription, as I thought that I already knew what it would contain. Across the front, over the little door, the first words were “quaeritis Nazarenum,” that is, “You seek Jesus Christ of Nazareth…”, and I knew these to be the first words of the address, recorded in the book of Mark, of the angel stationed in the tomb of the risen Christ to the women come to anoint the body of their Lord, disappointed of their object. Indeed, as I moved to the right flank, the speech continued, and I read aloud, in the Latin and then translating. The lettering was ornate, but clear, and “who was crucified; he is risen” took up the whole of the side. I was somewhat surprised when I came to the back, for the order of the words seemed to have been changed. In Jerome’s Vulgate, the rest of the verse runs “non est hic ecce locus ubi posuerunt eum,” which is to say “he is not here; behold the place where they laid him” – the angel presumably then pointing to the slab on which the body of Christ had reposed for its short period. On the Sepulcher, though, the back had written on it “ecce locus ubi posuerunt eum”, thus skipping over a phrase. I thought that perhaps the order had been changed to accommodate the shorter space, with the desirable side effect of pointing out the tomb of Rucellai, which thus lay beneath this command to look; however, I kept this last observation to myself, thinking it perhaps of too much human interest to avoid being shared with multitudes of tour-takers. In any case, as I moved to the last side, I found the misplaced clause. The necessary attention to my changeable reading kept me from noticing Miss Laus’ absence, for I did not see her, although I had assumed that she would wait for me on this side of the Sepulcher, at the end of the inscription. Strangely, instead of “non est hic”, the Latin ran “hic est laus”, which would be “in this place there is fame”. I supposed that that was true, for fame would accrue to a place in which Christ once was – fame enough even to give rise to a replica of this place in another – but still it seemed a strange, and rather presumptuous emendation – but I did not have much time to think of it, for another sound was coming from the Sepulcher.

This sound proved to be much more explicable, as proceeding from a definitely visible, organic source – namely, Miss Laus herself – for, as I moved to the front of the Sepulcher and stooped to look in through the grating of its door, I saw her flung out on the interior slab, in place of the wooden Christ whom I had thought there, and groaning. My mind still running on the inscription, I thought its changes to be now somewhat justified, for in this place there was indeed “laus”; however, such thoughts were quickly superceded by my concerns to get her risen from it. She heard me, and lifted her head to look, and though her eyes did not quite seem to see me, she still bumped down from her ledge and crawled over to the door, where it took much forcing on both our parts to open again the grate. Once standing outside, she came more to herself, at least to the extent of feeling it necessary to give excuses for her behavior – although they sounded like the illogical reasons that those awakened from hypnotism will give to explain their performance of suggestions implanted while in the trance. “I just,” she said finally, “wanted to se how it felt – to have the experience.” I could only reply that I hoped that not all future visitors to the Sepulcher would wish to replicate the experience of being crucified and buried. She revived a little at the mention of these future visitors, but was dispirited again by the time she answered: “Oh, but I fear they must, for it’s so very overpowering of a wish I felt to go inside. But now, for the last, we must go to the real inhabitant of the tomb itself – for this Christ and upper part is just a covering for the rest!” And taking me by the sleeve she led the way around the side of the Sepulcher, towards the back, where there was the covering slab for Rucellai’s grave.

No longer, now, did Miss Laus feel compunctions about the flowers, which had encroached upon the floor almost up to the sides of the Sepulcher, and now curled about her ankles as she stumbled among them, supporting herself by dragging her hand across the side panels of the marble. It now issued no sound – though the rustling had started up again, and much more pronouncedly – but there were other changes. The panels she touched were squares, placed below the inscription, and on each was the same emblem repeated. I knew this, from my reading, to have been a large ring, several handbreadths in diameter, through which were entwined feathers – the resulting design combining the family emblems of the Rucellai ring and the Medici plumes; however, as I saw it now, passed beneath the trailing hand of Miss Laus, the ring became more a solid circle, and the feathers appeared more petals and tendrils, and, moreover, in motion, as if writhing around the outline of the ring. But she still pulled me on – though I did not desire to see more.

We came to the back of the Sepulcher, and she asked me ‘Where is it?” I pointed to the floor, to the covering slab for Rucellai. There I saw the source of the changed emblem, for around the ring of the stone writhed escaping ruddy strands. Miss Laus fell on her knees before this roiling and pulled at the loop in the stone’s center, and either she or what was beneath wrenched up the slab and flung it aside. It showed itself then – it was the stripped unfolding center of a rose; it was the opened beating entrance to a heart; it was the glistening tendrils of a sea anemone, curled back to feed. She knelt before it and stretched down her hands.

Semele and Saul stand as proof that epiphanies, no matter how charitable, often overcome the very senses to which they had meant to show themselves. I, in the end, whether because of the intentions of the epiphanizer or because I had turned away – indeed, had been turning away from the instant in which I saw the disturbed slab – proved to be more like Saul, for though I was blinded and deafened and shocked out of clear memories, after a time I recovered both my senses and my reason. I was sitting propped up on a bench in the little piazza at the proper front of the church, with my suitcase beside me, and the light of the morning had not much diminished, and so I think that not much time had passed since I had gone into or out of the church. Miss Laus, I fear, took more after the example of Semele. At least, she was not to be seen outside of the church, nor did she emerge from it; and though I think I may be forgiven a reluctance to reenter it in search of her, I was satisfied enough that, just as I began again to satisfactorily see, I saw my landlady dart across the road to the church, carrying her mop and an especially large bucket of water, intending to repair, one might assume, the damages to her this morning’s cleaning. She would hardly let Miss Laus remain inside, if she were still there.

The English-speaking community of Florence is a small one, and much thrown together, no matter how transient or unwilling, but I never came across Miss Laus again. Neither did I hear of any further plans to turn San Pancrazio into a touristic way-station, nor even of any of her associates come to search her out or inquire about her disappearance. Perhaps they took literally her business’ assertion that ‘travel is escape’. To be sure, I no longer had my window vantage-place to witness any close reconnoiters, for when I came to myself in the piazza, there was a note beneath the handle of my suitcase to the effect that my books would be forwarded to any address I might give and that no charge would be demanded for my lodgings, because of the sudden necessity of removing me from them. I had been installed there for less than a month. An ailing aunt or visiting grandchild might have been adduced as the preemptor of my space, but I no longer remember, since I thought it quite probable that I had been sought for soon after some preliminary communication from Miss Laus, and having filled my purpose as her guide, had come to the end of my ability to give recompense for a stay in the neighborhood. My landlords, it seemed, were most attentive caretakers of San Pancrazio – and indeed, I think that in my blindness it was one of them who half guided, half propelled me out of the church. In any case, I was out now – of the church, and soon out of the neighborhood, as I took up my suitcase and walked – and out forever, too – at least, I have never yet gone back, and doubt that I would be able to find my way to the church door, even were I desirous. I have often since thought of the difference between my fate and that of Miss Laus, of my researches and her investigations. Perhaps I will tell you some time of my conclusions.