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Erin Thompson 
– THREE LAST SUPPERS AND ANOTHER


The modern tourist, I have found, tends to pursue one of two pleasures of travel - that of art, or that of food. The two aims are often antithetical. Thus ones often sees many unhappy pairs who are companions both for the great voyage of life and for those smaller temporal travels that make up a married existence, so that one flits from work of art to work of art while the other takes every chance to enquire whether it is yet time for dinner and, if it is not, whether it is possible to stop for an ice, or perhaps some coffee - which after all is an Italian specialty, just as is the Renaissance.

Still more exquisite are the tortures of the one who combines these loves within himself. In the Ufizzi, he thinks of the fiori di zucca for sale in the little alley behind this august gallery. At lunch, he despairs that he can eat every day, but not so often see the Madonna of the Long Neck.

Thus it was that I was surprised one day to come across a neat, though, as you might decide when you have heard its result, rather blasphemous solution to these difficulties. It was late summer and the city so full of tourists that there seemed to be not even room enough for a ghost to squeeze its way among them; I had accordingly spent my morning in a bookstore, consulting guide books to see what locations they did not advise their various audiences to attend. All manner of churches, collections, monasteries, factories, and so on were mentioned, but I at last concluded, to my great satisfaction, that the refectory of the ex-convent of Sant’Apollonia was nowhere alluded to, and so that is where I went.

Nothing is left of this convent besides the refectory, where the nuns used to have their supper. One can visit it, putting a few coins into the basket of the caretaker, in order to see, preserved on one wall of that spacious room, a frescoed Last Supper by Castagno. Last Suppers are the common decoration of refectories, so that monks or nuns might imagine themselves devotedly at that most religious of meals; Castagno has made the devotion more enticing by showing the Apostles delicately eating cherries, which are of course symbolic but which one also may imagine were not too frequent an offering on the monastic menu.

The refectory is usually empty, apart from a pair of bird who make frequent visits, explains the caretaker, in hopes of finding some crumbs - but today, as I came in a little before lunch-time, there was instead a great bustle of workmen setting up a long table and arranging baskets and dishes of food. A group of well-dressed men speaking in English stood at the center of things, and in the center of them was a fair and handsome young man who saw me and called out, "Say, you there! Won't you join us?"

I had been just about to go out again, disgusted that my refuge had been overtaken, but the young man detained me, introducing himself as Cristian, and explaining his purpose and invitation as this - that he and a group of friends, having come to Florence to taste both its food and its art, had found the experience of both so uncomfortably crowded - since restaurants, as well as museums, persist in admitting the greatest number of possible guests, and sometimes even more - that they had arranged to have a private viewing and a private feast both at once, in the refectory, which had been chosen both for its unpopularity and its appropriateness.

"I and my friends are 12," he continued, "and at first we had intended to be all apostles, but when they saw how much of the thing I had arranged, they insisted upon elevating me, so to speak, since, as you know, Christ was the host, or at least, the organizer, of his last supper. But then it didn't seem right to have only eleven apostles, and no one would be Judas, because he has to sit on the far side of the table, and everyone was afraid that the dishes would be eaten up by the time that they got passed around to that far exilee. We asked our waiters, but they all refused - probably think that they can eat more over at the food baskets while we aren't looking than they would get served at table - but anyway, just then that man appeared in our hour of suffering, and agreed to take Judas' place -" He pointed to the table, which had by now been erected, and, sitting on its far side, was indeed a pale little man, rather soft and round, whom I had not seen upon entering.

"A rather strange sort of man," added Cristian. "Hasn't said a thing - but at least he's nothing like that!" He pointed up at the fresco, which showed, as is the usual arrangement, a long table with Jesus and his faithful apostles sitting all on one side of it, and only Judas, on the other side, the one closest to the viewer (who is thus reminded that he is closer, and more akin to, Judas than Christ). Castagno had painted Judas with sharp-curled dark hair and a cruel face. Unlike the apostles, sitting on marble benches, Judas is perched on a wooden stool, his legs dangling above the floor. Although he sits across from Christ, he ignores him, gazing in a day-dreaming way out across the table. Though his face is slack, his hand has sprung up in a gesture of aversion – to Christ? to something he imagines will soon make itself known from the regions over which he is suspended? His ear is curiously thickened and pointed at the tip, so that it resembles that of an ancient satyr.

Cristian interrupted my thoughts. “But just when we had found our Judas, and settled which roles we others would play, my friends began to complain about sitting down to a table of thirteen - even though this, with 12 Apostles plus one Master, is the authentic number - and so I promised that I would ask the next person that I saw to join us. So won’t you eat with us? You could be the Holy Spirit or a recording angel or anything else that you can imagine. In any case, you will be well fed, since I have ordered enough to make this a fitting final meal for any number of divinities.”

I agreed. I wished to be amiable. Besides, to look at the Castagno in company with thirteen others was far better than the thirteen hundred others I would have found for companions at any other spot in Florence that day, and so we sat at the table, crowded in on one side so that Judas could have the other. It was a cheerful meal in that bright, white-washed, de-sanctified refectory; there was lamb, of course, that Christ-ordered constituent of the original Supper, but also a great deal of others dishes since, as Cristian explained, He had undoubtedly left the rest of the meal up to His waiters, and as such, we could trust ours to make similar selections. The benevolent personages of the fresco presided over us and looked almost equally like a mere gathering of friends, got together to talk out something of interest - Castagno is not the most spiritual of painters, and had illustrated his subject very much more like an ordinary supper than a Last one. With such a secularized Supper, there was nothing to disturb the merriment - except our Judas.

True to his original silence, he said nothing during the meal. Perhaps this was because he did not know enough English, which was the principal language of our conversation, but neither did he speak to the Italian waiters. What was stranger still was that he did not eat. Every dish was passed to him - still heaped high, despite the pretended fears of short rations on the other side of the table - but he refused every one with a slow shake of his head.  

"Poor devil," said Cristian, upon noticing this. "He seems to have some idea that one of the conditions of our feast is that he mustn’t share in it." But despite the encouragement of the company, our Judas would not so much as take a sip of water. And yet he examined each dish with a gourmandizing intensity, giving little nods of approval to, I remember, the appearance of some particularly fine just-ripe figs and to the olive oil which Cristian was explaining had come from a friend’s estate in the Tuscan hills. Indeed, the most marked expression which I saw appear on the face of Judas – I find that I must call his this, for he was so silent that his name was unknown  – was a moment of shocked disgust when one of the Apostles insisted on adding salt to what everyone else proclaimed a perfectly seasoned arrosto. Judas was particular in his tastes, even when he was not indulging them.

The end of the meal was marked by Cristian insisting that we partake of biscotti dipped in sweet wine – “This may not be my body,” he said, indicating the one, “but Lord knows that the other makes up a significant portion of my blood –“ and here he finished the rest of the wine. The caretaker soon came to hasten our departure, accompanied by the pair of sparrows who swooped in exultant circles to see that for once, the crumbs were not painted, and in the bustle of departure I noticed that Judas was no longer in the room. I had hoped to speak with him, or to find if he could communicate by some more comprehensive method than nodding his head, for he had the aura of a person who had seen things that I desired to see. But there was not a trace of him in the refectory or in the street outside, as if he had been packed into one of the baskets carried by the departing waiters.


* * * *


Before the Apostles had parted, Cristian had declared our meal to be so amusing that it should be a First supper, not a Last. Accordingly, a few days later we met, as promised, in the refectory of the convent of San Marco, which Ghirlandaio had painted. Ghirlandaio was under the patronage of the Medici, who sometimes came to dine with the monks for the good of their souls – but, like most rich folk who attempt to do so, they could not bear to save themselves in a crude environment. Thus Ghirlandaio spent more time painting an elaborate peacock who hangs out of a window over Christ’s head than that central Figure himself, and Saint John has fallen asleep on the table in a manner which gives the distinct impression of a blue-blood having consumed too much wine for his own good. Even the Judas looked merely unpleasant, like a quarrelsome neighbor come to complain about the noise and persuaded, rather against his will, to stop and take a glass with the company.

Facing this fresco, our meal was at first even more pleasant than the former one, the main difference being that the lamb was served as a ragù instead of roasted. Even Judas had reappeared, much to the Apostles’ joy – and astonishment, as they all asked each other who had managed to find and invite him, and no one would claim the credit. Cristian teased him about having bribed the waiters to tell him where we would be, but to each inquiry as to how he had known of our supper, he shook his head with a frown that grew deeper and deeper, until a chill fell over the company.

Again he sat silent and abstinent, looking passionately at each dish as he waved it away. Between times, he glowered down at his empty plate. Though the weather was warm, with the heat of the sun penetrating even to the thick-walled inner chamber where we sat, Judas wore a voluminous black cloak of woolen material. His face, now that I had more leisure and curiosity to examine it, was plump, almost fat – strange in a man of his temperate habits – and his cheeks twitched every now and again with some sort of inner effort. He was not a man of great stature – far closer to the size of the waiters who seethed around the table with their trays of food than Cristian and his friends, all tall and lean, like athletes in their light summer suits.

But Judas was not to rest in silence for the whole of the meal. Around the time the coffee was brought out, Cristian tired of the conversation he had been having with his Apostles – something very un-Christlike about some young women they had encountered the evening previous on the steps of the Duomo – and addressed Judas, asking “What would Judas have talked of during the Last Supper?” Cristian was the only one among them who did not believe that our Judas was mute; rather, he acted as if Judas were merely silent out of bad temper, and needed to be coaxed into the conversation.

Judas did not reply, and the sleepy-headed youth who was sitting the Cristian’s left, in the place of St. John, murmured that Judas had probably talked about food and girls, just as they were doing, since he had rebelled against all of Christ’s serious-minded discussion about the spiritual life.

“Then our Judas” – Cristian leaned across the table and poked at Judas’ chest – “must talk about the spirit, since we Apostles have been sadly neglecting our roles, chatting away about girls and food!” The Apostles groaned, and indeed it is rather much to ask anyone to attend to a sermon over coffee. Cristian relented and said “Very well then, not the Spirit – but what about spirits? Tell us a ghost story, Judas, please.”

Judas hesitated, looking into Cristian’s face for long moments until a waiter swooped in to remove a platter from Judas’ side. As if involuntarily, Judas’ hand darted from his lap and pinned the dish to the table. The waiter took a startled step backwards, and Judas looked at him, and then down at his own hand, whose fingers were reaching and rubbing in the slick of oil left behind by the food it had held. Judas jerked his hand from the dish, furiously wiped it on his napkin, and flung both napkin and dish to the floor.

The waiters hurried to clean the broken pieces, pushing aside a thin white dog who had materialized from the shadows and was seeking to lick the floor. Judas seemed ready to lapse into inactivity again, but just as his chin was on the point of touching his chest in a sullen slouch, he looked up at me.

“For you, I will tell a story,” he said to me. “These others are fair, but they lack seriousness. You know what this world is like, and what the next world promises. And so I will tell you the story of the lamb of Hadrian.” He spoke in a formal Italian, with as sonorous and old-fashioned of phrasing as if he had learned to speak it by reading only Pietro Aretino and his brother Humanists of the Renaissance in full flower. His voice was low and cracked, as if not often used. A waiter brought him a glass of water, but he waived it away.

“Hadrian, Emperor of the Romans, was a luxurious man,” Judas began. “Not as spoiled as those whom he had followed, like the Emperor Tiberius, who would give young slaves to his dinner guests to treat as they willed, or as sinful as those who followed him, like Commodus, who killed a hundred lions and their trainers in the arena in a single day. But perhaps Hadrian was worse than these, for his luxury was secret. When it was day, he would give orders to his generals and converse with his architects about the great public projects they were carrying out in all the cities of his empire. When it was night, he would ask his philosophers to teach him their wisdom, and then he would sleep alone in a simple bed in a plain room. But in between, when the sun was setting, every day he caused to be put before him a young creature, alive. He would touch its softness and sport with it, for all young creatures are frolicsome, but just at the moment when it lost its fear and looked at him with loving eyes, he would plunge into its belly a silver knife and hold it while it bleed. And when its eyes could no longer see him, Hadrian would give the creature to the old crone who had brought it, who was the only one who knew his secret, and she would roast it over the flames of his fireplace, and Hadrian would eat it. Kid or calf or fledgling – it mattered not to Harian, as long as it had eyes in which he could see it love him.”

“One setting of the sun, in the spring when lambs are born, the old woman brought one of these creatures to Hadrian. Its fleece was white as snow, but streaked with the dirt of the field where she had stolen it from, and it was so young and weak that it could not yet stand.”

“’Woman,’ Hadrian said. ‘This lamb that you have ripped from its mother’s womb is not yet alive. Bring it to me again tomorrow, that I may enjoy it then.’ But he stroked its fleece, and felt the soft inner surface of its hooves before she wrapped the creature back into her apron and carried it away.”

“The next setting of the sun, the lamb was placed before the emperor once again. It rested on the table before him, its fleece shining from the combs and ointments the old crone had used upon it, and its body smelling sweetly like the milk she had caused to be fed to it. But still it would not stand. It reclined before Hadrian, with its legs tucked under its breast, and as he gently touched it, the lamb turned its head towards him and said, ‘Oh Hadrian, your cruelties will be visited upon you.’”

“And Hadrian beat the old woman, who was kneeling by the fire, accusing her with great wrath of having spoken to him with disrespect. And when he had finished, and she lay weeping on the floor, he cast the lamb at her and said, ‘Bring this lamb another day, beggar woman, for it cannot yet walk.’ But Hadrian did not attend to the teachings of his philosophers that night, nor did he sleep when he was in his bed, for he knew that it was not the woman who had uttered the prophecy, but rather the lamb.”

“The next day, the lamb could stand. It stood before the emperor, shining like the moon and smelling of frankincense, and its eyes were like opals or pearls gathered by divers from the deepest oceans. And it said, ‘Oh Hadrian, your cruelties will be visited upon you.’ And Hadrian knew that he was sinful, for his pleasures were no pleasures unless they were cruel. But he was afraid, and he was proud, and he stuck his silver knife into the belly of the lamb. But he could not watch as its eyes faded from opals or pearls into the dull, flat disks that are the eyes of a dead thing.”

Judas stopped speaking, and again his chin sunk onto his chest. He panted as if in fear or exhaustion, and his hand shook as he passed it across his brow.

“Bravo, Judas,” Cristian said. “You speak, and speak well! Even though I fear that some of the apostles here are not as able to understand your courtly Italian as well as they should – or, I should said, as well as they tell their mothers that they can, when their mothers inquire about all the time and cost of language academies here in fair Florence. But I must dispute your story, since the Emperor Hadrian died quite peacefully, at an old age, after having had a most successful career as emperor, and I can’t recall anything that would suggest that his cruelties fell upon him, as was suggested by the lamb.”

Judas remained silent.

“So you admit that your lamb was wrong?”

Judas raised his head with an effort. “The creature did not speak of this world,” he said.  

“A convenient and logical lamb,” Cristian responded. “If his prophecy did not come true during Hadrian’s life, he could assert that Hadrian would meet with sufferings after death. And I must admit skepticism as to how you, dear Judas, learned of the story, for I suppose that one of the admirable qualities that fitted the old woman for her position as secret purveyor was deafness, so as to not overhear the emperor’s business.” But Judas did not respond to these teasings, and the company gradually forgot him and his story as the dessert was served and a honeyed wine poured.

“My friends,” Cristian said as he raised his glass in a toast, “this plan of dining is admirable. And yet, we must not become too comfortable in our chosen pleasures, or, as Hadrian’s lamb reminds us, we will become so used to them that we will need to spice them with pain. And so I propose that we have a final supper, but not in a refectory. As cheering as it is to dine with Christ, his followers did not build the grandest nor most comfortable of settings, and the waiters are complaining at how far they must walk to these monasteries, and how embarrassing it is to be seen to duck into their doors, as if sneaking jam cookies in to novice nuns, still desiring of sweetness. So, do any of you, my friends, have an idea for a fitting spot to meet for our next meal?”

Suggestions were made: the Boboli Gardens, the rooftop of the Hotel Savoy, and even Gstaad. Cristian rejected these as too crowded, too unimaginative, and too far away to explain the trip to the suggestor’s mother, who would be sure to question why her son’s Florentine studies were so sadly neglected. I had nothing to add – the places I had lately frequented had been so overrun with unpleasant happenings that to suggest a happy outing there would be absurd. And I hardly imagined that Cristian and his merry apostles would like to join me in the archives where I researched.

“Perhaps Judas knows,” Cristian said. “Although he was abstained as of yet from what we have offered, he looks at all with such a particular eye that I know he must have a storehouse of expertise in such matters. So, Judas, where should we eat our last meal as companions? It shall be our last, at least for some time, since some of us are shortly to resume our travels.”

“It will be our last together, young sir,” Judas replied in a strained, almost exhausted voice. “And as you have afforded me the choice, I request the Strozzi Chapel, in our cathedral. It is painted, you know, in a barbarous yet true style, showing the blessed Elect surrounding our Lord on one wall, and on the other wall is shown in marvelous details the torments of the damned in Hell, with each sin labeled for the instruction of the unwise.”

“The Strozzi Chapel?” asked Cristian. “That medieval, faded thing? An interesting idea, but it’s in such disrepair that the door to it is always locked. I’ve only seen it when I have stood on tiptoe and peeked between the bars of the grate. Or are you proposing that we force the lock and carry out our supper without regard to mere earthly barriers?”

“I will instruct the cardinal,” Judas replied. “You may enter into the chapel tomorrow, when the sun sets, but not before. And the meal we eat will be worthy of its setting.”

“I assure you that it will be,” Cristian said. And with that, he drank the last drop of wine, and Judas pushed himself away from the table and walked slowly out of the room, straight and proud, though his hands still shook.

The sun hangs long in the sky in Florence in the summer, and it was late before it set and we gathered in front of the cathedral. As the last of the light faded, a little panel cut into the wood of one of the massive doors filling the entrance portals creaked open, and a drawn, white face peeped out of it. Through I hardly recognized him without his hat and fine robes, as I had seen him in processions about the town, it was the cardinal. Seeking up, he blanched and stared back, and as we filed in the little door, we could hear his footsteps quickly retreating down the long nave of the church.

The cathedral at night looks even more like a vast and gloomy barn than it does during the day, when one’s eyes can pick out the few brave monuments and paintings that remain to adorn its emptiness. The only grand thing from its past are the marbles of the floor, inlaid in dizzying patterns that flickered under the light of the candles produced by Cristian. We walked up the aisles, whispering to each other about the darkness and all startling at the occasional clattering swoop of a bird, awakened from its nest on top of some old tomb or altar by our flames.

Judas met us at the entrance to the Strozzi chapel. Almost the size of a church of its own, it was separated from the nave of the cathedral by a thick and elaborate grating of iron. The chapel had been locked and neglected from my earliest youth, and, like Cristian, what I had seen of it were only glimpses from between the bars, by the light of the few dusty windows it contained. But now the chapel was illuminated by hanging lamps and clusters of candles, and patterns of shadows cast by the grating writhed on the marble floors of the cathedral.

“Welcome,” said Judas. Although the folds of his woolen garment made it difficult to know what his body was like, his face, formerly so plump, had grown thinner since our previous meetings. The flickering candlelight threw shadows from his cheekbones and in the hollows of his eyes, and even his hands were thinner and replete with bones as they rose in greeting. His abstemiousness was taking effect.

Cristian had ordered a meal, carried behind us by waiters, but Judas refused to let them and their baskets into the chapel. “A meal has been prepared,” he said, and led us to our seats. A table stood in the middle of the chapel floor, and as before, Judas sat on one side and the rest on the other. We saw him framed against the frescoed wall, painted by Nardo di Cione with scenes of hell. In faded colors we saw the damned, each tormented according to his sin – the greedy grouped in one corner, the lustful penned in another, the blasphemers torn into pieces by demons covered in tufts black fur, with shining red eyes. Judas looked at us and, behind us, at a scene of heaven, painted by Nardo’s brother. The Blessed rose in calm rows, crowned with stars and gazing upwards at Christ enthroned.

The table was spread with dishes that Judas, with increasing fervor, extolled and pushed towards his guests. “You food was good, but it was common,” he said to Cristian. “You had the best tomatoes and the best herbs and the best oil – but what are these things? Weeds and trash. But we Italians knew, in the past, how to serve a meal for a king, a meal that would be as far removed from other eating as a star is different from a candle in a peasant’s hut. We served not only the best, but the most rare. Peacock, whale’s tongue, hummingbird’s eggs – anything that must be searched for, that must be labored over, that must be paid for in its weight in gold.”

As Cristian and his apostles ate, Judas grew tormented with the sight and odor of the foods which he still was not allowing himself to eat. Every drop of juice falling from a lifted spoonful onto the tablecloth caused him to strain forward, incredulous at the waste. His eyes darted between each bite taken by the company, and he seemed to rejoice in empathy but also cringe in pain at every mouthful.

Two thin and mangy dogs prowled the edges of the chapel, their black and white hides melting into the shadows. Like Judas, they two seemed to see every bit of consumption; like him, too, they refrained from the feast, not even darting in to snatch the pieces that occasionally fell to the ground.

“Whose dogs are those?” asked one of the apostles.

“They must belong to the church,” Cristian replied, “and patrol it at night. Unfriendly things – they won’t come near us.”

“They will stay as far away from you as their masters,” Judas said, pointing to the frescos. In the scene of the day of resurrection, the sinful dead were crawling from their graves and were being chased towards hell by black and white hounds, of a similar type as those who circled around our table.

“Ah, yes,” Cristian remarked. “This is a church of the Domenican order, and their monks are frequently symbolized in art as white dogs with black spots, to echo their black and white robes. In fact, our still nameless friend here is wearing robes of a very similar type. Tell me, our dear Judas, are you a monk? I admit that the question seems a bit farcical, given that you are joining us in our slightly blasphemous last suppers, but you have certainly resisted all of their temptations like a most upright saint.”

“I was a monk, once,” Judas answered. “But please, you must finish the dish.” All watched Cristian take the last slice of some meat from the tray in the center of the table – tender, melting, and so spiced and sauced as to be difficult to identify. Judas trembled and bit at his gaunt cheeks as Cristian cut it and chewed – to watch him seemed to be an effort, and indeed at the last bite Judas half-closed his eyes and began to turn away his head, but one of the dogs let out a sharp bark, and Judas turned back with his full attention.

When Cristian had finished, so had the feast. “We have been inspired to gluttony by your preparations, dear Judas,” he said, “for we have not left a morsel of food behind us. I wonder if the monks who commissioned these paintings would be satisfied with such an effect. For look – there in hell are painted a whole group of gluttons being punished, and yet I haven’t felt the slightest qualm of conscience. And there among that wretched clump of gluttons is one in the robes of a Dominican, who kindly reminds me to ask you again about your former profession.”

“Since you are so curious, and since I know that young idlers like yourselves like to hear a story after supper, I will tell you,” Judas said. He leaned back in his chair, white and exhausted and yet content. The dogs had stationed themselves on either side of him, and one nosed at his dangling fingertips.

“I was a monk, once, and yet you are wrong about monks. For they can feast, and drink, and whore just as much as you. A monk’s robe does not protect his soul; indeed, it may endanger his soul all the more, since it makes him proud. For that is how it was with me.”

“You were a naughty young monk?”

“A naughty young one, and a sinful one in my prime, and steeped in the wretched pleasures of gluttony when I was the age you see now.”

“And what dishes did you most enjoy?” Cristian asked, with an excited air, as one who asks for information of great value.

“The very ones that I served you tonight,” the monk answered.

“I shall have to ask you for the recipes,” Cristian said, “or, at the very least, for the ingredients, for those were flavors like none I have tasted before. Although, to confess a touch of disappointment, there was no little lamb to frisk around us – although I think that I am hardly as cruel as Hadrian, I would at least have liked to be put to the trial.”

“That story was not for you,” Judas answered. “Your guest will understand its meaning.” He thrust his hand at me, pointing with a finger whose bones were so lightly covered with skin, and the skin so pale, that it was difficult to tell which I saw. Though his gesture was forceful, his hand shook, and the fingernails were as deep incrusted with dirt as if he had been digging with them. “The figure of Hadrian in the story is a disguise for someone that your guest knows quite well – someone who went to his doom, and I along with him.”

“But cannot you be redeemed?” Cristian asked, politely ignoring the confusion that I was thrown into after this unexpected remark by Judas. “I hope for myself to have a long and sinful life – gluttony, lust, and sloth prevailing – and then to repent sometime shortly before my death.”

“But your confession must be sincere. And there are ways of testing your heart, and of punishing you for the sin you have committed and the sins that you desired to commit.” A spasm passed over Judas’ face, like that of thwarted pride. One of the dogs sitting by his side growled in its throat, and then he continued. “Do you see that tormented wretch in a monk’s robe, there among the gluttons of hell?” He lifted a candle, and there among the painted sinners was one in a tattered black robe, with a strained gaunt face and a corpulent body.

“When I was a monk,” Judas continued, “I kept a proud and righteous face to the world, but all the charity I took in the name of God, I spent on rich and rare delicacies. My superiors cajoled, they threatened, they punished, they rewarded, but nothing could stop my desires for more tastes, for different pleasures of the table. At last, after long prayer and supplication of the mercy of Christ, my superiors said that they had one for me a favor. I would be damned for all eternity unless I could sit for three banquets without touching or taking the food. And this I have now done, and I may throw myself before the throne of the Lord and beg that He forgive me for my other sins.”

“Fast for three feasts?” Cristian asked. “That seems not such a monumental task, if the reward is freedom from damnation.”

“I said, my host, ‘eternal’ damnation,” Judas replied. “For I died in the year 1354, and have been where each day is as a thousand years of torment. Lord, send me not back into the pit!” The candles flared and guttered as Judas fell from his chair, kneeling before two figures in black and white garments – at first they seemed to be the dogs, rearing upwards, but then they appeared as if monks in the brief moments before the candlelight died entirely.


* * * *


I had led Cristian and his friends through the dark cathedral to the street, where in the faint light of the coming dawn they began to discuss the events of their last of the last suppers. The affair seemed so simple, now, that I wondered that I had not suspected Judas’ true nature before. To be sure, when he first arrived, gloomy and yet so plump, I would not have taken him for a ghost. But it seemed that the even the spirit of a glutton would retain some trace of the corpulent.

Most of all, I thought as I slipped away from the chattering group, I was jealous. Judas had suffered, but he had been granted a test, and he must have been sustained during his torment by the thought of his future chance. But what of my chances? All my research, all my investigations, and I was still no closer to deliberately meeting Judas or any of his type. And now my torment was doubled by Judas’ story of Hadrian and his lamb. What was I to make of it? Whom was the parable about? Was it me? Was it one of my relatives, who in their primes had been as greedy of pleasure as Judas?

I sat in the dust of the doorway of the archives until they opened, and returned to my researches.