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 part  #1 of  Atto Melani Series


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  ( Atto Melani - 1 )

  Rita Monaldi

  Francesco Sorti

  Rita Monaldi, Francesco Sorti


  Divinatory interpretations of the Arcana of the Judgement

  Resurrection of the past

  Reparation of past wrongs

  Wise judgement of posterity.

  Nothing is lost; the past lives on in what pertains to the future.

  Oswald Wirth, The Tarot

  Como, 14th February, 2040

  To His Excellency Msgr Alessio Tanari

  Secretary of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints Vatican City

  In nomine Domini

  Ego, Lorenzo Dell'Agio, Episcopus Comi, in processu canonizationis beati Innocentii Papae XI, iuro me fideliter diligenterque impleturum munus mihi commissum, atque secretum servaturum in iis ex quorum revelatione preiudicium causae vel infamiam beato afferre posset. Sic me Deus adiuvet.

  Dearest Alessio,

  Be so good as to pardon me if I open my letter to you with the ritual oath: to maintain secrecy concerning anything I may have learned that might defame the reputation of a blessed soul.

  I know that you will excuse your former tutor at the seminary for adopting an epistolary style less orthodox than that to which you are accustomed.

  You wrote to me three years ago, on the instruction of the Holy Father, inviting me to throw light on a presumed case of miraculous healing which took place in my diocese over forty years ago, through the action of the Blessed Pope Innocent XI: that Benedetto Odescalchi from Como of whom you, as a boy, first perhaps heard tell from none other than myself. As you will surely remember, the case of mira sanatio concerned a child, a little orphan from the country near Como whose finger was bitten off by a dog. The poor bleeding digit, immediately recovered by the little one's grandmother, who held Pope Innocent in special devotion, was wrapped by her in the holy image of the Pontiff and handed over to the doctors in casualty. After an operation to graft it back, the child instantly recovered feeling in his finger and was able to use it perfectly; both the surgeon and his assistants were utterly amazed.

  In accordance with your indications and with the desire expressed by His Holiness, I have instructed the cause super mira sanatione, which my predecessor did not in his time see fit to initiate. I shall not expatiate any further on the inquiry, which I have just concluded, despite the fact that most of the witnesses to the event have since died, the records of the clinic were destroyed after ten years and the child, now in his fifties, resides in the United States. The acts will be sent to you under separate cover. As required by the procedure, you will, I know, submit these to the Congregation for its judgement, following which you will draft a report for the Holy Father. I am indeed aware of how eager our beloved Pontiff is to reopen the inquiry into the cause of canonisation of Pope Innocent XI so that, almost a century after his beatification, he may at last be proclaimed a saint. And it is precisely because I too care greatly about His Holiness's intention that I must now come to the point.

  You will have noticed the considerable bulk of the folder which I have attached to my own letter; it is the typescript of a book that has never been published.

  It will be hard to explain to you in detail how this came about, since the two authors, after sending me a copy, vanished completely. I fully trust that Our Lord will inspire the Holy Father and yourself, after reading this work, as to the best solution of the dilemma: secretum servire aut non? To pass over the text in silence or to publish? Whatever the decision arrived at, it will, for me, remain sacrosanct.

  I beg to excuse myself at once if my pen-now that my spirit is free after three years of wearisome research-runs sometimes too freely.

  I made the acquaintance of the two authors of the typescript, a young engaged couple, some forty-three years ago. I had just been appointed as a parish priest in Rome, where I had recently arrived from my dear Como, to which Our Lord was to accord me the grace to return as Bishop. The two young people, Rita and Francesco, were both journalists. They lived quite close to my parish church and so it was to me that they turned for instruction in preparation for matrimony.

  The dialogue with the young couple soon developed beyond a simple teaching relationship and, with time, grew closer and more confidential. As chance would have it, the priest who was to conduct the ceremony suffered a serious indisposition only two weeks before the wedding. So it was quite natural that Rita and Francesco should ask me to perform the rite.

  I married them on a sunny afternoon in mid-June, in the pure, proud light of the Church of San Giorgio in Velabro, a short distance from the glorious ruins of the Roman Forum and the Capitoline Arch. It was an intense ceremony, brimming over with emotion. I prayed ardently to the Most High that the young couple should be granted a long and serene life.

  After the wedding, we continued to frequent one another for a few years. I learned thus that, despite the scant free time remaining to them after work, Rita and Francesco had never completely abandoned their studies. Although both of them, after obtaining their degrees in Literature, opted for the dynamic and cynical world of the written press, they still had not lost touch with their former interests. On the contrary, in their free moments, they continued to read good books and to visit museums and libraries.

  Once a month, they would invite me to dinner or for afternoon coffee. Often, they would at the very last moment clear a chair heaped high with photocopies, microfilms, reproductions of antique prints and books, so that I could sit down; and these piles of paper seemed to grow higher with my every visit. I became curious and inquired what they were studying so enthusiastically.

  They then told me how, some time previously, they had traced in the private collection of an aristocratic Roman book-lover a collection of eight manuscript volumes, dating back to the beginning of the eighteenth century. Thanks to the fact that they had friends in common, the owner, Marchese******, had given the couple permission to study these antique volumes.

  The find was a veritable gem for students of history. The eight volumes were the collected letters of Abbot Atto Melani, a member of an ancient and noble Tuscan family of diplomats and musicians.

  Yet the real discovery came later: bound in one of the eight volumes, a substantial set of manuscript memoirs had come to light. It was dated 1699 and written in minute letters, by a hand manifestly different from that of the remainder of the volume.

  The anonymous author of the manuscript affirmed that he had been an apprentice in a Roman inn and told in the first person of surprising events which had taken place between Paris, Rome and Vienna in 1683. The memoirs were preceded by a brief letter of presentation, undated and naming neither sender nor addressee, the content of which was somewhat obscure.

  For the time being, it was not given to me to know more. The young couple maintained the strictest reserve about their discovery. I understood only that, ever since they had found them, these memoirs had become the object and the cause of their animated research.

  However, since both had left the academic world for good, and were thus no longer in a position to lend scientific dignity to their studies, the two young people had begun to hatch out the idea of writing a novel.

  At first, they spoke of this as though in jest: they were going to remodel the apprentice's memoirs in the form and the prose of a novel. Initially, I was rather disappointed by the idea, which-priding myself on my passion for scholarship-I found faint-hearted and superficial.

  Then, between one visit and another, I understood that the matter was becoming serious. A year had not passed since their marriage, and now they were dedicating all their free time to it. Later, they confessed to me
that they had spent almost their entire honeymoon in the archives and libraries of Vienna. I asked no more questions, resolving that I would be only the silent and discreet confidant of their labours.

  At the time I did not, alas, follow attentively what the couple told me about the progress of their work. Meanwhile-spurred on by the birth of a beautiful little girl, and tired of building on the quicksands of our poor country-at the beginning of the new century, the couple suddenly decided to move to Vienna, a city to which they had grown attached, perhaps also because it held fond memories for them of their first days as man and wife.

  They invited me for a brief leave-taking shortly before their departure from Rome. They promised to write to me and to call on me whenever they visited Italy.

  They did none of those things, nor did I ever hear from them again. Until, one day, months later, I received a parcel from Vienna. It contained the typescript which I am now sending you: it was the long-awaited novel.

  I was happy to know that they had at least succeeded in completing it and wanted to reply and thank them. But I was surprised to find that they had not sent me their address, nor was there any covering message. As a frontispiece, a meagre dedication: "To the defeated". And on the back of the folder, just a scribble with a felt-tipped pen: "Rita and Francesco".

  So I read the novel. Or should I rather say: the memoirs? Are these really memoirs from the baroque period, reworked for today's readers? Or is it a modern novel set in the seventeenth century? Or both? These are questions that still beset me. There are indeed places where one seems to be reading pages that have come down to us intact from the seventeenth century: all the characters invariably use the vocabulary to be found in treatises of the period. But then, when discourse gives way to action, the linguistic register changes sharply, the same characters express themselves in modern prose and their doings seem even to take on the character of a detective novel- one of the Sherlock Holmes and Watson variety, to put it plainly. As though, in those passages, the authors had deliberately left traces of their intervention.

  And what if they had lied to me? I was surprised to find myself wondering just that. What if the tale of the apprentice's manuscript which they had found was all an invention? Was it not too much like the device employed by both Manzoni and Dumas for the opening of their masterpieces, The Betrothed and The Three Musketeers'? Both of which, coincidentally, are set in the seventeenth century…

  Unfortunately, I have not been able to get to the bottom of the matter, which is probably destined to remain a mystery. I have indeed been quite unable to trace the eight volumes of Abbot Melani's letters, from which the whole story began. The library of the Marchese ****** was Split up by his heirs and sold some ten years ago. After I had bothered a few acquaintances, the auctioneers who made the sale discreetly passed me the names of the buyers.

  I thought I had found the solution and that the Lord was with me, until I read the names of the new owners: they were Rita and Francesco. And, of course, they had left no address.

  During the course of the past three years I have, with the few resources at my disposal, conducted a painstaking series of checks on the contents of the typescript. You will find the outcome of my research in the pages which I have annexed at the end of the text.

  These, I beg you to read most attentively. You will discover for how long I relegated to oblivion the work of my two friends, and the sufferings which that has caused me. You will also find a detailed examination of the historical events narrated in the typescript, and an account of the exhaustive research I conducted in the archives and libraries of half Europe, in order to understand whether these might correspond to the truth.

  As you can judge for yourself, the impact of the facts narrated was indeed such as to alter the course of history violently, and forever.

  Very well, having completed my research, I can affirm with certainty that the events and persons contained in the story which you are about to read are authentic. And, even where it was not possible to find the proofs of what I had read, I was at least able to establish the verisimilitude of the events recounted.

  The affair narrated by my two former parishioners, while not gravitating only around Pope Innocent XI (who is indeed barely even a protagonist of the novel) does, however, bring to light circumstances which cast new and grave imputations as to the limpidity of the Pontiff's soul and the honesty of his words. I say new, insofar as the inquiry into the beatification of Pope Odescalchi, opened on 3rd September, 1714 by Pope Clement XI, encountered objections super virtutibus during the first preparatory stages, raised within the Congregation by the Promoter of the Faith. Thirty years were to pass before Pope Benedict XIV Lambertini silenced by decree all doubts expressed by the promoters and consultors as to the heroic virtues of Innocent XI. But, shortly afterwards, the process again came to a halt, this time for almost two hundred years: indeed, only in 1943, under Pope Pius XII, was another rapporteur appointed. The process of beatification took a further thirteen years, until 7th October, 1956. Ever since that day, Pope Odescalchi has remained shrouded in silence. Never again, until now, was there talk of proclaiming him a saint.

  It would have been possible for me, by virtue of the legislation approved by Pope John Paul II over fifty years ago, to request further inquiries. But in that case, I would not have been abl e secretum servare in iis ex quorum revelatione preiudicium causae vel infamiam beato afferre posset. In other words, I would then have had to reveal the contents of Rita and Francesco's typescript, if only to the promoter of justice or to the postulator (the saints' prosecution and defence lawyers, as the press so crudely describes them).

  In so doing, I would have permitted grave and irreversible aspersions to be cast on the virtue of the Blessed: a decision which could be taken only by the Supreme Pontiff, certainly not by myself.

  If, however, the work had in the meantime been published, I would have been freed from the obligation to secrecy I therefore hoped that my two parishioners' book had already found a publisher. I confided the search to some of the youngest and least experienced members of my staff. But in the catalogues of books on sale, I found neither any writings of the kind nor my friends' names.

  I tried to trace the two young people (by now surely no longer young): the registers showed that they had indeed moved to Vienna, at Auerspergstrasse 7. I wrote to that address but received a reply from the head of a university hostel, who was unable to provide me with any assistance. I asked the Commune of Vienna, but nothing useful came of that.

  I feared the worst. I wrote to the parish priest of the Minoritenkirche, the Italian church in Vienna. But Rita and Francesco were unknown to everyone there, including, fortunately, the keeper of the graveyard records.

  In the end, I decided to go to Vienna myself, in the hope of tracing at least their daughter, even though, some forty years after the event, I could no longer remember her Christian name. As was to be expected, this last attempt also came to nothing.

  For three years, I have sought them everywhere. Sometimes I find myself looking at girls with red hair like Rita's, forgetting that hers will now be as white as my own. Today, she will be seventy-four and Francesco, seventy-six.

  Now, I take my leave of you, and of His Holiness. May God inspire you in the reading which you are about to undertake.

  Msgr Lorenzo Dell'Agio

  Bishop of the Diocese of Como

  To the defeated


  In conveying to you these memoirs which I have at last recover'd,

  I dare hope that 'Your Excellency will recognise in my Efforts to comply with Your Wishes that Excess of Passion and of Love which has ever been the cause of my Felicity, whenever I have had Occasion to bear Witness thereof to your Excellency.


  Day the First

  11th September, 1683

  The men of the Bargello arrived in the late afternoon, just as I was about to light the torch that illuminated our sign. In their fists, they grasped plan
ks and hammers; and seals and chains and great nails. As they advanced along the Via del Orso, they called out and gestured imperiously to the passers-by and knots of curious bystanders that they must clear the street. Truly, they were most wrathful. When they came level with me, they began to wave their arms about: "All inside, all inside, we must shut up the house," cried the man who gave the orders.

  Barely had I time to descend from the stool onto which I had climbed than hard hands shoved me roughly into the entrance, while some began to bar the door with threatening mien. I was stunned. I came abruptly to my senses, jostled by the gathering which, drawn by the officers' cries, had piled up in the doorway as though a bolt of lightning had fallen from an empty sky. These were the lodgers at our inn, known as the Locanda del Donzello.

  They were but nine, and all were present: waiting for supper to be served, as was their wont every evening, they wandered about the ground floor among the day-beds in the entrance hall and the tables of the two adjoining dining chambers, each feigning some business; but, in reality, all turning around the young French guest, the musician Robert Devize who, with great bravura, was practising the guitar.

  "Let me out! Ah, how dare you? Remove your hands from me! I cannot remain here! I am perfectly healthy, understood? Perfectly healthy! Let me by, I tell you!"

  He who thus cried out (and whom I could barely descry through the thicket of lances with which the men-at-arms held him at bay) was our guest Padre Robleda, the Spanish Jesuit, who, panic-stricken, began to groan and to pant, his neck all red and swollen. So piercing were his screams that they minded me of the squeals of swine, hanging head downwards before slaughter.

  The noise resounded down the street and, it seemed to me, as far off as the little square, which had emptied in a trice. On the far side of the street, I caught sight of the fishmonger who, with two servants from the nearby Locanda dell'Orso, was observing the scene.

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