Saturday, 18 June 1894
The artist awakes suddenly, his head throbbing. He is drenched in sweat but his mouth is as dry as the Sahara. He starts at a loud clang as his hand knocks over the bottle beside him, spilling a thin stream of Chartreuse as it rolls across the unevenly-worn inlaid floor. The green liqueur is dark grey in the moonlight.
The noise just makes his headache worse. “Damn the jade demon,” he groans, “and double damn that priest who introduced the bitch to me!”
He props himself up with his elbow on the hard but thankfully cool stone pavement. It is a hot, breathless night, but he is not in his cramped flat. Looking around, he is startled by the marble face of St. Horrig scowling down at him, dappled in pale colors streaming through the great rose window.
Silviano Alfini thus finds himself sprawled on the floor of the South Transept of the cathedral, having passed out during his vigil. But the painter is no longer alone. He is in the presence of a miracle, a wonder out of legend.
For here shines the Holy Tub, the Maundy Grail itself, floating in eerie majesty in the air several meters beyond his feet. Within a glowing halo of light there hangs the outline of a perfect porcelain basin, complete with small handles. The ghostly ceramic footbath gleams like a pearl as it drifts as gently as a cloud in the dark shadows along the rear wall of the battered marble tomb.
Alfini gasps, his heart thudding in his chest. “Sweet Mother of God, is this a dream?” he whispers and the harsh croaking of his voice convinces him it isn’t. His aches are real enough, too; the long wait is over. The Vision has come at last.
He blinks, but the Sacred Basin floats alone; no spectral honor guard of the spirits of the martyred Templars stand alongside like in the popular tales. He strikes his chest in frustration: if he had made young Émilien stay with his photography equipment, he’d have the proof which so long evaded watchers.
But as the sobbing artist lurches to his knees, the Vision rapidly fades and vanishes, as if cut off by a shade. He gasps. Was it even there?
For an endless moment, the whole world holds its breath. Then a cautious insect chirps a few times in the distance. Another joins in. Soon choruses of frogs and nightingales unite in counterpoint offering their own praises, and the night is filled with a symphony of sublime peace and joy.
Lying on the floor of his great church Silviano giggles, headache and heat forgotten. He crawls to his pad of paper and scrawls feverishly, rocking back and forth, laughing, crying, and singing by turns. The tormented dreamer, all sins now forgiven, has been granted his long-awaited justification at last.
But Silviano has no idea of just how blessed he is, for the artist is the last recorded person ever to see the Vision of the Maundy Grail in its splendor before the mystery would be finally resolved a hundred and twenty years later.
One day, if civilization endures, the entire two millennium long saga of the Most Holy Footbath of Christ, which Jesus used to bathe the disciples’ feet in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel According to St. John, will be put together into a single grand historical narrative. This is not that great chronicle of the Pelluvium Sanctissimum Christi, the storied Sacred Basin, known commonly as the Maundy Grail. This is but a recounting in fictional form of the latest chapter, which many, although not all, believe to be the solution to a seven-hundred-year quest.
A proper history of the Holy Tub will include qualifications, learned quotes in strange languages, a sheaf of footnotes of obscure terms, and a long bibliography. The narrative would provide lengthy explanations of the various marvels, ruses, and traps; plus how, why, and by whom they were achieved. Expect little of that here. Only a few highlights of the tortuous history of the Sacred Basin may be glimpsed in the small quotes and vignettes heading main sections.
Much of the background comes from the first introduction of the mystery to America, a landmark 1952 bestseller, The Holy Tub and the Holy Grail, known to its fans as Holy Tub, Holy Pail. The authors’ shadows loom large here: pop scientific showman Doc MacLantis, his soon-to-be bride, Maureen Masterson, and their eventual nemesis, Maestro Raimondo Fatamorgana.
Though it may yet irrevocably doom our world, what actually happened in the city of Bellegraal at the conclusion of the quest in 2005 is not widely known. For reasons which will become clear, the calamitous resolution of the mystery demanded that a concerted downplaying, if not overt cover-up, be put into place by officials. Now, a decade later, the pall of silence slowly lifts. Yet few of those remaining who participated in the final events can or will talk.
Any retelling of this decisive episode must depend heavily on an observer known as “Nigel” Buckhorn. This owes less to his first account, Seekers of the Maundy Grail, than to his later self-exposé, Tall Tales and Cracked Pots. Despite his confessed unreliability as a reporter and the mercurial justifications of his actions, Nigel’s eye-witness reports are crucial. Yet they are not entirely trustworthy, even after his remarkable change of heart at the end, especially where the artist once known as Cindi Salvage is concerned.
However, though Buckhorn and his famous ex-wife both figure in these and later events, this is not their tale. This book tells the story of Doc and Maureen’s adult children, Skip (Charles Scipio MacLantis), Gus (Professor Augustine Xenophon MacLantis), and Allie (Alix Catherine MacLantis), and their resolution of the great enigma that enigma which consumed their parents.
May this glimpse into the Holy Tub help soothe the apocalyptic fears of these strange days.