Wednesday, 14 June 1318
“For this you brought me here in the middle of the night?”
“See, Master?” the young man whispers. “The moonlight strikes the altar screen well above the end of the Rose Line, almost reaching the Christ Child’s manger just as I said. It’s the highest I’ve ever seen it.”
Friar Lorenzo peers at the wood through a large hand-lens and nods. The grizzled old Franciscan reaches out, touching the spot upon the wooden panel where the light shines above the highest mark, a good hand span or more beyond the end of the calendar’s terminal point beneath the gilded manger.
“Indeed, Heronimo, mark it well.” The two men speak softly in the sacred stillness filling the midnight air in the gloom of the South Transept. Bright moonlight streaming through completed sections of the rose window splashes colors across the base of the altar screen and the paving below. Light entering through the clear round porthole above the rose window illuminates a small area beyond the calendar’s end where the student scores the wood with a knife.
“What conclusion do you read in this, my lad? What does this tell you?”
Heronimo tugs on his short brown beard. “It means the ancients were correct, Father. The Moon does not follow exactly the same track as the Sun, but swings higher and lower by a handful of degrees.. I have watched her for years just as you bade me; each summer, the light through the window came not nearly so high, which means the Moon sat not as low as now. This lunar cycle must be an extremely long one which takes decades to complete.”
“Well-reasoned, my son: nearly nineteen years, as I recall,” the old scholar says, leaning on his staff, “close to the length of several great cycles of eclipses, with which it is closely connected.”
“Ah, so I was correct!” the student grins. “See, I told you the Rose Line could still teach us useful things.”
“I never said it couldn’t,” his mentor objects. “What I said was that despite our careful construction, the meridian is not long enough to answer the great questions of astronomy. Does the Sun’s size change through the year? Why does time vary so? We would need a far larger edifice than this to find out.”
“So you’re really going to do it?”
“Aye, it seems necessary. The people clamor for the Templars’ remains to rest in a place of honor; there’s still much bitterness over their fate. Therefore, their ashes will be sealed in a sarcophagus –”
“On top of the entrance to the chamber where ‘it’ is,” the younger man finishes softly. “Aside from how a big box there will ruin the Rose Line as a timekeeper during the fall and spring, is this truly wise, Father? Do you mean to seal ‘it’ up forever? Don’t you fear ‘it’ might be forgotten someday?”
“Would that be such a bad thing?” Lorenzo replies bitterly, fingering his gray chin. “Ah well, what do you propose this time? You wouldn’t have dragged me here in the middle of the night if you didn’t have a wild idea.”
“What we need is a memorial,” Heronimo says, “a marvel which will keep the Pelluvium Sanctissimum remembered by the faithful. I’m not sure what, perhaps something with light, the first creation of God. You have shown me how its great cycles show His handiwork, and how glass may shape and color it, good father. Why could we not employ it as a reminder of grace?” He gestures at the empty wedges and central panel of the unfinished stained glass windows.
The mentor pats his apprentice’s arm. “It is tempting to put your faith in nature’s marvels, my son, than in the fickle hearts of men. Flesh is weak and not to be wholly trusted, despite the most solemn vows. You and the other boys who must remain hidden sentinels of the secret all your lives, I fear.”
The old man pauses, out of breath. Finally he slowly resumes, “But a way to ease this burden must be found. Let us consider the means. Meanwhile, strive to be a faithful steward of the Holy Tub. Have no doubt the true owner, the Blessed Mother, will protect it and you in the end. She has before, as you well know.”
He rests his hand in blessing on his favorite student’s head. “Now, let us go, my boy. It may be midsummer, but these old bones dislike night’s chill.”
As the décor surrounding the rose window is finished over the next few years, rumors begin to circulate concerning strange lights and things seen in the South Transept. Ghosts of the Templars are feared, yet exorcisms have little effect. After Heronimo succeeds his master, his amazing tricks with light add steadily to his reputation as a magician and alchemist. Inevitably, this would one day arouse the unholy curiosity of the Holy Inquisition.