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Excerpts from the Diary
of Silviano Alfini

17-20 June 1894

 

Friday, 17 June 1894

I CLIMBED the North Spire this afternoon to finish the perspective view to the East for the painting of the Madonna taking away the Holy Tub that I’ve been planning. I took Émilien with me to get some reference plates. Wore the poor boy off, so I sent him home for the weekend.

It was late afternoon by the time we finished but I really didn’t enjoy the height. Tomorrow I think I will explore the crypt instead.

However, since tonight looks to be clear and the Moon full; it’s Vision season! Even though I’ll likely be the only one yet again – not even Father Dupre bothers even a token visit any more – I must keep watch tonight.


Saturday, 18 June 1894

The effect of the dawn light on the Monumentum is almost exact. Amazing how perfectly the clever effects of Heronimo le Mage are attuned to midsummer.

The dawn light was red because it rained briefly just before sunrise: making the limestone glow beautifully in the dawn light – and the cracks in the eastern façade all too apparent.

In the evening, a tomb was found.


Sunday, 19 June 1894

Last night was hot, humid and without a breath of wind. I’d dozed off somehow despite the excitement of my find. Again, the sole watcher; no one was there to help me stay awake or corroborate what I saw. Anyway, I fell asleep there on the cool stone until about midnight.

Waking in a sweat, something caught my eye as I sat up rubbing my face. I woke up to an unexpected but far from unwelcome sight, one I have only dreamed of.

Astonished more than I can possibly say, I swear before God that I beheld the Holy Footbath itself, shining in a circular halo of pearly light in the middle of the transept against the rear wall of the ruined Templar tomb! The apparition seemed to float silently in air like a cloud, the image wavering ever so slightly as it moved very slowly to the right along the marble wall.

I cursed myself even as exaltation seized me. Perhaps I could have had proof of the miracle, but no: like a fool, I had sent Émilien home to Maureven, exhausted from his efforts carrying the heavy camera to the roof yesterday. Alas, how can I ever tell him what he has missed?

Just as the stories said, this was not the famous ornate box with large golden rings on the corners. The legendary reliquary glittering with jewels was not present to the eyes of flesh. All I could see in the glimmering circle was a plain, perfect basin, just as Our Lord would have used.

The bowl seemed lit from within by a soft golden glow as if made of pure light. Yet gathered around it, I felt other presences. It was as if I saw with my spiritual eyes four solemn figures standing guard, dressed like armored knights in the antique garb of the Templars, carrying the reliquary past.

I fell to my knees, sensing ghostly sentinels watching me as the Vision moved slowly past the Templars’ tomb. All was absolutely silent save for the pounding of my heart and the gasping of my breath; I could not believe my staring eyes. How long it lasted, a minute or an hour, I do not know save it was long enough to be sure it was no dream. Banished too, was any lingering effect from absinthe.

Slowly I rose trembling to my feet, yearning to approach more closely and look within. But alas, even as I struggled upright, the apparition suddenly faded and vanished, snuffed out like a candle.

Darkness returned, save for the afterimage still swimming behind my eyelids and the pale moonlight spilling pastel colors across the tiled floor around the tomb. Somewhere, a nightingale began to sing exquisitely, like an angel sweetly rejoicing. Insects and frogs soon joined a swelling chorus of praise, as if the whole of creation had been renewed with a grace as gentle as the dew. A cool breeze suddenly washed across me. The summer’s night became filled with a symphony of Nature adoring Her Creator. Praise God and His Blessed Mother!

I sank to my knees weeping in ecstasy. Was it a true vision or a fleeting dream? I neither know nor can say. I only know I must somehow capture this merciful apparition, if I can only do it justice. On the grand canvas I had planned to show the Holy Tub’s departure, I will prophesy its return!


Monday, 20 June 1894

Father Dupre refuses to allow me to change the project. I described what I had seen and he wrote it down in the special records. I told him how I wanted to display the Vision in all its glory as I think the Blessed Virgin desires – I begged and pleaded and prayed and all but cursed, yet he would not be moved. He said that no artist’s private hallucination would attract pilgrims as much as a realistic depiction of the miracle of the Ascension of the Holy Tub would.

The bishop would never agree to such a vain display in any case, he said. He pointedly added that lone individuals have been known to lie before, but that perhaps this would inspire others to join the vigil.

He thinks I want to do it out of mere pride for my own aggrandizement! Yet I could see his lust for francs glinting in his pale eyes as he spoke, puffing away on his damned cigar like he was stoking the fires of Hell. Dupre cares far more than the numbers in his ledger than the spiritual realities that surround us. Far too many in the Church like him these days.

Well, if I must consign my revelation to a smaller field, then I must. A small canvas will allow me to experiment until I get it just right, I suppose. The renovations will go on as planned meanwhile.

Let the vicar and the bishop have their epic scene in the accepted academic style, certainly. I care not for fame, but in a hundred years, it will be my art, my vision, people will come to see, not some mural fit for a train station.

Top

“I care not for fame,
but in a hundred years,
it will be my art,
my vision,
people will come to see,
not some mural
fit for a train station.”

– Silviano Alfini,
Diary, 20 June 1894

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