By Br. Gabriele of the University of Padua, 1316
Report on Inquiries into the Circumstances
of its Disappearance
TO HIS SERENE HOLINESS, John, being the xxii to bear that name, at the Papal Estates in Avignon,
Greetings from his humble Servant, Gabriele of the Order of Preachers at the University of Padua.
Having received the commission from Your Holiness’ predecessor, Clement of blessed memory, in July of the year of grace MCCCVIII to investigate the disappearance of the Pelluvium Sanctissimum and its treasury as an independent consultant, I have diligently followed the case from the first. As he commanded, I assisted with the royal inquisition as best I could, always discreetly keeping in the background and ever mindful of the best interests of Christ’s Church and its Vicar. I regret that this report has taken so long to prepare, but new events kept delaying its completion.
Proceeding in great haste to the town of Bellegarde where the incident occurred, your servant arrived almost too late. Baron Guilliame and the agents sent of King Philip had already dispensed with the first trial. A copy of their report to His Majesty is included with this letter.
Most of the thirteen Knights Templar of the company that escorted the Pelluvium Sanctissimum on its last journey remained alive when I arrived, along with their squire. I ordered the torture ceased, carefully perused the records of the trials, and conducted extensive interviews of my own with both the prisoners, the interrogators, even the guards and servants. The Templars’ confessor, Friar Lorenzo, a Franciscan of Venice, the man who had the most intimate spiritual contact with them, I questioned as carefully as I could.
Before the peculiar events are described in detail, there must first be made an account of the particulars, starting with that which is missing. What is gone, of course, is the Pelluvium Sanctissimum, universally acclaimed as the One Most Holy Footbath itself. Here is its history as best my diligent research in the libraries and archives of various abbeys and scholars across Europe, from Ireland to Italy.
Originally owned by the Mother of Our Lord, Saints Peter and John borrowed the Sacred Basin for Her Son, Christ himself, to cleanse his disciples for the Last Supper. This holy relic was preserved from destruction by Simon Magus, and wrested back from him later by the Apostles, lest the Father of Errors desecrate it further. It was hidden near Antioch in the care of holy widows and later monks until claimed by Saint Helena, the mother of the first Christian Emperor Constantine, and taken to Constantinople.
There what some call the “Inner Reliquary” was built at the command of the Emperor Theodosius. It was said a beautiful jeweled container of cunningly worked gold rims and white porphyry walls with golden rings for carrying. Many now refer to it and the Sacred Basin together as the “Maundy Grail.”
When the Empress Irene gave, or some say, loaned, these items to the Emperor Charles the Great, the King ordered a learned monk of Aachen, one Eadward by name, to make careful inventory. His description of the “Labrum Sacrum Verum” – as the Pelluvium Sanctissimum was known then, and all its appurtenances, is also included.
Having studied this report, I first questioned the Knights about these things, always individually and out of hearing of the others. On my arrival, I found that they had been incarcerated in adjoining cells in their former preceptory. To limit collusion, I tried to remove all support of familiar surroundings and companions. So I divided them up forthwith and scattered them. Some were moved to the dungeons of the Castle of Bellegarde, others went to the penitential cells of the Cistercian Abbey of St. Golias at Beauvillage and the Bishop’s Palace as well.
I first put much the same questions about what they carried to each man, careful not to lead or encourage them. Every one agreed in most particulars but in different words with the description of Eadward. These bear out that what they carried was indeed the Most Holy Footbath and not some clever fraud as some claim.
To the monk’s portrayal, however, they added this addition: on the top of the Reliquary, covered by an open lattice is a lifelike replica of St. Helena’s gouty foot, containing a bit of bone of her toe that the Sacred Basin cured. To this the Emperor Charlemagne added a cross of gold, covered in jewels. This, the knights told me, had been bent while in their care when a band of rogue Hospitaller Knights shamefully attacked the pilgrim procession six years previously.
They had been urged to this vile act by the unfortunate words of your unhappy predecessor, Pope Boniface VIII, in his intemperate bull of MCCC. Only by the mercy of the Virgin and the quick action of the escort did the ancient pot survive without damage. By the order of the Grand Master Jacques de Molay, however, the cross was left crooked as a visible reminder of the treachery.
This fact is not widely known and should be kept that way as a check against frauds, should a claimant appear.
The “Ark,” or “Outer Reliquary,” was soon mended to appear exactly as it had before. This is a cleverly designed box made of oak, partially gilded. It is formed in the shape of a modern church, with sides that hang on great brass hinges so they may open. These hinges also serve as hooks for the carrying poles, being worked to resemble four snake-like gargoyles.
Many of the simple foolishly, and I say, wrongly, believe that a mere glimpse of the Sacred Basin will remove all trace of sin. So along with the silk Veil that protects the Tub and its precious container from irreligious gawkers, the sides and the roof-like cover of the Ark can be opened or removed completely to allow pilgrims – after whatever donation the Knights deemed appropriate to their rank – to view and venerate the sacred contents.
Incited by a heretical treatise falsely ascribed to my fellow-Dominican, the late Thomas of Aquino, many have used this opportunity to evade their confessional duties. Often the rich would come in rags, not so much out of humility but to avoid a hefty fee. The chaplains of the knights became as sly and I must say, quite accurate judges of a man’s true wealth as the merchants of Avignon, and even more skilled in extracting coins.
Though such sharpness is reckoned as a fault, it is one of the few I found among any of the Templars. The noble-born knights, their commoner sergeant, and the young squire were the cream of the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and Solomon’s Temple. As far as I could determine, they were uniformly humble, long-suffering, and apparently completely orthodox in their piety, though mostly illiterate. In all my questionings of them and their keepers, I never found the slightest whiff of any of the awful heresies so widely whispered. Some cried in horror at the accusations when they were told.
Indeed, I was quite impressed by the stoic demeanor of the Knights, especially their laconic captain, one Sir Edwin of Shrewsbury. Despite the fall of their order and the wreck of their whole world, they maintained a stout and uncomplaining if often stupefied face throughout their ordeals, which were as thorough and prolonged as they were utterly useless.
Once I saw how ineffective torture was in this instance, I was averse to any more. Along with Father Lorenzo, I sought to sentence them to life imprisonment in the hopes that sooner or later one would talk. The baron, however, proved stubbornly adamant and only showed mercy to their young squire Simeon, thinking perhaps that the immediate threat of death and damnation would be effective for the elders. As I write this, he is the only one who was there that night who yet breathes. Mercifully, he has been remanded to the perpetual care of the bishop of Bellegarde.
Events soon showed that any charity for the others was not to be. I too resolutely opposed their execution, fearing the effect on the reputation of Holy Church should they become martyrs, as well as the loss of any information they might have. But such arguments were not listened to in either Bellegarde or Paris. And so, a month after their leaders were immolated, the remaining Templars in Bellegarde also went bravely in tumbrels to the pyres. They were set ablaze before the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy, singing a hymn to Mary. Many stout men-at-arms wept to see their courage amid the flames.
Regrettably, I have since been proved right. The common people, nobles, and all the minor clergy witnessed the Templars’ unflinching embrace of death as proof of the truth of their cause. The ultimate fruit of this needless sacrifice may likely be the seeds of far greater heresies than any attributed to them.
After yet more inquiries, I proceeded to make a most careful investigation of my own of the site; which was still largely unchanged. I even sought the advice and assistance of German miners digging in the Taunenfels as I dared the very underworld caverns beneath the cathedral itself.
Yet, with all that, I must report a maddening lack of finding anything substantial. If the Labrum has not been taken to Heaven, it almost might as well have been. It is undeniable that there is no lacking in rumors and speculation as to where it might be hidden. But there are no facts to back any of them. Several attempts on my life forced me to wear chain mail beneath my Dominican habit and travel only with an armed guard. These experiences convinced me more than anything else that it is not in Heaven where the Holy Tub will be found but rather the nether regions.
The affair, as was decided by Baron Guilliame, and confirmed by Lord Nogaret on behalf of the King, was kept discreet. The Templars arrested in Bellegarde had limited contact with each other and none with any of their brethren elsewhere. Yet it has been impossible for word of the alleged miracle to be kept quiet; minstrels openly sang of it in towns far removed from Bellegarde even before I even got there.
As for an earthly location for the Holy Tub, the Templars provided no clue. They never changed their story and were clearly as baffled as everyone else. Their memories of the vision seem vague, dream-like, and strange, as if they were under some sort of spell. Also, their preternatural calmness, which almost everyone attributed to holiness, seemed to come and go.
My suspicions fell on the learned Friar Lorenzo, whom all men agree is a natural philosopher of great wisdom and intellect. Moreover, he both ministered to the Templars and knows well the site also, for he is building an advanced astronomical instrument there. The masons tell me he has great knowledge of both stone and construction and highly respect his advice. He is also an accomplished alchemist of some skill, well known for his medicines, which he was allowed to freely use on the captives. There are rumors that Lorenzo even knows the secrets of Venetian glass; and from the samples of colored glass he and his apprentice have made, I can well believe it.
I closely questioned the friar on all points, even showing him the secret dispensation from the seal of the confessional with attestations from theologians in Paris that His Holiness Clement equipped me with. But while he could not bring himself to ever so violate the sacrament – as he put it – Lorenzo was willing to swear the most solemn oath that the Templars had naught to do with the mystery.
His bright young assistant, the novice Ieronimus, who serves as his apprentice on the calendar that the friar is installing in the floor of the South Transept, however, seemed peculiarly anxious. I believe it would be a good idea to watch him closely in the future.
A great reason for concern is that the most disturbing rumors are circulating that apparitions of the Holy Tub have occurred, which is why this report has been delayed. Apparently the friar was their chief agent. Friar Lorenzo was reluctant to admit it. But when confronted, he solemnly swore on the Sacred Gospel before me that on the midnight on xiv June last, while working late in the evening in the South Transept, he and several others saw a light hovering. The night was clear, the Moon full, but there were no comets or meteors or any other astral prodigies reported. As the priest is a noted expert on celestial phenomena, he swore he had no natural explanation for it, and had never seen anything like it, before or since. A copy of his formal statement is included.
Though the Franciscan seemed sincere, I suspect this might have been a ruse. Reports of miraculous interventions could have been intended to delay or prevent the executions. However, any continued talk of such prodigious events now that the sentence has been carried out is folly. Therefore, as a duly deputized agent of Your Holiness, I ordered him never to speak of that incident again unless ordered by a superior, and he readily agreed. Yet there is talk among the people of burying the ashes of the Templars in the cathedral. It would be most unfortunate for the Holy Tribunal and the Church in general if they acquired a reputation as martyrs.
Your Holiness, I can no more believe in a washtub ascending to Heaven than in a saucer flying; both are an affront to reason. Though I am certain that the friar knows more than he is telling, I doubt that force will be productive in this case. The holy relic itself is not small, nor was the uncounted but immense treasure accompanying it. If hidden, of necessity they must be somewhere still in the vicinity. But the longer men go blundering about the province seeking, the longer the Pelluvium Sanctissimum will stay hidden.
Indeed, o wise Shepherd of Christ's flock, I believe that the best chance for discovery at this point is enduring and vigilant patience. Hence I humbly recommend that you do the following:
• Instruct the bishops in the area to order their priests to quietly keep watch, so that if a penny of the treasure is spent or a rumor whispered in confession, it will be found out.
• Have the Holy Inquisition of Carcassonne keep an ear to the ground with their network of informants throughout the region and be ready.
If men have taken the Holy Tub, they will not be able to resist the temptation of somehow using it or spending the treasure eventually. If the Mother of God was responsible, we can only pray for her mercy and forgiveness. Either way, fortitude and serenity will be required to endure the wait until either Heaven delivers or the Earth vomits it forth again.
Your Gracious Holiness, I lament that I have been unable to penetrate this mystery further. It galls me personally almost as much as the knowledge that I have failed you in this question. I remain available at all times available for further investigation, should you ever need me,
With Sincerest Regrets,
I remain your obedient servant in all things,
Consulting Theologian and Exorcist of the Order of Preachers,
Lecturer in Theology at the University of Padua
Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, Sunday xv August MCCCXVI