Honorable Señor Nicolo!
I am saluting and blessing the time of the day when my letter will be delivered to you! I hope it will reach you in the last preparations and readiness to another journey to the Italian land. I hasten to learn how your health and mind is, what do you eat? Do you enjoy the great success of your Opus Magnum in your homeland, the echo of which roaring reached Rome already?
...in your life and literary work you not once met direct metaphysical challenges thrown down to you as a Russian nobleman and a literary man. In the current case I am affronted with this challenge not only as a Benedictine, a servant of God, but also as an Italian aristocrat from the old Patrician family. I felt the first inner thrust and, probably, inner illumination, when I read a letter with the command from the General of my Order (Abbot Primus) who grudgingly described the events happening near Ancona with a demand to go to those places taking all necessary precautions, since the Pontifical power is still exhausted with the despoliation by the merciless Corsican and it has not returned ultimately; gangs cut up rough everywhere, starting from Gallic and Austrian marauders to other motley robbers and smugglers, and monks reconnoiters often disappear without leaving a trace... Within a mile from a small village at the bottom of the Apennines there was a gipsy camping ground. Members of the nomadic tribe again started entering the Papal States, benefiting from the weakness of the power and circulation of disruptive ideas of nihilistic libertinage and support of the Carbonari by the population, and simply from superstitious fears that are incurable among peasants. (And we are not talking about following encyclics of Leo XII and our Pontific Pope Gregory XVII, in addition the state of churches and attitudes is lamentable).
I was travelling from Rome to Acona for two weeks, in distressing apprehension and expectation of the unknown, over the Italian lands devastated by the second epidemic of cholera and wars, until I reached, by the grace of God, a small village over the Frasassi gorge. From this place there was an old road to the mountains, almost lost in juniper bushes, it takes you to an inconspicuous entrance to the grotto where in the XI century Benedictines built Capella Santa Maria del Frasassi, and fifteen years ago they built a basilica by the order of Pontific Leo XII. The Vatican returns its lands in order to maintain God's work everywhere. On the second day of my stay in the village, during hora sexta, my invisible stigmata began burning and itching unbearably.
…When I was coming out of the outskirts of consciousness and a host of dismal visions, I was praying, sweating and trying to focus on a darkened crucifix below the intersecting ceiling beams in the room of the previous podesta that I had been given. Sometimes the door to my room was opened by a deaf and mute old woman with a jar in her hands, who was looking at me remaining in the dark. Then she would leave the jar with water by the entrance without stepping into the room. I crawled to it from my corner and drank greedily.
...having noticed us, the gipsy snatched their knives. Someone shouted to them and an old heavyset gypsy man stepped forward. There were no doubts that he was a chief. In his knotty hand he was holding a torch illuminating his black-bearded face. In the flash of fire I noticed that he had a brand. He looked at us quietly and darkly, and then he addressed me directly. He was speaking confidently and vaguely using words from different dialects, but I understood him. The physical tension from the look of his black oily eyes, in which reflected sparks were dancing slowly like fire salamanders in an alchemist laboratory, returned the burning feeling of stigmata and rooted me to the spot.
...walking around juniper bushes I heard goats bleating and quiet singing. I stopped and listened, I could not distinguish the words and I did not know the language. The singing pierced my heart and in the tune itself there was an ominous inescapability. I took a step in order to follow the voice, but I tripped on a rock and fell down. I dropped the torch and it went out. .
... I crawled into a narrow grotto that was getting wider with my movement, and I found myself on the rim rock. And at this moment recognition of the events began returning to me and I saw myriads of moving lights that, like ignis fatum, were illuminating a great karst hall created by the raging will that was presented by the parting galleries of stalagnates. This is when the Nature itself, fantastically and at times in a sinister way, combines stalactites and stalagmites in karst strains hidden at the foot of the mountains and going up into the depth of mountain rocks. And in these wet and cold shadows, in the shining of the moving lights, a girl was dancing among the calciferous architecture. She was naked, her skin was of the color of ancient dull marble, and her loose hair was garlands of braided grass nests. She was moving slowly around the columns. Her eyes were open, as if upside down, and cast…, ghastly moving over the basal part of the dome. Life was only in the lights' movement. This grotto was an organ. A hydraulicon. But who was that Ctesibius who had created it? In order to depict and describe it, a new Markus Vetruvious Pollio will be needed! This slow and suppressing music, as a refined eternal torture, was created by water moving through endless limestone voids and howling of winds inside the columns.
...and at this moment the air was rent by a piercing shriek, I was attacked by thousands of creatures that were drumming their webbed wings and sweeping past me at the same time scratching my hands over my eyes. The flying denizens of hell were returning to their grotto after the night hunt. I felt the taste of my own blood and lost consciousness right at the entrance.
…he threw me something that glistened in the first morning light. He again laughed, turned around and went up over the ridge. Without turning back he shouted over his shoulder: 'Padre, take it as a memento about us!'... Goats were bleating as they left.
...on the dry stony ground there was a blind salamander drying in the rays of the rising sun. What was happening to me was slow and it resembled a dream, as if I was watching from the sidelines.
…gunshots were heard from far away in the valley, there were voices and horses neighing. I sat down on the ground with my back to a pine tree. I was so exhausted I could not walk towards them.
…I was still utterly speechless.
...I could listen and words and meanings penetrated me. The Podesta told me that above that place, he meant the grotto local peasants were scared to enter because they thought it was condemned, there used to be a pagan sanctuary where sacrifices were offered and things sacrificed to idols were eaten. During the turmoil time and wars paganism is released in dark souls and it develops into pandemic. The Lord gave us the best and verified remedies: the Fire and the Word protecting the Divine Law. They are able to withstand tactical attacks of Hell.
...I saw carcasses of burnt carts and several bloated corpses of horses, and vultures were sitting on them tearing the decaying flesh. They did not pay any attention to us. The Podesta said that gendarmes had killed the chief and several men who refused submission to arrest, other people had been taken away. I faced away and said a prayer. The carriage moved on. We did not talk about what had happened and we were silent all the way. From Ascona I sent all necessary letters and received an order to return to Rome. And right before my departure I am writing to you, Señor Nicolo. My gown does not allow me to think about writer's laurels, but maybe you found in my story something worthy your contemplation about similar things that you shared with me when we met.
I am setting out to Rome where I will serve, pray for you and wait for our meeting. I am sure that walks over the Hills will inspire you for new watercolors, and you will have your appetite back as soon as you find yourself in a mile from osteria La Vecchia Lepre which you liked so much, where for two centuries everything remains unchanged!
Salve Señor Nicolo and let your journey to Rome be undisturbed!
Padre Lorenco Sforza, monk