05 December 2015


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred Thirty!

Since today's setting is the one that got the Conspiratorial Corners challenge started, I wanted to save it until the end. My timing never works out these days, does it? Yet it's still good that I had a setting in reserve, or else I might have had to skip this week, too. Now I have another fortnight before I feel really desperate again. But perhaps by then I'll have read a certain relevant 2015 TBR Challenge book (Can you guess which one?) and be all caught up.

The Room of the Meridian
Windswept House: A Vatican Novel
by Father Malachi Martin

. . . [Father Chris Gladstone] surveyed the walls covered with frescoes depicting the Eight Winds as godlike figures and with scenes from ancient Roman bucolic life during the four seasons. He paced the zodiac diagram on the floor, designed to coordinate during daylight hours with the sun's rays sliding through a slit in one of the frescoed walls. He looked up to see the anemometers on the ceiling, and knew its indoor pointer was moved by an outside weathervane to indicate which of the Eight winds was blowing through the Eternal City.

That Room of the Meridian cast a spell, but it wasn't the spell Chris would have expected. He was lulled by the keening of the winds, by the movement of the ceiling pointer, by the peaceful scenes of a pastoral life that was no more. He was surrounded by the lonely emptiness of the room, by the gentle creaking of that ancient stairway, by the mausoleum effect of the surrounding galleries of the Archives. This place is all full of dead things, Gladstone's mind kept telling him. All dead things . . .

Yes, the Room of the Meridian actually exists, and Father Malachi Martin would have stood in it once or twice during the time he worked in the Vatican. Given the political intrigue he would have been neck-deep in, it's also safe to imagine that the sobering thoughts he gives to his priest protagonist Chris Gladstone are a reflection of his own.

There really is something about conspiracy that takes a toll on the psyche. If you're sneaking about behind people's backs, speaking in whispers and veiled meanings, and essentially living a double life--even if you happen to be in the right--it will change the way you see everything. (In fairness, it also works the other way round: when the way you see everything has been changed, but things are " business as usual" for others, you are often forced to lead a double life. It is hard to tell which between the chicken and the egg came first.)

Father Gladstone's grim reaction to the Room of the Meridian is a contrast to the way one of his ancestor's saw the place: the latter loved the room enough to commission a replica of it for the Gladstone family estate. He had visited the Vatican on equally serious business, but his was business that was carried out in the full light of day. Perhaps when he had stood in the same room (and let's imagine morning or afternoon lighting for him, shall we?) he would have had a sense of vibrant life all over the Vatican . . . and therefore, all over Rome . . . which ultimately means, all over the world.

Windswept House is about Catholics who have been betrayed by churchmen all over the hierarchy and who can never quite see the Church in the same way again, but who choose to stay. (Domine, ad quem ibimus?) For them, the whole world looks like the dark, dead Room of the Meridian, with no sunrise in sight. That is, the whole world is a setting that turns Catholics who would have been happy to lead ordinary lives into conspirators who must live and move halfway in shadow. And as I was saying, the toll on their psyches is huge.

Question of the Week: Have you ever been to a place that was meaningful to an ancestor of yours?

Image Source: Windswept House: A Vatican Novel by Father Malachi Martin

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