Campo Santo Teutonico
It was known to only a select few who resided within Vatican City that, in those rare moments during the day when he was not attending His Holiness, the Archbishop of Sydney was most likely to be found in the remote northeast corner of the Campo Santo Teutonico.
There, where the ancient stone walls of the cemetery converged, sat an elevated area of graves, so densely packed with centuries-old tombs and headstones it necessitated reinforcement in the form of a low retaining wall. Behind the graves, deep in the elbow of the Campo, a hedgerow, lush with fan palms and Russian olive shrubs, had been planted in a deliberate fashion so as to shield what lay behind from view.
Any knowledgeable soul curious enough to navigate through the maze of old bones and marble and successfully forge through the dueling palm fronds and olive branches would be justly rewarded, as hidden in the pocket of the corner was a beautiful living jewel—an oasis of peace. For in the far depths of the northeast corner of the Campo Santo Teutonico flourished the smallest of gardens so exquisite and lush, it could be looked upon as a remnant of the Garden of Eden.
In stark contrast to the memento mori that defined the cemetery, the little garden was alive with blooms clustered to the walls, flowering in defiance of the blistering Roman heat. And upon a patch of grass so well-tended it appeared to be velveteen, sat a carved bench, constructed from fine Italian verde marble. It was strategically placed: whomever occupied it could sit undetected and yet have the ability, should a rare breeze set the fronds into motion, to view the entire expanse of the cemetery.
So well-camouflaged was this spot, that the printed guides handed out to the Campo's visitors made no mention of this area; indeed, unless one was part of the ancient Teutonic society that owned the cemetery and its buildings or the garden crew that maintained the grounds, it was as if the little oasis did not exist at all.
Those days when the flora of the northeast quadrant required attention, the head gardener, Giuseppe, gave his staff strict orders: if present, His Grace was not to be disturbed in the garden. Giuseppe himself would quietly approach the area, peering near the roots of the shrubs. The Archbishop had long legs; if one knew where to look, a pair of black shoes, usually posed with one foot resting upon the other, confirmed his presence. In such instances, the gardener would turn to his crew and signal the Archbishop's attendance by holding his index finger to his lips, as if to say, "Silenzio."
Over time, Giuseppe Bagnara had grown used to the Archbishop's quiet appearances in the Campo. That His Grace was held in exceptionally high esteem throughout the Curia came as no surprise to Giuseppe—the gardener had learned firsthand of Edward Masen's generosity years ago. He is such a good man, such a good man of God.
Giuseppe recalled another warm spring day, now years past, when he first laid eyes on the Archbishop, then known as Bishop Masen. He had been pruning shrubs down in the west quarter of the Campo when the bishop descended from the south colonnade that shielded the Church of Santa Maria della Peità and began walking through the cemetery.
So striking was the bishop in appearance, Giuseppe stopped pruning in order to study the priest. He watched as the tall, broad-shouldered man with the reddish-brown hair, clothed in a black soutane bearing the purple sash, wandered slowly about the Campo. A book, well-worn in appearance, was tucked high inside the priest's left arm.
Every few meters, the bishop would stop to read an epithet or closely examine the flora. More than once, he lifted his head to the sky, squinting, seemingly checking the placement of the sun, only to quickly turn his head, his vision fixated on some object and his head angled, as if listening to a conversation.
Finally, the bishop returned to the far northeast corner of the cemetery where he rested upon the edge of the retaining wall, his legs crossed at the ankle. Once settled, he removed the book from under his arm, opened it and began to read.
Upon seeing the bishop in place, Giuseppe returned to his task; he paid no more heed to the priest—Rome was filled with wandering souls seeking peace. If the bishop found comfort amid the bones and relics of the Campo, so be it; the dead do not complain.
As that spring turned into one of Rome's hottest summers, visitors tended to exit the Campo before the midday sun turned the walled cemetery into an oven. The wild array of shrubs and trees thrived in the oppressive heat and humidity. Giuseppe and his crew were in constant battle to keep the graves of the dead from being overrun by the branches and vines of the living.
So the gardener was more than curious when the bishop became somewhat of a regular fixture in the Campo. Giuseppe was not alone, either, for the rector of the German seminary whose structure formed the western wall of the Campo had also become aware of the bishop's presence.
One steamy afternoon, as the bishop settled against the wall in what had become his usual spot, the rector motioned to Giuseppe that he should come inside the seminary. Once indoors, the rector, along with a few of the seminarians, began to ask the gardener a number of questions regarding the bishop, for which Giuseppe had no answers. The rector paused for a moment in thought and apparently reached a decision, for he then stepped out alone into the Campo, headed towards the bishop.
Eager to learn of the mysterious bishop themselves, Giuseppe and the young men left the building and moved to stand under the colonnade, taking care to stay in the shadows. From that vantage point, they could see that the rector and the bishop were already in deep discussion.
At one point, the rector seemed to freeze, and as quickly as he had frozen in place, his demeanor changed from his usual polite formality to one of pronounced astonishment. The rector, now in a visibly good humor, began to gesture in grand fashion, moving his hands about between the bishop and the corner of the Campo.
For a fleeting moment, the bishop appeared stunned but recovered his composure quickly. Just as he offered a crooked smile to the rector, the campane began to ring. At their sound, the bishop's smile abruptly disappeared, and he looked up into the sky, his eyes squinting in response to the sunlight.
As he turned away from the sun, the bishop spoke to the rector and made as if to leave, but the rector hastily dropped to one knee and raised his hand in request to kiss the purple ring. The bishop complied, blessed the rector, and with long strides, he exited the Campo through the south colonnade.
As soon as the bishop was out of sight, the rector stood up and hurried back to Giuseppe and the students. Flushed with excitement, he began to speak in rapid German. Giuseppe's wife, Pina, was fluent in German, but Giuseppe was not, and the only words he managed to pick up from the conversation were Masen and Kammerjäger.
The rector, realizing Giuseppe's dilemma, apologized and once he dismissed his students, took the gardener's arm. As the two men headed back down into the Campo, the rector gave Giuseppe detailed instructions as to how he wanted the gardener to create a hidden oasis for the mysterious bishop, offering only a simple explanation, "The Campo must always be a source of sanctuary for this good man of God—he has suffered for our Church."
That evening, while his wife, Pina, stirred the risotto they would eat for dinner, Giuseppe related the events surrounding the bishop and the rector's grand plans. He struggled to remember the rapid discussion between the rector and the seminarians, but finally the word "Masen" came to him.
The wooden spoon halted mid-stir, and Pina asked cautiously, "How old would you say the bishop is?"
"A guess, perhaps in his forties? I have not spoken with the man—he seems to want his peace, and who am I to disturb him?"
Pina nodded, her brow furrowed.
"What is it? Do you know of the bishop?" he asked. Pina had taught Scuola media in a Catholic academy until ill health had forced her into retirement earlier in the year. Still, she continued to keep in contact with her former colleagues—bed rest did not prevent her from keeping up with her favorite topic of gossip—the Vatican.
"The name, Masen, yes, let me think… Masen…" She turned the heat off from under the pot and began to fill their plates with the risotto.
"Oh, another word, Pina, something kammer, I think. Yes, it began with kammer…" he trailed off as the plate filled with risotto landed on the table with a loud thud.
"Was the word Kammerjäger Giuseppe?"
He looked at his wife. Pina's face held an awestruck expression.
"Pina—what is this Kammerjäger? Should I know this? First the rector, and now you—who is this man?"
"Oh, Giuseppe—you know of him—Masen, yes, Father Masen! Remember?"
She bent her head close to her husband, and said, "Kammerjäger means exterminator. Think, husband, think—remember the young Irish priest who told those Vatican pigeons that their lofts were infested by parasites? Remember how he suddenly disappeared? It's him! And he's come back a bishop! Oh, there is a God…." She sat down and looked up at him; there were tears in her eyes.
"Giuseppe, do you remember? Do you remember Lo Sterminatore?"
Lo Sterminatore! Dear God! Lo Sterminatore! Giuseppe dropped into his chair, stunned into silence. Covering his eyes with one hand, he reached out with his other for Pina's hand. Neither said a word, and the risotto grew cold as they sat in stillness, holding hands.
When he spoke again, Giuseppe's voice was soft and quiet in tone. "Yes, I do remember. I remember—Father Edward Masen, yes, his name was Edward. Father Edward Masen—lo sterminatore dei parassiti—the parasite exterminator." The rector's words made perfect sense to him now.
"The Campo must always be a source of sanctuary for this good man of God—he has suffered for our Church."
A light rain had begun to fall the next day, and both the rector and Giuseppe took it as a sign from God that their efforts on behalf of Bishop Masen were blessed, for the bishop had yet to visit the Campo during inclement weather.
Along with his crew, it took several days for Giuseppe to clear out the back corner. A number of Russian olive shrubs had been dug out from various locales in the Campo and replanted around some newly purchased fan palms. A patch of sod was placed behind the living fence, and an exquisite bench appeared—its acquisition the result of an anonymous benefactor.
Giuseppe had told the rector of Pina's idea that the bishop's garden should contain plants that flowered—all the greenery in the Campo was fine for a cemetery, but surely Bishop Masen deserved some beauty and fragrance as well—after all, this was to be a garden, not a grave. Her idea delighted the rector, and overnight the area behind the bench became rich in colorful blooms and lush in fragrance.
As the rector and the gardener looked upon the hastily constructed oasis, the priest placed his hand upon Giuseppe's shoulder and said, "We have done well, Giuseppe. Bishop Masen will know he is welcome and among friends here, in the Campo Santo Teutonico. He will know by this gesture the measure of respect and gratitude we have for him; here, he will have some peace."
Yes, thought Giuseppe, he will know that he is not alone.
When the sun returned later that week, so did Bishop Masen. Barely able to contain his excitement, Giuseppe ran into the seminary only to discover the rector and several students already gathered near an open window.
The rector raised his hand to silence the group; it seemed as if they all held their breath as they watched the bishop slowly approach the retaining wall. For a few seemingly endless minutes, the bishop simply stood near his favored spot, frozen. His back was towards the seminary, so the onlookers were unable to gauge his reaction. Suddenly, the bishop turned towards the school, his eyes squinting as he scanned the building.
Instinctively, the group of men who had been observing him stepped back from the window, even though common sense dictated that the deep shadow provided by the colonnade prevented anyone from looking directly into the school.
One of the seminarians whispered, "Can he even see us?"
It was as if the bishop had heard the question, for immediately, his eyes stopped at the window where the group of men stood. He paused for a moment before placing his right hand over his heart—just above the crucifix he wore—and offered a gentle smile, bowing his head before turning back to the retaining wall.
With the ever-present worn book in his left hand, the bishop raised the skirt of his soutane and stepped up onto the elevated area. Cautiously, he made his way through the graves to the row of fan palms and olive shrubs. As he turned past the hedgerow, the bishop came to an abrupt halt.
Now standing in the shadows of the colonnade, the men could clearly make out his expression—it was one of surprise that grew into pleased astonishment.
Once more, the bishop gazed towards the building, his hand again resting over his heart. He raised his face into the sunlight, closed his eyes for a moment, and nodded once before opening them. He looked directly at the huddled group of men, his face joyous as he smiled at them in sheer delight. And then, as if he were a magician, the bishop disappeared completely from their sight.
The rector softly shooed the students back into the seminary. As the men left the colonnade, he turned to Giuseppe and said, "It is a good thing we have done in the Campo today, yes?"
The gardener beamed back at him, "Yes, it is a good thing, Father, a very good thing."
Perhaps an hour later, as Giuseppe was finishing a last bit of weeding, a shadow appeared, blocking the sunlight. Startled, Giuseppe twisted around and looked up. What he saw left him dumbstruck.
Clearly, this man was Bishop Masen, but this man was unlike any bishop Giuseppe had ever encountered in his life. He could not help but examine the man standing before him. He was tall, very tall—at least 190 centimeters! Broad-shouldered, athletic in build, and his face, so handsome! Then reality hit him—dear God—this young man was Il Sterminatore? Giuseppe's mind began to flood with questions as he continued to stare at the bishop, speechless.
"My apologies, Giuseppe, I did not mean to alarm you."
The bishop was gazing intently at him—and all Giuseppe could do was stare back. His eyes, his eyes—they held so much! It was as if the gardener gazed into the sea, but instead of seeing the reflection of the sun and sky, what mirrored back to him was a soul unable to mask an abundance of weariness and pain.
Giuseppe could only stare at the priest. This man has suffered! Yet, he is still so young! What? Perhaps, thirty-three? How had he thought him to be middle-aged? His office? And yet, those eyes—a lifetime—no, lifetimes of pain….
The bishop cleared his throat and spoke to him again, "Giuseppe—may I call you Giuseppe?"
The low tones of the bishop's voice brought Giuseppe back into the moment, and immediately he stood and removed his hat. Another thought struck him, and he made as if to kneel and kiss the bishop's ring.
"No, no, please," the bishop gestured to stop him. "You spend your days working on your knees for the Campo, please, do not kneel for me."
Giuseppe nodded and removed his gardening gloves. With apparent reluctance, the bishop extended his right hand. Like the rest of the man, his hand was large and in no way delicate. Giuseppe took hold of it, and as he reverently kissed Bishop Masen's ring, he was shocked to discover calluses on the priest's hand—calluses that spoke of hard work. At some point, this man had been a laborer, like himself. Who is this man?
Either his face must have given him away, or the priest was a mind-reader for as he retracted his hand from Giuseppe's grip, the bishop laughed lightly, visibly self-conscious.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to someone kissing my hand, but—ascolti—listen, Giuseppe," he said, suddenly serious, "I wanted to thank you for what you have done here in the Campo for me—I'm quite overwhelmed by your generosity and kindness; I really don't think I can truly express my gratitude in words."
"Begging your pardon, Your Grace, but I am only the gardener here. The rector and the Teutonic Association are responsible …"
The bishop interrupted Giuseppe's words, "No, no—you tend to the living here in the Campo, not the dead—the dead, they do not need tending; they no longer need the air or the rains." He paused, a sad smile on his face, "The rains… the rains… they make the world come alive…. "
The bishop abruptly stopped speaking and closed his eyes. He appeared to be absorbed in deep thought, and as the silence grew, so did Giuseppe's concern for the man.
"Your Grace? Bishop Masen, are you well?"
The bishop opened his eyes and ran his hand up around his forehead; his fingers momentarily buried in his hair.
"My apologies, Giuseppe—I often lose myself in thought, and please, call me Father Edward—Bishop Edward if you feel you must address me formally, but as our paths will cross often, we are certain to become friends, and I would really prefer to be called by my given name, Edward. I am neither a lord, nor am I full of grace."
Giuseppe once again went mute. Never had he heard any prelate speak in such a manner, and he found the bishop's frankness and lack of formality refreshing. Here was a man, grounded in faith, but one who seemed, at least to Giuseppe, to understand that he was a man, regardless of office.
The bishop continued, "I must return to the Vatican, but before I leave, I want to thank you again for the garden, especially the flowers—the rector did not mention planting flowers, and I find them most pleasing." He paused for a moment, "The blooms, their scent—they please me very much."
Giuseppe could not wait to tell his wife, and in his excitement, blurted out, "The flowers were Pina's idea—my wife, Pina. She said that you should have flowers, ones that bloomed, or else the space would not be a garden but another grave."
The bishop's head rocked back with laughter. "I think I like the way your wife thinks—Pina, is it? Tell me a bit about her—the Vatican can wait a moment longer." His expression reflected a genuine interest in the gardener and his wife.
"Yes, Father, Pina, Giuseppina actually, but she prefers Pina. She's a retired teacher—her heart is generous, but it doesn't want to work as well as it did in the past. So she rests at home and cares for me." His smile was sad as he looked at the bishop.
"So you have no children, Giuseppe?"
Again, the gardener thought either the priest was very perceptive or a mind reader.
"No, Father. Pina's heart has always been weak, so she became a teacher. In that way, she could care for hundreds of children. And I became a gardener—I care for other living things. We have a small apartment here in Rome, and God has blessed us with each other. We have a good life."
The bishop was silent for a second. "Does Pina like flowers?"
"Oh yes, especially now that her activities are limited. She used to love to wander the L'Infiorata di Genzano, but it is too difficult for her now." Sadness was beginning to seep into their discussion, but who to better confess his fears to than a compassionate priest?
"Giuseppe, I need you to do something for me—may I ask a favor of you? It's a special favor I ask of you, and only of you, but I need your help. Are you willing to help me?"
The bishop's tone was serious; of course, he would help the priest. In fact, he wanted to do anything that would ease the burden this young man carried.
"Of course, Father, whatever you need, I am here to aid you in any way. What can I do for you?"
The bishop drew closer to Giuseppe, his voice lowered, "I have some means of my own, and beginning this very day, the Campo will receive a stipend in your name to be used specifically for the purchase of the most beautiful flowering plants Rome has to offer. These plants should be such that, regardless of season, there will always be flowers blooming in the garden. Is this possible? Do you understand my request, Giuseppe?"
Giuseppe was confused. "But Father, there are flowers already in the garden—you want more?"
"Yes," the bishop paused before continuing, "It is my specific direction to you that there be enough beautiful flowers blooming in the garden, so that any time of year, you are to able cut the most perfect blooms and bring them home to your wife, Pina, as a gift from you, not me. Let me make that clear—the blooms that you bring to your wife are from you, not me. My name is not to be mentioned at all. There will be more than enough flowers left for me to enjoy in the few hours I spend in the garden. I will personally provide the funds so that neither the Campo nor you are burdened with additional expenses. Giuseppe?"
The bishop was staring at him, a firm and formidable look in his eye.
"Giuseppe? Will you accommodate my wishes? Are we in agreement? Do you understand?"
Giuseppe was overwhelmed, and the priest must have sensed it, for he took on a softer tone, and said, "We must always bring what joy we can to those we hold safe in our hearts, to those we love. Will you do this for me, Giuseppe?"
The gardener looked deep into Father Edward's eyes. There was such a sadness there. Giuseppe realized he would do whatever the man asked of him.
"You have my word, Father Edward. My Pina will love the fresh flowers, but truly, I cannot mention your help at all?"
"No, not at all. Giuseppe—you are planting and nurturing the flowers. It is your time and tenderness that causes the plants to flourish, just as it is up to you to care for your wife's tender heart. All I've done is provide the funds to the Campo, and I know the rector will abide by my wishes."
The bishop gave him another sad smile. "It's just money, Giuseppe, just money. I know for some, money is everything, but you and I, we know differently, don't we, my friend? Love, not money, is everything. Love is everything, yes, Giuseppe?"
"Yes, Father Edward, yes." Holding back tears, the gardener nodded his head, "Yes, love is everything."
Giuseppe had seen the Archbishop enter the Campo through the colonnade. Usually, Father Edward would acknowledge Giuseppe's presence with a slight nod, to which the gardener would raise his straw hat in return. It was their long-standing ritual—a signal all was well. But this day, Father Edward seemed to be in a hurry, as if he were late for some appointment.
In all his years tending the Campo, Giuseppe had only seen two people deliberately seek out the Archbishop, both men princes of the Church.
There was the American—Cardinal Cullen—who radiated such a magnitude of love and compassion that instantly one recognized being in the presence of a holy man. And then there was other one, the one always in the shadows—Cardinal Volterá—who was of such a frightening demeanor, his appearance caused not only Giuseppe, but anyone near the cardinal, to make the sign of the cross to ward off the sheer malevolence that emanated from the scarlet-robed gargoyle.
It seemed as if the Archbishop had just disappeared behind the fan palms when Giuseppe saw the red brim of a galero, its owner lurking in the depths of the colonnade. Out of instinct, the gardener shivered.
Quickly, Giuseppe offered up a prayer of protection for the Archbishop, and as he made the sign of the cross, the corner of his eye caught the movement of evil as Il Gambero slithered toward his good friend, Edward.
Dear readers, thank you for your patience. RL precluded posting new chapters, but I can definitively say there will not be a three-month wait between chapters again. Please accept my apologies.
First and foremost, I thank the following amazing women for their help: Pa Trizia 88 and IpsitaC77 for the beautiful artwork, Pa Trizia 88 for her assistance in translations, shouldbecleaning and LayAtHomeMom for taking the time to pre-read and offer insight, and Hadley Hemingway for going above and beyond the call as my beta. I own all mistakes.
I would also like to thank the seminarians at the Collegio Teutonico, Città del Vaticano, who were kind enough to answer my many questions.
Finally, Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight, The Thorn Birds belongs to the Estate of Colleen McCullough, and, other than the rare nod to canon, the original characters/subplots/backstories, etc. are mine.