The Da Vinci Code, in all its many incarnations, has a lot to answer for. This latest entry in the religious suspense sweepstakes is by a bestselling Spanish novelist, who stirs up the pot by mixing fact and fiction to tell what happened to the legendary Shroud of Turin, supposedly Jesus' burial garment. Several centuries of sturm und drang—including perhaps one severed tongue too many—whiz by, lightened only by the odd liturgical chant, as reader Langton uses his best Masterpiece TheaterBritish accent to hit the high points. Of course there's a modern detective who develops some new leads. But unless you positively can't live without your daily dose of anti-Vatican paranoia, this is probably one to skip. Simultaneous release with the Bantam hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 30). (Jan.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroudby James Langton
One of History’s Most Sacred Treasures. . .
An Age-Old Secret Conspiracy. . .
Now the Truth Is Revealed. . . .
Marco Valoni, chief of Italy’s Art Crimes Department, is convinced that a fire in the Cathedral of Turin that leaves a strangely mutilated, unidentifiable body on the scene was no accident. It is only the last in a long line of mishaps,… See more details below
One of History’s Most Sacred Treasures. . .
An Age-Old Secret Conspiracy. . .
Now the Truth Is Revealed. . . .
Marco Valoni, chief of Italy’s Art Crimes Department, is convinced that a fire in the Cathedral of Turin that leaves a strangely mutilated, unidentifiable body on the scene was no accident. It is only the last in a long line of mishaps, going back over a hundred years, that have occurred in the church – which happens to be home to what millions of the faithful believe is that authentic burial shroud of Jesus Christ.
Valoni and his crack team of specialists embark on an investigation that soon leads them into dangerous territory, territory controlled by some of the most powerful men in the world. Not only do they discover evidence of a secret Christian sect that traces its priests to the very disciples of Jesus himself, but also that the Knights Templar – supposedly destroyed forever when Philip the Fair of France watched their last Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, burn at the stake in 1314 – may not have disappeared at all, and may indeed be very much alive and active in the 21st century.
Julia Navarro skillfully weaves the Italians’ thrilling present-day investigation with the spine-tingling history of the Holy Shroud itself, and with a chilling tale of ancient rivals, equally devoted to the relic, and equally willing to sacrifice anything – perhaps even their immortal souls–to possess it.
From communities of the Middle East founded by Jesus himself, to medieval Byzantium, to the highest councils of the Vatican and the boardrooms that run the world today, The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud is a provocative listen of the highest order – one that will challenge you to believe.
- Random House Audio Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt
C. 30 A.D.
Abgar, king of Edessa,
to Jesus the good Savior, who appears at Jerusalem,
I have been informed concerning you and the cures you perform without the use of medicines and herbs.
For it is reported that you cause the blind to see and the lame to walk, that you cleanse lepers, cast out unclean spirits and devils, and restore to health those who have been long diseased, and, further, that you raise up the dead.
All of which, when I heard, persuaded me of one of these two: either that you are God Himself descended from heaven who does these things, or you are the Son of God.
On this account, therefore, I write to you earnestly, to beg that you take the trouble of a journey hither and cure a disease which I am under.
For I hear the Jews ridicule you and intend you mischief.
My city is indeed small, but neat, and large enough for us both.
The king laid down his pen and turned his eyes toward a young man of his own age, waiting motionless and respectful at the far end of the room.
"You are certain, Josar?" The king's gaze was direct and piercing.
"My lord, believe me. . . ." The young man could barely hold himself back as he spoke. He approached the king and stopped near the table at which Abgar had been writing.
"I believe you, Josar, I believe you. You are the most faithful friend I have, and so you have been since we were boys. You have never failed me, Josar, but the wonders that are told of this Jew are so passing strange that I fear your desire to aid me may have confounded your senses."
"My lord, you must believe me, for only those who believe in the Jew are saved. I have seen a blind man, when Jesus brushed his fingers over the man's dead eyes, recover his sight. I have seen a lame man, whose legs would not move, touch the hem of Jesus' tunic and have seen Jesus gaze sweetly upon him and bid him walk, and to the astonishment of all, the man stood and his legs bore him as your legs, sire, bear you. I have seen a poor woman suffering from leprosy watch the Nazarene as she hid in the shadows of the street, for all men fled her, and Jesus approached her and said to her, 'You are cured,' and the woman, incredulous, cried, 'I am healed, I am healed!' For indeed her face became that of a human once more, and her hands, which before she hid from sight, were whole.
"And I have seen with my own eyes the greatest of all miracles, for when I was following Jesus and his disciples and we came upon a family mourning the death of a relative, Jesus entered the house and commanded the dead man to rise. God must be in the voice of the Nazarene, for I swear to you, my king, that the man opened his eyes, and stood, and wondered at being alive. . . ."
"You are right, Josar, I must believe if I am to be healed. I want to believe in this Jesus of Nazareth, who is truly the Son of God if he can raise the dead. But will he want to heal a king who has been prey to concupiscence?"
"Abgar, Jesus cures not only men's bodies but also their souls. He preaches that with repentance and the desire to lead a life free thenceforth of sin, a man may merit the forgiveness of God. Sinners find solace in the Nazarene, my sire. . . ."
"I do sincerely hope so, Josar, although I cannot forgive myself for my lust for Ania. The woman has brought this plight upon me; she has sickened me in body and in soul."
"How were you to know, sire, that she was diseased, that the gift sent you by King Tyrus was a stratagem of state? How were you to suspect that she bore the seed of the illness and would contaminate you? Ania was the most beautiful woman we had ever seen. Any man would have lost his reason and given his all to have her."
"But I am king, Josar, and I should not have lost my reason, however beautiful the dancing girl may have been. . . . Now she weeps over her lost beauty, for the marks of the disease are upon her face, and the whiteness is eating it away. And I, Josar, have a sweat upon me that never leaves me, and my sight grows cloudy, and I fear above all things that the illness will consume my skin and leave me–"
Abgar fell silent at the sound of soft footsteps. A smiling woman, lithe, with black hair and olive skin, entered.
Josar admired her. Yes, he admired the perfection of her features and the happy smile she always wore; beyond that he admired her loyalty to the king and the fact that her lips would never have uttered the slightest reproach against the man stolen from her by Ania, the dancing girl from the Caucasus, the woman who had contaminated her husband the king with the terrible disease.
Abgar would not allow himself to be touched by anyone, since he feared he might pollute all those with whom he came in contact. He appeared less and less frequently in public. But he had not been able to resist the iron will of the queen, who insisted upon caring for him personally and, not just that, who also encouraged him in his soul to believe the story brought by Josar of the wonders performed by the Nazarene.
The king looked at her with sadness in his eyes.
"It is you, my dear. . . . I was talking with Josar about the Nazarene. He will take a letter to him inviting him to come. I have offered to share my kingdom with him."
"An escort should accompany Josar, to ensure that nothing happens on the journey and to ensure also that he returns safely with the Nazarene."
"I will take three or four men; that will be enough," Josar said. "The Romans have no trust in their subjects and would not look with favor on a group of soldiers entering the town. Nor would Jesus. I hope, my lady, to complete my mission and convince Jesus to return with me. I will take swift horses and will send you and my lord the news when I reach Jerusalem."
"I shall complete the letter, Josar."
"And I shall leave at dawn, my lord."
The fire began to lick at the pews as smoke filled the nave with darkness. Four figures dressed in black hurried toward a lateral chapel. A fifth man, humbly dressed, hovering in a doorway near the high altar, wrung his hands. The high wail of sirens reached a crescendo outside–fire trucks responding to the alarm. In a matter of seconds firefighters would burst into the cathedral, and that meant another failure.
The man rushed down from the altar, motioning his brothers to come to him. One of them kept running toward the chapel, while the others shrank back from the fire that was beginning to surround them. Time had run out. The fire had come out of nowhere and progressed faster than they'd calculated. The man trying so desperately to fulfill their mission was enveloped in flames. He writhed as the fire consumed his clothes, his skin, but somehow he found the strength to pull off the hood that concealed his face. The others tried to reach him, to beat back the flames, but the fire was everywhere, and the cathedral doors began to buckle as the firefighters battered against them. Their brother burned without a scream, without a sound.
They retreated then and raced behind their guide to a side door, slipping outside at the same instant the water from the fire hoses poured into the cathedral. They never saw the man hiding among the shadows of one of the pulpits, a silencer–equipped pistol at his side.
Once they were gone, he came down from the pulpit, touched a spring hidden in the wall, and disappeared.
Marco Valoni took a drag off his cigarette, and the smoke mixed in his lungs with the smoke from the fire. He'd come outside for fresh air while the firefighters finished putting out the embers that were still glowing in and around the right side of the high altar.
The piazza was closed off with police blockades, and the carabinieri were holding back the curious and the concerned, all craning their necks to try to see what had happened in the cathedral. At that hour of the evening, Turin was a beehive of people desperate to learn whether the Holy Shroud had been damaged.
Marco had asked the reporters covering the fire to try to keep the crowds calm: The shroud had been unscathed. What he hadn't told them was that someone had died in the flames. He still didn't know who.
Another fire. Fire seemed to plague the old cathedral. But Marco didn't believe in coincidences, and the Turin Cathedral was a place where too many accidents happened: robbery attempts and, within recent memory, three fires. In the first one, which occurred after the Second World War, investigators had found the bodies of two men incinerated by the flames. The autopsy determined that they were both about twenty–five and that, despite the fire, they had been killed by gunshot. And last, a truly gruesome finding: Their tongues had been surgically cut out. But why? And who had shot them? No one had ever been able to find out. The case was still open, but it had gone cold.
Neither the faithful nor the general public knew that the shroud had spent long periods of time outside the cathedral over the last hundred years. Maybe that was why it had been spared the consequences of so many accidents.
A vault in the Banco Nazionale had been the shroud's place of safekeeping. The relic was taken out of it only to be displayed on special occasions, and then only under the strictest security. But despite all the security, the shroud had been exposed to danger–real danger–more than once. It had been moved back to the cathedral only days ago, in preparation for the unveiling of extensive refurbishments.
Marco still remembered the fire of April 12, 1997. How could he forget, since it was the same night–or early morning–he'd been celebrating his retirement with his colleagues in the Art Crimes Department.
He was fifty then, and he'd just been through open–heart surgery. Two heart attacks and a life–or–death operation had finally persuaded him to listen when Giorgio Marchesi, his brother–in–law and cardiologist, advised him to devote himself to the dolce far niente, or, at the least, put in for a nice quiet bureaucratic position, one of those jobs where he could spend his time reading the newspaper and taking midmorning breaks for cappuccino in some nearby cafe.
Paola had insisted that he retire; she sugared the pill by reminding him that he had gone as high in the Art Crimes Department as he could go–he was the director–and that he could honorably end a brilliant career and devote himself to enjoying life. But he had resisted. He'd rather go into some office–any office–every day than to turn into fifty–year–old retired jetsam washed up on some beach somewhere. Even so, he'd resigned his position as director of the Art Crimes Department, and the night before the fire, despite Paola's and Giorgio's protests, he'd gone out to dinner with his friends. By daybreak they were still drinking. These were the same people he'd been working with for fourteen, fifteen hours a day for the last twenty years, tracking down the mafias that trafficked in artworks, unmasking forgeries, and protecting, so far as was humanly possible, Italy's artistic heritage.
The Art Crimes Department was a special agency under both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Culture. It was a unique collection of police officers mixed with a good number of archaeologists, historians, experts in medieval art, modern art, religious art. . . . He had given it the best years of his life.
It had not been easy to climb the ladder of success. His father had worked in a gas station; his mother was a homemaker. They had just scraped by, and he'd managed to attend the university thanks only to scholarships. But his mother had pleaded with him to find a good, secure job, one with the state, and he had given in to her wishes. A friend of his father's, a policeman who regularly stopped to fill up at the gas station, helped him with the entrance tests for the carabinieri. Marco took them and passed them, but he wasn't cut out to be a cop, so he continued his studies at night, after work, and eventually managed to earn a degree in history. The first thing he did when he got his degree was request a transfer to the Art Crimes Department. He combined his two specialties, history and police work, and little by little, working hard and taking advantage of breaks when they came his way, he rose through the ranks to the top. How he'd enjoyed traveling through Italy, experiencing its treasures firsthand and getting to know other countries, too, as his career progressed!
He had met Paola at the University of Rome. She was studying medieval art; it was love at first sight, and within months they were married. They'd been together for twenty–five years; they had two children and were truly happy together.
Paola taught at the university, and she had never expressed any resentment at how little time he spent at home. Only once had they had a really big fight. It was when he returned from Turin that spring of 1997, after the cathedral fire, and told her he was not retiring after all, but not to worry because he would redefine his job as director. He would embrace bureaucracy. He wasn't going to be traveling anymore or out in the field doing investigations–he was just going to be a bureaucrat. Giorgio, his doctor, told him he was crazy. But the men and women he worked with were delighted.
It was the fire in the cathedral that had changed his mind about staying. He was convinced that it hadn't been accidental, no matter how often he told the press it was.
And now here he was, investigating another fire in the Turin Cathedral. Less than two years ago he'd been called in to investigate another robbery attempt, one of many over the years. The thief had been caught almost by accident. Although it was true he hadn't had any cathedral property on him, it was surely just because he hadn't had time to pull off the job. Artworks and other objects near the shroud's casket were in disarray. A priest passing by just then saw a man running, apparently scared off by the sound of the alarm, which was louder than the cathedral's bells. The priest ran after him, yelling, "Fermati, ladro! Fermati!"–"Stop, thief! Stop!"–and two young men passing by had tackled him and held him until the police arrived. The thief had no tongue; it had been surgically removed. Nor did he have any fingerprints; the tips of his fingers were scarred over from burns. The thief, so far as the investigation was concerned, was a man without a country, without a name, and he was now rotting in the Turin jail. He'd remained obdurate and unresponsive through interrogation after interrogation. They'd never managed to get anything out of him.
No, Marco didn't believe in coincidences. It was no coincidence that all the "thieves" in the Turin Cathedral had no tongues and had had their fingerprints burned off. Such a pattern would be almost laughable were it not so grotesque.
From the Hardcover edition.
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