Monday, October 3, 2016

Alastair Gunn Presents The Bergamese Sect

Prologue - Valladolid, Spain, October 1493 

A woman’s wailing pierced through the fog, echoing around squalid huts, along the dank, dirty streets. The shrill cry shattered the early morning calm of the city. A stork, nestling on the church of Santa Maria la Antigua, craned its neck, inspecting the square below for the source of the scream. But the fog hid the muddy ground. 
Alfonso de Morillo frowned. His dark eyes squinted from his shiny head, past the young man before him, searching for the commotion in the gloom. Suddenly, the woman’s howling was lost in the rumble of a jeering crowd. The two monks watched as a throng emerged from the swirling mist, moving en masse into the square. People were shouting and whistling, running ahead of the mob to meet its approach. Amid the frenzy, a middle-aged man with long, dark hair was bent over, shielding himself from the violent jostling. He wore nothing but a sulphur-yellow tunic, badly fitting, emblazoned with black crosses. Barefoot, he scraped over the sand and pebbles, his legs bruised and cut, his thin arms trying to cover his exposed lower torso. People struck at him, pushed him. 
The wailing woman, dark-skinned and short, grasped the seam of his tunic, her eyes wet, pleading with the scrambling horde. To her skirts clung two sniveling children, confused and frightened, dragging after the spectacle. ‘Marrano,’ 
Alfonso de Morillo whispered as the riot loomed nearer. He turned to his companion. A pained expression was squeezing the young Italian’s face. His eyes glared wildly at the approaching horde, revulsion etched in the curve of his lips. The people pushed the cowering man toward the church. The convert, suspected of hidden beliefs, had been sent for judgement. But the journey to the inquisitor’s halls was through a crowd keen to condemn. The fog seemed to part before them as the noisy riot rushed on. Alfonso and the Italian stepped away as the crowd approached. 
A dignitary, dressed in red and purple, appeared from within the cavernous church doorway and pushed forward through the throng. He began shouting a list of heresies at the crowd, pointing accusingly at the man. Cheers and further accusations flew up from the onlookers. The impeached man was unmoved, concerned only with his wife and children. He tried to push the woman away, whispering some assurance to her. But she was inconsolable, her face red with terror. 
Suddenly, something hard and pointed shot from the throng and hit the man on the shoulder. He fell to his knees, dropped his gaze to the ground. His hands went up, shielding his head from the kicks that rained down on him. ‘Take him to the house of Zúñiga!’ a voice cried out. The crowd applauded. 
Alfonso turned to the Italian, nudged him, and began walking away. From what he already knew of his companion, the flogging would not be to his liking. The young monk drew his stunned eyes away and followed Alfonso across the square, glancing back once or twice with a frown on his face. They stopped by a row of graves beneath the wall of the Collegiate Church, almost hidden in an untidy line of squalid huts. A vapour was rising from the nearby stream. It mingled with the acrid stench of decay along the slippery banks, dissolved into the dense fog. The rank odour made Alfonso swallow uncomfortably. ‘We must leave them to their sport,’ he said. 
The other man didn’t respond. His eyes remained on the excited mob, still visible through the wet dullness. 
‘So, Gaetano,’ Alfonso said, trying to distract the foreigner. ‘What is it that interrupts the Consejo Supremo?’ The Italian looked back. Alfonso thought he hadn’t heard the question, but then a respectful expression descended over the Italian. 
‘My lord,’ he replied in a thick accent, ‘apologies for diverting you from your work. My master, Abrazzo of Bergamo, has sent me on this errand. He invites you to become officiator for a new order of devotion.’ Alfonso raised his brow, inviting more explanation, but the Italian returned to inspecting the commotion. Two burly men now held the accused man up – people taking turns to strike him across the face. 
‘Come, Gaetano,’ Alfonso said, and tugged on the monk’s grey habit. They strode quietly, circling around the unkempt graveyard, until the crowd was lost behind the heavy buttresses of the church. The occasional shout still erupted through the fog. Alfonso stopped, looking up at the imposing building before them. The walls were strong, geometric, the stone grey and worn. Gargoyles huddled beneath the eaves, their bulging eyes cold and menacing. Above, a square tower thrust majestically skyward, its pyramidal roof tiled in bright terracotta, the summit almost lost in the vapours. Alfonso looked back at his companion who was also staring up at the high tower. The Italian was lean, some would say thin, yet sturdy, resolute. His face was striking, yet dour in expression. Swathes of dark hair covered his head, the tonsured scalp tanned and shining. Gaetano had arrived in Valladolid the previous day, presented himself before the High Council on the Calle de Francos and requested a meeting with Alfonso, an apostolic inquisitor in Torquemada’s entourage. 
The work of the tribunal took most of Alfonso’s time; poring over documents from dawn to dusk, travelling the length of Castile, sitting in judgement on men like the one now being beaten before the door of the church. Alfonso wasn’t often inclined to relinquish his duties so freely. But the young Gaetano had seemed overly agitated by the possibility of refusal and Alfonso had agreed to meet him the following morning. The inquisitor glanced briefly around. He pulled his black mantle around him. His tonsured head, of sixty or more years, was feeling a slight chill from the late autumn morning. He shook his shoulders to warm himself. 
‘So, Gaetano, a new order?’ he said. ‘You wish to divert me from the Dominican doctrine?’ There was a touch of sarcasm in the inquisitor’s voice but it seemed to pass over the other cleric. His face remained stern, as if questioning his worthiness. Alfonso watched his brown eyes, engaging in their deepness. 
‘No, my lord,’ Gaetano replied nervously. ‘Our doctrine is not changed, only our method of devotion.’ The young monk fell silent again and returned to inspecting the church...
It was the usual bustle of the mid-week, a semblance of normality. But Alfonso noticed something was missing in the faces that passed by. The men were worried, fearful of each tap on their shuttered doors. Suspicions lay on every lip, but were not dared whispered. Even the devout and unblemished were concerned. The tribunal’s familiars lay in wait everywhere, ready to catch the merest whiff of the impenitent sinner, routing out the false converts. The faces were downcast. The city’s most infamous son, Tomas de Torquemada, was among them again, sitting in judgement on the citizens of his homelands. It had been fifteen months since the Jews were expelled from the dominions. But the people hadn’t forgotten the upheaval of that sour alliance of church and state. Many argued Torquemada was devout, a saviour of pure Christian spirit, but the methods of the Holy Office were uncompromising and and thorough in their fervour. It unnerved everyone...
‘What is this change in devotion that should interest me so?’ Alfonso asked. He watched Gaetano carefully. Although young, a sense of great erudition hung about the man. It had not been undetected by the older monk. But the Italian seemed unaccustomed to speaking freely in so open a place and glanced across the busy road uneasily. 
‘A radical methodology of inquisition,’ Gaetano said, almost in a whisper. Alfonso allowed himself a stilted smile and placed his hand gently on the monk’s shoulder. ‘Gaetano, the methodology of His Eminence’s Holy Inquisition is sublime. Do we not follow the inspiration of Bernardo Guido? You Venetians presume a new methodology is required? I see nothing wrong with the present one.’ 
Gaetano seemed displeased, or perhaps it was just nervousness. He shuffled about in the wet sand. ‘It doesn’t ensure faith, my lord,’ he replied solemnly. ‘It is not meant to, Gaetano. The path we follow is paved many ways. It seeks to bring His Kingdom to fruition on Earth. It seeks to realise the sangre limpia. It seeks to turn souls from deviancy. Whether we follow the writ of Guido, or choose other, less empirical means, it is our success that is our justification.’ Alfonso hoped his response didn’t sound like a seminary lesson. The young monk was headstrong and educated, and Alfonso didn’t want to insult his pride or conviction. 
But Gaetano wasn’t moved by the correction. He remained stern, now looking the old inquisitor in the eye. ‘We also wish to promote adherence,’ he said, ‘but does condemnation, excommunication, even execution bring about faith?’ The question was meant as a challenge, but Alfonso wasn’t alarmed. ‘They don’t seek to,’ he replied. ‘The Holy Office is merely a hunter of sin. Its pronouncements are the responsibility of the state. The auto-de-fe is purification, a ceremony through whose medium the impenitent reach absolution – eternal absolution. There’s no need to instil faith in the saved, for they reside in the heart of the Saviour himself.’ ‘Indeed, my lord. But we are not concerned with the saved – with those whose salvation is already granted.’ ‘
But you should be, Gaetano. You can’t ignore the state to which you aspire.’ 
A glimmer of doubt reflected in the Italian’s eyes. ‘We are concerned with the preservation of doctrine and faith. We wish to prevent decay of belief. We do not believe the Holy Office achieves these aims.’ 
Alfonso sensed the struggle in Gaetano’s words. His Spanish was good, but lacked expression. He reached out, took the young man’s elbow and turned him away from the busy street. They looked down at the bank of the stream, its dirty waters lapping below the church walls. ‘I’m an old man, Gaetano,’ said the inquisitor, ‘and in all my years, I have never witnessed the Holy Office preserve faith. The tribunals on which I preside offer salvation to the individual, not devotion to the masses.’ 
Gaetano stared uncomfortably across the river, began playing with the loose cuff of his habit. ‘Perhaps we have misrepresented the aims of the Inquisitor,’ he went on. ‘We are learned men merely concerned that faith is eroding. We foresee the onslaught of contrary ideals.’ 
Alfonso folded his arms. Another hint of sarcasm tainted his expression. ‘Contrary ideals?’ he said. ‘Is then a new Messiah arisen?’ Again, the irony was lost on the stern-faced Gaetano. 
‘No, my lord. We fear the scourge of unrevealed wisdom. Already conflicts arise.’ Alfonso was confused. He frowned, followed the monk’s glare across the flowing brown water. The smell of decay rising from the stream was almost overpowering. 
‘Ah,’ Alfonso said, ‘you mean the scourge of natural philosophy? Don’t worry about that, Gaetano. Does the Holy See not follow the doctrine of the greatest of ancient naturalists, the infallible Aristotle? These new ideas offer no danger to the Church. They are merely a different voice declaring the glory of creation. Man’s powers of thought cannot create designs greater than those the Lord provides.’
The monk remained unmoved by the reassurance. ‘We are not convinced. Abrazzo envisages times of great conflict ahead and wishes to prepare. This is why we contemplate our new order of devotion.’
‘Are you asking me to advise on the form of this devotion?’ asked the inquisitor. 
Gaetano nodded. ‘We have great respect for your work under Torquemada. One who has served the Holy Office so well will give us great wisdom in our decisions. Abrazzo asks if you will come to Bergamo to sit in council next spring.’ 
Alfonso didn’t answer. He stared at the monk for a moment, a distant look in his eye. The young man had come many miles to ask for help but offered little except the promise of a stimulating debate. Such diversions were commonly had and Alfonso was doubtful whether the arduous journey to Italy would suit him in his old age. But he felt a warm glimmer of curiosity in his mind. The Italian conveyed much more conviction than he probably realised. ‘What will be the form of this new methodology, Gaetano?’ Alfonso asked.
‘I can’t say. This is the purpose of our council. But we live by our conviction that fear of man does not generate faith. It is the fear of the Almighty, fear of the unknown that ensures adherence. May I report to Abrazzo that you will offer your advice?’ 
‘I have many duties to perform here in Castile. I would find little benefit from such a journey.’ 
Gaetano’s expression dropped. A slow sigh escaped his lips. ‘I can only offer our grateful hospitality,’ he pleaded. 
Alfonso’s eyes narrowed in thought. ‘Perhaps,’ he said, ‘perhaps I’ll come, if providence permits. We shall see.’ 
The young monk immediately bowed to the inquisitor and offered his thanks. Alfonso took him by the arm and led him away. ‘Come. Let us eat at San Pablo.’ They strode off toward the bridge that hid in the fog beyond the church. High up on the buttress above them, the stork watched the noisy crowd with a single, lazy eye. Unimpressed, it clattered its beak again and shuffled down into its spiny perch.

The convent of 'Santa Domenico e Stefano' in Bergamo, Italy, was demolished in 1561 to make way for new city walls. I chose this non extant monastery as the eventual home of Alfonso de Morillo and the global conspiracy he instigates in The Bergamese Sect. There were few records of the original buildings on which to base my writing. I found only one description and illustration in a dusty old book in the archives of the Civica Biblioteca ‘Angelo Mai’ in Bergamo. The other is shown here - a woodcut from the first half of the 15th century preserved in the Municipal Library of Mantua, which clearly shows the location of the church of 'Stefano'. From these documents we can deduce that this large monastery stood just below the Porta San Giacomo, one of the four gates that lead into the Città Alta (High City) of Bergamo. Alfonso's departure from Bergamo in the epilogue of The Bergamese Sect, starting his journey of deception, is through the city gate that originally stood near the present-day one, down the steep road that is now Via S. Alessandro.--Alastair Gunn

The Bergamese Sect
By Alastair Gunn

The Prologue is the last you will hear of an exchange between two religious leaders and an invitation visit to Bergamo... It was clear that the representative from Italy, agitated by the actions of both the citizens and the priest in dealing with a supposed sinner,
who was being beaten, might have affected what he reported back to his leader, perhaps in this stately church. The Council that was represented by Gaetano, I would guess, was not necessarily comprised of church members from one church, or even monks from one monastery... Frankly, I was bothered by both the men who held the conversation in Spain. There are others who have written about how The Church at that time forced individuals to either join The Church or...  While Gaetano's group advocated that The Church should prepare for future conflict, heighten devotion...
Neither offered options that allowed individuals to find faith as a basis of their own response and decisions about God.

Years later, are we any different, I wondered...

A horn sounded and the eighteen-wheeler sped past, showering the windshield with brown water. It shook Castro free of his daze. He gripped the wheel firmly, glanced in the rear view mirror at the truck’s receding taillights and squeezed the fatigue from his aching eyes. 
He was speeding along a lonely highway, spraying the recent rains over the red desert. It was late. It was always late. To Castro, night and day were a single entity. Hours ticked by, eating up the miles of straight, monotonous road. He felt utterly alone – the way he liked it. He checked his speed, wound down the window to let the cool, damp breeze refresh his face, and flicked on the radio. Emmylou Harris crooned a silky ballad at him. He crooned back in sarcastic imitation. 
He’d almost dozed off there for a second. Lucky. David Castro hadn’t got time for sleep. Sleep was a hazard he was learning to do without. He was vulnerable when asleep. Vulnerable to things he’d rather forget. Those vulnerabilities he liked to keep hidden, at least until he could confront them. And confront them he would, if he ever reached the end of this damn road. 
Behind him lay a shattered life. That narrow-minded Arizona town hadn’t been up to his honesty. He’d been pushed out. His business, a small law firm, was history. Those sanctimonious bastards had driven him to bankruptcy, taking their business fifty miles out of their way. And just because he’d had the balls to tell the truth. He blamed the evangelists. Out there in that festering desert they had replaced God, not proclaimed Him. He was glad to be rid of that shit-hole.

Whaddya want here?’ 

he demanded, 
urging his wife back into the
 house. She disappeared inside. 
‘I’d just like to ask you a few 
questions,’ said Castro. ‘
You FBI?’ the old man 


Castro had to contain a smile 
at the irony of the question. 
‘No, Mr Campbell, I’m not 
with the FBI, nor the CIA.’...
‘The same thing happened

 to me, Mr Campbell.’

It is obvious to this reader that Alastair Gunn has done extensive research as he developed the historical parts of this novel. It is also obvious that he has a talent for creating a suspenseful novel that keeps readers guessing exactly what is happening. For me, it was the Prologue that set the tone for the novel. And just as obvious that the Council meeting at Bergamo went on in their formulation of a different group from within The Church. But what was the mystery? How and why did this ancient sect become of importance in the 20th century?

I was intrigued...

The search begins when David Castro faces a loss of his personal life as he knew it. He couldn't accept moving on without knowing... His first stop was at a farmer's home...

And continued on...and on... He was soon searching for a picture--a picture that had once hung in the convent of 'Santa Domenico e Stefano' in Bergamo, Italy... And as he searched, he began to hone in on a small mark appearing on the man in the picture. He had seen it before, under very different circumstances... Then, suddenly, he is pulled into a group, whether he wanted to be there or not... The group is...seeking the truth...

At the same time, Larry Walsh of the NSA, was leading a search for a man, code name Sebastian... "something to do with a government conspiracy..." 

Two investigative searches, running concurrently cover the main part of the book, until, somehow, they merge... Secrets, so many secrets are kept by the government, by other groups... Only the general public are kept from learning about any of them... Be very careful in this type of environment--you never know who to trust!

Sometimes, it is hard to understand how religion has been sustained over so many years. There has always been blood, murder, as part of the religious beliefs of some...or is it a cover for something else that must remain hidden.

But rebels and sinners shall be broken together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. Their time is near, Radich thought...
The book is very complex, bringing in many historical issues that sometimes becomes confusing until the ending begins to pull things back together. Readers travel across the world and back, moving from time to time. Somehow we are left with the impression that things will continue similar to this through the years, with only the people changing over time...

Laudate Dominum omnes gentes conlaudate eum universi populi. The interweaving chanting washed over Alfonso as he stepped through the gate in the outer wall, closed it tightly and turned up the narrow street. He hummed the soprano gently to himself as he walked beside the tall monastery wall. Quia confortata est super nos misericordia eius et veritas Domini in aeternum. When he reached the top of the hill and turned into the main road, the pure sound of rejoice was lost in the calm of the dark twilight...

The people within its walls, thought Alfonso, were like children. They cowered away from the terror of the night, adrift without guidance. They needed to hear the Word of God. ‘And how shall they hear without one who preaches?’ Alfonso whispered under his breath.

Quite an extraordinary book. If you choose to read it, which I highly recommend, pick when you'll have time to move forward to the end. I didn't have the chance on this one and got bogged down somewhat with the continuous scene movement and trying to keep up with the story. Still, that was my issue and doesn't have to be yours. There is an amazingly creative merge of historical and contemporary life. Individual characters are known historically; however, in this book, they are cast from a religious angle and taunts the reader to find ultimately the pieces of the puzzle and how they fit.

I suggest on this one you read many different reviews to further consider the story. The complexity seems well beyond those of similar novels, the Da Vinci Code coming readily to mind. Yet, this novel does bring the exciting mysterious hunt's conclusion, even if you might have been caught going off into other tracks that pulled you away...but then brought you right back, clearing out the false assumptions and leads. If I had the skills to write such a book, then I would imagine that the author quite enjoyed springing all these little traps for his future readers! LOL...

Check this one out!


Facilitator of All Things Scientific and Creative: Astrophysicist; Science Columnist; Polymath; Fiction Author; Expounder; Musician; Artist and Lover of Life.

Dr Alastair G. Gunn is a professional Astrophysicist based in the UK and is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. As well as an active scientist, Alastair is an experienced and popular public lecturer on astronomy and is known for his accessible (though challenging), light-hearted, and visually stunning lectures. He has made guest appearances on many TV and shows around the world and has hosted a regular astronomy programme on radio. Alastair writes a regular column for BBC Focus magazine and has written for The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian and is a contributor to many astronomy magazines including Astronomy Now, Sky at Night and StarDate. His fiction includes ghostly short stories, a collection of supernatural stories called Ballymoon and his debut novel, The Bergamese Sect.

No comments:

Post a Comment