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St patricks gargoyle, p.7
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       St. Patrick's Gargoyle, p.7

           Katherine Kurtz
 
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  "Quit giving me a hard time, you old scoundrel!" Marcus said with a grin, taking his godfather's bicep with one hand and grabbing his coat with the other. "You're nicked! Just come with me and get into the nice policeman's car. I’m saving you petrol, not to mention all the elbow grease I've just put into yours!"

  In the end, they parked Marcus's Honda in Saint Patrick's Close, just beyond the bus stop, not far from where Templeton had stopped the night before, after delivering his strange companion back to the cathedral. Templeton had scanned the west front of the cathedral as they passed along Patrick Street, and continued to inspect the south facade as they got out of the car, gawking like any tourist. He could see no sign of gargoyles.

  The entrance was at the southwest corner, down half a dozen steps into a covered porch that led through double doors into the rear of the nave. Both the porch and the cathedral floors were paved with encaustic tiles in rich shades of terra cotta and cream, olive-green and black. There seemed to be more tourists than Templeton might have expected, given the nearness of Christmas.

  Behind a wooden table just inside the doors, a fresh-faced young woman in a bright red sweater was taking donations for admission to the rest of the cathedral. It was dim inside, and hushed, despite the number of people coming and going, sound echoing under the vaulting. Templeton could hear the sweet harmony of a capella voices in the background, men and boy choristers mixed, and wondered whether it was live or a recording. Two elderly ladies seemed to be selling tapes and CDs at a small bookstall off to the right, along with guidebooks and postcards and other souvenirs.

  "I'll get this," Marcus said, reaching past Templeton to lay a five-pound note on the desk. "Two, please."

  Smiling, the young woman gave him two tickets, two printed brochures about the cathedral, and a handful of change. As he and Templeton stepped past a velvet guide rope and moved toward the back of the center aisle, he handed a ticket and one of the brochures to Templeton and dropped the change into a wooden collection box for the upkeep of the cathedral.

  "We can link up with one of the official guides, if you want, but like I said, I've been here before. Now, do you want the potted tour or the full Monty, as personalized by Doctor Marcus Cassidy, Esquire?"

  "Oh, let's go for the full Monty, by all means, counselor," Templeton replied. "After all, it's Christmas. Lead the way."

  "The full Monty it is. We'll start with the bare basics. You are aware, of course, that this is one of the largest churches in Ireland?"

  "I think the basilica at Knock is bigger," Templeton muttered, trying not to be impressed.

  "Could be," Marcus replied. "But it's a modern building."

  "True enough, I suppose."

  Impressed anyway, Templeton craned his neck to scan the Gothic vaulting, more than fifty feet above their heads. Still no trace of a gargoyle or even a Watcher. He wondered whether any of the funerary statues were Watchers, or if Watchers were only placed on the outsides of buildings. Yet another thing he should have asked Paddy while he had the chance. He wondered whether he would ever find the gargoyle again. Or maybe it had, indeed, been but a dream or a fantasy.

  "Okay, let's start over there," Marcus said, gesturing toward a Gothic-arched door in the south wall of the nave. "The bust to the left of the door is Jonathan Swift's; the memorial on the other side is to "Stella," who might be called his muse, I suppose. They're both buried nearby- though not in the same grave, as some wags would have you believe. There's his brass," he added, pointing out a simple plaque set amid the encaustic tiles a few yards away.

  It said, simply: SWIFT. Decan. 1713. Obt 19 Oct. 1745. Aet. 78.

  "Hmmm, Dean for more than thirty years," Templeton said, translating and doing the maths.

  "Aye, one of our better known Irishmen who made good. I had to read Gulliver's Travels, when I was at school."

  "So did I," Templeton said. "And I recall a deliciously scathing essay called 'A Modest Proposal.' Something about suggesting that the Irish ought to eat their children to stay alive."

  "Like I said, he wrote satire," Marcus said with an almost impish grin. "The complete title, as I recall - and let's see if I can remember the whole thing; I had to memorize it one time, to get out of detention - the full title was 'A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of the Poor People in Ireland from being a Burden to their Parents or Country and for Making them Beneficial to the Public.' Which is to say that he suggested the children should be eaten."

  They were both chuckling as Marcus indicated that they should move on along the south aisle.

  "Come on and I'll show you the Lady Chapel before we look at the choir," he said. "And there are some interesting memorials in the south transept - including a statue that's supposed to be Saint Patrick, though I have my doubts."

  Templeton quirked an eyebrow somewhat dubiously. "I didn't know that the Church of Ireland was big into saints - and especially Our Lady."

  "Well, they aren't big into statues of saints," Marcus replied. "And other than a few carved on the pulpit, which I suppose count more as inspirational decoration, you won't see any in this cathedral. That's one of the more obvious legacies of the Reformation. You'll see niches that were designed for statues - this was a Roman Catholic church until Henry VIII came along - but they're all empty. There's one up there."

  Templeton turned his gaze where his godson pointed, but the long, arched niche in the column above was, indeed, vacant - and no gargoyles anywhere in the vicinity.

  "How is it, then, that there's a statue of Saint Patrick?" he asked. "Is that because he's our national saint?"

  "Probably." Marcus led past a plaque listing previous deans. "Besides, it may not be Saint Patrick at all. It's probably made from pieces of two different statues, of different dates. But it makes a good story. Visitors like to think that it's Saint Patrick - and if that strengthens faith, in any way, I don't suppose one can argue."

  "I suppose not," Templeton said thoughtfully. "Actually, they seem to have memorials, where we'd have statues of saints and stations of the Cross."

  "Good observation," Marcus said. "But don't assume that they aren't Catholic, just because they don't acknowledge the authority of the Pope. That just makes them not Roman Catholic. At least that's what Cáit tells me. They pray the same Creed that we do, and acknowledge 'one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.'"

  "I’m aware of that," Templeton replied. "But we are different, Marcus."

  "Of course we are," Marcus agreed, "but maybe not as different as a lot of folk would have us believe - and I say that not just because I’m keeping company with a Protestant. It seems to me that too many people forget about the true message of Christianity, and get all hung up in... in the design of the uniforms worn by the messengers who deliver it."

  "Humph," said Templeton, declining to get into a theological debate - though he found himself wondering how Paddy would respond to such a notion. Actually, it sounded like something he would have said. Paddy, too, had talked about messengers - which made sense if he was, as he said, formerly an avenging angel. Nor had he seemed particularly concerned about denominational distinctions- which was somewhat disquieting, if he really was God's messenger. Templeton wasn't sure he wanted to believe that the differences really didn't matter.

  Of course, none of it might be real....

  Determined to keep his eyes open for gargoyles, Templeton followed along dutifully as Marcus led him past a succession of brasses and marble plaques and other memorials lining the south aisle, pointing out an occasional familiar name. Just before they reached the transept, they briefly had to stand aside so a double file of fresh-faced boy choristers could pass, wearing choir cassocks of an unusual shade of soft, greyed blue.

  "Apparently that was live music, when we came in," Marcus said, noticing his godfather's scrutiny of the blue cassocks. "They must be practicing for Christmas. Are you wondering about the color?

  "It's called -Patrick's blue, from the Order of Saint Patrick," he went on, a
t Templeton's nod. "We'll see the banners of the last knights hanging above the stalls in the choir. If you see a clergyman with a bit of that color piping at his collar, he'd be a canon of the cathedral. And the dean gets to wear the cathedral seal at his throat on ceremonial occasions, suspended from a watered silk ribbon of Patrick's blue. It makes a nice connection with the cathedral's history."

  "True enough," Templeton agreed, as they continued into the south transept. "What, exactly, is a dean, anyway? I've always wondered."

  "Hmm, near as I can figure out, in very simple terms, he's the chap who's actually in charge of a cathedral - sort of in loco episcopus, if that's the correct Latin. It goes back to monastic days, and chapters of monks and such. Sometimes I’m not sure if even Anglicans fully understand how it all works."

  Templeton snorted, idly wondering whether Paddy understood it. "Did you pick all that up from Cáit?"

  "Some of it. Come on and I'll show you that statue of Saint Patrick."

  They inspected the statue and several memorials in the south transept, then reentered the south aisle and continued to its end, where a chesthigh screen and gate of iron and brass closed off a small side chapel and a much larger one off to the left. The frontal on the side altar bore a green eight-pointed cross, indicating its dedication to the Order of Saint Lazarus, a chivalric order similar to Templeton's own Knights of Malta.

  "That's the Lady Chapel, over there," Marcus said, indicating the large, bright chapel area behind the high altar. "It looks like you have to enter it from around the other side. And that," he said, pointing to a large, thronelike chair set just inside velvet ropes, "is the chair in which William III is said to have parked his royal backside when he visited the cathedral, shortly after the Battle of the Boyne."

  "I suppose even King Billy had to sit somewhere," Templeton remarked. "Looks comfortable enough."

  "Only if you don't mind being bit in the butt by horsehair poking through the upholstery!" Marcus said playfully, turning to gesture Templeton back the way they had come. "Come on, and we'll have a look at the choir now. I've saved the best until last."

  Though Templeton thought to himself that "the best" would have been a gargoyle or two, he listened dutifully to Marcus's thumbnail description of the Order of Saint Patrick.

  "It was equivalent to the Order of the Bath in England or the Order of the Thistle in Scotland," Marcus told him, as they passed under a lectern in the form of a great brass eagle, just beside the entrance to the choir, whose wings supported the desk from which the scriptures were read. "Not nearly as old, of course, and defunct now, but the banners are still here."

  His gesture swept upward as they came before the iron and brass gates leading into the choir. The lofty space beyond was a serene and harmonious melding of light and dappled shadow, color and curve, its sweep drawing the eye upward from the rich, variegated tones of tiled floor and mellow oaken stalls, past the carved canopies of the knights' stalls to the arched colonnades and the open, airy grace of the Gothic vaulting above. The whole afforded a fitting frame for the high altar and the arched vista into the Lady Chapel behind it.

  Utterly enchanted, Templeton cast his gaze more lingeringly over the carved oak of the choir stalls, each end finished with Gothic tracery and capped with a finial in the shape of an intricate fleur-de-lis. Brass candlesticks shaded with glass marched along the slanted desks of the first two rows, to light the choristers' music. The back row on each side comprised the former stalls of the Knights of Saint Patrick, each Gothic canopy adorned with a crested helm and sword - and above, the banners of the last knights, the rich colors hardly dimmed by dust or the passage of time.

  "If you come for Evensong," Marcus said with a sly grin, "they usually let you sit behind the choristers, up in the stalls. It's a shame that sung offices are a tradition we've mostly lost in the Roman Church, other than in monastic settings."

  Templeton nodded distractedly, turning his gaze toward a quest for silver on or around the high altar, which was dressed for Advent with a handsome frontal of purple brocade, banded with dark blue velvet. There were two sizable silver candlesticks and a simple, rather modern-looking gilt cross on a ledge behind the altar - actually, on the top of the wall dividing the chancel from the Lady Chapel farther east - but no other silver that he could see. He wondered if that was because of the recent burglary or because it wasn't ordinarily kept out, other than during services. Beyond, the stained glass of the Lady Chapel windows was aglow in the afternoon sun.

  "You're right about this looking a lot like a Catholic church," he said to Marcus in a low voice, though the brass altar rail, with its Gothic arches, was a feature rarely seen in a Catholic church in recent years. Yet another of the casualties of Vatican II, along with Latin and Friday fish and ladies' hats, so lamented the day before by Paddy the gargoyle, not to mention Saint Christopher and a slew of other "defrocked" saints.

  Reminded again of gargoyles, Templeton cast his gaze upward once more - and let it pass along what appeared to be a shadowy gallery corridor screened behind a row of double Gothic arches, just above the great arch that looked into the Lady Chapel. And above it ran a second, narrower passage, at the level of the five graceful stained glass windows lighting the east end of the choir.

  Now, those were interesting. If the cathedral did have a gargoyle, and it wanted to prowl inside the building that it guarded, Templeton reckoned that such passageways might be the way to do it.

  If a gargoyle could fit through them. The lower gallery appeared reasonably accommodating, but he wasn't sure about the upper one. However, they did seem to run along the sides of the choir as well, and back into the nave, he noted, as he turned to scan.

  "The organ is up there," Marcus said, seeing the direction of his gaze, and gesturing toward the north side of the choir. "And let me show you the spiral stair that gives access to the organ-loft. Have you seen enough here?"

  Templeton nodded and let Marcus conduct him toward the north transept, still casting surreptitious glances up at the intramural passages. This part of the cathedral had a military focus, with tattered regimental colors displayed just below the galleries on all three walls, in tribute to the war dead of many an old Irish regiment - like the Knights' banners, yet another legacy of Ireland's colonial past. Quite possibly, there were colors from Templeton's old regiment, the 8th Hussars, but that wasn't why he had come here. Noble pairs of carved hounds slept at the foot of two cenotaphs set against the north wall, flanking a large Celtic memorial cross - more Watchers, perhaps? - but again, Templeton didn't know whether Watchers were placed inside buildings.

  Profoundly unsatisfied, Templeton found himself continuing to search the upper reaches of the cathedral as he and Marcus moved back along the north aisle and headed toward the rear of the building, scanning more of the narrow gallery walkways running the length of the nave, just above the taller arches that supported the vaulting and divided the nave from the two side aisles - clerestory arches, he thought they were called.

  And truly excellent vantage points for a guardian gargoyle.

  But how to get up there to look?

  Templeton was pondering this imponderable when he nearly wandered into a group of tourists clumped around a young man in a verger's purple cassock, who was telling them about an ornate memorial far at the back of the cathedral, erected to a seventeenth-century Earl of Cork. Templeton murmured an apology, and was about to ease on past, when he realized that the man had a beauty of a black eye and one hand bandaged.

  Good Lord, could this be the very verger whom Paddy had mentioned, roughed up by the two who had stolen the alms basins? Did he know yet that the items had been recovered? (Had the items been recovered? Had they even been stolen?)

  The man's presence here in the cathedral was Templeton's first real evidence that he had not just imagined the events of the previous day. He, at least, was real.

  But how much of yesterday was fact, and how much fanciful embellishment? How much did the man know? Did
Templeton even dare to speak to him, especially with Marcus present? He mustn't mention gargoyles, of course, but perhaps he could at least find out whether the part about the burglary was true.

  Chapter 8

  Marcus, I think that's the man I saw outside the cathedral yesterday," Templeton whispered, catching his godson's sleeve and repeating the half-lie he had concocted earlier.

  "Looks like he got mugged," Marcus whispered back. "I wonder if we could speak to him," Templeton said. "I’m dying to find out what happened."

  "Suit yourself," Marcus replied. "But don't you think we should let him finish his tour first?"

  "Let's tag along, then. We can listen to the rest of his spiel, and then buttonhole him."

  Nodding good-naturedly, Marcus let himself be drawn into the back of the group of tourists, who were meandering toward the baptistery, right beside the exit. Beyond the tourists, Templeton could see a Christmas crèche with knee-high figures.

  "Now, I mentioned earlier that St. Patrick's has no undercroft or crypts," the young verger was saying. "That's because, in medieval times, the River Poddle ran right by the front of the cathedral, out where Patrick Street is now. I also told you that, in other churches, undercrofts and crypts tend to be among the oldest parts, since successive new churches were usually built on older foundations, and often incorporated older parts of the building. That's certainly the case at the other very old churches here in Dublin: Christ Church Cathedral, St. Werburgh's, St. Michan's. At St. Patrick's, however, the water table is too high. Any undercroft or crypt would have been flooded - so we have none, and never have had.

  "That being said, this is the oldest remaining part of the original cathedral that Archbishop Comyn built in 1191," he continued. "It was probably the entrance, and it may have been built on the site traditionally associated with Saint Patrick and his well, where he baptized his first converts in this area. You can see him depicted in the center of the three lancet windows there in the west wall. This association with Patrick makes it entirely appropriate that this area should eventually become the baptistery for the cathedral erected here. And at this time of year, as you can see, it also houses our Christmas crèche, which is set up each year by the children of the choir school across the road.

 
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