to deliver it to the addressee or to open it himself. He decided to open and read it.
I beg the forgiveness of God and of Your Holiness for what I have done, for the presumption that enticed me into seeking knowledge of evil, and swayed me from the true path of Infinite Good.
I have dedicated my life to deciphering ‘The Book of Amon’, only to discover a temptation within it which I have not been capable of resisting! A temptation that, were it known to man, would overwhelm the resistance of most human beings on this earth.
It has taken a relentless disease to save me from damnation. Or so I hope, at least, in these last days that remain of my life. I am resigned to the illness that is destroying my body. I accept it as a sign from the Almighty and hope that it may serve for the remission of my sins and atone for at least a small part of the punishment I deserve. The only other person who knows the secret of reading this text has disappeared into the desert and will never return.
As for me, I shall take the secret which I was driven to learn with such arrogance into the tomb. I implore Your Holiness to absolve my sins and to intercede on my behalf with the Most High, before whose presence I shall soon appear.
Father Hogan was awakened not long after that, in the middle of the night, by a soft but insistent knocking at the door of his room. He felt his way to the light and put on the robe lying on a chair. When he opened the door he found Father Boni standing there. He was wearing a dark overcoat and a homburg hat.
‘I think I know where the translation of “The Book of Amon” is hidden. Hurry and get dressed.’
P HILIP G ARRETT FOUND a room at the Ausonia hotel, not far from the Franciscan monastery. The next morning, he introduced himself as a specialist in art history and asked to visit the monastery. He was received by a quite elderly and very loquacious friar who apparently had not had much occasion to entertain guests. He showed Philip his own studies regarding the monastery, which had risen on the foundations of an ancient Benedictine cenoby built, in turn, over the remains of an ancient Roman domus. This extraordinary stratification of events and cultures found only in Italy never ceased to amaze Philip, who did his best to gratify his host, complimenting him on the insight and diligence of his studies.
The visit then began. They saw the church with its frescoes and paintings by Pontormo and Baciccia in the side chapels, they visited the small antiquarium with its early Christian tombstones and fragments of Roman floor mosaics and then, finally, the crypt. It was situated at a depth of five or six metres below ground level and it contained the remains of all the monks who had lived and died between those walls over the previous four centuries. It was quite a disturbing sight, and as his host chattered on at length about the history of the monastery and its occupants, Philip couldn’t help but stare at those stacks of time-yellowed skulls and shin bones, those empty eye sockets, those grotesque, dusty smiles.
‘What’s the purpose of all this, Father? To remind ourselves that all men must die?’ he asked suddenly.
The friar’s tongue stopped suddenly, as if someone had shattered the entire scholarly exposition that he had so painstakingly constructed under those ancient vaults.
‘A monk lives for the hereafter,’ he replied. ‘You who live in the outside world cannot understand, because too many things distract you, but we monks know very well that life is but an instant, and that what awaits us will guide us to the eternal light. I realize,’ he continued, inclining his head towards the skull-cluttered shelves, ‘that all of this appears grotesque, macabre even, but only for one who refuses to consider the truth. Even a fruit, when it has lost its fresh juicy pulp, is reduced to a stone, to a dry, hard stone, but we know that it is from that stone that new life is born.’