Book II: Chapter 27
My last jibe did not disappoint – and with both Alan and Miriam white-faced, I went for the kill, “Lighten up, people. I know we can’t switch sides. But if Michael wants to do his thing – fine. And if you two want to stop Ma’bus – also fine. Just leave me out of it.” Then I clicked on the TV – hoping they would finally get the hint.
Miriam walked over, rudely snatched the remote (yes, the remote that I had just recently learned how to use!), and then turned the TV back off. “Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path, John! You’re not listening.”
“WHAT?” I roared. “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO KNOW?”
“Don’t you see — Michael’s offensive is a SECRET attack! I wrote about this in my letter to La Papessa. In the end, after consulting the scriptures, she marked my letter signum eternus and locked it within the most secret of the Vatican’s vaults – where it been ever since.”
“Then what other secret vault could you be referring to?”
“I’m referring to the… the… Sacra Crypta.” Miriam whispered.
(Bingo! That’s what I was trying to remember when Joseph was considering Cardinal Marrollo for Confuto Penitentiary – a post that would give him access to the Sacra Crypta. Damn, it’s all starting to make sense now).
Alan’s eyes narrowed, “My dear Miriam, remember who you’re talking to – you don’t seriously expect me to believe that such a warehouse has remained outside of MY knowledge for lo these many centuries?”
“I’m not sure what to say, Alan, but The Sacra Crypta does indeed exist.”
“Then where is it located?” Alan snapped, clearly embarrassed.
“Beneath the church of Santo Stefano degli Ungheresi.”
“Impossible. That church was pulled down in 1776.”
“True. But what else do you know about it?”
“Santo Stefano was established by Charlemagne in the 9th century.” Alan recalled. “And I was in attendance when Pope Sylvester II later granted it to King Stephen I of Hungary back around 1000. In fact, that church was a key diplomatic link between Hungary and the Vatican for centuries.”
“OK. OK.” I tried to move the story along. “What happened next, Professor?”
“Hmm.” Alan tried to remember. “I moved away from Rome again around 1100, and by then the church fell into some disrepair. In 1776 Pope Pius VI pulled down Santo Stefano and built a new sacristy for St. Peter’s.”
“If you loved it so much, why didn’t you stop this?” I teased.
“John, as you might recall, we three were tied up dealing with Weishaupt at the time. Regardless, Saint Stephen’s church was torn down – so now all that remains are its Roman columns – which I convinced Pius, by letter, to place in the new sacristy of the St. Peter’s.”
“Alan, you’re correct on all of that.” Miriam agreed. “I know how much you loved that chapel. However, you overlooked one thing.”
“Oh, what’s that?” Alan asked, an eyebrow raised in disbelief.
“There was a secret cellar under Santo Stefano.”
“What?!? That’s impossible.” Alan was offended. “Why, I’ve been there a thousand times, how could I never have known about it? There wasn’t any such feature in the original construction.”
“She said it was a secret.” I laughed.
Alan’s look at me was pure ice, yet it was Miriam who spoke again. “I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you. I was sworn to secrecy.”
“Who built this vault? Who kept you from telling us?”
“The answer to that question is one and the same.” Miriam began.
But it was I who filled in the blank, “Don’t tell me — Pope Joan?”