Excerpt of Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett
(Page 3 of 4)
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The Church is a blessing for the higher orders of society; for everyone else
its a dark mystery. A torment. Stay, and youll see what hearing the Word of
God for the first time can do. How knowing the truth of the Bible shows people
they can be free from the tyranny of the Church.
His face was blazing with intensity.
But Davy, I stammered, startled by the logic and force of his argument. My
fathers fighting the Bible men because he says they bring evil into the world.
Are you saying you believe the Church is evil? And my father too?
He cackled unpleasantly at the mention of Father, then collected himself. Look.
What I believe is that no one in this struggle is truly evil. There are just two
sides. On your dads side are the people who believe in tradition who think
all those centuries of Popes and princes of the Church and benefices and bribes
are Christs body on Earth. People who believe that the Princes of Rome need
panthers and leopards and elephants and palaces and armies and to make their
bastards into cardinals, and that its all right for them to pay for it by
gouging millions of fees for anathemas and fake relics from ordinary people. The
people who turn a blind eye to the fact that enough wood to build a battleship
is said to have come from the True Cross. And on the other side there are people
like me who believe that being a Christian means theyre allowed to have a
simple conversation with God without having to pay a priest for the privilege.
People who believe that if all you have to do is truly believe and your sins
will be forgiven, that all these exorcisms the priests go in for and all these
Church hallowings of wine, bread, wax, water, salt, oil, incense, vestments,
mitres, cross, pilgrims staves, you name it are no better than witchcraft.
That a worldly Pope has no power to make a saint. That a Church full of lucky
charms is no better than a synagogue of Satan. Thats my side. I cant see why
anyone would call that evil. If I cant understand the words, theres no more
point in my saying Paternoster than bibble babble, is there? And if I cant
understand what theyre saying in Church, and all I get is some priest jumping
in my face telling me Ill be damned unless I give him my money, arent I better
off praying in a field? Or here?
There was a tap at the door. Cover up, Davy hissed, and I tweaked my hood
over my bonnet. It was cold in the cellar. A tiny old man came in, with a cloak
over him so shaggy and simple it looked more like a blanket. He gave me a
fearful look. Dont worry, Davy told him. Shes new, but I know her. The man
nodded three or four times, and sat down with his arms wrapped round himself at
the end of the farthest bench, but went on giving me wary glances.
They came in twos and threes after that, all poor folk, all huddled in thick
worsteds and patched top gear. The last to arrive was the older of the two women
who had been in my house. She looked startled to see me, but then she jutted her
chin out defiantly and nodded. Welcome, missis, she muttered, and the tiny old
man calmed down and uncrossed his arms.
There was hardly any talk, just a mutter or two of greeting. When they were
all assembled, Davy shut the door and read from the little book, in his cracked
street-traders voice. Come with a pure mind and, as the Scripture sayeth, with
a single eye, unto the words of health and of eternal life, he said, by which,
if we repent and believe them, we are born anew, created afresh, and enjoy the
fruits of the blood of Christ. That blood crieth not for vengeance, as the blood
of Abel. Instead it hath purchased life, love, favour, grace, blessing, and
whatsoever is promised in the Scriptures to them that believe and obey God.
Excerpted from Portrait of an Unknown Woman
by Vanora Bennett, Copyright © 2007 by Vanora Bennett. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the author.