Bathed in candlelight, Jason reached the massive carved doors and followed Mandy into the front foyer. She dabbed holy water from a basin and made the sign of the cross. Jason felt suddenly awkward, acutely aware that this was not his faith. He was an interloper, a trespasser. He feared a misstep, embarrassing himself and in turn Mandy.
"Follow me," Mandy said. "I want to get a good seat, but not too close."
Jason stepped after her. As he entered the church proper, awe quickly overwhelmed unease. Though he had already been inside and learned much about the history and art of the structure, he was again struck by the simple majesty of the space. The long central nave stretched four hundred feet ahead of him, bisected by a three-hundred-foot transept, forming a cross with the altar at the center.
Yet, it was not the length and breadth of the cathedral that captured his attention, but its impossible height. His eyes were drawn up and up, guided by pointed archways, long columns, and the vaulted roof. A thousand candles trailed thin spirals of smoke, sailing heavenward, flickering off the walls, redolent with incense.
Mandy led him toward the altar. Ahead, the transept areas to either side of the altar had been roped off, but there were plenty of empty seats in the central nave.
"How about here?" she said, stopping midway up the aisle. She offered a small smile, half thanks, half shyness.
He nodded, struck dumb by her plain beauty, a Madonna in black.
Mandy took his hand and pulled Jason down to the end of the pew, by the wall. He settled to his seat, glad for the relative privacy.
Mandy kept her hand in his. He felt the heat of her palm.
The night certainly was brightening.
Finally, a bell sounded and a choir began to sing. The mass was beginning. Jason took his cues from Mandy: standing, kneeling, and sitting in an elaborate ballet of faith. He followed none of it, but found himself intrigued, becoming lost in the pageantry: the robed priests swinging smoking globes of incense, the processional that accompanied the arrival of the archbishop with his tall miter hat and gold-trimmed vestments, the songs sung by both choir and parishioners, the lighting of the Feast candles.
And everywhere the art became as much a part of the ceremony as the participants. A wooden sculpture of Mary and baby Jesus, called the Milan Madonna, glowed with age and grace. And across the way, a marble statue of St. Christopher bore a small child in his arms with a beatific smile. And overlooking all were the massive Bavarian stained glass windows, dark now, but still resplendent with reflected candlelight, creating jewels out of ordinary glass.
But no piece of art was more spectacular than the golden sarcophagus behind the altar, locked inside glass and metal. While only the size of a large trunk and constructed in the shape of a miniature church, the reliquary was the centerpiece of the cathedral, the reason for the construction of such a massive house of worship, the focal point of faith and art. It protected the church's most holy relics. Constructed of solid gold, the reliquary had been forged before the cathedral had even broken ground. Designed by Nicolas of Verdun in the thirteenth century, the sarcophagus was considered to be the best example of medieval goldwork in existence.
As Jason continued his study, the service wound slowly toward the end of the mass, marked by bells and prayers. At last, it came time for communion, the breaking of the Eucharistic bread. Parishioners slowly filed from their pews, traveling up the aisles to accept the body and blood of Jesus Christ.
When her time came, Mandy rose along with the others in her pew, slipping her hand from his. "I'll be right back," she whispered.
Copyright © 2004 James Rollins - Excerpted from Map of Bones by James Rollins. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher, William Morrow.
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