Broken Cross - Piers Compton


"Ye're a bad lot; a blackguard, in the likes of a living man."

I was thus greeted by an Irish priest early one crisp April morning. He had read in manuscript much of what I have here written, and while he could not confute it he thought that I was doing the Church a sorry service. He was a big, broad-shouldered man, with sad eyes and a knobbed stick that he swung as though it were a shillelagh.

We were standing within the shadow of St. Peter's, while the blinds were still drawn in the palace windows, and only isolated footsteps sounded on the piazza. His hint of humorous menace contrasted with the serenity of my feelings.

For there is nothing more golden in the world than a Roman dawn. Gold dust, lighting the past more surely than it does the present, filters through the air and settles, like a hesitant touch, on Maderna's fagade with its bold Roman letters, turning its brown and ochre tints into gold. Dust motes, where the first light catches them, are turned into gold that touches the base of Caligula's obelisk and breaks in spendour over the cobbles; over the statues of the saints on the colonnade, and the dome that gradually wears to white; over the space before the basilica surrounded by Bernini's giant columns, as once the legions surrounded the levelled spears that rose in envy of the Roman water from the fountains, whenever a breeze ruffles it, falls away in drops of gold.

The angle of the stick was inviting me to look over Vatican Hill. 'That's the way dawn will come, over the city, over the Church. Don't you believe it?' I only half nodded.

"What you've written will pass, like a holiday or a slow fever. But the promise that was given to Peter"—and he pointed to the central figure on the colonnade —"will not pass. It cannot. The fissure in the Rock will be closed. Dawn will come again. Don't you believe it?"

"Yes," I agreed, influenced perhaps by his sad eyes and the swing of his shillelagh. "Dawn will come again."

But will it be a false dawn?