Clouds of yellow smoke curled upward, like slowly revolving apparitions in the light of the immense and stately candles which were placed, dozen upon dozen, throughout the interior of the cathedral; – the ceiling, the cupola, seemingly as high over head as the night sky – thoroughly Romanesque, Byzantine, ornate décor protruding from all sides, dripping from above like stalactites, surging from the walls in carven stone and bronze panels, rising in grand pillars, winking in frescoed patches and chapels: the depiction of men at arms and others martyred; a few modern contrivances, the worst of contemporary art, dropped in, for juxtaposition, ugly slashes to enhance the already turbulent presence of the bizarre.
The small figure stood before the seated gathering. She sang into the microphone in an untrained, slightly cacophonic voice that was yet buttered with faith. Sheathed in the coarse, clean costume of her calling, vestal white; eyes like raisins behind simple spectacles; her voice uttered that modulated praise to Him, Master of all human affairs, Creator and Ruler of the universe.
The smoke plumed upward: aromatic, reminiscent of decomposed saints, hypnotic as it joined to the rhythmical chanting.
A beggar woman, a mad woman, obese and malformed (the majority of the weight being confined between her lower torso and hams), struggled along one darkened side of the cathedral, the struggle all the more grim for the radical difference in length between her left leg and right. The disparity was made up by a proportionate wooden heel, which shuffled and clapped along the floor. Others, healthy in leg if not feeble in mind, lay their hands on the sarcophagus of Saint Anthony.
But the vast majority of the visitors, pilgrims, rushed with remarkable haste onward, towards the brain of the cathedral. There a queue had formed and people pushed forward impatiently, rising on tip-toes and craning their necks. A child, a veritable cherub, innocent of social manners, wound its way ahead of the rest, its grandmother following in its wake, apologising as she went. It mounted the low steps on hands and knees and then, before the glass case, rose and stretched its arms out, the people parting on either side.
“Excuse me! Excuse me!” the grandmother said, hastening forward. And, with the words, “Oh, bambino,” on her smiling lips, she hoisted the child up, so it could view what it had so impetuously sought after: A tongue mounted on a pin, like a dried cactus; a jaw, gums intact, teeth the colour of gorgonzola.