Saturday, June 29, 2013

Lots of pictures from the Bond Reformation Tour 2013

I've had sketchy Internet connections so am super behind on blogging this tour. So sorry about that. I'll try to post lots of pictures on this catch-up post.

Friday, June 28, 2013

BOND REFORMATION TOUR: Lunch at the Wartburg Castle and Eisleben

Wartburg
It's as if the enemy has leveled his arsenal at our people, plaguing us with sickness. First Gillian (who is now almost fully recovered, lingering cough but energy and life), several adults with fever and not feeling well at all, and now another child. So we spent the morning at the KinderKlinic at the hospital in Heidelberg. Long story short, but it meant a providentially altered schedule for the day. This too is from the Lord, our heavenly father, by whose purposes and will not a hair falls from our head.

From there we were able to postpone our lunch at the Wartburg where Luther translated the New Testament from Greek to German in 11 weeks! A marvelous German meal, so well appointed, and fine attentive service--and in such a setting! Passed by Bach's birthplace in Eisenach and connected his magnificent music and gift to his Lutheran roots and his determination to do everything SDG, soli Deo gloria.

Then off to Luther's birthplace in Eisleben, where we stayed in my favorite hotel so far, the Graf von Mansfield, also the actual place where Luther died. So our tour folks spent the night and had another dotingly wonderful German meal(s) under the ribbed vaulting and surrounded by the medieval POST TENEBRAS LUX!
columns where Luther passed from this life into the joy of his heavenly birthday. Woke up to the most beautiful blue sky and brilliant sunshine we have seen on the entire tour. Weather in Germany rainy cloudy every where else... but not in Eisleben where our tour people were basking in the glorious morning light.
Eisleben, Luther tearing up the Papal Bulls

BOND REFORMATION TOUR--Heidelberg Castle and Catechism

We enjoyed taking the cog train up the cliff side to the great castle of Frederick III, Christian duke of the Palatinate and patron of the gospel. Here Casper Olivianus and Zacharius Ursinus penned the most enduring and endearing statement of the Christian gospel of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. In our devotion times on the tour I have been unpacking phrase-by-phrase the first question and answer and examining the Scripture proofs. Here is the opening Q and A:

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, (b) but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; (c) who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, (d) and delivered me from all the power of the devil; (e) and so preserves me (f) that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; (g) yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, (h) and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, (i) and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. (j)
With Beth and Austin stationed in Germany
(a) Rom.14:7 For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. Rom.14:8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord's. (b) 1 Cor.6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? (c) 1 Cor.3:23 And ye are Christ's; and Christ is God's. Tit.2:14 Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (d) 1 Pet.1:18 Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; 1 Pet.1:19 But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake. (e) Heb.2:14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him
that had the power of death, that is, the devil; 1 John 3:8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. John 8:35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. John 8:36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (f) John 6:39 And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. John 10:28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. 2 Thess.3:3 But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil. 1 Pet.1:5 Who are kept by the power of God
Gillian (well again) and buddy Grace
through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (g) Matt.10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. Matt.10:30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Matt.10:31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Luke 21:18 But there shall not an hair of your head perish. (h) Rom.8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (i) 2 Cor.1:20 For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us. 2 Cor.1:21 Now he which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God; 2 Cor.1:22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. 2 Cor.5:5 Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Eph.1:13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard
Church of the Holy Ghost, Heidelberg
the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Eph.1:14 Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. Rom.8:16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (j) Rom.8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 1 John 3:3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

BOND REFORMATION TOUR: Worms, "Here I stand!"

The rainy weather broke for a little while we toured the place where Luther took his intrepid stand. We look back and see that Luther walked away with his life from this trial before the most powerful temporal power in the European world. But Luther took his stand believing full well that it was most likely to cost him his life. Here's the text of what Luther said and a few pictures from our visit.

"Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted [convinced] of error by the testimony of Scripture or (since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves) by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted [convinced] by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
Maguskirche, Worms
For Grandma Bond!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

BOND REFORMATION TOUR: Calvin and Bucer in Strasbourg (awesome hotel!)

Our microcosm of the Body of Christ
Our poor Gillian (7) has been having a rough time with spiking fever (104.4 at top end, yikes) and on a pattern of doing so especially in the middle of the night, so my dear wife and I are not feeling the most rested we ever have felt. Cora Mac has been a trooper helping us with the kids and having the Sug boys and Nicko means Giles has been having the time of his life (staying up late because French dinners are not over until about 10:30 at night, yikes again). If you want one of the best all around hotels on the planet, The Hotel Sofitel in Strasbourg is your place. The concierge even played army guys with the boys today! But best of all, they got a doctor to make a hotel call; I'm not joking. She has broncitis and needed a antibiotic.

Cheryl really needed a break (and a sainthood, in my opinion) so after our morning full of Gutenberg, Bucer, Calvin and the rest, visiting Gutenberg Square, the cathedral, St Nicholas Church where Calvin primarily preached, and St Thomas Church where Bucer primarily (we sang I Greet Thee Who My Sure Redeemer Art here), I came back to the hotel, read to Gillian until she fell asleep, then did, no, check that, am doing this.

This from the Strasbourg episode from my book on Calvin THE BETRAYAL:



...As the days of our flight passed, I grew, if not skillful, at least more proficient in the riding of a horse. We made our way due east, traversing through such places as Epernay, Verdun, and Metz. Passing into German lands, Cauvin seeming loathe to his leave of France. When we finally arrived in the grand city of Strasbourg, as with other places through which we had passed, many flocked to greet Cauvin in that city. Notably one called Martin Bucer warmly welcomed Cauvin, urging him to remain in Strasbourg, there to preach and minister in the city.
“There is much good for you to do in this place,” said the kindly Bucer. “Preach in the public square, in the grand cathedral itself—you need not fear the sword or fire here in Strasbourg. God has granted great freedom for his cause in this place. And there is good food and leisure—here you may relax from your work; here you may recreate yourself. Do remain among us.”
“The demands of God’s beleaguered church,” said Cauvin, “do not allow for thoughts of food and leisure.” 
“I know of your dedication to the work of God,” said Martin Bucer. “It is unrivaled. But human nature has that weakness by which it cannot always concentrate on grave and serious matters. There must also be provision made for certain relaxations from work and useful studies and a certain recreation of the strength both of the spirit and of the body in play and games. Such you may enjoy here in Strasbourg.”
Giles and his buddies
I knew Cauvin better than almost anyone, and I knew that, well-intentioned as Bucer’s urgings were, they would not be received with favor by Cauvin. What is more, in Strasbourg Cauvin was accosted on every side by enthusiastic reformers who wanted him to preach, to teach, to debate, and to take pastoral duties among them. These were all things Cauvin was reluctant so to do, and I knew this. Hence, I knew that our stay in Strasbourg would not be a long one.
“Tell no one of where we plan to go,” I heard him telling du Tillet one evening. “I shall assume the name Lucanius, and thereby shall I be enabled to find a quiet place for study and writing. Bucer and the rest are well-meaning and faithful men, but there is too much activity in this place. We must be away.”
I had had my suspicions of du Tillet’s servant. There had been nothing of substance, but the man was reserved and surly—as I often had been. Perhaps this was the manner of the servant. In any event what transpired next was nearly to our ruin. We took our leave of kindly Martin Bucer, and Cauvin asked him to tell no one of our departure until a full day had elapsed. He arranged for us to board at his home and place of birth in the small village of Selestat, a comfortable day’s journey on horseback south of Strasbourg.
It was there that du Tillet’s servant showed his evil side. I know it is hypocritical in the extreme for one such as I to record the petty guilt of one such as he, but, nevertheless, did the man do us a great wrong.
It fell out after this fashion. I awoke with a start early next morning. It must have been a sound in the narrow hallway of the Bucer family house. Rising from my bed, I moved with stealth, unlatching my door and straining to see in the predawn darkness. I could make out the barest outline of a man’s shape as a light from a lantern in the narrow street shone faintly through a window, partially revealing him to my sight. I followed, but not knowing his intentions, I followed far too slowly.
He had apparently already made his horse ready, for within an instant I heard a racket of hooves on the cobbles in the street. They clattered, echoing against the narrow timbered houses that enclosed the street. Boldly did I attempt to saddle my steed and give pursuit, but by the time I managed to secure the bridle in its place, the man was gone. Certain it was du Tillet’s servant, I rode as best and as fast as I could in the direction he had traveled, but if it was du Tillet’s servant, I knew his riding, and I knew mine. It was a vain pursuit.
Fearing the worst, I at last reined my steed in and returned. “What has he taken?” I inquired as I came back into the house. All were awake by now.
“I have been robbed!” cried du Tillet. “That worthless servant has robbed me of my purse! They are all the same. That scoundrel servant! He has run off with every piece of gold, every piece of silver. We are destitute!”
As we breakfasted, du Tillet fumed in his agitation, cursing his servant, bemoaning how expenses would now be covered, and generally lamenting as if disaster had fallen from the heavens.
I remained quiet, though I frequently fingered the hidden stash within my pouch, concealed deep within my tunic. For some time now I had spent nothing from it. I was loathe to handle it, as if the pouch and its contents were a poison, transmitted merely by touch or by look. I cannot explain my feelings fully on the matter, but looking back, I suppose it had become a sort of blood money to me. There was so much I had not been able to arrange in my thinking; perhaps I never would fully be able to do so.
After we had finished our little meal, du Tillet said, “How can such a one as he, after all of his privileges, most especially hearing the gospel these number of months, how can such as he act so wickedly? It is unthinkable.”
Cauvin said nothing but opened his Greek New Testament. After reading silently for a moment, he closed the book and said, though I believe he was actually reciting from his instantaneous translation,
“‘For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth,’” he paused, looking at each of us, but I felt that he lingered longer when looking into my eyes, “‘there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries,’ this from the epistle to the Hebrews.”
Again he paused, the weight of which pausing seemed to bear down upon my soul as if to crush me under its insupportable burden.
“To whom God has granted much,” said Cauvin, “he will demand far more on the judgment day. Your servant, Master du Tillet, for spurning the grace of God, the many opportunities for repentance, for sinning against the light of the Word of God which he has repeatedly heard, for these your servant, should he persist in his stony-hearted rebellion, must expect fearful judgment and fiery indignation from the Almighty.”
Again he looked at me, his piercing eyes, as I felt them, penetrating into my very soul, and continued. “Let us, each one, examine our hearts, and put off the hardness therein. Let us resist the devil, mortify sin, humble ourselves before the grace of God, confess and forsake our sinning. And then let us put on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, mercifully imputed to our unworthy hearts.”
I felt his words were for me, and for me alone. I shuddered, and I believe it was such a shuddering as even I could not conceal by my art. If Cauvin could say such things about the petty stealing of du Tillet’s servant, what would he have to say to one such as I, I alone who was responsible for the great evil of condemning the innocent, of betraying the faithful, of exchanging for money—again I fingered the pouch within my tunic—if he knew that I had for these few glittering coins denounced his friend Etienne and many others, would he so cheerfully extend to me this gospel of grace? Could there be such a grace capable of covering such crimes as I alone had committed? I believed there was not. How could there be?  
His words pounded like hammer blows on an anvil in my head: If we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
In the days that followed, I liberally spent the remains of my purse on our needs, though I made every attempt to conceal my liberality in doing so. It was a small matter for me to make my way to the market alone and secure food, even lodging and fodder for our horses, now reduced to but three. All of which generosity I credited to others.

BOND REFORMATION TOUR: Sobering moments at Verdun, WW I battlefield and burial ground

Cross of 1000s of fallen French 20 year olds
After a nice French breakfast by our hostess in Pierrefonds, we loaded up the coach and headed for Strasbourg, a stop at Verdun battlefield for lunch on the way. I can only imagine the horror of February 21, 1916 when the first deafening artillery barrages of this bloody battle commenced their deadly work. So many young men's bodies were unidentifiable in WW I they had to make a special area for holding the skulls and bones, all of real young men who felt their impending ruin in the instant before they were killed in the deadly trench warfare of WW I. 10,000,000 soldiers died, average age, 20 years. We
witnessed a flaming truck fire on the A4 to
Bones of sons who were never identified
Strasbourg which made me think of the inferno of reality that burning at the stake was for that first Paris Reformation martyr in 1512.

Here is what I read from a chapter in HOLD FAST in a Broken World as we pulled away from the fields of crosses and the interred bones of fallen boys. 



...It was November 29, 1917, Jack’s nineteenth birthday. It was also his first day of trench warfare. Some birthday party! Later he wrote about that day. “The first bullet I heard ‘whined’
Truck trailer conflagration on the A4
like a journalist’s or a peacetime poet’s bullet. At that moment there was something not exactly like fear… a little quavering signal that said, ‘This is War. This is what Homer wrote about.’”
One day he had been a fresh young college student; now he was a soldier. After a hasty few months of training he was dubbed a Second Lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry and shipped off to France. Near Arras he heard that first of many bullets. When not dodging those bullets, he wrote down reflections on his experience.

The war—the frights, the cold, the smell, the horribly smashed men still moving like half-crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without blade of grass, the boots worn day and night till they seemed to grow to your feet… I have gone to sleep marching and woken again and found myself marching still. Familiarity both with the very old and the very recent dead… I came to know, and pity, and reverence the ordinary man.

April, 1918 at Mt. Bernenchon, near Lillers, France, an artillery shell whistled louder and closer than the rest. Then it hit. Erupting in a deafening explosion, the shrapnel instantly killed Jack’s friend, who had been a father figure to him. And it hit Jack. He wrote, “The moment just after I had been hit… I found that I was not breathing and concluded that this was death.” Perhaps at the field hospital at Etaples, perhaps at a convalescent camp on the Salisbury Plain, embittered by his experience, Jack began writing a poem:

Come let us curse our Master ere we die,
For all our hopes in endless ruin lie.
The good is dead. Let us curse God most High.

Laugh then and slay. Shatter all things of worth,
Heap torment still on torment for thy mirth—
Thou art not Lord while there are Men on earth.

Jack was his nickname. His real name was Clive Staples Lewis. The lines above appeared in his first book, Spirits in Bondage, a collection of poems Lewis wrote while a young atheist and that he described to a friend as “mainly strung around the idea that nature is diabolical and malevolent and that God, if he exists, is outside of and in opposition to the cosmic arrangements.”
Perhaps after suffering the horrors of WWI, his bitterness and cynicism is more understandable. There were horrors aplenty. On the first day alone of the Battle of the Somme, 20,000 young men’s lives were cut short, many of them so mangled by artillery shells, by the tramping feet of advancing and retreating soldiers, the debris, mud, and carnage that in the five-month battle more than 50,000 soldier’ bodies were so obliterated that they have no known graves. Between 1914 and 1918, an average of 5,600 young men died each day of those five years, more than ten million lives. No wonder Lewis penned the cynical lines “laugh then and slay.”...



BOND REFORMATION TOUR: Calvin's birthplace, Noyon

Bond Ref Tour group at Noyon Cathedral
We're having unseasonably cool and rainy weather in Paris (and beyond) but it is the weather that pleases me because it is the weather precisely that our heavenly Father wants us to be experiencing as we take in the Reformation sites in Europe on this trip. Nothing could be more certain.

We met our coach driver (Peter from Holland) and made our way north (seeing some impressive loop-d-loops from the Paris airshow underway right now) to Calvin's birthplace in the charmingly ordinary French village of Noyon. And then we had a brilliant break in the weather, bright sunshine, blue skies, the works, as you can see from the photograph in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, Noyon. Calvin spent his boyhood in and out the doors of this cathedral, his dad being a functionary for Charles Hangest, the bishop, and Calvin being good friends with the bishop's son, Claude... wait a second! What's a bishop doing with a son! Not only deeply flawed theology, but abusive malpractice of beliefs they were burning others who disagreed with their beliefs.

Calvin's birthplace museum
We went into his birthplace museum, had it mostly all to ourselves (the girl at the desk--how would you like to have the job of receptionist at Calvin's birthplace!) is unfortunately a bold-face liar. She said I spoke French tres bien (just delusionally generous maybe). Then a few miles off to the most amazing hotel. Hotel Beadon looks out over a small lake and a French Chateau on the bluff overlooking the village. Great evening dinner (just us in the whole hotel and restaurant) and night walk around the castle (no Ref significance and a Nepoleon III reconstruction, but gorgeous, nevertheless).

Calvin's birthplace was actually flattened in 1918 while the British 5th Army tried to hold the town from the advancing German army. The house standing on the same spot was carefully reconstructed according to drawings and photographs.


View out our hotel window--no joke!
From the opening pages of my novel on John Calvin's life, THE BETRAYAL:



April, 1918: The Bombing

In the war-torn village of Noyon-le-Sainte in northern France an old man, clutching the hand of a little boy, mused on the war to end all wars. After three-and-a-half years of bloody stalemate, it seemed less like a war to end war and far more like a war that would just never end. In spite of the endless cycle of artillery barrage, infantry advance, and entrenchment, inexplicably the cathedral, the Town Hall, the renaissance library, and other medieval buildings remained standing, awaiting the next cycle of bombing. Still more importantly to the old man, his house, “Grain Place,” as it had been known for centuries, yet remained standing. And he had his music and his books.
That night, windows shrouded in black, he opened the volume he had been reading. A biography originally penned in 1577 by Jérôme-Hermès Bolsec, the old man’s copy had been printed in 1875. Far more a vengeful diatribe than a proper biography, the old man had read enough not to think of it as real history; nevertheless, the scandalous rant against a man Bolsec must have intensely hated was entertaining. Perching his reading glasses on his nose, and leaning toward the lantern, he had only just recommenced reading when suddenly the house shuddered to its foundation stones.
Grand-père!” cried the little boy at his feet. “Qu'est-ce que c'est?”
The old man knew what it was. Snatching the boy’s hand, he ran through the house into the back garden, hoping to get the little one to the bomb shelter in time. There was nothing an old man or a mere boy could do; the defense of the town and of the Oise valley was entirely up to the British 5th Army.
Shifting troop strength to the Western Front in April of 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered his German army to redirect the gaping mouths of their massive artillery, capable of firing one-ton bombs over nine miles, and to commence thundering destruction on the Allied defenders and on what remained of the town of Noyon-le-Sainte. The apocalyptic Hindenburg-Ludendorff Offensive had begun.
Holding the trembling boy in his arms, the old man listened to the earth-shaking staccato of German artillery raining death and devastation on the village above them. And then would come the infantry advance. With deadly accuracy, the British defenders who had survived the barrage valiantly went to work with their Enfield rifles, pee-oohing death into the waves of German infantry advancing on the town. The Germans responded with the heavy gut-lurching chattering of machine gun fire, cutting down all life in its path, valiant or otherwise. But the old man had seen enough of modern war. He knew that at the last it would be the coordinated German artillery fire, the molten shrapnel, and the erupting debris that would carve out a path of death and devastation for the German advance through his village, his home, and his life.
When at last the echoing of heavy guns had lapsed into an eerie silence, the old man and the boy slowly immerged from the bomb shelter. What met their senses seemed like a microcosm of the death of civilization. Everywhere the air was thick with acrid smoke and the stench of death. The complete absence of laughter, of the cheery sounds of children at play, of chattering housewives, of yapping dogs created a silence so palpable that it unhinged the mental faculties of some who had inexplicably survived.
Stooped and frail, the widow next door sat on a fragment of her front steps—all that remained of her home. Moaning softly, her head bowed and shrouded with a black shawl, she sat rocking, rocking as if thereby to find some comfort for herself. Heaped about her radiated mounds of rubble: the remains of her home, of a Gallo-Roman crypt, of the towers of the cathedral. An instant of thunderous chaos had reduced the village to heaps of debris; order, antiquity, and beauty devolving into crumbled heaps of stone, dust, and matchsticks.
The few buildings still standing looked as if a puff of wind would finish the job. Stones chiseled into columns and arches by master stone cutters of the Middle Ages, now seemed to stagger and sway like drunken men. The tinkling of breaking glass broke the stillness; the old man shook his head in wonder: What glass could yet be unbroken after such a bombardment?
Enormous as the loss in buildings, the loss of human life far exceeded all other devastation. Though many had been instantaneously buried as their lives were crushed by hailing stones and molten shrapnel, yet were there many bodies undignified by such a burial. And as the April sun warmed the scene, grotesque corpses swelled in the heat. Others were so disfigured that they had ceased to affright, so inhuman had they become. Still others had instantly been obliterated, their parts so ground up and mingled with the mud, stone, and earth that they no longer existed, or so it seemed. Hundreds of townsfolk—men, women, and children—had simply vanished without a trace, no mangled body, no dental work to compare with records.
There was a new sound that made the old man frown. Faintly at first: the rumbling of horse-drawn artillery, the clattering of hooves, the mechanical throttling of trucks and the grinding of gears—and the advance of men. German infantry soldiers in spiky helmets would be pouring into the streets across the town, shoulder-to-shoulder, right arms swinging stiffly, their rifles over the left shoulder, their boots echoing with every tread more fearfully than their artillery had done before them. The old man had seen and heard it all before.
“Grain Place” had been reduced to a chaotic mound of rubble. Dazed at first, the old man and the boy picked through the debris that had been their home. It had been home to many families over the centuries, the family names obliterated by the forgetfulness of time, as were now its beams and stones.
Strewn amongst the chaos were tufts of stuffing from a pillow, and there a mangled arm of a chair, here a broken leg of a table, and the battered head and foot of a bed frame. Unlike other mounds of debris that had once been the houses that made up the village, there were no human arms, legs, heads and feet in the homey mound of rumble that had been “Grain Place.”
Recognition flashed across the old man’s face as he discovered the final remains of his favorite chair and here and their a page from the Bolsec book he had only the night before hurriedly laid aside to retire to the relative safety of the bomb shelter in the back garden. With a cry, the boy snatched up the shredded remains of his teddy bear, and a tear fell on the mangled creature’s face as the boy clutched it, searching in the debris for an arm, a leg, an ear, the innards of its torso.
More familiar objects poked out of the rubbish: the old man’s violin, never to be played again, and black and white keys from his piano were scattered about the debris like the shrapnel of a melodic grenade.
Then, scowling, the old man’s eyes fell on an unfamiliar object. It puzzled him, because he could not remember having anything like it in his possessions, yet here it was amongst the rubble that had been his home and his things. Carefully picking his way to it, he bent low, with a hand clearing aside gravel and powder that had so late been solid stone. It was a battered metal chest, the same length and somewhat wider than an ammunition case for the .303 caliber rounds the British soldiers had used in their Enfield rifles.
Lifting it from the debris, the old man blew the remaining mortar dust away and studied the metal work on the case more closely.
Grand-père, qu'avez-vous trouvé?” called the boy.
Je ne sais pas,” he replied with a shrug.
He had no idea what it was, what it contained, but clearly it was very ancient. The rumbling, grinding, and trampling grew louder. The old man, tucking the chest under his arm, gripped the boy’s hand in his own and scrambled through the wreckage back to the bomb shelter, now their only home.
Once underground, he took up a pries bar and worked at the lid of the chest. As he worked so did his imagination. Perhaps there would be within something of value, something of antiquity: bank notes from the 16th century would be nice, family gemstones or gold jewelry better still, the title to a vast estate best of all. Food ration coupons would do, he thought grimly. With a sudden crack, the lid gave way. The man’s heart raced as he lifted it and gazed inside.
Disappointed, he lifted a large sheaf of paper, yellowed with age. He looked more closely within. Underneath the pages, nest-like, was the decaying remains of a piece of cloth, silk it felt like; at one time perhaps a shade of blue. The cloth was fragile with age, and as he turned it carefully in his hands, he decided it had long ago been a chapeau for the head.
Again he looked within. There was a small leather-bound book. Opening it tenderly, he saw that it was a French Bible, hundreds of years old, it must be, and perhaps of some value. Indifferently he closed the book, though cautiously so as not to devalue it. He turned his attention back to the sheaves of paper, clearly some kind of manuscript, written in a hasty agitated scrawl, but legible for all that, and in French. The writer had used both sides of each sheet of paper, and had allowed no room for margins, as if he feared he might run out of paper, as if he had much to say and little time or space in which to say it.
Who had written these words? the old man mused, thumbing the yellow pages pensively. It was eerie to think that a man long dead had penned them. And the old man, whose emotions had been dulled by the numbing years of war, felt a flickering of excitement at it all. Why had the ancient writer walled this manuscript up in this house? There would be no better way to find out than to read the pages, perhaps aloud to the boy.
So he did.