‘Fra Celeste’ by Ricarda Huch – Part Fifteen

In the meantime, he was seeking his death in the water.  Who knows whether anything would ever have been discovered of his whereabouts had he not been seen by some fishermen who were out in the moonlight on the open sea.  First, they made out the outline of a figure standing on the shore, stretching its arms out towards the water.  If they had thought it possible the man had thoughts of death, they said, they might, by rowing swiftly, have been able to reach the shore and prevent him from achieving his aim; but nothing of the sort had occurred to them.  At times, he appeared to be blessing the sea, at others he seemed to be praying, and as he was of an unnatural height, so they said, they had found it all rather disturbing, and had asked themselves if the figure were a mortal being.

While they were staring at the apparition, it suddenly bent over in their direction, took, according to their testimony, several steps into the waves, which they could see clearly as a wide strip of the waters was at that time illuminated by the moon, and then sank as swift as lightning into the depths.  They immediately let out mighty shouts and rowed, overcoming their fear, towards the spot.  Occupied with their rowing, they were unable to see whether the figure had resurfaced and struggled with the water; when they found him, he was already dead, and they could do nothing more than transport the body of the revered man, whom they immediately recognised, back to shore.

The furore that Fra Celeste’s sudden demise caused in our spa resort was incredible.  I feared that the doctor whom the dead man had visited shortly before his death might provide a statement that would be ruinous to the monk’s reputation; instead, it was he who determined and made public that Aglaia had died by her own hand, in all probability after the monk, in order to reconcile her soul with heaven, had prepared her for her impending death.  Whether the doctor was truly convinced of this, or whether he wished to protect the memory of the holy man from any stain, I was unable to discern; in any case, Fra Celeste had, in his wrath, made an overwhelming impression on him, just as he had back then on Cardinal San Fiori.  A divine flame, the doctor said, had illuminated him, and he had truly preached with a fiery tongue.  It was true that he, the doctor, hadn’t understand all that the monk had brought forth in the dark language of revelations, but he had felt as humbled as if God Himself had torn the veils from his soul and he had found himself before Him, naked in his sins.

The news of the death spread with astonishing speed; the following day, all the newspapers announced a rumour that the Holy Father was to canonise the great preacher and converter of souls.  However, this turned out to be merely an expression of a wish harboured by the masses, one which the Pope found himself unable to fulfill, perhaps as he wasn’t entirely certain whether the reputation of the sublime deceased could be successfully defended against certain accusations.  This apprehension was interpreted to his disadvantage, for it was now said that he had begrudged the divine preacher his fame, hated him even, because he had attacked the church’s manifold abuses and vanities.  There even arose, I know not how, a rumour that Fra Celeste, through contempt for papal control, had been considering converting to the Protestant faith, for which reason the Pope had hounded him to death by means both mysterious and terrible.

At any rate, even if he was not made a conventional calendar saint, he still enjoyed the reputation of one, which could be seen not only in the general public grief, but particularly also regarding another, rather peculiar affair.  You see, claims were staked, by both the monastery Fra Celeste had belonged to and his hometown, as to his body, for which the parish of our spa resort had already chosen a spot in its cemetery.  This conflict was carried out with extraordinary intensity until it finally ended in victory for Dolfin’s hometown, which appeased the other two claimants by means of hefty payments.  For the whole three months this affair lasted, the coffin with the remains of the dearly departed stood in the small church where he had preached several times after his illness, always entirely bedecked with fresh flowers donated daily by the devout.  Then the body, with sombre ceremony, was taken off to its final resting place.

Oh majestic song, oh song of love, oh song of storms, where are you sleeping?  Or are angels playing you now on a harp fashioned from stars?  Or are you perhaps lost for ever, oh beautiful melody?  Perhaps you are playing all around me, day and night, and I fail to perceive you since you are drowned out by the roar of life’s tide.  If only I might hear you once more when I die!



← Part Fourteen     Translator’s Afterword →

Translation © 2020 by Tony Malone. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “‘Fra Celeste’ by Ricarda Huch – Part Fifteen

  1. Well, we weren’t especting a happy ending, were we?

    Fra Celeste reminds me of the ‘slightly dodgy’ preacher/religious leader in A Glastonbury Romance, which I read this year, both have a lot of charisma, play by their own rules and come to a violent end.


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