Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.
The elfin monk wanders pensively among the Roman statues as we had done at first, seemingly lost in a maze of promised pagan fixes. He is gazing into the laughing face of the fertility goddess with her huge bowl of too much grain. Maybe he too is wondering what the prayers to such a goddess would sound like. Or is he simply studying the workmanship of another sculptor’s hand? We know he is wondering what has become of the Christian subject by his own hand.
Nic offers answer, “We’ve moved the Christian sculpture into a more sacred space. She is in the oxen shed.”
The hood and robe of August return a nod of gratitude and he follows Nic to the shed. He looks on it as a stranger as though he has never seen his own work before, but isn’t that the experience of every artist – step back for moment — see it with empathy with the eyes of the stranger seeing it for the first time. First there is a moment of surprise, then the search for the flaw. It’s a persistent dialogue of the artist to himself, “how does it look to others?” “If only I had …”
I interrupt his wonder, “She is beautiful, isn’t she; just like the author of Luke must have seen her in his thoughts, a woman of poverty and simplicity yet she is holding the richest gift ever given to humankind.”
The shoulders of the wool robe melt in a human moment, then the little monk brushes off my assessment, a compliment, adroitly skipping over any appearance of a prideful sin, bowing silently and prayerfully.
We lift the statue onto the ox cart and prepare to start the slow walk to Ligugé, when host Antton comes along, not to wish us well on our journey, but to insist we are rude for leaving before his great festival of the New Year. Apparently his Gallo-Roman guest list has failed him. Nic offers our most well-mannered rejection but rejection is rejection, and Antton handles it with a heap of flaming language following us out his lane and onto the public path. His words surely include the complete thesaurus listing for Hell. It ends with “… and furthermore the little priest smells like a cur in heat!” Maybe August is already walking the ox far enough ahead of us and didn’t hear it, or maybe he just turned away and let the jeering roll off his back.