Authors: Daniel Silva
Gabriel hurried into the street. Like most in San Marco, it was covered in several inches of water. A few tourists were milling
about in the dying twilight. None seemed to notice the man in a threadbare cloak and sandals.
“What are you looking at?”
Gabriel wheeled around to find Chiara and the children standing behind him. He pointed along the darkening street. “The man
in the hooded cloak is Father Joshua. He's the one who gave us the first page of the Gospel of Pilate.”
Chiara narrowed her eyes. “I don't see anyone in a cloak.”
Neither did Gabriel. The priest had disappeared from view.
“Maybe you were mistaken,” said Chiara. “Or maybe you just
you saw him.”
“A hallucination, you mean?”
Chiara said nothing.
Gabriel set off along the street, searching for a destitute-looking clergyman amid the world's most exclusive storefronts.
Eventually, he passed through an archway beneath the Museo Correr and emerged into the Piazza San Marco. Father Joshua was
walking past CaffÃ¨ Florian toward the campanile. The priest seemed to move across the floodwaters without disturbing the surface.
He made no attempt to lift the hem of his garment.
Gabriel hastened after him. “Father Joshua?”
The priest stopped at the foot of the bell tower.
Gabriel addressed him in Italian, the language he had spoken in the Manuscript Depository of the Secret Archives. “Don't you
remember me, Father Joshua? I'm the one whoâ”
“I know who you are.” His smile was benevolent. “You're the one with the name of the archangel.”
“How do you know my name?”
“There were recriminations after your visit to the Secret Archives. I overheard things.”
“Do you work there?”
“Why would you ask such a question?”
“Your name doesn't appear on the staff directory. And unless I'm mistaken, you weren't wearing any identification that day.”
“Why would someone like me require identification?”
“Who are you?”
say that I am?”
His Italian was beautiful, but it was colored with an unmistakable accent.
“Do you speak Arabic?” asked Gabriel.
“Like you, I speak many languages.”
“Where are you from?”
“The same place you are.”
“Why are you in Venice?”
“I came to see a friend.” He noticed Gabriel looking at his hands. “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus,” he explained.
Two women splashed past them. They stared at Gabriel apprehensively but seemed not to notice the man standing in ankle-deep
water in sandals and a cloak.
“Were you ever able to find the rest of the gospel?” he asked.
“Not before it was destroyed.”
“The Holy Father was afraid that would happen.”
“Were you the one who gave it to him?”
“How were you able to open the door of the
without a key?”
He gave a sly smile. “It wasn't difficult.”
“Did the Holy Father show the book to anyone else?”
“A Jesuit.” Father Joshua frowned. “For some reason, my word wasn't good enough. The Jesuit agreed with me that the book was
“He's an American, this Jesuit?”
“Do you know his name?”
“The Holy Father refused to tell me. He said he was going to give the gospel to you when the Jesuit was finished with it.”
“Finished with what?”
“His Holiness didn't say.”
“Where were you when you had this conversation?”
“The papal study. But why do you ask?”
“The men who murdered the Holy Father were listening. They could hear his voice but not yours.”
His expression darkened. “You must feel guilty.”
“Yes,” admitted Gabriel. “Terribly guilty.”
“Don't,” said the priest. “It wasn't your fault.”
He turned to leave.
The priest stopped.
“When did you remove the first page of the gospel?”
He raised a bandaged hand. “I'm afraid I must be on my way. May the peace of the Lord be with you always. And with your wife
and children as well. Go to them, Gabriel. They're searching for you.”
With that, he set off between the columns of St. Mark and St. Theodore. Gabriel quickly drew his phone and engaged the camera,
but he could see no trace of the priest on the screen. He hurried over to the gondola station on the Riva degli Schiavoni
and looked to the right and then the left.
Father Joshua was gone.
At two p.m. the following afternoon, Gabriel received a phone call from General Cesare Ferrari of the Art Squad. He claimed to have come to Venice on an unrelated matter and was
hoping Gabriel might have a moment to answer a few questions before his return to Israel.
“Carabinieri regional headquarters.”
Gabriel suggested Harry's Bar instead. He arrived a few minutes before four; the general, a few minutes after. They ordered
Bellinis. Gabriel's immediately gave him a headache. He drank it nonetheless. It was irresistibly delicious. Besides, it was
his last day of vacation.
“The perfect end to an imperfect day,” said the general.
“What is it now?”
“Next year's budget.”
“I thought fascists loved cultural patrimony.”
“Only if there's enough tax revenue to pay for it.”
“I guess bashing immigrants isn't good for the economy after all.”
“Is it true they were responsible for the flooding here in Venice?”
“That's what I read on
“And did you happen to read Alessandro Ricci's article in
this morning?” The general plucked an enormous green olive from the bowl in the center of the table. “The chattering classes
think Saviano's coalition might not survive.”
“What a shame.”
“They say a private audience with the wildly popular new pope would do wonders for his position.”
“I wouldn't hold my breath.”
“His Holiness might want to reconsider in light of the fact that he was in Florence the night that Swiss Guard was killed. If
memory serves, you were there, too. And then there's that missing priest from the Order of St. Helena. His name escapes me.”
“You wouldn't happen to know where he is, would you?”
“Not a clue,” answered Gabriel truthfully.
“Perhaps someday you'll tell me how all the pieces of this affair fit together.” The general ordered two more Bellinis and
surveyed the interior of Harry's Bar. “They did a remarkable job with the repairs. You wouldn't even know there was a flood.”
He gave Gabriel a sidelong glance. “I suppose you'll get used to it.”
“You've obviously been talking to Francesco Tiepolo.”
Ferrari smiled. “He tells me you're going to be working for your wife soon.”
“She hasn't accepted my terms yet.”
“Do you think she might allow me to borrow you from time to time?”
“I'm in the business of recovering stolen paintings. And you, my friend, are very good at finding things.”
“Except for the Gospel of Pilate.”
“Ah, yes. The gospel.” The general removed a manila folder from his briefcase and laid it on the table. “That sheet of paper
you gave me was produced by a mill near Bologna. A small operation. One man, in fact. Very high quality. We've found numerous
examples of his work in other cases.”
“What kind of cases?”
“Forgeries.” Ferrari opened the folder and removed the first page of the gospel. It was still encased in protective plastic. “It looks like it was produced during the Renaissance. In truth, it
was manufactured a few months ago. Which means the Gospel of Pilate, the book that led to the murder of His Holiness Pope Paul the Seventh, is a fraud.”
“How were you able to date it so precisely?”
“The papermaker is on my payroll. I paid him a visit after my lab delivered its findings.” Ferrari tapped the page. “It was
part of a large order of reproduction Renaissance paper. Several hundred sheets, in fact. The size was appropriate for bookbinding.
It cost the buyer a small fortune.”
“Who was he?”
“A priest, actually.”
“Does the priest have a name?”
“Father Robert Jordan.”
It had been Gabriel's intention to return to Israel the following morning on the ten o'clock El Al flight from Venice's Marco
Polo Airport. He instructed Travel to book four seats on the evening flight from Rome instead. The car, a Volkswagen Passat,
he saw to himself. They departed Venice at half past seven, a full thirty minutes later than he had hoped, and arrived in
Assisi a few minutes after noon. With Chiara and the children at his side, he rang the bell at the Abbey of St. Peter. Receiving
no answer, he rang it again.
At length, Don Simon, the English Benedictine, answered. “Good afternoon. May I help you?”
“I'm here to see Father Jordan.”
“Is he expecting you?”
“Gabriel Allon. I was here withâ”
“I remember you. But why do you wish to see Father Jordan again?”
Gabriel crossed his fingers. “I was sent by the Holy Father. I'm afraid it's a matter of some urgency.”
There was a silence of several seconds. Then the lock snapped open.
Gabriel looked at Chiara and smiled. “Membership has its privileges.”
The monk led them to the common room overlooking the abbey's green garden. Ten minutes elapsed before he returned with Father
Jordan. The American Jesuit did not appear pleased to see the friend of the new Roman pontiff.
At length, he looked at Don Simon. “Perhaps you should give Signore Allon's wife and children a tour of the grounds. They're
really quite beautiful.”
Chiara glanced at Gabriel, who nodded once. A moment later he and Father Jordan had the room to themselves.
“Are you really here at the behest of the Holy Father?” asked the priest.
“I admire your honesty.”
“I wish I could say the same.”
Father Jordan moved to the window. “How much of the story have you managed to piece together?”
“I know that almost everything you told us was a lie, beginning with your name. I also know that you recently took
delivery of a large order of reproduction Renaissance paper, which you used to produce a book called the Gospel of Pilate. The question is, was the gospel a fraud? Or was it a copy of the original?”
“Do you have an opinion?”
“I'm betting it was a copy.”
Father Jordan beckoned for Gabriel to join him at the window. Together they watched Chiara and the children walking along
a garden path at the side of the Benedictine monk.
“You have a beautiful family, Mr. Allon. Every time I see Jewish children, I think they are a miracle.”
“And when you see a Jesuit pope?”
“I see your handiwork.” Father Jordan gave him a conspiratorial smile. “Shouldn't you be in Israel?”
“We're on our way to the airport.”
“When is your flight?”
Father Jordan looked down at the two small children playing in the garden. “In that case, Mr. Allon, I believe you have just
enough time for one last story.”
He began by taking issue with Gabriel on a small but not insignificant point. His legal name, he said, was in fact Robert
Jordan. His mother and father had changed the family name shortly after they arrived in America in 1939 as refugees from Europe.
They chose an anglicized version of their real surname, which was the Italian word for the river that flows from the Northern
Galilee to the Dead Sea.
“Giordano,” said Gabriel.
Father Robert Jordan nodded. “My father was the son of a wealthy Roman businessman named Emanuele Giordano. One of three sons,” he added pointedly. “My mother was from an old family called Delvecchio. The name is quite common among Italian Jews. I must admit, I thought my own name was rather dull in comparison. I considered changing it many times, especially when I moved to Italy to teach at the Gregoriana.”
“How on earth did the child of two Jews become a Catholic priest?”
“My parents were never very religious, even when they lived in Rome. When they came to America, they masqueraded as Catholics
in order to blend in with their surroundings. It wasn't difficult for them. As Romans, they were used to the rituals of Catholicism.
But I was the real thing. I was baptized and received my First Communion. I even served as an altar boy in our parish church.
I can only imagine what my poor parents were thinking when they saw me up there in my little vestments.”
“How did they react when you told them you wanted to become a priest?”
“My father could scarcely look at me in my cassock and Roman collar.”
“Why didn't he tell you the truth?”
“Guilt, I suppose.”
“At having forsaken his faith?”
“My father never abandoned his faith,” said Father Jordan. “Even when he was pretending to be a Catholic. He was guilty because he and my mother had survived the war. They didn't want me to know that their relatives weren't so lucky. They were ensnared in the Rome roundup in October 1943 and sent
to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. All without a word of protest from the Holy Father, despite the fact that it took place under his very windows.”
“And you became a Catholic priest.”
“When did you learn the truth?”
“It wasn't until November 1989, when I returned to Boston to attend my father's funeral. After the service, my mother gave
me a letter he had written after I went off to the seminary. Obviously, it came as quite a shock. Not only was I Jewish, I
was a surviving remnant of a family that had perished in the Holocaust.”
“Did you ever consider renouncing your vows?”
“Why didn't you?”
“I decided I could be both a Christian and a Jew. After all, Jesus was a Jew. So were the twelve apostles whose statues stand
guard over the portico of the basilica. Twelve apostles,” he repeated. “One each for the twelve tribes of Israel. The original
Christians didn't see themselves as founders of a new faith. They were Jews who were also Jesus followers. I saw myself in
a similar light.”
“Do you still believe in the divinity of Jesus?”
“I'm not sure I ever did. But neither did they. They believed Jesus was a man who had been exalted into heaven, not a supreme being who had been sent to earth. All that came much later, after the Gospels had been written and the early Church settled on Christianity's orthodoxy. That was when the great sibling rivalry began. The Church Fathers declared that the covenant between God and his chosen people had been broken,
that the old law had been replaced by the new. God had sent his son to save the world, and the Jews had rejected him. Then, for good measure, they had cleverly maneuvered a gullible and blameless Roman prefect into nailing him to a cross. For such a people, the murderers of God himself, no punishment was too severe.”
“They were your people,” said Gabriel.
“Which is why I made it my life's work to heal the wounds between Judaism and Christianity.”
“By finding the Gospel of Pilate?”
Father Jordan nodded.
“I assume your father's letter contained a reference to it.”
“He wrote about it in considerable detail.”
“And that story you told Donati and me the other day? The one about you wandering the length and breadth of Italy searching
for the last copy of the Gospel of Pilate?”
“It was just that. A story. I knew that Father Schiller gave the book to Pius the Twelfth, and that Pius buried it deep in
“I confronted Father Schiller not long before he died. At first, he tried to deny the book's existence. But when I showed
him my father's letter, he told me the truth.”
“Did you tell himâ”
“That I was the grandson of the wealthy Roman Jew who had given the book to the Order?” Father Jordan shook his head. “Much
to my everlasting shame, I did not.”
“Did you really try to find it? Or was that a story, too?”
“No,” said Father Jordan. “I searched the Archives for more than twenty years. Because there's no reference to the gospel
in the Index Rooms, it was a bit like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. About ten years ago, I forced myself to stop. That book was ruining my life.”
“Someone gave it to the Holy Father. And the Holy Father decided to give it to you.”