by Christiane Morlock
It was funny, the church’s old masonry, with the solemn carvings of angels and saints never exactly filled her with reverence as they were supposed to. They always awakened her curiosity though; her imagination ran wild. Every time her family dragged her to mass, she disappeared into the world of the old building, the old stories every single of these stones could tell.
There was this small angel just above the confessional, each wing about as big as its entire torso. It was draped in a tunic like the people back in antique times. And, even though it was carved in stone, it looked soft, flowing, as if wind was going through the fabric. She always imagined the angel to be of the shy yet curious kind, joining its siblings on missions to earth, always staying in the back-row yet determined to learn as much about mankind as it could.
Many crosses were hanging in the church. The biggest one was at the altar; dark metal with a few frills, INRI carved into the statue. As a child, she was always curious to touch it, not because the cross was all that interesting, but because she wasn’t allowed to. The thrill of the forbidden altar, one wasn’t even allowed to come near. And nobody ever offered a satisfactory answer, as to what was so special about that place.
On the northern wall, just underneath the sculpture of a saint, was a stone, a little different from the rest of the brickwork. Coloured a little darker than the others, with its corners just a bit chipped it didn’t quite fit into the brickwork. If you didn’t pay it any attention, you wouldn’t necessarily notice the difference. What had happened that it didn’t match the rest? Maybe they ran out of stones, maybe it was an act of carelessness or maybe an unnamed worker, all but forgotten by history, marked his presence in this small act of rebellion.
The big painting on the ceiling first drew your attention to a big angel with golden wings, in a long, white, flowing robe, a fiery sword in his hands. She did recall some story about it protecting the heavenly gardens. That was not what she focused on, though. It was the little cherub at the back, almost hidden in the big angel’s shadow that, every time she looked up, caught her attention anew. It was adorably chubby, almost childlike, with golden curls, rosy cheeks and white wings. Many cherubs of that kind were painted all over the ceiling, though this specific one was different. While the others were cheerful, smiling, portraying glee, this particular one looked pensive, almost sad. Why would an angel be sad?
Her Mum had always said it was sad because of people that didn’t believe in God. But that didn’t seem quite right; there were a lot of believers, after all, the church was always so full, which, in her childish naiveté, meant that all those peoples had to be true believers.
Maybe it was sad, because there were so many bad things happening in the world. But then again, there were so many good things happening as well, and Grampa always taught her to look for the positive, because once you’d look for it, you would always find a silver lining.
But now… Sitting in the empty church, she felt none of that. All she saw were greyish stones and some statues casting formless shadows, leaving her empty, leaving her cold.
“It has its own magic, doesn’t it?”
She turned her head to see an old man sitting beside her, not looking at her, but smiling as his gaze wandered along the painted ceiling.
“I guess.” She turned again and stared straight ahead, towards the altar, but not focusing on anything in particular.
“I could never figure out what it was that fascinated me. It was surely not the sermons.” He continued, chuckling softly at his last notion. “Maybe it’s because once I sit in here, I’m never truly alone.”
“If you believe in that sort of thing…”
“I am not talking religion,” he retorted. “It is not the stories all this artwork is supposed to tell, it’s the hidden ones that are truly magical.”
“I used to think that, too.”
“What happened?” His tone was soft, and he gave her a warm, sympathetic smile.
She just shrugged. Although his smile was very reassuring, she didn’t feel like baring her soul to a stranger.
“I’m sorry, I do not want to pry.” After giving her an apologetic nod, he turned his gaze back to the artwork on the ceiling.
“You know,” he continued after a moment of silence, “the stories these pictures tell, the histories captured within the marble statues… I cannot believe how lucky we are to have the privilege to hear them teach us.”
“As wonderful as it sounds, I doubt everybody is that fortunate.”
They sat in silence until the church bells started ringing, echoing through the church. Once upon a time, she would have described the sound as awe-filling, echoing and vibrating with every cell of her body. Now, however… They were just church bells.
The old man started speaking again, but only when the last echo of the bells went silent. “As a child, they always scared me. The bells, I mean. I don’t know why, they just had something scary about them. It’s funny how much you can miss something you thought you hated,” he sighed. “Not many sounds are as soothing as the steady echo of the church bells. And, do you know the funny thing?”
He looked over at her, and she couldn’t help but lock eyes with him.
His eyes portrayed all the sincerity, the earnestness and softness, as he gently smiled: “Just because we can’t see or hear them at the moment, it doesn’t mean they’ll be silent forever.”
With a smile and a nod, the man got up and slowly made for the big doors, letting in some of the afternoon sun as he opened them, just enough to illuminate the smile on his face, before the doors closed and she sat in the quiet darkness again, all by herself.
Or maybe not alone after all. At least that’s what she imagined to see, a little cherub, still hidden behind the mighty angels, but maybe not that sad any more.
Christiane Morlock was born in South-West Germany, where she studied primary education, majoring in English and Theology. Ever since youngest childhood, music and storytelling have been her big passions; being constant companions to this day.