The Robed Traveler

Father Baillie waved to Signore Chiari, below, then settled comfortably into his favorite spot to begin his daily three-hour vigilance. The crowds are sparse today, he thought.

Father Baillie, or Father Fitz as he was known to his parishioners back home, was born in the year 1696 as Fitzroy Baillie, the only child of Gilliosa and Doileag Baillie of Winchburgh, Scotland. The Baillie clan was well known as the finest distiller of Scotch whiskey in the West Lothians. Gilliosa Baillie had expected his son to continue the tradition of the family business, but Fitzroy had never felt inspired to spend his days toiling in a distillery.

Young Fitzroy was a philosophical boy, and his particular interest in life was trying to understand his unique relationship to his God. So father often awoke to discover that son had journeyed into the countryside in the early morning hours, over to the Mid Lothians and the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew. There, Fitzroy passed his days in deep thought, imagining that he was a great priest standing upon the altar and beseeching God to reveal Himself and the mysteries of all the world.

Fitzroy left home at age sixteen to attend the College of St. Mary’s in the city of St. Andrews. There, he spent the next three years pursuing his seminary education. Father Baillie worked his way up through the Church hierarchy for the first fifteen years after college, gaining the prerequisite experience of his profession, until fate again found him standing upon the altar, this time, exulting to God in front of a flock of parishioners who came to affectionately call him their own Father Fitz.

Father Fitz settled comfortably into the surroundings at his parish and was quite content in his work for the next four years. Then he caught the attention of Cardinal Vincetti, who was traveling as an emissary of the Vatican throughout the northern regions of the Kingdom of Christ. The Vatican still hoped to reestablish a strong presence in Scotland after the Scottish Reformation, so Cardinal Vincetti had been sent to find a protégé who could be molded into a great leader and voice for Vatican ambitions. The Cardinal perceived Father Fitz to hold great promise, so a friendship quickly developed. Within a year of their meeting, Father Fitz began working at the Vatican as an understudy of the Cardinal.

The young apprentice was truly amazed at the wonders of the Vatican and the grandeur of St. Peter’s Basilica. More wondrous to him, however, were the secret Vatican archives that contained information about the spiritual nature of man, man’s origins, and numerous prophecies yet to unfold in mankind’s history.

One of these prophecies—the Prophecy of Peter—foretold the return of St. Peter to reclaim his throne. Some thought this reclamation would be the prelude to the Second Coming of Christ. Simon Peter had been posthumously elected the first pope, and all popes since had considered themselves nothing more than temporary caretakers of the throne, all eager to relinquish the scepter to St. Peter upon his return.

The Prophecy of Peter had gained further prominence in the ninth century, when Pope Joan, the only female pope, and a gifted seer, provided additional clarity to this prophecy—through a vision. She had foreseen that St. Peter would be identified by two distinguishing characteristics: a noticeable limp to his stride and the rough outline of an inverted cross appearing on his right hand in the form of a birthmark. Pope Joan had further stated that this person would travel from distant lands and would be identified when paying homage to an image of his own likeness.

Pope Joan had subsequently issued a secret papal decree requiring a constant vigil at the statue of St. Peter whenever the Basilica was open to the public. Pilgrims to Rome were plentiful, even in the ninth century. Paying homage to the statue of St. Peter and caressing its right foot had been part of the ritual pilgrimage since the statue had been installed.

The longstanding tradition that resulted from the secret decree nearly nine centuries earlier is what had caused Father Fitz to be presently sitting in the Basilica choir balcony. He sat in the northwest corner of the nave above the statue, where he looked down to observe the sparse crowds this particular day.

Over the centuries, rumors of the Prophecy of Peter had seeped out to the far reaches of the Kingdom. Father Fitz had passed this rumor off, just as much other hearsay, as the idle gossip of the faithful too far removed from the daily workings of the Vatican to know what really transpired there. So it was with a sense of irony that he had found himself for the past five months sitting in a choir balcony for three hours each day on constant vigil for what he had only six months earlier discounted as a fanciful rumor. Truthfully, he did not mind the three hours alone to himself each day, because it provided time for him to engage in his two passions: contemplating his relationship to God and taking an occasional sip of his father’s produce, which he kept in a flask hidden within the inner pocket of his cloak.

Father Fitz was now happily and deeply engaged in contemplation. How many people over the centuries have caressed the right foot of this bronze statue of Saint Peter, causing its features to be worn and shiny? Perhaps all these pilgrims know of this Prophecy of Peter and caress his foot as a metaphorical way to soothe the limp in his leg that Pope Joan had seen in her vision. Aye, and that Pope Joan must have been quite a woman! Imagine, a person rising to the papal throne by concealing her own identity as a woman, until she was finally discovered when giving birth to a baby while traveling from this very church to her throne at the Lateran. She may have been tied to a horse’s tail, dragged and stoned to death for her abhorrent deception, and her name stricken from the historical list of holy pontiffs because of her female sex, but her papal decree has survived all these centuries, notwithstanding. Aye, what an irony it is for me to be sitting here each day as the result of a secret papal decree from a woman who officially does not exist.

Such were the wandering thoughts of Father Fitz when he raised his flask for the first time to take a sip of "contemplation." He glanced at the crowd below just before the flask reached his lips.

"What is this, a robed figure limping slowly on his right leg toward the statue?" Father Fitz quickly corked and concealed his flask, arose in the choir balcony, and intently watched the robed figure.

--- End of Chapter Sample ---

Copyright © 2007 Aileron Publishing, LLC.