To our left, the trees were growing closer, almost as if to embrace us with one arm, each one mingling its bloomed crown tightly to another, shielding the whole sight — a blissful one, at least for me, after a much too barren landscape, on which we were furthering for two hours already, this very tree line noticeable in the distance, to lust for. Right now, the hills themselves couldn't be far ahead.
The road narrowed once we slid through the town streets — escaping the main route, as well —, its single lane surprisingly paved, hiding underneath the dust and pebble that would seem much more common around these village parts, its turns, obscured by trees and garden walls, all the more suspenseful the way Marc was stepping it on or how cars would sometimes pop up the other way.
The monastery was Marc's invitation to a »quick sip of coffee and catching our breaths». As we were approaching it, he started talking more heartily about it, about how he helped rise it from scratch, bringing in soldiers, daubing the church walls with a handful of other men, how its foundation was meaningfully close to when he devoted himself to the order. Mrs. Thorne herself became even livelier than we could have imagined, after talking about everything thinkable, in a hardly entertaining way, the whole time on the road, telling us how Saint Mina, the patron of the place, aided her tremendously in life — the kind of faithful relief that could not sound sadder.
After one final turn, it started revealing itself, first a white bright shine in front of our eyes, then unveiling more. We were once again in an open field, a garden at the right, some tall trees still across, the white walls sieging up everything else, with just a small tower peaking up at the entrance, its inner garden hidden from view, part of its charm usually being to surprise with its beauties once stepping inside.
But it proved a more simple sanctum than that, the church pointedly tall in the heart of the colourful green, shrubs lined across certain paths, all marbled, motley roses sprouted randomly; all the buildings in harmony, only a tiny fountain with settles build around it to the right side of the wall, a smaller wooden church built for Saint Mina and an open temple of some sort to the left; to our end, past the entrance, a cloister-like hint of a gallery, enclosing the library, opposite the much more commonplace main house.
»Isn't this nice?»
I quickly followed Val when only she decided to go inside the church, the kind of visit I myself usually consider it to be a franc passion. For a moment I thought no more of how new the church was in fact, because it seemed rather reconditioned, given the strange, alight blue chroma and the more realistic, freely drawn iconography, figures long, figures wrinkled but also having a less canonical expression, of an almost rural inspiration. Only the altar was keeping some of the ancient gold. The light was coming in full and balmy. Behind the altar, the sanctuary looked at a glance small, modest and confined. Only upon turning back did we notice on one side of the inner porticum wall, shockingly pasted, looking even more eerily like themselves, the high priests who themselves patron the monastery, ranging from three certain archbishops to the metropolitan himself. Most of them were the old ones, but I guess they won't ever get painted over.
Back outside, everyone was strolling at their heart's content, Marc having gone inside the house to let the priest abbot know of our arrival, now waiting at the stairs, Mrs. Throne coming out of Saint Mina's church only to go back in again after a short while and Val walking now lazily before resting on a timber bench. After circling the church once, I turned idle as well. Suddenly I was at peace, listening to the whole quiescent space, glimpsing at small things, like an ant carrying a brown leaf six times its size. Only the birds were making any noise at all, some right underneath the church tower, making me wonder if it was too early for swallows to be nesting in such nooks or if they were just petite sparrows. After a couple of minutes of listening to the chirrups, my thoughts turned snobbish, trying to find something messiaenesque in all these shrills.
Marc was now approaching, together with the priest abbot, to where we were, at the wooden church, Mrs. Thorne still inside, distrait. It slipped my mind right then how one should address and whisperingly asked Val before they arrived. She said either »God bless» or something alike, if not actually »Christ is Risen», since it was still that time around. The priest abbot greeted us all. Mrs. Thorne joined us tardily, leaving behind the church door wide open, shook and kissed his hand.
He invited us to go over by the fountain for that cup of coffee that, eventually, none but one of us truly wanted to drink. A young man brought it all the way from the main house. I could only assume he was a reader or cantor during services, but not now, wearing jeans and a pink shirt. Together with him and the priest abbot, there were only five souls living at the monastery. People would otherwise come, especially on Sunday mornings; when not, the priest abbot would joke about accounting for »at most a hundred», even if only two persons would have come.
Everyone sat on the bench facing the priest abbot, except me, contemplating besides him rather than wanting to talk. Val could only drink half of the coffee, finding it way too strong, to which Marc laughed that this is how you get it at a monastery. Him and Marc almost wanted to catch up with things, talking about the latest works, like the fountain cast being made of fibre glass despite appearing to be made out of stone, the lithography that was up on the back wall but only in await for a large new icon, the marble bits sprinkled on the pathway edges... they easily found themselves reminiscing over how all this rose from the ground and how they pulled it off.
»But such a piece of heaven it became», said Mrs. Thorne.
»One you have to manage yourself», the priest abbot replied. »The real heaven, the one above, is well kept on its own through God's love, but here you have to take care of it yourself».
My mind drifted a bit to this thought, going back with my regard to the whole scenery. Not quite hidden from their gaze on my side of the bench, whilst everything fairly breezeless, the rays started consuming my skin a bit. Soft chimes resounded from somewhere, but then only the young showed up behind the church, heading to a car as rosy as his shirt. Back in the conversation, everyone was talking again about stuff such as gardening, with the priest abbot acknowledging that, given how much dirt and waste the shrubs need to handle, they sometimes sprinkle them all over with beer.
»Beer beer?» Marc exclaimed.
»No, vodka beer...»
Two fauvettes were in a constant fray, chasing and tackling one another across the garden, bounding from the trees in the back, revolving seconds later and disappearing back there. Aside the stairs to the main house hanged a small bell, the size of a cylinder, its gold cast starting to wear off, that was used to call everyone to supper. I picked the tiny hammer that was neatly hooked to the chain inside and hit the bell softly. Its sound was surprisingly warm, rounded and, perhaps unbeknownst, musical. Of course that, afterwards, I did my best to let the hammer slip through the cylinder and make it boom throughout the entire monastery, its echoes lingering on a bit, instilling a new harmony to the morningtide.