"Remembrance of the Monastery" - Jose Saramago

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"Remembrance of the Monastery" - Jose Saramago
"Remembrance of the Monastery" - Jose Saramago

Remembrance of the Monastery” skilfully interweaves historical facts, fiction and elements of fiction. At the beginning of the 18th century, the Portuguese king João V made a vow to God that he would build a monastery in Mafra if the queen endowed it with an heir. An unprecedented scale of construction begins, associated with enormous efforts and sacrifices, in which thousands of subjects from all over the country participate. At the same time, B althazar Seven Suns, a one-armed soldier, and Blimunda Seven Moons, a woman with an extraordinary gift, help Father Bartolomeo Gujmao in the construction of a flying machine… Alternate episodes showing the life and customs of ordinary people, religious processions and autodafet, important moments of the life of the royal family. And against this colorful background unfolds the pure and ardent love between B althazar and Blimunda.

In 1984 "Remembrance of the Monastery" was awarded the Grand Prize of the Portuguese PEN-Club. It has been compared to Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and the work of Marquez. Fellini himself sees in it a potential for cinematic adaptation. The novel brings to life the opera "B althazar and Blimunda" by the Italian composer Azio Corgi, staged in 1990 at La Scala.

José Saramago (1922-2010) was born in a small riverside village near Lisbon. Sam nurtures and develops his taste for reading, works as a journalist, writes poetry, but his talent is clearly manifested in his novels - brilliant allegories and dystopias. In 1991, the conservative Portuguese government imposed censorship on " The Gospel of Jesus Christ" and withdrew it from the competition for the European Literature Prize. In 1998, Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature because, with “parables woven with imagination, compassion and irony, he gives us new and new chances to capture the elusive reality”. Among his most influential works are "Blindness", "Browsing", "Death's Pryums", "The Elephant's Journey", "Remembrance of the Monastery". "Cain" is a startlingly provocative and ironic book, a kind of "remake" of a part of the Old Testament.



Don João, the fifth bearer of this name in the list of Portuguese kings, will go tonight to the chambers of his wife, Dona Maria Ana Josefa, who about two years ago arrived from Austria to endow the Portuguese crown with infanti, but to this day she still hasn't conceived. It is already being whispered at court and beyond that the Queen's womb is probably dry, a rumor carefully guarded from treasonous ears and mouths and shared only among those closest to her. A word that the fault should not lie with the king, firstly, because infertility is not the problem of men, but of women, and that is why they are so often persecuted, and secondly, material proof, if such is needed at all, is the presence in the kingdom of many illegitimate of royal seed and that's just the beginning. Also, who begs heaven for a son to the point of exhaustion, the king? No, the Queen, and for two reasons too. The first of these is, that a king, a Portuguese one at that, does not ask for something which he alone has power to give, and the second, that a woman, being by nature a receiver of court, must naturally pray as during the regular services, and privately. But neither the constancy of the king, who except in case of a canonical ban or a physiological obstacle twice a week firmly fulfills his royal and conjugal duty, nor the patience and obedience of the queen, who, in addition to prayers, also vows to complete immobility as soon as the husband withdraws from her and from the bed, so as not to disturb the fertilizing meeting of their common secretions-hers scanty for lack of encouragement, time, and due to the most Christian moral abstinence, but the sovereign's abundant, as befits a man not yet twenty-two years old,- nothing swelled Dona Maria Ana's belly until today. But God is great!

Almost as great as God is the Roman basilica "Saint Peter" which the king is building now. In this construction, there are no excavations or foundations, its support is the surface of the table, and it does not need to be very solid for the load it carries - a miniature of the basilica, consisting of assembled according to the old system "male" and "female ' items respectfully removed by four courtiers on duty. The chest from which they are taken smells of incense, and the crimson velvet in which they are individually wrapped so as not to scratch the faces of the statues at the edges of the columns, glows in the light of the great torches. Construction is advanced. All the walls are now firmly fastened, the upright columns are visible under the cornice, surrounded with Latin letters, announcing the name and dignity of Paul V Borghese, and which the king has long since ceased to read, though his eyes still contemplate the serial number of that pope because of the coincidence with his own. For a king, modesty would be a disadvantage. He arranges in the openings at the top of the cornice the figures of prophets and saints, and to each the courtier bows as he pulls back the precious diples of velvet and offers the statuette in his palm-a prophet lying on his stomach, a saint with his feet up, but none takes notice of this inadvertent irreverence, the more so as the king immediately restores the order and solemnity proper to sacred things, erects and places the watchful persons in their places. What they see from the height of the cornice is not St. Peter's Square, but the King of Portugal and his attendant courtiers. They see the floor of the barred balcony, which looks into the interior of the royal chapel, and to-morrow at the hour of the first service, if they have not meanwhile returned to the velvet in the chest, they will see the king devoutly watching the holy mass, accompanied by his retinue, but in it will no longer be the nobles of today, for the week ends and others enter service. Under the balcony there is another, also covered with bars, but without the construction in question. It resembles a chapel or fast house, and from it the queen separately attends the service, but even this holy place does not help her to conceive. Now all that remains is to place Michelangelo's dome, the pile of stone, which here is a copy. Due to its excessive size, it is kept in a separate chest, and since it completes the construction, its laying is especially solemn, that is, everyone helps the king, and the "male" and "female" elements click into their respective joints and the basilica is ready. If the mighty echo that fills the whole church has made its way through the halls and long corridors to the bedchamber or chambers where the queen waits, then let her know that her husband is going thither.

Waiting. For now, the king is still getting ready for the night. The courtiers undress him, dress him in clothes suitable to the occasion and in the spirit of fashion, passing the garments from hand to hand as reverently as if they were relics of saints who had departed this world as virgins, and all this in the presence of other attendants and pages- one opens the drawer, another pulls back the curtain, one raises the light, another adjusts its intensity, two stand without moving, two more do the same, one still does not know what they are doing, nor why they are there. Finally, with joint efforts, the king is ready, one of the nobles straightens the last fold, another - the embroidered collar, just a moment and don João V will go to the queen's bedchamber. The pitcher awaits the spring.

But then Don Nuno da Cunha, the inquisitor bishop, enters, bringing with him an elderly Franciscan. From their appearance to the delivery of the message elaborate bowings, curtseys, advancing, h alting, and retreating are performed, such is the ritual of coming into contact with the king, but all this we shall assume to have been done and described, for the bishop hastens, and because of the inspired trepidation that seized the monk. Don João V and the inquisitor stand aside and the inquisitor says, To this friar, Brother Antonio de São José, I told of your majesty's grief because the queen, our mistress, does not grant you children, and I asked him to intercede for you before God to give you offspring, and he answered me that your Majesty would have children as long as he wished, and then I asked him what he meant by these so complicated words, for it is known that your Majesty desires children, and he answered me, and quite plainly, that if you vowed to build a monastery in the town of Mafra, God would grant you heirs. And having said this, Don Nuno fell silent and nodded to the Arabidian to approach.

The king asked, Is it true what His Eminence just told me, that if I take a vow to build a monastery in Mafra, I will have children, and the monk answered, It is true, my lord, but only if the monastery is Franciscan, and the king asked again, How do you know, and Friar Antonio said, I know, but how I learned I do not know, I am only the mouth through which the truth speaks, faith has nothing left but to respond, build, Your Majesty, the monastery and soon you will have offspring, do not build it and God will decide. The king motioned for the Arabidian to withdraw, and then asked Don Nuno da Cunha, Is this monk virtuous, and the bishop answered, There is none more virtuous than him in the order. Then Don João, the fifth bearer of that name in the list of the kings of Portugal, being assured that he could bind himself to the vow, raised his voice, that all present might hear it distinctly, and that the next day the city and the kingdom might learn it, I give my royal word that I would order a convent of Franciscans to be built in the town of Mafra if the queen would bestow me with a child within a year from today, and all said, God hear your Majesty, and no one knew who would be subjected to trial, whether God himself, whether the virtue of Friar Antonio, whether the king's virility, or finally the fecundity of the queen.

Dona Maria Ana is talking to her chief Portuguese lady-in-waiting, the Marquise De Uniao. They had already discussed the pious deeds of the past day, the visit made to the Convent of the Immaculate Conception of the Discalced Carmelites in Kardaish, and the nine-day service in honor of St. Francis Xavier, which would begin tomorrow at the Church of St. Rock-a usual conversation between the Queen and a marquis, verbose and at the same time tearful when the names of saints were pronounced, sorrowful, whether it was about martyrs or the special penances of monks and nuns, whether they were simply mortification of the flesh by fasting or secret scourging with a hair. But the king has already sent word, and comes with a burning spirit, encouraged by the mystical combination of carnal duty and the vow he made to God through the mediation of Friar Antonio de São José. Together with the king, two courtiers enter, who relieve him of his excess clothes, while the marquise, assisted by another, no less high-ranking court lady, a countess who arrived from Austria, undresses the queen, she is a woman, isn't she? The bedchamber looks like a real meeting room, their majesties exchange bows, the ceremony has no end, finally the courtiers retire through one door, the ladies through another and remain in the antechamber - the courtiers will wait for the end of the mission to escort the king to his chambers, which belonged to his mother, the queen, during his father's reign, and the ladies will come in to wrap Dona Maria under the down comforter which she has brought from Austria, and without which she cannot sleep, neither winter nor summer. And it was precisely because of this quilt, under which it was stifling even in cold February, that Don João V did not spend the whole night with the queen, well, yes, at first he stayed, but then the novelty prevailed over the discomfort, and it was not a little - to feel how bathes in his own and other people's sweat together with the queen, her head wrapped around her head, amid odors and secretions. Dona Maria Ana does not come from a warm country and does not tolerate the climate of Portugal. She covers herself all over with the huge over-thick quilt and remains like that, curled up like a mole that has met a stone on its way and wonders which way to continue digging its gallery.

The queen and king are dressed in long nightgowns that drag on the floor, the king's nightgown is embroidered only at the end, and the queen's embroidery is more than a span so that not even the tip of her foot can be seen, nor the thumb, nor any other finger, of all known shamelessness is perhaps the most daring. Don Joao V leads Dona Maria Anna to the bed, leads her by the hand as a gentleman leads his lady at a ball, and before they ascend the steps, each on his side, kneels and says the necessary protective prayers, lest they die without confession at the moment of the carnal act and for this new experience to bear fruit, and in this respect Don João V has a double reason to hope: his trust in God and in his own strength, therefore with redoubled faith he asks God himself for offspring. As for Dona Maria Anna, it is natural to suppose that she also prays for the same mercy, unless there happen to be special considerations that exempt her from this obligation, but they are a secret of confession…

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