Home > Sands of Time(5)

Sands of Time(5)
Author: Sidney Sheldon

The goddamned Church! Acoca thought. With Franco dead it was interfering again.

He turned to the prime minister. "It's time the bishop is told who's running Spain."

Bishop Calvo Ibanez was a thin, frail-looking man with a cloud of white hair swirling around his head. He peered at the two men through his pince-nez spectacles.

"Buenos tardes."

Colonel Acoca felt the bile rise in his throat. The very sight of clergymen made him ill. They were Judas goats leading their stupid lambs to slaughter.

The bishop stood there, waiting for an invitation to sit down. It did not come. Nor was he introduced to the colonel. It was a deliberate slight.

The prime minister looked to the colonel for direction.

Acoca said curtly, "Some disturbing news has been brought to our attention. Basque rebels are reported to be holding meetings in Catholic monasteries. It has also been reported that the Church is allowing monasteries and convents to store arms for the rebels." There was steel in his voice. "When you help the enemies of Spain, you become an enemy of Spain."

Bishop Ibanez stared at him for a moment, then turned to Prime Minister Martinez. "Your Excellency, with due respect, we are all children of Spain. The Basques are not your enemy. All they ask is the freedom to - "

"They don't ask," Acoca roared. "They demand! They go around the country pillaging, robbing banks, and killing policemen, and you dare to say they are not our enemies?"

"I admit that there have been inexcusable excesses. But sometimes in fighting for what one believes - "

"They don't believe in anything but themselves. They care nothing about Spain. It is as one of our great writers said, 'No one in Spain is concerned about the common good. Each group is concerned only with itself. The Church, the Basques, the Catalans. Each one says fuck the others.'"

The bishop was aware that Colonel Acoca had misquoted Ortega y Gasset. The full quote had included the army and the government; but he wisely said nothing. He turned to the prime minister again, hoping for a more rational discussion.

"Your Excellency, the Catholic Church - "

The prime minister felt that Acoca had pushed far enough. "Don't misunderstand us, Bishop. In principle, of course, this government is behind the Catholic Church one hundred percent."

Colonel Acoca spoke up again. "But we cannot permit your churches and monasteries and convents to be used against us. If you continue to allow the Basques to store arms in them and to hold meetings, you will have to suffer the consequences."

"I am sure that the reports that you have received are erroneous," the bishop said smoothly. "However, I shall certainly investigate at once."

The prime minister murmured, "Thank you, Bishop. That will be all."

Prime Minister Martinez and Colonel Acoca watched him depart.

"What do you think?" Martinez asked.

"He knows what's going on."

The prime minister sighed. I have enough problems right now without stirring up trouble with the Church.

"If the Church is for the Basques, then it is against us." Colonel Acoca's voice hardened. "I would like your permission to teach the bishop a lesson."

The prime minister was stopped by the look of fanaticism in the man's eyes. He became cautious. "Have you really had reports that the churches are aiding the rebels?"

"Of course, Your Excellency."

There was no way of determining if the man was telling the truth. The prime minister knew how much Acoca hated the Church. But it might be good to let the Church have a taste of the whip, providing Colonel Acoca did not go too far. Prime Minister Martinez stood there thoughtfully.

It was Acoca who broke the silence. "If the churches are sheltering terrorists, then the churches must be punished."

Reluctantly, the prime minister nodded. "Where will you start?"

"Jaime Miro and his men were seen in avila yesterday. They are probably hiding at the convent there."

The prime minister made up his mind. "Search it," he said.

That decision set off a chain of events that rocked all of Spain and shocked the world.



The silence was like a gentle snowfall, soft and hushed, as soothing as the whisper of a summer wind, as quiet as the passage of stars. The Cistercian Convent of the Strict Observance lay outside the walled town of avila, the highest city in Spain, 112 kilometers northwest of Madrid. The convent had been built for silence. The rules had been adopted in 1601 and remained unchanged through the centuries: liturgy, spiritual exercise, strict enclosure, penance, and silence. Always the silence.

The convent was a simple four-sided group of rough stone buildings around a cloister dominated by the church. Around the central court the open arches allowed the light to pour in on the broad flagstones of the floor where the nuns glided noiselessly by. There were forty nuns at the convent, praying in the church, and living in the cloister. The convent at avila was one of seven left in Spain, a survivor out of hundreds that had been destroyed by the Civil War in one of the periodic anti-Church movements that took place in Spain over the centuries.

The Cistercian Convent of the Strict Observance was devoted solely to a life of prayer. It was a place without seasons or time, and those who entered were forever removed from the outside world. The Cistercian life was contemplative and penitential; the divine office was recited daily and enclosure was complete and permanent.

All the sisters dressed identically, and their clothes, like everything else in the convent, were touched by the symbolism of centuries. The capuche - the cloak and hood - symbolized innocence and simplicity; the linen tunic, the renouncement of the works of the world, and mortification; the scapular - the small squares of woolen cloth worn over the shoulders - the willingness to labor. A wimple - a covering of linen laid in plaits over the head and around the chin, sides of the face, and neck - completed the uniform.

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