"There's the church," said Spence, "where she lies buried. Gortre sees that the grave is kept beautiful with flowers. It was an odd impulse of yours, Father, to propose this visit."
"I do odd things sometimes," said the priest, simply. "I thought that the sight of this poor woman's resting-place might remind you and me of what has passed, of what she did for the world— though no one knows it but our group of friends. I hope that it will remind us, remind you very solemnly, my friend, in your new responsibility, of what Christ means to the world. The shadows of the time of darkness, 'When it Was Dark' during the 'Horror of Great Darkness,' have gone from us. And this poor sister did this for her Saviour's sake."
They stood by Gertrude Hunt's grave as they spoke. A slender copper cross rose above it, some six feet high. "I wonder how the poor girl managed it," said Spence at length;..."I suppose Llewellyn had left papers about or something. But I do wonder how she did it."
"That," said Father Ripon, "was what she would never tell anybody."
"Requiescat in pace," said Spence.
"In Paradise with Saint Mary of Magdala," the priest said softly.
observations: This book, a huge bestseller, was a kind of Da Vinci Code of its day, though with a quite opposite intent.
The horrible thing about it is its quite extraordinary anti-Semitism: Claud Cockburn (When it was Dark features in his excellent overview Bestseller) says it would have been seen as quite normal at the time. Apart from that, it is a very strange novel indeed. The premise is straightforward, and clear from early in the book: an antichrist figure is working against religion, and so launches a plan to disprove the Resurrection of Christ (the book is subtitled The Story of a Great Conspiracy) – he uses planted archaeological finds to show that the body was hidden by Joseph of Arimathea. He is successful, up to a point, before the work of a smart young curate (with the unusual name of Gortre – almost an anagram of GThorne) defeats his wicked plan, with the help of Gertrude, the fallen woman whose death is being remembered above.
The really old-fashioned thing about it is this: the world falls apart on the news that Christianity is based on a fake Resurrection. People fight and kill each other, the economy collapses, ‘unmentionable orgies take place in public’,
in Rhodesia the mine capitalists were moving for slavery pure and simple. It was proposed openly that slavery should be the penalty for law-breaking for natives. This was the only way, it asserted, by which the labour problem in South Africa could be solved.
And, it becomes apparent, only religion was protecting women: crimes against females increase massively.
As Claud Cockburn points out, it is hard for us now to imagine a world where this was a believable scenario.
Links on the blog: Evelyn Waugh’s Helena also deals with Biblical archaeology – the True Cross rather than the burial place of Christ. Another chapter of the Cockburn book is about The Green Hat.
The picture of Mary Magdalene is by Giacomo Galli, and is in the collection at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, used with their permission.