The dark lights glowed hot inside the archival vault. This vault was much smaller than the previous one Langdon had been in. Less air. Less time. He wished he’d asked Olivetti to turn on the recirculating fans.
Langdon quickly located the section of assets containing the ledgers cataloging Belle Arti. The section was impossible to miss. It occupied almost eight full stacks. The Catholic church owned millions of individual pieces worldwide.
Langdon scanned the shelves searching for Gianlorenzo Bernini. He began his search about midway down the first stack, at about the spot he thought the B’s would begin. After a moment of panic fearing the ledger was missing, he realized, to his greater dismay, that the ledgers were not arranged alphabetically. Why am I not surprised?
It was not until Langdon circled back to the beginning of the collection and climbed a rolling ladder to the top shelf that he understood the vault’s organization. Perched precariously on the upper stacks he found the fattest ledgers of all—those belonging to the masters of the Renaissance—Michelangelo, Raphael, da Vinci, Botticelli. Langdon now realized, appropriate to a vault called “Vatican Assets,” the ledgers were arranged by the overall monetary value of each artist’s collection. Sandwiched between Raphael and Michelangelo, Langdon found the ledger marked Bernini. It was over five inches thick.
Already short of breath and struggling with the cumbersome volume, Langdon descended the ladder. Then, like a kid with a comic book, he spread himself out on the floor and opened the cover.
The book was cloth-bound and very solid. The ledger was handwritten in Italian. Each page cataloged a single work, including a short description, date, location, cost of materials, and sometimes a rough sketch of the piece. Langdon fanned through the pages… over eight hundred in all. Bernini had been a busy man.
As a young student of art, Langdon had wondered how single artists could create so much work in their lifetimes. Later he learned, much to his disappointment, that famous artists actually created very little of their own work. They ran studios where they trained young artists to carry out their designs. Sculptors like Bernini created miniatures in clay and hired others to enlarge them into marble. Langdon knew that if Bernini had been required to personally complete all of his commissions, he would still be working today.
“Index,” he said aloud, trying to ward off the mental cobwebs. He flipped to the back of the book, intending to look under the letter F for titles containing the word fu?co–fire—but the F’s were not together. Langdon swore under his breath. What the hell do these people have against alphabetizing?
The entries had apparently been logged chronologically, one by one, as Bernini created each new work. Everything was listed by date. No help at all.
As Langdon stared at the list, another disheartening thought occurred to him. The title of the sculpture he was looking for might not even contain the word Fire. The previous two works—Habakkuk and the Angel and West Ponente–had not contained specific references to Earth or Air.
He spent a minute or two flipping randomly through the ledger in hopes that an illustration might jump out at him. Nothing did. He saw dozens of obscure works he had never heard of, but he also saw plenty he recognized… Daniel and the Lion, Apollo and Daphne, as well as a half dozen fountains. When he saw the fountains, his thoughts skipped momentarily ahead. Water. He wondered if the fourth altar of science was a fountain. A fountain seemed a perfect tribute to water. Langdon hoped they could catch the killer before he had to consider Water–Bernini had carved dozens of fountains in Rome, most of them in front of churches.
Langdon turned back to the matter at hand. Fire. As he looked through the book, Vittoria’s words encouraged him. You were familiar with the first two sculptures… you probably know this one too. As he turned to the index again, he scanned for titles he knew. Some were familiar, but none jumped out. Langdon now realized he would never complete his search before passing out, so he decided, against his better judgment, that he would have to take the book outside the vault. It’s only a ledger, he told himself. It’s not like I’m removing an original Galilean folio. Langdon recalled the folio in his breast pocket and reminded himself to return it before leaving.
Hurrying now, he reached down to lift the volume, but as he did, he saw something that gave him pause. Although there were numerous notations throughout the index, the one that had just caught his eye seemed odd.
The note indicated that the famous Bernini sculpture, The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, shortly after its unveiling, had been moved from its original location inside the Vatican. This in itself was not what had caught Langdon’s eye. He was already familiar with the sculpture’s checkered past. Though some thought it a masterpiece, Pope Urban VIII had rejected The Ecstasy of St. Teresa as too sexually explicit for the Vatican. He had banished it to some obscure chapel across town. What had caught Langdon’s eye was that the work had apparently been placed in one of the five churches on his list. What was more, the note indicated it had been moved there per suggerimento del artista.
By suggestion of the artist? Langdon was confused. It made no sense that Bernini had suggested his masterpiece be hidden in some obscure location. All artists wanted their work displayed prominently, not in some remote—
Langdon hesitated. Unless…
He was fearful even to entertain the notion. Was it possible? Had Bernini intentionally created a work so explicit that it forced the Vatican to hide it in some out-of-the-way spot? A location perhaps that Bernini himself could suggest? Maybe a remote church on a direct line with West Ponente’s breath?
As Langdon’s excitement mounted, his vague familiarity with the statue intervened, insisting the work had nothing to do with fire. The sculpture, as anyone who had seen it could attest, was anything but scientific—pornographic maybe, but certainly not scientific. An English critic had once condemned The Ecstasy of St. Teresa as “the most unfit ornament ever to be placed in a Christian Church.” Langdon certainly understood the controversy. Though brilliantly rendered, the statue depicted St. Teresa on her back in the throes of a toe-curling orgasm. Hardly Vatican fare.
Langdon hurriedly flipped to the ledger’s description of the work. When he saw the sketch, he felt an instantaneous and unexpected tingle of hope. In the sketch, St. Teresa did indeed appear to be enjoying herself, but there was another figure in the statue who Langdon had forgotten was there.
The sordid legend suddenly came back…
St. Teresa was a nun sainted after she claimed an angel had paid her a blissful visit in her sleep. Critics later decided her encounter had probably been more sexual than spiritual. Scrawled at the bottom of the ledger, Langdon saw a familiar excerpt. St. Teresa’s own words left little to the imagination:
… his great golden spear… filled with fire… plunged into me several times… penetrated to my entrails… a sweetness so extreme that one could not possibly wish it to stop.
Langdon smiled. If that’s not a metaphor for some serious sex, I don’t know what is. He was smiling also because of the ledger’s description of the work. Although the paragraph was in Italian, the word fu?co appeared a half dozen times:
… angel’s spear tipped with point of fire…
… angel’s head emanating rays of fire…
… woman inflamed by passion’s fire…
Langdon was not entirely convinced until he glanced up at the sketch again. The angel’s fiery spear was raised like a beacon, pointing the way. Let angels guide you on your lofty quest. Even the type of angel Bernini had selected seemed significant. It’s a seraphim, Langdon realized. Seraphim literally means “the fiery one.”
Robert Langdon was not a man who had ever looked for confirmation from above, but when he read the name of the church where the sculpture now resided, he decided he might become a believer after all.
Santa Maria della Vittoria.
Vittoria, he thought, grinning. Perfect.
Staggering to his feet, Langdon felt a rush of dizziness. He glanced up the ladder, wondering if he should replace the book. The hell with it, he thought. Father Jaqui can do it. He closed the book and left it neatly at the bottom of the shelf.
As he made his way toward the glowing button on the vault’s electronic exit, he was breathing in shallow gasps. Nonetheless, he felt rejuvenated by his good fortune.
His good fortune, however, ran out before he reached the exit.
Without warning, the vault let out a pained sigh. The lights dimmed, and the exit button went dead. Then, like an enormous expiring beast, the archival complex went totally black. Someone had just killed power.