So Spake Mo…
Legend says that in the days before Bishop Honorius coaxed St. JohnChrysostom from his solitude to bend his powerful oratory abilities to the service of the church, another came to visit the future saint in the cavern of his hermitage…a beautiful young woman fleeing the dangers of the wild.
At first this pious man turned her away, thinking her a deliberate temptation sent
by the devil, a demon come to distract him from his pure purpose. However, the
maiden managed to convince the saint that she was indeed a Christian, leaving
him bound to offer her shelter.
Demon or supplicant, the result was the same.
The saint fell.
As the young woman grew greater and greater with child, the hermit could no longer face the evidence of his sins. In his despair, he tried to erase his crime. He
threw the mother of his unborn son from a cliff.
Perhaps it was her screams, perhaps it was the sight of her body cracking against the rocks, but St. John immediately understood he had not erased his crime, merely increased it two-fold through this double murder. He stripped himself naked and threw himself to the ground vowing to live as an animal, not speaking, nor eating human food, nor looking up to the heavens until his sins were forgiven.
For months he went on like this, denying his humanity in penance for his sins until the day came that God chose to release him from this trial. In his savage state, St. John received again a visitor…a beautiful young mother suckling her infant child. It was through the mouth of the saint’s own innocent son that the Lord forgave St. John Chrysostom his sins and released him to return to his peaceful mediations.
In turn, the young woman was finally restored to her parents, the King and Queen, with much celebration.
So Spake Me…
In Alyse’s first day as a fugitive, she takes refuge in the Church of St. Johnthe Golden-Mouthed, Venice’s relatively small chapel dedicated to this saint. She, too, is betrayed and turned out in violence. It would be so easy to pick up the feminist themes and rail against the objectification of women or to point out the unlikelihood of an unwed mother receiving a joyous welcome on her return to the palace in that era.
But what caught my eye in each of my sources for this tale (and there are many versions), what I adjusted in my own retelling, was the gloss applied to the double-homicide.
Violence in entertainment is always an argument-provoking topic. Gloss over it too much and you will find yourself accused glorifying the act, separating it from the
consequences. Dig into it too graphically and you will be grouped with the artists contributing to the desensitization of society.
emotional or physical is part of the human story. It is the thing we fear in the
night; the undercurrent of our own rage. As much as I was repulsed by the light
touch applied to the murder of a girl and her unborn child, as much as I turn
away gore and spatter of the latest summer blockbuster, I would propose that the
spectrum is necessary.
You cannot offer brutal honesty every time without numbing the masses, but sometimes…sometimes we need to be reminded that what we are accustomed to seeing has been sanitized, that the effects of a gunshot are devastating and not just to the body splattered across the bathroom wall, but also to the community to which that body was connected.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that the young woman dying of a pierced lung and a cracked skull at the bottom of the cliff will not get up again and birth a child to offer us forgiveness.
At least not without a miracle…
The Story of Place