By Jose Saramago
From the recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature, a “brilliant...enchanting novel” (New York instances ebook overview) of romance, deceit, faith, and magic set in eighteenth-century Portugal on the peak of the Inquisition. nationwide bestseller. Translated via Giovanni Pontiero.
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It happened that some thief or thieves broke into the Convent of St Francis of Xabregas, through the skylight of a chapel adjacent to that of St Antony, and he or they made straight for the high altar and took the three altar lamps, and vanished by the same route in less time than it takes to recite the Nicene Creed. That someone could remove the lamps from their hooks and carry them off in darkness for greater safety, and then stumble and cause a commotion without anyone rushing to the scene to investigate, would lead one to suspect complicity, were it not for the fact that at that very moment the friars were engaged in their customary practice, noisily summoning the community to midnight matins with rattles and handbells, enabling the thief to escape and had he caused an even greater commotion the friars would not have heard him, from which one may assume that the culprit was perfectly familiar with the convent schedule.
Given similar precedents, because the Franciscans are so well endowed with means to change, overturn, or hasten the natural order of things, even the recalcitrant womb of the Queen must respond to the solemn injunction of a miracle. All the more so since the Franciscan Order has been petitioning for a convent in Mafra since the year sixteen hundred and twenty-four, a time when the King of Portugal was a Felipe imported from Spain, who had little interest in the religious communities of Portugal and persisted in withholding his permission throughout the sixteen years of his reign.
But Lent, like the rising sun, is for everyone. The excesses of Shrovetide could be seen throughout the city, those who could afford it stuffed themselves with poultry and mutton, with doughnuts and fritters, outrages were committed on every street corner by those who never miss an opportunity to take liberties, derisive tails were pinned to fugitive backs, water was squirted on faces with syringes meant for other purposes, the unwary were spanked with strings of onions, and wine was imbibed, accompanied by the inevitable belching and vomiting, there was a clanging of pots and pans, bagpipes were played, and if more people did not end up rolling on the ground, in the side streets, squares, and alleyways, it is only because the city is filthy, its roads full of sewage and rubbish, crawling with mangy dogs and stray cats, and mud everywhere even when there is no rain.