“In emperor’s cloth” by Mino Lorusso

There search for truth it’s the only thing that makes men free, he confirms Mino Lorusso in his In emperor cloth (Oltre Edizioni, Sestri Levante, August 2021, Narrations series, 172 pages). Truth in faith, truth of science: two different paths to reach the same goal, often unattainable. Spirituality and agnosticism. Believe, don’t believe: in a historical novel in reference between two times – which alternate in chapters, the eighteenth century and ours – two faces of the eternal discipline of doubt are mirrored. The confrontation between religion and atheism, between the transcendent and the immanent. More than narrative it would seem a philosophical reflection on truth, always elusive, especially in the current present.

Contemporary art expert, Lorusso is a long-time journalist of RAI in Umbria. As a writer, he is the author of essays on politics and economics.

In this subject text, but with plenty of space for the thought of the greats and with frequent theological dialogues bordering on the contradictory, he puts in the mirror an inquisitor in Umbria in 1789 and an atheist art historian of 2018. Without meeting, at 250 years later, they find themselves seriously dealing with the same story, in which it does not seem easy to separate the truth from superstition and religious fanaticism, especially as regards the eighteenth century father Gian Maria Crivelli of Milan, of the Society of Jesus. Vicar Inquisitor in Perugia, he severely investigated the alleged prodigious events linked to three mystical nuns in the diocesan territory of Perugia.

The contemporary professor finds himself carrying out research on the bisecular artifact found during work in the crypt of the cathedral of Narni: a processional banner that measures one meter by over one meter, the format which in the seventeenth century was called emperor cloth. A miracle is portrayed there.

Both, Jesuit and professor, cultivate doubt, the second obligatory path St. Augustine to reach the truth. Also for Socrates it is a method of knowledge, as an expression of the truth, which it considers as such precisely because it is capable of escaping doubt. This is true for Father Crivelli, since the doubt of the modern is more similar to the Cartesian one: the truth in itself cannot be known if one cannot exclude the error and refute it.

That Jesuit inquisitor really existed in Umbria, like the three professed women subject to phenomena – even stigmata – to verify which he dedicated himself. On the other hand, the art historian of Apulian origins is imaginative, strongly attracted by the miracle represented on his cloth to his attention, relating to the Blessed Lucia Broccadellinoble from Narni who lived between the 15th and 16th centuries. She is a Dominican tertiary, she received the signs of her Passion while alive and was beatified in 1710 by Pope Clement XI. Her iconography shows her marked by her stigmata, with the Child in her arms, suspended in the air.

That same miracle sets Father Crivelli in motion. On July 29, 1739, something extraordinary, improbable and perhaps supernatural happened to Annuccia, a five-year-old girl from a modest family in Narni. Born “stropia”affected by paralysis of the lower limbs, had never walked, until a beautiful young woman dressed as a nun with a child in her arms appeared near the Church of the Suffrage, in the shade of a large mulberry tree where a brother he left the little girl alone, going away to play.

According to the official ecclesiastical version, approved by the Holy Office, the Dominican with the little baby was Blessed Broccadelli. Upon hearing that the little girl could not stand up, he had touched her knees and legs, inviting her to walk. Annuccia had felt her limbs reinvigorate as her apparition disappeared, after having recommended to her “do not forget me”.

One of the authors of the report is the inquisitor of Narni Father Palma of Civitavecchia, that the bishop Msgr. Terzago confronts the inquisitor summoned from Perugia, Father Crivelli. God does not need miracles, claims the Dominican, recalling the natural laws that govern the world and on which the mission of defender of Christian doctrine, controller of the mob and hunter of heretics is based.

Nisi videritis signa, non creditos, “If you don’t see signs and wonders, you don’t believe”

replies the Jesuit. He knows that the people, resigned to every kind of misery, have recourse to the divine and to the holy helpers not out of faith, but out of the need to ask for intercessions and healings.

Nothing is darker than God’s will and his designs. Only He can operate outside the established order, Crivelli insists. Palma replies, leaning from an imaginary pulpit, that not everything that arouses wonder and is extraordinary can be defined as a miracle: healings are not, neither is creation, nor the resurrection of the dead or the kingdom to come.

These discussions and educated rebuttals have totally disappeared in modern times, according to Mino Lorusso. Man no longer aspires to the truth. For centuries he has looked for it in the past, he has foreseen it in the future and has made an effort to practice it in the present, but today nobody feeds on fundamental curiosities, one no longer questions anything, convinced that answers are not needed.

“In emperor’s cloth” by Mino Lorusso