Egyptian obelisk, St Peter’s Square, The Vatican
(Excerpt from The Obelisk Prophecy - our investigators, Egyptologist/Museum curator Jennefer and Antiquities policeman, Jon, examine the Vatican obelisk)
Flocks of believers, and the questioning, descended like pigeons on St Peter’s Square.
Many visitors were fearful, Jennefer noted, casting anxious eyes at the clouds of dust up above.
This was the Vatican, yet it put her in mind of Vesuvian Pompeii, the sky laden with disaster.
Jennefer caught up with her investigative partner who was busy circling the Vatican’s four thousand year old Egyptian obelisk that stood mounted on bronze lions and rose eighty-three feet into the dusty sky.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“I’m trying to tell the time.”
Jon followed a curve of pale travertine blocks set in the cobblestones like the hub of a wheel that fanned out in radiating lines.
“You have a watch, don’t you?” she said.
“We’re standing on one. This square is actually a vast sundial, the obelisk acting as the giant gnomon casting a shadow.” He stopped. “Even with this dust, I can tell it’s almost midday. Or perhaps midnight.”
“For the world, that is. Ironic that an ancient Egyptian obelisk is counting down the days to the end of civilization.”
She’d forgotten about the square’s role as a sundial, concentrating on the obelisk’s ancient past rather than on its present utility. It belonged to an unknown pharaoh from around the fifth dynasty, she recalled, and had travelled a great deal before its arrival here.
“I’ll tell you something else that’s ironic,” Jon said. “This circle around the shaft of the obelisk is a symbolic vagina. Those in the know are amused that there’s an act of copulation going on right in the heart of celibate city.” He pointed to the Pope’s balcony. “The Pope looks beatifically over it every time he addresses the throng from up there.”
They were trying to crack a code to stop a world calamity and he was cracking jokes.
But it was more than that. She felt uneasy to think that they were both standing on a marker of time inexorably measuring the hours, reminding her of the urgency of their investigation.
A count down to the end of civilization, he’d said.
The dust-laden sky made it look like the end.
The red dust haze turned St Peter’s Basilica, its cupola, and the embracing arms of Tuscan colonnades around the square into historical sepia that added to the place’s powerful sense of mystery.
“This obelisk is peculiar in being uninscribed,” she said, “which sadly doesn’t reveal many secrets to us.”
“Maybe we’re looking in the wrong place.”
He pointed up at a metal globe perched beneath a cross on top of the obelisk.
“What about the secret up there? That hollow globe. Great hiding spot. Legend tells that originally the globe held Julius Caesar’s ashes. But when they moved the obelisk here from an earlier site in Rome, they opened it and found the missing phallus of Osiris instead... no, just kidding. Only dust inside. And no mummy dust, either. Just plain old dust, like the stuff blowing in the sky.”
“Not very helpful, Jon. We’re looking for answers. What can we learn here?”
They learnt something sooner than expected - that their close inspection of the monument had been observed all the while by two burly shadows in black that now appeared unexpectedly at a few minutes past midday on the sundial.
“We wish to hear an answer too,” the one man spoke in an accent that sounded midway between Italian and… German? “You will come with us, please.”
Jennefer blinked in surprise at the two new arrivals. Fair men in black suits.
Swiss, maybe. Swiss guards in plain clothes?
Had their inspection of the obelisk brought them out of the shadowy heart of the Vatican palace?
“Have we broken some cardinal rule?” Jon said, pretending flippant unconcern at the intrusion.
“The Holy Father is hoping that you have learnt something from this monument that will help the world.”
That’s when it seemed to Jennefer that the sun stopped in the sky, just as the sun-god Ra’s boat sometimes paused in the heavens in Egyptian mythology.
Even the crowds of people in St Peter’s Square seemed to freeze, growing as still as the obelisk.
The Holy Father.
“His Holiness is waiting to see you.”
“Jesus,” Jon said.
“Not exactly. Merely Our Lord’s representative on earth,” one of the men said with a glimmer of a smile.
An audience with the Pope?