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the basket of letters to Beatrice.
Not far from where Sienna stood, a man in a necktie was kneeling in the shadows, praying intently, his head bowed low. Langdon couldn’t see his face, but he felt a pang of sadness for the solitary man, who had probably lost his loved one and had come here for comfort.
Langdon returned his focus to the iPhone, and within seconds was able to pull up a link to a digital offering of The Divine Comedy—freely accessible because it was in the public domain. When the page opened precisely to Canto 25, he had to admit he was impressed with the technology. I’ve got to stop being such a snob about leather-bound books, he reminded himself. E-books do have their moments.
As the elderly woman looked on, showing a bit of concern and saying something about the high data rates for surfing the Internet abroad, Langdon sensed that his window of opportunity would be brief, and he focused intently on the Web page before him.
The text was small, but the dim lighting in the chapel made the illuminated screen more legible. Langdon was pleased to see he had randomly stumbled into the Mandelbaum translation—a popular modern rendition by the late American professor Allen Mandelbaum. For his dazzling translation, Mandelbaum had received Italy’s highest honor, the Presidential Cross of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity. While admittedly less overtly poetic than Longfellow’s version, Mandelbaum’s translation tended to be far more comprehensible.
Today I’ll take clarity over poesy, Langdon thought, hoping to quickly spot in the text a reference to a specific location in Florence—the location where Ignazio hid the Dante death mask.
The iPhone’s tiny screen displayed only six lines of text at a time, and as Langdon began to read, he recalled the passage. In the opening of Canto 25, Dante referenced The Divine Comedy itself, the physical toll its writing had taken on him, and the aching hope that perhaps his heavenly poem could overcome the wolfish brutality of the exile that kept him from his fair Florence.
If it should happen … if this sacred poem—
this work so shared by heaven and by earth
that it has made me lean through these long years—
can ever overcome the cruelty
that bars me from the fair fold where I slept,
a lamb opposed to wolves that war on it …
While the passage was a reminder that fair Florence was the home for which Dante longed while writing The Divine Comedy, Langdon saw no reference to any specific location in the city.
“What do you know about data charges?” the woman interrupted, eyeing her iPhone with sudden concern. “I just remembered my son told me to be careful about Web surfing abroad.”
Langdon assured her he would be only a minute and offered to reimburse her, but even so, he sensed she would never let him read all one hundred lines of Canto 25.
He quickly scrolled down to the next six lines and continued reading.
By then with other voice, with other fleece,
I shall return as poet and put on,
at my baptismal font, the laurel crown;
for there I first found entry to that faith
which makes souls welcome unto God, and then,
for that faith, Peter garlanded my brow.
Langdon loosely recalled this passage, too—an oblique reference to a political deal offered to Dante by his enemies. According to history, the “wolves” who banished Dante from Florence had told him he could return to the city only if he agreed to endure a public shaming—that of standing before an entire congregation, alone at his baptismal font, wearing only sackcloth as an admission of his guilt.
In the passage Langdon had just read, Dante, having declined the deal, proclaims that if he ever returns to his baptismal font, he will be wearing not the sackcloth of a guilty man but the laurel crown of a poet.
Langdon raised his index finger to scroll farther, but the woman suddenly protested, holding out her hand for the iPhone, apparently having reconsidered her loan.
Langdon barely heard her. In the split second before he had touched the screen, his eye had glossed over a line of text … seeing it a second time.
I shall return as poet and put on,
at my baptismal font, the laurel crown;
Langdon stared at the words, sensing that in his eagerness to find mention of a specific location, he’d almost missed a glowing prospect in the very opening lines.
at my baptismal font …
Florence was home to one of the world’s most celebrated baptismal fonts, which for more than seven hundred years had been used to purify and christen young Florentines—among them, Dante Alighieri.
Langdon immediately conjured an image of the building containing the font. It was a spectacular, octagonal edifice that in many ways was more heavenly than the Duomo itself. He now wondered if perhaps he’d read all he needed to read.
Could this building be the place Ignazio was referring to?
A ray of golden light blazed now in Langdon’s mind as a beautiful image materialized—a spectacular set of bronze doors—radiant and glistening in the morning sun.
I know what Ignazio was trying to tell me!
Any lingering doubts evaporated an instant later when he realized that Ignazio Busoni was one of the only people in Florence who could possibly unlock those doors.
Robert, the gates are open to you, but you must hurry.
Langdon handed the iPhone back to the old woman and thanked her profusely.
He rushed over to Sienna and whispered excitedly, “I know what gates Ignazio was talking about! The Gates of Paradise!”
Sienna looked dubious. “The gates of paradise? Aren’t those … in heaven?”
“Actually,” Langdon said, giving her a wry smile and heading for the door, “if you know where to look, Florence is heaven.”
I shall return as poet … at my baptismal font.
Dante’s words echoed repeatedly in Langdon’s mind as he led Sienna northward along the narrow passageway known as Via dello Studio. Their destination lay ahead, and with every step Langdon was feeling more confident that they were on the right course and had left their pursuers behind.
The gates are open to you, but you must hurry.
As they neared the end of the chasmlike alleyway, Langdon could already hear the low thrum of activity ahead. Abruptly the cavern on either side of them gave way, spilling them out into a sprawling expanse.
The Piazza del Duomo.
This enormous plaza with its complex network of structures was the ancient religious center of Florence. More of a tourist center nowadays, the piazza was already bustling with tour buses and throngs of visitors crowding around Florence’s famed cathedral.
Having arrived on the south side of the piazza, Langdon and Sienna were now facing the side of the cathedral with its dazzling exterior of green, pink, and white marble. As breathtaking in its size as it was in the artistry that had gone into its construction, the cathedral stretched off in both directions to seemingly impossible distances, its full length nearly equal to that of the Washington Monument laid on its side.
Despite its abandonment of traditional monochromatic stone filigree in favor of an unusually flamboyant mix of colors, the structure was pure Gothic—classic, robust, and enduring. Admittedly, Langdon, on his first trip to Florence, had found the architecture almost gaudy. On subsequent trips, however, he found himself studying the structure for hours at a time, strangely captivated by its unusual aesthetic effects, and finally appreciating its spectacular beauty.
Il Duomo—or, more formally, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore—in addition to providing a nickname for Ignazio Busoni, had long provided not only a spiritual heart to Florence but centuries of drama and intrigue. The building’s volatile past ranged from long and vicious debates over Vasari’s much-despised fresco of The Last Judgment on the dome’s interior … to the hotly disputed competition to select the architect to finish the dome itself.
Filippo Brunelleschi had eventually secured the lucrative contract and completed the dome—the largest of its kind at the time—and to this day Brunelleschi himself can be seen in sculpture, seated outside the Palazzo dei Canonici, staring contentedly up at his masterpiece.
This morning, as Langdon raised his eyes skyward to the famed red-tiled dome that had been an architectural feat of its era, he recalled the time he had foolishly decided to ascend the dome only to discover that its narrow, tourist-crammed staircases were as distressing as any of the claustrophobic spaces he’d ever encountered. Even so, Langdon was grateful for the ordeal he’d endured while climbing “Brunelleschi’s Dome,” since it had encouraged him to read an entertaining Ross King book of the same name.
“Robert?” Sienna said. “Are you coming?”
Langdon lowered his gaze from the dome, realizing he had stopped in his tracks to admire the architecture. “Sorry about that.”
They continued moving, hugging the perimeter of the square. The cathedral was on their right now, and Langdon noted that tourists were already flowing out of its side exits, checking the site off their to-see lists.
Up ahead rose the unmistakable shape of a campanile—the second of the three structures in the cathedral complex. Commonly known as Giotto’s bell tower, the campanile left no doubt that it belonged with the cathedral beside it. Adorned in the identical pink, green, and white facing stones, the square spire climbed skyward to a dizzying height of nearly three hundred feet. Langdon had always found it amazing that this slender structure could remain standing all these centuries, through earthquakes and bad weather, especially knowing how top-heavy it was, with its apex belfry supporting more than twenty thousand pounds of bells.
Sienna walked briskly beside him, her eyes nervously scanning the skies beyond the campanile, clearly searching for the drone, but it was nowhere to be seen. The crowd was fairly dense, even at this early hour, and Langdon made a point of staying in the thick of it.
As they approached the campanile, they passed a line of caricature artists standing at their easels sketching garish cartoons of tourists—a teenage boy grinding on a skateboard, a horse-toothed girl wielding a lacrosse stick, a pair of honeymooners kissing on a unicorn. Langdon found it amusing somehow that this activity was permitted on the same sacred cobbles where Michelangelo had set up his own easel as a boy.
Continuing quickly around the base of Giotto’s bell tower, Langdon and Sienna turned right, moving out across the open square directly in front of the cathedral. Here the crowds were thickest, with tourists from around the world aiming camera phones and video cameras upward at the colorful main facade.
Langdon barely glanced up, having already set his sights on a much smaller building that had just come into view. Positioned directly opposite the front entrance of the cathedral stood the third and final structure in the cathedral complex.
It was also Langdon’s favorite.
The Baptistry of San Giovanni.
Adorned in the same polychromatic facing stones and striped pilasters as the cathedral, the baptistry distinguished itself from the larger building by its striking shape—a perfect octagon. Resembling a layer cake, some had claimed, the eight-sided structure consisted of three distinct tiers that ascended to a shallow white roof.
Langdon knew the octagonal shape had nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with symbolism. In Christianity, the number eight represented rebirth and re-creation. The octagon served as a visual reminder of the six days of God’s creation of heaven and earth, the one day of Sabbath, and the eighth day, upon which Christians were “reborn” or “re-created” through baptism. Octagons had become a common shape for baptistries around the world.
While Langdon considered the baptistry one of Florence’s most striking buildings, he always found the choice of its location a bit unfair. This baptistry, nearly anywhere else on earth, would be the center of attention. Here, however, in the shadow of its two colossal siblings, the baptistry gave the impression of being the runt of the litter.
Until you step inside, Langdon reminded himself, picturing the mind-boggling mosaic work of the interior, which was so spectacular that early admirers claimed the baptistry ceiling resembled heaven itself. If you know where to look, Langdon had wryly told Sienna, Florence is heaven.
For centuries, this eight-sided sanctuary had hosted the baptisms of countless notable figures—Dante among them.
I shall return as poet … at my baptismal font.
Because of his exile, Dante had never been permitted to return to this sacred site—the place of his baptism—although Langdon felt a rising hope that Dante’s death mask, through the unlikely series of events that had occurred last night, had finally found its way back in his stead.
The baptistry, Langdon thought. This has to be where Ignazio hid the mask before he died. He recalled Ignazio’s desperate phone message, and for a chilling moment, Langdon pictured the corpulent man clutching his chest, lurching across the piazza into an alley, and making his final phone call after leaving the mask safely inside the baptistry.
The gates are open to you.
Langdon’s eyes remained fixed on the baptistry as he and Sienna snaked through the crowd. Sienna was moving now with such nimble eagerness that Langdon nearly had to jog to keep up. Even at a distance, he could see the baptistry’s massive main doors glistening in the sun.
Crafted of gilded bronze and over fifteen feet tall, the doors had taken Lorenzo Ghiberti more than twenty years to complete. They were adorned with ten intricate panels of delicate biblical figures of such quality that Giorgio Vasari had called the doors “undeniably perfect in every way and … the finest masterpiece ever created.”
It had been Michelangelo, however, whose gushing testimonial had provided the doors with a nickname that endured even today. Michelangelo had proclaimed them so beautiful as to be fit for use … as the Gates of Paradise.
The Bible in bronze, Langdon thought, admiring the beautiful doors before them.
Ghiberti’s shimmering Gates of Paradise consisted of ten square panels, each depicting an important scene from the Old Testament. Ranging from the Garden of Eden to Moses to King Solomon’s temple, Ghiberti’s sculpted narrative unfolded across two vertical columns of five panels each.
The stunning array of individual scenes had spawned over the centuries something of a popularity contest among artists and art historians, with everyone from Botticelli to modern-day critics arguing their preference for “the finest panel.” The winner, by general consensus, over the centuries had been Jacob and Esau—the central panel of the left-hand column—chosen allegedly for the impressive number of artistic methods used in its making. Langdon suspected, however, that the actual reason for the panel’s dominance was that Ghiberti had chosen it on which to sign his name.
A few years earlier, Ignazio Busoni had proudly shown Langdon these doors, sheepishly admitting that after half a millennium of exposure to floods, vandalism, and air pollution, the gilded doors had been quietly swapped out for exact replicas, the originals now safely stored inside the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo for restoration. Langdon politely refrained from telling Busoni that he was well aware of the fact that they were admiring fakes, and that in actuality, these copies were the second set of “fake” Ghiberti doors Langdon had encountered—the first set quite by accident while he was researching the labyrinths at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and discovered that replicas of Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise had served as the cathedral’s front doors since the mid-twentieth century.
As Langdon stood before Ghiberti’s masterpiece, his eye was drawn to the short informational placard mounted nearby, on which a simple phrase in Italian caught his attention, startling him.
La peste nera. The phrase meant “the Black Death.” My God, Langdon thought, it’s everywhere I turn! According to the placard, the doors had been commissioned as a “votive” offering to God—a show of gratitude that Florence had somehow survived the plague.
Langdon forced his eyes back to the Gates of Paradise while Ignazio’s words echoed again in his mind. The gates are open to you, but you must hurry.
Despite Ignazio’s promise, the Gates of Paradise were definitely closed, as they always were, except for rare religious holidays. Normally, tourists entered the baptistry from a different side, through the north door.
Sienna was on tiptoe beside him, trying to see around the crowd. “There’s no door handle,” she said. “No keyhole. Nothing.”
True, Langdon thought, knowing Ghiberti was not about to ruin his masterpiece with something as mundane as a doorknob. “The doors swing in. They lock from the inside.”
Sienna thought a moment, pursing her lips. “So from out here … nobody would know if the doors were locked or not.”
Langdon nodded. “I’m hoping that’s precisely Ignazio’s thinking.”
He walked a few steps to his right and glanced around the north side of the building to a far less ornate door—the tourist entrance—where a bored-looking docent was smoking a cigarette and rebuffing inquiring tourists by pointing to the sign on the entrance: APERTURA 1300–1700.
It doesn’t open for several hours, Langdon thought, pleased. And nobody has been inside yet.
Instinctively, he checked his wristwatch, and was again reminded that Mickey Mouse was gone.
When he returned to Sienna, she had been joined by a group of tourists who were taking photos through the simple iron fence that had been erected several feet in front of the Gates of Paradise to prevent tourists from getting too close to Ghiberti’s masterwork.
This protective gate was made of black wrought iron topped with sun-ray spikes dipped in gold paint, and resembled the simple estate fencing that often enclosed suburban homes. Ambiguously, the informational placard describing the Gates of Paradise had been mounted not on the spectacular bronze doors themselves but on this very ordinary protective gate.
Langdon had heard that the placard’s placement sometimes caused confusion among tourists, and sure enough, just then a chunky woman in a Juicy Couture sweat suit pushed through the crowd, glanced at the placard, frowned at the wrought-iron gate, and scoffed, “Gates of Paradise? Hell, it looks like my dog fence at home!” Then she toddled off before anyone could explain.
Sienna reached up and grasped the protective gate, casually peering through the bars at the locking mechanism on the back.
“Look,” she whispered, turning wide-eyed to Langdon. “The padlock on the back is unlocked.”
Langdon looked through the bars and saw she was right. The padlock was positioned as if it were locked, but on closer inspection, he could see that it was definitely unlocked.
The gates are open to you, but you must hurry.
Langdon raised his eyes to the Gates of Paradise beyond the fencing. If Ignazio had indeed left the baptistry’s huge doors unbolted, they should simply swing open. The challenge, however, would be getting inside without drawing the attention of every single person in the square, including, no doubt, the police and Duomo guards.
“Look out!” a woman suddenly screamed nearby. “He’s going to jump!” Her voice was filled with terror. “Up there on the bell tower!”
Langdon spun now from the doors, and saw that the woman shouting was … Sienna. She stood five yards away, pointing up into Giotto’s bell tower and shouting, “There at the top! He’s going to jump!”
Every set of eyes turned skyward, searching the top of the bell tower. Nearby, others began pointing, squinting, calling out to one another.
“Someone is jumping?!”
“I don’t see him!”
“Over there on the left?!”
It took only seconds for people across the square to sense the panic and follow suit, staring up at the top of the bell tower. With the fury of a wildfire consuming a parched hay field, the rush of fear billowed out across the piazza until the entire crowd was craning their necks, looking upward, and pointing.
Viral marketing, Langdon thought, knowing he’d have only a moment to act. Immediately he grabbed the wrought-iron fence and swung it open just as Sienna returned to his side and slipped with him into the small space beyond. Once the gate was closed behind them, they turned to face the fifteen-foot bronze doors. Hoping he had understood Ignazio correctly, Langdon threw his shoulder into one side of the massive double doors and drove his legs hard.
Nothing happened, and then, painfully slowly, the cumbersome section began to move. The doors are open! The Gates of Paradise swung open about one foot, and Sienna wasted no time turning sideways and slipping through. Langdon followed suit, inching sideways through the narrow opening into the darkness of the baptistry.
Together, they turned and heaved the door in the opposite direction, quickly closing the massive portal with a definitive thud. Instantly, the noise and chaos outside evaporated, leaving only silence.
Sienna pointed to a long wooden beam on the floor at their feet, which clearly had been set in side brackets on either side of the door to serve as a barricade. “Ignazio must have removed it for you,” she said.
Together they lifted the beam and dropped it back into its brackets, effectively locking the Gates of Paradise … and sealing themselves safely inside.