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The guard looked uncertain as he stepped back and closed the door.

Martin wheeled back toward Garza and stormed the rest of the way across the floor. “I want a confession now!” she bellowed, her voice echoing off the vaulted ceiling as she arrived directly in front of him.

“Well, you won’t get one from me,” Garza replied evenly. “I have nothing to do with this. Your allegations are completely untrue.”

Martin glanced nervously over her shoulder. Then she stepped closer, whispering in Garza’s ear. “I know … I need you to listen to me very carefully.”

CHAPTER 68

Trending 2747%

ConspiracyNet.com

BREAKING NEWS

OF ANTIPOPES … BLEEDING PALMS … AND EYES SEWN SHUT …

Strange tales from within the Palmarian Church.

Posts from online Christian newsgroups have now confirmed that Admiral Luis Avila is an active member of the Palmarian Church, and has been one for several years.

Serving as a “celebrity” advocate for the Church, navy admiral Luis Avila has repeatedly credited the Palmarian pope with “saving his life” following a deep depression over the loss of his family in an anti-Christian terrorist attack.

Because it is the policy of ConspiracyNet never to support or condemn religious institutions, we have posted dozens of outside links to the Palmarian Church here.

We inform. You decide.

Please note, many of the online claims regarding the Palmarians are quite shocking, and so we are now asking for help from you–our users–to sort fact from fiction.

The following “facts” were sent to us by star informant monte@iglesia.org, whose perfect track record tonight suggests that these facts are true, and yet before we report them as such, we are hoping some of our users can offer additional hard evidence either to support or refute them.

“FACTS”

* Palmarian pope Clemente lost both eyeballs in a car accident in 1976 and continued to preach for a decade with his eyes sewn shut.

* Pope Clemente had active stigmata on both palms that regularly bled when he had visions.

* Several Palmarian popes were officers of the Spanish military with strong Carlist ideals.

* Palmarian Church members are forbidden from speaking to their own families, and several members have died on the compound from malnutrition or abuse.

* Palmarians are banned from (1) reading books authored by non-Palmarians, (2) attending family weddings or funerals unless their families are Palmarians, (3) attending pools, beaches, boxing matches, dance halls, or any location displaying a Christmas tree or image of Santa Claus.

* Palmarians believe the Antichrist was born in the year 2000.

* Palmarian recruitment houses exist in the USA, Canada, Germany, Austria, and Ireland.

CHAPTER 69

AS LANGDON AND Ambra followed Father Bena toward the colossal bronze doors of Sagrada Familia, Langdon found himself marveling, as he always did, over the utterly bizarre details of this church’s main entrance.

It’s a wall of codes, he mused, eyeing the raised typography that dominated the monolithic slabs of burnished metal. Protruding from the surface were more than eight thousand three-dimensional letters embossed in bronze. The letters ran in horizontal lines, creating a massive field of text with virtually no separation between the words. Although Langdon knew the text was a description of Christ’s Passion written in Catalan, its appearance was closer to that of an NSA encryption key.

No wonder this place inspires conspiracy theories.

Langdon’s gaze moved upward, climbing the looming Passion facade, where a haunting collection of gaunt, angular sculptures by the artist Josep Maria Subirachs stared down, dominated by a horribly emaciated Jesus dangling from a crucifix that had been canted steeply forward, giving the frightening effect that it was about to topple down onto the arriving guests.

To Langdon’s left, another grim sculpture depicted Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss. This effigy, rather strangely, was flanked by a carved grid of numbers–a mathematical “magic square.” Edmond had once told Langdon that this square’s “magic constant” of thirty-three was in fact a hidden tribute to the Freemasons’ pagan reverence for the Great Architect of the Universe–an all-encompassing deity whose secrets were allegedly revealed to those who reached the brotherhood’s thirty-third degree.

“A fun story,” Langdon had replied with a laugh, “but Jesus being age thirty-three at the time of the Passion is a more likely explanation.”

As they neared the entrance, Langdon winced to see the church’s most gruesome embellishment–a collosal statue of Jesus, scourged and bound to a pillar with ropes. He quickly shifted his gaze to the inscription above the doors–two Greek letters–alpha and omega.

“Beginning and end,” Ambra whispered, also eyeing the letters. “Very Edmond.”

Langdon nodded, catching her meaning. Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Father Bena opened a small portal in the wall of bronze letters, and the entire group entered, including the two Guardia agents. Bena closed the door behind them.

Silence.

Shadows.

There in the southeast end of the transept, Father Bena shared with them a startling story. He recounted how Kirsch had come to him and offered to make a huge donation to Sagrada Familia in return for the church agreeing to display his copy of Blake’s illuminated manuscripts in the crypt near Gaudi’s tomb.

In the very heart of this church, Langdon thought, his curiosity piqued.

“Did Edmond say why he wanted you to do this?” Ambra asked.

Bena nodded. “He told me that his lifelong passion for Gaudi’s art had come from his late mother, who had also been a great admirer of the work of William Blake. Mr. Kirsch said he wanted to place the Blake volume near Gaudi’s tomb as a tribute to his late mother. It seemed to me there was no harm.”

Edmond never mentioned his mother liking Gaudi, Langdon thought, puzzled. Moreover, Paloma Kirsch had died in a convent, and it seemed unlikely that a Spanish nun would admire a heterodox British poet. The entire story seemed like a stretch.

“Also,” Bena continued, “I sensed Mr. Kirsch might have been in the throes of a spiritual crisis … and perhaps had some health issues as well.”

“The notation on the back of this title card,” Langdon interjected, holding it up, “says that the Blake book must be displayed in a particular way–lying open to page one hundred and sixty-three?”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

Langdon felt his pulse quicken. “Can you tell me which poem is on that page?”

Bena shook his head. “There is no poem on that page.”

“I’m sorry?!”

“The book is Blake’s complete works–his artwork and writings. Page one sixty-three is an illustration.”

Langdon shot an uneasy glance at Ambra. We need a forty-seven-letter line of poetry–not an illustration!

“Father,” Ambra said to Bena. “Would it be possible for us to see it right away?”

The priest wavered an instant, but apparently thought better of refusing the future queen. “The crypt is this way,” he said, leading them down the transept toward the center of the church. The two Guardia agents followed behind.

“I must admit,” Bena said, “I was hesitant to accept money from so outspoken an atheist, but his request to display his mother’s favorite Blake illustration seemed harmless to me–especially considering it was an image of God.”

Langdon thought he had misheard. “Did you say Edmond asked you to display an image of God?”

Bena nodded. “I sensed he was ill and that perhaps this was his way of trying to make amends for a life of opposition to the divine.” He paused, shaking his head. “Although, after seeing his presentation tonight, I must admit, I don’t know what to think.”

Langdon tried to imagine which of Blake’s countless illustrations of God Edmond might have wanted displayed.

As they all moved into the main sanctuary, Langdon felt as if he were seeing this space for the very first time. Despite having visited Sagrada Familia many times in various stages of its construction, he had always come during the day, when the Spanish sun poured through the stained glass, creating dazzling bursts of color and drawing the eye upward, ever upward, into a seemingly weightless canopy of vaults.

At night, this is a heavier world.

The basilica’s sun-dappled forest of trees was gone, transformed into a midnight jungle of shadows and darkness–a gloomy stand of striated columns stretching skyward into an ominous void.

“Watch your step,” the priest said. “We save money where we can.” Lighting these massive European churches, Langdon knew, cost a small fortune, and yet the sparse utility lighting here barely illuminated the way. One of the challenges of a sixty-thousand-square-foot floor plan.

As they reached the central nave and turned left, Langdon gazed at the elevated ceremonial platform ahead. The altar was an ultramodern minimalistic table framed by two glistening clusters of organ pipes. Fifteen feet above the altar hung the church’s extraordinary baldachin–a suspended cloth ceiling or “canopy of state”–a symbol of reverence inspired by the ceremonial canopies once held up on poles to provide shade for kings.

Most baldachins were now solid architectural features, but Sagrada Familia had opted for cloth, in this case an umbrella-shaped canopy that seemed to hover magically in the air above the altar. Beneath the cloth, suspended by wires like a paratrooper, was the figure of Jesus on the cross.

Parachuting Jesus, Langdon had heard it called. Seeing it again, he was not surprised it had become one of the church’s most controversial details.

As Bena guided them into increasing darkness, Langdon was having trouble seeing anything at all. Diaz pulled out a penlight and lit the tile floor beneath everyone’s feet. Pressing on toward the crypt entrance, Langdon now perceived above him the pale silhouette of a towering cylinder that climbed hundreds of feet up the interior wall of the church.

The infamous Sagrada spiral, he realized, having never dared ascend it.

Sagrada Familia’s dizzying shaft of circling stairs had appeared on National Geographic’s list of “The 20 Deadliest Staircases in the World,” earning a spot as number three, just behind the precarious steps up the Angkor Wat Temple in Cambodia and the mossy cliffside stones of the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall in Ecuador.

Langdon eyed the first few steps of the staircase, which corkscrewed upward and disappeared into blackness.

“The crypt entrance is just ahead,” Bena said, motioning past the stairs toward a darkened void to the left of the altar. As they pressed onward, Langdon spotted a faint golden glow that seemed to emanate from a hole in the floor.

The crypt.

The group arrived at the mouth of an elegant, gently curving staircase.

“Gentlemen,” Ambra said to her guards. “Both of you stay here. We’ll be back up shortly.”

Fonseca looked displeased but said nothing.

Then Ambra, Father Bena, and Langdon began their descent toward the light.

Agent Diaz felt grateful for the moment of peace as he watched the three figures disappear down the winding staircase. The growing tension between Ambra Vidal and Agent Fonseca was becoming worrisome.

Guardia agents are not accustomed to threats of dismissal from those they protect–only from Commander Garza.

Diaz still felt baffled by Garza’s arrest. Strangely, Fonseca had declined to share with him precisely who had issued the arrest order or initiated the false kidnapping story.

“The situation is complex,” Fonseca had said. “And for your own protection, it’s better you don’t know.”

So who was issuing orders? Diaz wondered. Was it the prince? It seemed doubtful that Julian would risk Ambra’s safety by spreading a bogus kidnapping story. Was it Valdespino? Diaz wasn’t sure if the bishop had that kind of leverage.

“I’ll be back shortly,” Fonseca grunted, and headed off, saying he needed to find a restroom. As Fonseca slipped into the darkness, Diaz saw him take out his phone, place a call, and commence a quiet conversation.

Diaz waited alone in the abyss of the sanctuary, feeling less and less comfortable with Fonseca’s secretive behavior.

CHAPTER 70

THE STAIRCASE TO the crypt spiraled down three stories into the earth, bending in a wide and graceful arc, before depositing Langdon, Ambra, and Father Bena in the subterranean chamber.

One of Europe’s largest crypts, Langdon thought, admiring the vast, circular space. Exactly as he recalled, Sagrada Familia’s underground mausoleum had a soaring rotunda and housed pews for hundreds of worshippers. Golden oil lanterns placed at intervals around the circumference of the room illuminated an inlaid mosaic floor of twisting vines, roots, branches, leaves, and other imagery from nature.

A crypt was literally a “hidden” space, and Langdon found it nearly inconceivable that Gaudi had successfully concealed a room this large beneath the church. This was nothing like Gaudi’s playful “leaning crypt” in Colonia Guell; this space was an austere neo-Gothic chamber with leafed columns, pointed arches, and embellished vaults. The air was deathly still and smelled faintly of incense.

At the foot of the stairs, a deep recess stretched to the left. Its pale sandstone floor supported an unassuming gray slab, laid horizontally, surrounded by lanterns.

The man himself, Langdon realized, reading the inscription.

ANTONIUS GAUDI

As Langdon scanned Gaudi’s place of rest, he again felt the sharp loss of Edmond. He raised his eyes to the statue of the Virgin Mary above the tomb, whose plinth bore an unfamiliar symbol.

What in the world?

Langdon eyed the strange icon.

Rarely did Langdon see a symbol he could not identify. In this case, the symbol was the Greek letter lambda–which, in his experience, did not occur in Christian symbolism. The lambda was a scientific symbol, common in the fields of evolution, particle physics, and cosmology. Stranger still, sprouting upward out of the top of this particular lambda was a Christian cross.

Religion supported by science? Langdon had never seen anything quite like it.

“Puzzled by the symbol?” Bena inquired, arriving beside Langdon. “You’re not alone. Many ask about it. It’s nothing more than a uniquely modernist interpretation of a cross on a mountaintop.”

Langdon inched forward, now seeing three faint gilded stars accompanying the symbol.

Three stars in that position, Langdon thought, recognizing it at once. The cross atop Mount Carmel. “It’s a Carmelite cross.”

“Correct. Gaudi’s body lies beneath the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel.”

“Was Gaudi a Carmelite?” Langdon found it hard to imagine the modernist architect adhering to the twelfth-century brotherhood’s strict interpretation of Catholicism.

“Most certainly not,” Bena replied with a laugh. “But his caregivers were. A group of Carmelite nuns lived with Gaudi and tended to him during his final years. They believed he would appreciate being watched over in death as well, and they made the generous gift of this chapel.”

“Thoughtful,” Langdon said, chiding himself for misinterpreting such an innocent symbol. Apparently, all the conspiracy theories circulating tonight had caused even Langdon to start conjuring phantoms out of thin air.

“Is that Edmond’s book?” Ambra declared suddenly.

Both men turned to see her motioning into the shadows to the right of Gaudi’s tomb.

“Yes,” Bena replied. “I’m sorry the light is so poor.”

Ambra hurried toward a display case, and Langdon followed, seeing that the book had been relegated to a dark region of the crypt, shaded by a massive pillar to the right of Gaudi’s tomb.

“We normally display informational pamphlets there,” Bena said, “but I moved them elsewhere to make room for Mr. Kirsch’s book. Nobody seems to have noticed.”

Langdon quickly joined Ambra at a hutch-like case that had a slanted glass top. Inside, propped open to page 163, barely visible in the dim light, sat a massive bound edition of The Complete Works of William Blake.

As Bena had informed them, the page in question was not a poem at all, but rather a Blake illustration. Langdon had wondered which of Blake’s images of God to expect, but it most certainly was not this one.

The Ancient of Days, Langdon thought, squinting through the darkness at Blake’s famous 1794 watercolor etching.

Langdon was surprised that Father Bena had called this “an image of God.” Admittedly, the illustration appeared to depict the archetypal Christian God–a bearded, wizened old man with white hair, perched in the clouds and reaching down from the heavens–and yet a bit of research on Bena’s part would have revealed something quite different. The figure was not, in fact, the Christian God but rather a deity called Urizen–a god conjured from Blake’s own visionary imagination–depicted here measuring the heavens with a huge geometer’s compass, paying homage to the scientific laws of the universe.

The piece was so futuristic in style that, centuries later, the renowned physicist and atheist Stephen Hawking had selected it as the jacket art for his book God Created the Integers. In addition, Blake’s timeless demiurge watched over New York City’s Rockefeller Center, where the ancient geometer gazed down from an Art Deco sculpture titled Wisdom, Light, and Sound.

Langdon eyed the Blake book, again wondering why Edmond had gone to such lengths to have it displayed here. Was it pure vindictiveness? A slap in the face to the Christian Church?

Edmond’s war against religion never wanes, Langdon thought, glancing at Blake’s Urizen. Wealth had given Edmond the ability to do whatever he pleased in life, even if it meant displaying blasphemous art in the heart of a Christian church.

Anger and spite, Langdon thought. Maybe it’s just that simple. Edmond, whether fairly or not, had always blamed his mother’s death on organized religion.

“Of course, I’m fully aware,” Bena said, “that this painting is not the Christian God.”

Langdon turned to the old priest in surprise. “Oh?”

“Yes, Edmond was quite up front about it, although he didn’t need to be–I’m familiar with Blake’s ideas.”

“And yet you have no problem displaying the book?”

“Professor,” the priest whispered, smiling softly. “This is Sagrada Familia. Within these walls, Gaudi blended God, science, and nature. The theme of this painting is nothing new to us.” His eyes twinkled cryptically. “Not all of our clergy are as progressive as I am, but as you know, for all of us, Christianity remains a work in progress.” He smiled gently, nodding back to the book. “I’m just glad Mr. Kirsch agreed not to display his title card with the book. Considering his reputation, I’m not sure how I would have explained that, especially after his presentation tonight.” Bena paused, his face somber. “Do I sense, however, that this image is not what you had hoped to find?”

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