One of the most cherished Christian symbols is being sought after by the members of a secret order. Vatican would do anything to get the artefact back, but the clues to the puzzle need to be deciphered from one of the most celebrated poems of the middle ages. Before you say “Da Vinci Code” or “Angels and Demons“, please read ahead.“The Last Cato” by Matilde Asensi contains all the ingredients to make into my “If You Like Da Vinci Code…” list, including a rich history, secret brotherhoods and a puzzle containing rich symbolisms which makes you think more than just a bit.
The head of Vatican’s Secret Archives Dr. Ottavia Salina is charged to solve the mystery of an ethiopian corpse found with different kinds of crosses tattooed on his body and a box containing some wooden pieces found with his body. The bigger picture: the pieces of the True Cross (Vera Cruz) are being stolen from churches across the world. Dr. Salina teams up with a captain from Swiss Guard, Kaspar Glauser-Roist and a professor Farag Boswell to retrieve the pieces from a secret brotherhood called Staurofilakes, who were charged to guard Vera Cruz.
After reading a codex by a past leader of Staurofilakes (hereditarily named Cato), they find that the order has left clues across ancient Christian capitals for the worthy members to follow, and one of the (supposedly) rogue members left a kind of roadmap for the world, in his one of the most famous poems. Now they have to follow the clues left in The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, and “conquer the Seven Deadly Sins” before they can reach the true location of the Ligna Crusis at the end of “Purgatory”. The initiation ritual is potentially deadly, and after facing each challenge, they start acquiring a tattoo of cross corresponding to each sin. By the time they reach the secret location, they have to challenge their personal, deepest beliefs and reach some surprising answers.
Dr. Salina is the true protagonist of the story. A nun, celibate for 39 years, she heads a department in Vatican’s secret archives. She, along with the archeology professor is (mostly) the brains behind the group, deciphering codex, the clues in the Divine Comedy and the actual clues on the “ground”.
But the character I remember the most is Capt. Glauser-Roist. His relationship with the scholarly Dr. Salina starts uncomfortably, with her nicknaming him the “Swiss Rock”. Although a member of Swiss Guard, his “missions” are mysterious and do not exactly involve standing in Vatican wearing uniform (supposedly) designed by Michelangelo. Of course, the man is not all brawn, as he proves with his great command on the Divine Comedy. But what has stuck with me most is the image of a lonely man, doing his sworn duty, no matter in what form.
If you are reading the book casually, there’s a chance that you might be put off by the huge amount of history on the famous book, history of the early church and the history of Staurofilakes. But real fans of the genre live for such a treasure of information. And of course, the information about challenges and the connection with the “Purgatory” is a worthy read.
Final Verdict: Readers of Dante, you will love this. Non-readers of Dante (a.k.a. me), you will wish to get your hands on The Divine Comedy…
Quote of The Day:
Let’slook for the entrance of Purgatory.
– The Last Cato