Cross Purposes: A New Novel from Mark Orwoll
Travel writer and Everett Potter’s Travel Report contributor Mark Orwoll has taken his experiences as a globe-trotting reporter and applied them to his new novel, Cross Purposes, a fictional account of a plot to steal the Shroud of Turin.
At the onset of World War II, a mysterious millionaire gathers a group of misfit researchers with one goal: to authenticate the Shroud of Turin, said to be the burial cloth of Jesus. The holy relic has been removed from its shrine in Turin for safekeeping in a hidden location, but the researchers have been granted special access.
Disgraced history professor Scott Crossman and failed Broadway costume designer Fiona “Finn” Finnegan, two members of the research team, find themselves in sole possession of the Shroud. Fiercely pursuing them across the face of war-torn Europe and Morocco are mobsters, Nazis, and even the U.S. Government. Crossman and Finn can trust no one, not even their friends.
With glamorous settings from Hollywood and Manhattan to Paris, Rome, and Tangier, Cross Purposes is a dizzying tale of intrigue and danger. The author has devoted intense research into the Shroud—its origins and its history through today—to present a largely fact-based account of the Shroud balanced against a thrilling tale of international suspense. The Shroud is missing! And no one would ever guess where it ends up.
“The novel is as much a travel story as a thriller novel,” says Orwoll. “I’ve been to these places, so I felt comfortable writing about them as the background for a story that weaves actual fact with a healthy dose of fictional adventure.”
In this excerpt, Orwoll sets the stage for the story to follow:
On a sweltering Sunday afternoon in April 1201, at the dawn of the new century, a somber procession emerged from the crumbling walls of My Lady St. Mary of Blachernae. John X Kamateros, the Patriarch of Constantinople, led a small band of clergy onto the church steps, where three curates unrolled a bolt of flaxen cloth, a burial shroud, and displayed it to a score of onlookers in the dusty street. The air was thick with prayer and incense as the astonished parishioners gazed at the shroud, on one side of which were the front and back impressions of a naked man, said to be Jesus of Nazareth, the Redeemer, the Christ. But the shroud, also called a cerement or a winding sheet, was only one of the marvels in the wondrous city, so life went forward without more than a handful of citizens paying heed.
Constantinople, at the start of the thirteenth century, was mesmerized by its own magnificence. The Byzantine metropolis attracted wayfarers and caravaneers from across Europe and Asia on missions of commerce and intrigue. Over the centuries, the city had grown into a fortress-capital, built on a chain of protective hills within a triangle formed by the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn, sheltered from land assault by massive ramparts five miles long.
Europeans who visited these lands were not much impressed with the gaudy ornaments of Byzantine Christianity, and in time the Western world grew to despise Constantinople. In 1204, just three years after John X’s Easter display of the shroud, a religious war was mounted against the city, the so-called Fourth Crusade, and the Near Eastern citadel was seized by an army of spoils-lusty Europeans. During a three-day sack of the city, the Crusaders killed thousands of soldiers and citizens and amassed the largest store of plunder history had ever seen. The establishment of a more Westernized form of Christianity, the nominal aim of the Crusaders, was delayed until the city held no more riches to loot.
After the fall of Constantinople, the shroud from My Lady St. Mary of Blachernae was recovered by a French bishop, who conspired with his men to bring it back with him to his own country. But the bishop died before reaching his homeland, and the shroud fell into the hands of his guards. With that, the whereabouts of the relic went unrecorded for more than a century.
Sometime during the ensuing one hundred and fifty years, the shroud came into the possession of Geoffrey de Charny, lord of the district of Lirey and one of the greatest contemporary knights of France. Geoffrey was the prototype soldier-poet, having done battle against the Turks in the Crusade of 1346 and written three historical narratives widely read in his day. He was a sincere Christian, and sometime between 1353 and 1356 he brought the shroud to the brothers of the church of Lirey in Troyes for safekeeping while he galloped off to another war. As was apt to happen to fourteenth-century warrior-poets, Geoffrey died at the hands of an English lancer in 1356, and the secret of how he came to possess the shroud perished with him.
The priests at Our Lady of Lirey mounted the shroud on a high platform, flanked on either side by smoky torches. Pilgrims from across France trekked to the church, eager to view the strip of linen bearing Christ’s likeness. When word filtered back to Henri de Poitiers, the Bishop of Troyes, that the shroud was being revered as a holy object, an order went out to the Dean of Lirey to stop the exhibitions. But the Dean refused.
The dispute between Dean and Bishop raged for years, soon reaching such a magnitude that the antipope in Avignon, Clement VII, was asked for a ruling. Clement considered the facts at hand, and in 1390 decreed that the Dean of Lirey could continue the display and that the Bishop of Troyes should forever be silent on the subject.
In the years that immediately followed, France was beset by war. The ferocity of the battles on French soil caused the Lirey priests to fear for the safety of the shroud. They sought protection from Humbert of Villersexel, the husband of Margaret of Charny, who was the granddaughter of the valiant Geoffrey. The husband agreed to defend the shroud. Upon Humbert’s death, in 1421, the shroud was listed among his possessions, all of which were claimed by his widow, Margaret.
Now the burial cloth belonged to her alone. Well aware of the shroud’s provenance, she believed the relic was hers by right, having been her grandfather’s chattel. She kept it with her always, traveling with it, sleeping with it, worshiping it as the Holy Shroud of Jesus Christ. When the priests of Lirey, envisioning peaceful times again in their parish, asked for the shroud’s return, Margaret refused. She claimed that her grandfather, Geoffrey de Charny, had left the shroud with Our Lady of Lirey as a loan, not a gift.
High courts of the church ruled against Margaret and demanded she return the shroud, but she ignored the order. In the end, Margaret was excommunicated for her obstinance, even as she tightened her grip on the cloth.
The clash of wills became a celebrated controversy of its day. Troubadours sang of the “noble lady Margaret,” and storytellers embellished the case to make the Lirey priests seem like a covey of bloodthirsty bandits lurking just beyond Margaret’s front gate. Even so, the power of the church made clear that Margaret could not long expect to hold onto the shroud. Rather than lose the relic and be left empty-handed, she entered into a series of negotiations with noblemen from across Europe. Representatives from the House of Savoy were among the royal mob that flocked to Margaret’s door, and in 1452 they made a deal: In exchange for the French castles Mirabel and Flaumet, Margaret would relinquish the shroud to the Savoyards.
The Duke of Savoy took the shroud as his royal standard, and eventually remanded it to Sainte-Chapelle, the ducal church, at Chambery for several decades. In 1532 it was nearly destroyed by a fire that broke out in the sacristy. The shroud had been kept in a silver casket, and the heat from the flames was so intense that it partially liquefied the metal, which in turn burned holes in the cloth. The damage was not irreparable, though, and by some miracle the image on the shroud was left untouched. The blemished linen was taken to the monastery of St. Clair, where nuns patched the holes.
Guards transported the shroud to the Cathedral of San Giovanni Battista in Turin, the new capital of the Duchy of Savoy, in 1578, where it remained for almost four centuries. The relic might have stayed there in perpetuity, undisturbed except for occasional public airings, but for one man: Adolf Hitler.
In May 1938, the German Führer paid a state visit to Italy for talks with Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. Nazi officials who accompanied Hitler to Rome paid a visit of their own, to the Vatican, specifically to ask unusual and insistent questions about the shroud. Who was in charge of its care? Was it kept under lock and key? Was it ever viewed by anyone outside of holy celebrations? Question after question. The Vatican was understandably alarmed. Hitler was known to obsess over certain Christian relics, like the Holy Grail and the Holy Lance of Longinus. Had he added the Shroud of Turin to his roster of obsessions?
When war exploded across Europe in the autumn of 1939, the priests of the cathedral secretly removed the shroud to an unidentified abbey east of Naples, in the foothills of the Apennines. The stated rationale, not revealed until 1943, was that the shroud could be harmed if war reached Italy and bombs were dropped on Turin. The real reason, according to Church documents released in 2010, was to hide it from Hitler.
Soon after the shroud was installed in its new home, though, it became the focus of a tragedy. A small group of Americans—religious pilgrims, perhaps, hoping to pay homage to the medieval architecture of a wayside abbey—were murdered in a courtyard of the monastery by mountain bandits, or so the rumors went, along with several monks. In the three weeks that followed the massacre, the shroud was nowhere to be found. For the first time in six centuries, its whereabouts were unknown.
The Holy Shroud of Turin had disappeared.
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Mark Orwoll, the former International Editor of Travel + Leisure, writes about international adventure, food, and luxury lifestyle.