After the year 2015, the year 900 years after Matilda’s passing to the hereafter, I could expect 2016 to be a more quiet year. And yet, many things have happened with me and the Grancontessa, that have added small but shining pearls to the string that appeared during the research for my book ‘Queen of the Vatican‘. Let me try to give you an overview, standing on the threshold to another new year.
The start of the year was quite intensive: I gave a public lecture in Amsterdam about the 100th church of Matilda. As you may know from my book there is a legend that she built 99 churches. She had asked the Pope if she could say Mass, and the reply was that she was allowed to if she had built 100 churches. But alas – the legend goes – she passed away after the 99th. By sheer coincidence I had discovered in 2015 that there was indeed a a 100th church, the Pieve di Sasso, near Canossa. According to the local legend she had arrived there on a Christmas Eve with her court, to do what she was now allowed to do. But when she stood behind the altar and lifted the chalice a huge snake (or a dragon, according to other versions) appeared behind the altar, Matilda fainted and everybody ran away in panic. The story fascinates me, because it’s not only about a turning point – and a deception – in Matilda’s life, but but also about the reasons why women cannot become priests in the Catholic church. A very topical issue at the moment, and another message that Matilda has left us. By delving into the legends I got again a deeper understanding about the historical meaning of her life.
In april I started a new journey through Italy. It started in Canossa, where I visited my friends and walked Matilda’s heart labyrinth again. In Mantova I renewed my connections with her places – and with the people who guard them. I then travelled through to Tuscany, where I visited a little church hidden in the woods near Suvereto, that could be her 98th or 99th church. The building was deserted and in ruins, but it had a mystical energy in an around it that made my visit certainly worthwhile. And it confirmed the thesis of my book that Matilda built her churches at very special places, this time next to an ancient well, dedicated to the Madonna, and at a an age old route of trade and pilgrimage from the Monti Metalliferi to the Tuscan coast near Elba. And – also significant – Suvereto is a beautiful Medieval town, that was for long in the possession of the Aldobrandesci family, from which Gregory VII originated, and a stronghold between Lucca, their area of origins, and Sovana, where they settled later, and where Gregory was born as Ildebrando di Sovana. So Matilda protected their possessions, also after his death…
The discovery of new Matilda places continued when I was staying in the Garfagnana for three weeks in June, in Barga that by now begins to feel like another home. Across the valley I found two small churches, that according to local traditions are built on Matilda’s orders, but are not known in the literature. And again they are laying on fascinating places, this time along a east-west leyline across the high passes of the Apennines, that connects places that are famous for healers, sjamans and witches.
Also in Barga I had some special meetings with people to whom I brought my book. One of them told me that in a small area near Lucca, around the Pieve di Brancoli, the story still goes that Matilda wanted to become Pope herself. While in another village someone showed me a place where according to the locals Gregory spent the night when he was in Lucca, together with Matilda, as he said over and over again: ‘his woman’.
It’s a great pleasure for me to feel myself more and more part of a network of Matilda fans. I met people who had read my book in the meantime, and told me what had touched them, or gave me comments on some details.I encountered friends and new people who travelled along Matilda’s places with my book in their hands. I received emails from readers, who now feel like sisters on the path and with whom I became close Facebook friends afterwards. And I gave two successful presentations of my book, in april in Milan and in the last days of October in Grosseto, to a group of Matilda enthusiasts, who had already visited Canossa. In June I visited the opening of the Matilda exhibition in Florence, organized by Michelle Spike. I felt honored to see myself mentioned in the catalogue as one of the Matilda experts, who together with Kathleen McGowan and Michelle Spike has brought her myth back into the world.
At two occasions I had the chance to verify some important statements in my book about Matilda’s funeral monument in the St. Peter in Rome. The first was at the exposition in Firenze. There I could admire the pre-study that Bernini made for the monument, that normally stands in a museum in Berlin. In that statue she has clearly two keys in her hands, while at the monument in the Vatican she holds only one. My conclusion is that Bernini deliberately removed one while making the final statue, and left her with the silver key The second occasion was when during a visit to Rome in the beginning of December I passed along the statue of St. Peter at the Piazza St. Pietro. By the beautiful evening sun I could clearly see – more than ever – that Peter holds a golden key. Bingo: it all confirms my thesis about the silver and the golden key in the Vatican! See the last chapter in my book to understand the significance….
The last surprise came in Ceccano in december, during my visit to the conference where I received the Premio ‘Cronache del Mistero’ for my book about the double tailed mermaid. A kind gentleman gave me his book about Salomé as a present, that contained for me new information about the role of Gregory and Matilda in Bari and Calabria. The journey in my book ‘Queen of the Vatican’ stops in Rome, but now I feel the wish to travel more southwards, and see which parts of the Matilda mystery will be unveiled there. If so, I will write about it in new blogs in 2017. I feel that Matilda is still guiding me in where to go, and I can only give in…