My Prima Donna Swamp Princess: 26. ICONOCLAST

  • 2006-05-10
I grasped the princess' arm just before it released the rock. I've always said that I'm one of the clumsiest in a profession of physical dolts, but somehow on that occasion I managed to tap into a hitherto unknown agility. Which no doubt saved our hides. Otherwise, I'm sure the stone would have smashed a pane or two on the sacrosanct Gate of Dawn. It might have even sailed straight into the heart of the Virgin Mary. In which case, both princess and professor would have been torn asunder by a mob of vengeful Vilniusites.

"Arva 's calm….down," I whispered in her ear, breathless. "Please." The princess' face seemed to bubble with fiery blood, and her lips were locked in anger. I could hear the heated rhythm of her breathing, and all I could do to fend off the strange stares was look up and gaze upon the gate as if it were the object of our mutual adoration. The large windows, made up of numerous panes, were open, and I could see a crowd of women, all with scarves on their head, crossing themselves. Arva could have easily conked one of them on the noggin'. "Tell me this is a nightmare, American crusader," Arva finally whispered. I sighed, but more out of relief than despair; the princess had come to her senses.
"I wish I could, Arva, but this is the Gate of Dawn Chapel."
"Is that a picture of who I think it is?"
"Indeed it is," I said.
"But it doesn't make any sense! It was for her that the knights plundered, raped and slaughtered Prus, the Galindians, the Nadruvians. And the Lithuanians themselves!"

I had to admit it: History was on the princess' side. Few recall it, but the true name of the Teutonic knights was the Order of the House of Sacred Mary in Jerusalem (or something similar to that, depending how you translate the Latin), and the patron saint of every crazed, blood-thirsty knight was Mary, mother of Jesus. No doubt, while on their messianic mission to Christianize the pagan forest dwellers of northeastern Europe in the 13th 's 15th centuries, the knights spent just as much 's if not more 's time worshipping the Madonna than they did the son of God. Think Marienburg, St. Mary's in Gdansk, the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Malbork…

So you have to have compassion for Arva's sudden state of shock. When she was born in the early 15th century, Mary represented the oppressive invader, the end of a millennium of Baltic idyll, the enslavement of the Baltic peoples. But then Arva mysteriously sinks into a coma and wakes up six centuries later to find Lithuanians, the very people for the sake of whom the mounted knights were slaughtering, supplicating before an image of the virgin.

"She was no virgin," spat Arva, as if reading my mind. (A scary thought, one which I was to experience time and time again.)
Again, having escaped what would have been the worst ignominy of my life, I welcomed the gambit. I've also though that the concept of immaculate conception sounded as silly as, say, a pristine bowel movement. Anyhow, Catholics took it on faith, while Christian Scientists worked a way around it.
"Nor was her son," she continued.
Now that was news to me. "Really?"
"I read all about it."
"Where? If you don't mind my asking…"
"A book called The Da Vinci Code."