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Celestial Visions
Hazel Marshall


Men of Galilee, why do ye stand looking up to heaven
Acts I:II

I render infinite thanks to God for being so kind as to make me alone the first observer of marvels kept hidden in obscurity for all previous centuries.
Galileo Galilei

That first night I had to fetch him from the tavern. He was much in his cups and not making any sense. He spoke to me about the Earth and the moon and the sun and where they all lay in the sky. It meant nothing to me. All I knew was that his arm lay heavy across my shoulders and we stumbled frequently into the gutters. His breath smelt of red wine and garlic, but his talk was of the wonders of the night sky.

When I had taken up my employment I had heard much about the old man Galileo Galilei. It was said that the Inquisition had much interest in his work and were he not so ill he would be called before them. Some say he will be called soon anyway. But I had a family to feed and I would take work wherever it was to be found. I was set within my beliefs and thought, in my arrogance, that nothing could change them.

When we reached the house that first night he would not go inside. No matter how hard I tried he would not enter. For such an old man he had the strength of ten devils. Once he dug his heels in I could not make him move. I gave in and he led me round to the back of the house. The stars were bright I remember and there was a full moon. It hung like a large lantern in the sky, giving almost as much light as the weak winter sun.

It lay in the middle of the garden, covered by a rough old sack. I could feel the coarseness of the weave as I lifted it off to reveal the treasure which lay beneath. I did not want to look through it. I did not want my senses disturbed and I did not want to get into trouble with the Inquisition. But more than that, I wanted to go to my bed. I was not young myself and my old bones were aching. But I let him gently guide me, placing my eye to the metal rim. I had thought it would soothe him if I looked up at the night sky. And it did, I think. But it set my soul on fire.

The moon

It scared me at first, so much so that I only pretended to look. When I finally forced myself to open one eye I had to shut it again quickly. It was all too close. It seemed to leap at me from its place in the sky. I had to look away from the scope for a moment and make sure that it was still set in its rightful place in the sky and not speeding towards me. The old man had warned me that it would appear closer but nothing had prepared me for the reality. I took a deep shuddering breath, and looked again.

Without the aid of a scope the moon is smooth and glorious, resembling nothing so much as the skin of a soft young girl. But in the spyscope I was looking instead at the skin of a haggard old woman. Its surface was craggy and mountainous and nothing like I had expected. But still it stirred my blood in much the same way as a young lover feels when he looks at his beloved.

The heaviness of my breathing fogged the lens and I made haste to wipe it with my sleeve. Then I filled my eyes again.

The sun

From that night on, my passion did not let up. Like wine it coursed through my veins, heating them with a fire that it became impossible to quench. I could not wipe the images from my brain. But, like any man hopelessly addicted to his wine, I constantly wanted more. The moon was no longer enough for me. I wanted to see the sun.

Master Galileo had shown me the tracings of the dark spots that roved across the surface of the sun. They itched at my brain, like an pox that was impossible to reach. Were these dark spots the sins of mankind? Were they the punishment for daring to look so closely at what has never before been seen? He claimed that the sun rather than the earth was the centre of the world. Did that mean the sun was nearer to God?

My mind constantly filled with questions. What would I find if I saw the sun? Would it reach the same depths of my soul, bring me closer to my God or drive me further from him? I had seen Master Galileo use the spyscope differently when he viewed the sun. He would not look directly at it, but would trace its reflection on to pieces of paper. Was he scared of what he might find? He warned me that it was dangerous to look directly at the sun but I thought that he was protecting my mind from what I might see there. I did not listen.

One bright glorious day my cravings grew too much. I crept away from my duties and went to find the spyscope. I caressed the rough weave of the sackcloth which covered it, remembering my first time. Lifting it off, the gleam of the scope delighted me. I raised it to the heavens and then hesitated before placing my eye to the rim. It took me a while to reach the correct point in the heavens but when I did the beauty burned my eyes and its delights filled my vision.

So now I see nothing. But for a moment I saw greater beauty that you could ever imagine. Colours that I could never have imagined seared themselves across my vision. But now I can rest easy. I have seen the face of God.

© Hazel Marshall, 2001


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