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My brief tenure as a cartoonist…

3theologians

Last week I was cleaning out a closet and came across my old Ivory Towers cartoons.

While a student at Bethany Bible College, I was cartoonist for the school paper during the 1985-86 school year. Being a religious college, Bethany required its students to take systematic theology courses. And since it was a Protestant school, we spent time focusing on the early reformers … Martin Luther, John Calvin and so on.

Looking at pictures of the reformers, I was curious about the odd hats they wore. I still don’t know their origins. If anyone does, please comment. Perhaps they’re a forerunner of the mortar boards people wear at graduation. Anyway, that’s where the idea for the cartoon came from.

Ivory Towers takes place in a fictional seminary, presumably located in Protestant Northern Europe of long ago. (Where the ray gun and the change machine came from, I have no idea.)

You can see how the comics progressed during the school year (more detail and shading as I went along). I also eventually gave the characters names. Hippotus and Creetus were my two main theologians; Nuisance – the student who was always asking questions; Father Loopin – the priest from the village.

Poking fun at the stuffy theologians provided fun relief from my studies. Hope you enjoy the toons!

(Click on a panel to activate slideshow.)

Texting Through Glass

In Our Lady of West 74th Street there’s a short scene where Emily, the main character, is texting with her teenage daughter through a window at Starbucks…

The bus stopped at West 63rd Street and the two got off. Starbucks was located just a half-block from the bus stop. As Emily and Martin approached the corner, they could see the two girls through the window. They were chatting and laughing.

Emily went up and tapped on the glass. Rather than being met with expressions of excited welcome, the girls’ faces turned serious. Heather lifted her cup, pointed to it, and mouthed some words to Emily who shook her head and pointed at her watchless wrist. Heather typed something into her phone and a moment later, Emily heard her phone beep from inside her purse. She took it out and looked. The screen showed the words ‘almost finished.’ Emily then did the same and typed ‘hurry up!’

I’ve always liked this passage. It was an attempt to poke fun at the way our communication has grown so impersonal. How we have forgotten how to talk to each other … across generations, across philosophical barriers, and just in general. We text each other through glass.

It seems the practice of genteel conversation has all but disappeared. This was surely exhibited in the recent U.S. election. Political choices aside, there was very little decorum shown by either side. And it wasn’t just the candidates. From major news personalities down to individuals posting on social media, there seemed to be only one way communication. How can it be otherwise when everyone is talking at once?

WELCOME TO FACEBOOK: Let’s all talk at once.

We’ve forgotten the other part of conversation—listening. It’s the nature of social media. Everything is outbound. And in the midst of the resulting cacophony, we’ve lost the art of listening and considering what’s been said. There’s no time to think things through anymore. We must respond now or our comments will be lost in the fray.

Hat’s off to the monk…

I recently finished reading The Sign of Jonas by the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. The book is a memoir about his first years of living a monastic life. One of the things I was struck by was his intense desire for silence—for contemplation. To listen.

Though Merton wrote many books in his short life, he was a reluctant writer. He often had to be pressed by his abbot to write—to gain support for the monastery. Merton simply wanted silence. I think as a result of his reluctance, and his silence, he was a better writer.

I realize we’re not all monks. And that we must function in this age of digital clamor. However, let us remember take time to put down our phones and step out from behind the glass. To handle a printed page. To speak to each other with our breath and to listen with our ears of flesh.

The Writer’s Dance

(The Maritime Bhangra Dance Group – click the image to open in new window)

I love this. The above dance performance was making the rounds on social media about a month or so ago. If you haven’t seen it already, please watch. Or, if you have, watch it again. It’s fun.

There was another video clip about dancing that came across my Facebook feed a couple of weeks ago, about a different kind of dance. It was something I really needed to hear. I wanted to share it then, but like many others, the election was weighing on me, and clarity of thought was in short supply. Perhaps now is an OK time.

This video, by Swedish videographer David Lindberg, gives visual context to the words of Alan Watts (d. 1973). I had only heard of Alan Watts, that is to say I knew the name. I recalled that he was a new age philosopher type in the 1960s.

(Alan Watts & David Lindberg – Why Your Life Is Not A Journey)

Lately, I’ve been seeing the world in very linear terms. I know that that can be a prison, stealing joy and creating bitterness and regret. I wrote about this once in another blog a started years ago—about the idea of “having arrived”—of striving to reach that elusive destination of “having it all together.”

With respect to writing, sometimes I feel (as I’m sure other writers do) an impatient rush to get to the end, to complete the final draft be done with it. It’s definitely a temptation. But what’s more important is the dance—the words you use and the story you’re trying to tell. The enjoyment of the creative process.

I recently learned that two most famous American writers, Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, were both as much enamored with the dance than they were the end product, perhaps even more so. They had no problem years later going back and revising their earlier works. Hemingway, decades after writing them, rewrote the memoirs of his life in Paris in the 1920s. Williams would change lines and even scenes in plays when they were in mid-production. So it’s OK to indulge in the thousand visions and revisions that T.S. Eliot spoke of. It’s not all about getting to the end.

Note to self: Enjoy the dance.

Relics from the Past


[Three reliquary busts from the Cloisters museum in New York City. These are each believed to have once held a skull of one of 11,000 handmaidens who were martyred with St. Ursula.]

In honor of the upcoming Dia de los Muertos holiday, I thought I’d write a bit about relics and the incorrupt bodies of saints — a macabre subject to some perhaps, but hey, it is that time of year.

Dictionary.com defines relics as, “the body, a part of the body, or some personal memorial of a saint, martyr, or other sacred person, preserved as worthy of veneration.” That’s pretty much my understanding as well. And then a reliquary is “a repository or receptacle for relics.”

As for the incorrupt bodies of saints, Wikipedia defines incorruptibility as “a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that divine intervention allows some human bodies (specifically saints and beati) to avoid the normal process of decomposition after death as a sign of their holiness. Bodies that undergo little or no decomposition, or delayed decomposition, are sometimes referred to as incorrupt or incorruptible.”

When I was young, the idea of venerating relics seemed superstitious. But events in my life over the years, witnessing death, and perhaps just aging itself, have caused me to have a more open mind. And I have even used the subject of relics and the idea of incorruptibility in my writing, deferring to the possibility and the mystery of such things.

[SPOILER ALERT!]

In my forthcoming novel, The Prophet of Shattuck Avenue, there is a scene where the body of the prophet Daniel is discovered in a tomb beneath the Syrian Desert…

The four of them all looked down on the body of a man. He was clothed in ornate robes and adorned with rings, bracelets, and necklaces. A gold band was placed around the top of his head like a crown. His hair was long and flowing. He had a scant beard. His skin was mummified but wasn’t emaciated like a museum mummy. His eyelids and lips were closed and he looked at peace.

“The preservation is amazing,” said Victoria.

She held the light to his face and studied it. She then noticed engraved writing around the inside rim of the sarcophagus.

“What is it?” asked her brother.

“It’s in Hebrew,” answered Victoria. “Here lies Daniel – God is my judge – the prophet. Most beloved of the angels. May they carry him to YAWEH in paradise.”

She looked up to the others and said, “Well, according to this, it’s him.”

They all stared at the body for a long moment, as if revering some dignitary, lying in state.

In the original version of the story – a screenplay entitled The Tomb of the Prophet – I spent a lot more time dwelling on the physical condition of the body. I also had people experiencing unexplainable emotional changes when they were near the body. However, this got to be a distraction that really didn’t fit with the main story, so I dropped it.

[END SPOILER]

The idea of a saint’s body being incorrupt is a little spurious, in my opinion. If you Google the words “incorrupt relics” and then click on images, you’ll see lots of photos of the long-dead bodies of saints. None of them look as though they are sleeping. Their skin is dehydrated, Their eye sockets are sunken … you the the drift. Many of the bodies have been covered with death masks made of wax (which, to me, seems a bit of a cheat.) Nevertheless, I find it fascinating.

I’ve only had one close encounter with relics myself. When I went to view the relics of St. John Maximovitch in San Francisco (also known as Saint John the Wonderworker). Saint John was a Russian Orthodox bishop who came to San Francisco as part of the Russian diaspora. He had a reputation for being a very wise and compassionate leader, often taking more populist stances on issues and shining light on hypocrisy. St. John died in 1966. In 1993, his body was exhumed and his relics were found incorrupt. He was made a saint in 1994.


[An Orthodox priest looking over the relics of St. John Maximovitch at at the Joy of All Who Sorrow Cathedral, San Francisco, CA.]

The experience of venerating St. John’s relics was odd. Being a product of small town American Protestantism, I wasn’t sure what to do. I stood and looked down into the case they had him in. I said a few familiar prayers. And then I waited. And in my silence, I felt moved. I felt a peace that I didn’t feel before. Here’s a poem I once wrote about the experience. Perhaps it best summarizes how I now feel about such things…

The big priest
Came and unlocked the door.

Walking in,
The darkness
And the stillness
And the light
Bathed me.

The heavy glass wall
Separated us
Like in an aquarium.

The big priest
Opened a second door.

I went in to view you
To see your bones.

You were in a place
Off to the right
In a small case of wood
Your vestments were clean, white, and gold
Ornamented with pearls and silver

Your shriveled hands were raised from your chest
As if from beyond death
You had one last thing to say
To me
Your visitor
A pilgrim towards eternity


For further reading:

On relics and incorrupt corpses…

  1. Relics and Reliquaries in Medieval Christianity
  2. The (Not Really So Very) Incorrupt Corpses

On saints mentioned…

  1. Saint Ursula and the 11,000 British Virgins
  2. St. John the Wonderworker of Shanghai and San Francisco

Inspiration from the Movies

[The late movie reviewers, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, back in their heyday, looking up at the big silver screen. They were the best.]

Truth be told, I’m not really the literary type. So it might seem a little strange that, as I slouch towards geezerdom, I decided to start writing novels.

The thing that is most fun for me about writing is not so much language or literary nuance, but the love of the story. In that sense, I like to think of myself as more of a storyteller than a writer. For that same reason, when it comes to genre, I’ve always enjoyed reading plays. In plays, stories are forced to keep moving and not allowed to wander down the dark corridors of introspection – even the heady stuff like Chekhov and O’Neil. They’re concrete. And when you see them acted, the characters are always doing something, even when they’re not. Even the actors standing upstage, the good ones anyway, are always doing SOMETHING … raising their eyebrows or fumbling with their cigarettes.

Likewise, I love the movies. In fact, it’s from movies, not books, that I’ve taken a great deal of the inspiration for my stories.

When I was in college, I loved going to see independent films. I liked seeing how creative directors were able to get the most out of their low budgets. This sentiment is reflected in the lines of one of my characters, Colonel Alves, when he says…

“I love old science fiction, horror, and fantasy films. Anything made before 1950 … before giant radioactive insects and men from Mars … before special effects and computers came along … when people had to use ingenuity and talent to make the illusions seem real.”

[John Sayles and David Strathairn – the original “men in black” from the 1984 independent film, The Brother from Another Planet. It’s one of my favorite examples of ingenious cheap special effects when the two alien bounty hunters, upon discovering a crucial clue, hold flashlights to their faces and begin screeching.]

When I graduated from college in the late 80s, I wanted to be a screenwriter. The idea of being able to create imaginary worlds and populate them with characters, and then have people – the audience – go along with me for the ride, seemed like the best of all possible ways to spend ones working life. Alas, it did not happen. I was not destined to be the next Kubrick or Altman. So it goes. But the imagery from the movies never left me. And I often borrow ideas from movies when I’m writing fiction.

What follows are some movie-inspired ideas that have shown up on my books…

La Belle et la Bête

In one scene in The Prophet of Shattuck Avenue (also with Colonel Alves) I mention the French Director Jean Cocteau and his 1946 masterpiece La Belle et la Bête (The Beauty and the Beast)

Hellmann slowly turned his face towards Alves. The movement of his head and eyes suddenly reminded Alves of one of the movie posters on his office wall — the French version of Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bête). Hellmann’s motions were eerily slow and surreal, like the enchanted statues in the beast’s château.

[Cocteau’s beast being watched by one of the château statues.]

Granted, it’s just someone in a costume. But the way Cocteau was able to create those preternatural movements – the eyes and the heads turning – with the technology of the 1940s is still quite amazing. When I think of the angels and demons in my stories moving, I always think of them that way. Not quite at ease in human form, their motions are different, not mechanical – much more elegant than that – just different.

Wings of Desire

Continuing with the subject of angels – a centerpiece in both of my books – there’s Wim Wenders 1987 film about the angel Damiel losing his wings for the love of a woman. I refer to this movie directly in Our Lady of West 74th Street in a conversation between the main character Emily and the angel Cassiel who, in this scene, is posing as a graduate student doing research…

“So we meet again,” said Cassiel, rising to greet her.

“Yes,” answered Emily with a cautious smile. “When you introduced yourself, I couldn’t help but take notice of your last name. I recognize it from the Kabbalah, am I right?”

“Very good. Yes, it appears there,” answered Cassiel, as they both sat.

“The watching angel,” added Emily.

Cassiel smiled. “Yes. He also appears in the German movie, ‘Wings of Desire.’ Ever see it?”

Cassiel recited:

“Als das Kind Kind war,
wußte es nicht, daß es Kind war,
alles war ihm beseelt,
und alle Seelen waren eins”

Then in English:

When the child was a child,
it didn’t know that it was a child,
everything was soulful,
and all souls were one

Emily raised her eyebrows. “Very good. I’m impressed. You know your foreign films.”

“It’s one of my favorites.”

“Yes, I’ve seen it. It’s very good,” said Emily. “Then there was that terrible American remake with Nicolas Cage. ‘City of Angels.'”

“Yes,” agreed Cassiel. “… except for the beach scene. The beach scene was somewhat accurate.”

“Accurate?” asked Emily.

“I mean believable,” said Cassiel.

The “beach scene” referred to by Cassiel is an interesting one. In the 1998 American remake of Wings of Desire (City of Angels) the angels gather each day at sunrise on the beach in Santa Monica. Here they listen to the song of the heavens. (Here’s a link to the scene, if you’re curious.)

In the German original, the gathering place is the main library in Berlin.

[The angels Cassiel (Otto Sander) and Damiel (Bruno Ganz) strolling through the library in Berlin in Wim Wenders’ 1987 Wings of Desire.]

My takeaway from the two scenes is the idea of angels having a gathering place. In Our Lady, the gathering place is the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park…

Kevin nodded but didn’t speak. Greta then asked, “So he just went on an afternoon walk to the park, and died?”

“According to the timing of things, that’s what it looks like,” answered Kevin. “He died right in front of Bethesda Fountain.”

Greta gave her brother a questioning look.

“It’s the one with the big angel in the middle,” said Kevin. “He once told me that he thought that fountain was a power center where angels gathered. That’s the place where he keeled over. By the time someone got to him, he was gone.”

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones only gets mentioned once, in passing, in The Prophet of Shattuck Avenue. In the following passage, Victoria has just returned from the Middle East and has a bad case of jet lag…

Victoria looked down at her empty cup. Despite the heavy dose of caffeine, she could feel herself starting to fade. She looked up at Maia, took a deep breath and let out a long breathy sigh. “Thanks for letting me share all this. I needed to talk to someone. Honestly, I don’t know what’s next. I’m supposed to meet with Senator Stamps later. As I said, archaeological discoveries notwithstanding, the place also has some strategic military importance that I’m not privy to. I think she wants to gather my impressions of it all.

“I don’t know. After all the subterfuge, I’m just looking forward to getting back to work and into the rhythm of things. I wasn’t cut out for the Indiana Jones crap.”

Even though the mention is brief, the “Indiana Jones crap” played an important part in both of my stories. I love the way, in both Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade, religious history is at the center of the plot. Each story focuses on an object – the lost ark and the holy grail. And each of those objects has the power to change both individuals and societies. That, to me, is quite intriguing.

Where I think I try to depart from Indiana Jones is to downgrade the swash buckler dynamic (neither of my main characters wield a whip) and focus more on how the two women in my stories are changed by what they encounter. Harrison Ford’s character is pretty much the same snarky fellow from beginning to end in each of his movies. I’d like to think that my characters progress and expand a bit more.

So there’s a scratch at how certain movies have whipped up my imagination. Like I said, it’s the story and the imagery of the movies that spark those moments of, “Yes! That’s it!” in ways that prose doesn’t do. At least for me. As Chauncey Gardiner (Peter Sellers’ character in Being There) puts it, “I like to watch.”

So … Until next week, the balcony is closed 🙂

The Death of the Lion Prophet

The Prelude to The Prophet of Shattuck Avenue includes a recounting of the death of the prophet Daniel. For those of you who are a little rusty on your Old Testament, Daniel was taken into slavery as a child when the Babylonians invaded Palestine in the sixth century B.C. Daniel’s captivity in Babylonia lasted around 70 years, under the authority of four different rulers: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus.

During his life, Daniel’s power as a prophet became renowned throughout the kingdom. Probably the best-known episode in Daniel’s life was how he survived the dreaded lions den. In the story, Daniel is thrown to a den of hungry lions after being accused of praying to the Hebrew God rather than to the king. Miraculously, Daniel survives when God sends an angel to shut the mouths of the lions.

[Daniel in the Lions Den by Briton Riviere]

When King Cyrus finally consented to let the Hebrews return to Judah, Daniel was too old for the journey so he remained in Babylonia for the remainder of his life. The death of Daniel occurred sometime near the end of the sixth century. According to the tradition, he died and was buried in Susa, a city located in what is now modern Iran, near its southwest border with Iraq.

There are various traditions about what happened to the body of Daniel. My character Victoria mentions a couple of these in Chapter 9…

“Susa is the traditional burial place for Daniel. There’s a shrine there and everything. But then there are other places that claim him as well. There’s also a tomb in Uzbekistan where they say the relics of his dead body continue to grow every year. But it’s all just folk tradition.”

[On the left, the tomb of Daniel in Uzbekistan; on the right, the tomb in Susa]

And since it is all “just folk tradition,” it is here that, as a writer, I find my open door.

In my version of the story, rather that remaining in Susa, the body of the prophet is moved in order to save it from Xerxes, the new king who has just come to power…

“Not long after Daniel’s death, the great Xerxes became king over Babylon. Xerxes did not know Daniel. Xerxes was also a proud and jealous king, believing that he himself was a god. When he learned of our wondrous tribute to Daniel, he became angry and determined to destroy it. However, his plans were discovered and a warning was sent to the faithful Hebrews living in Susa — the keepers of the tomb.

The decision was made to move the sarcophagus. They would take it west through Babylonia, then along the Old Silk Road route to Damascus, and from there to Jerusalem. They would return the prophet to his home.”

And what was this “Old Silk Road” exactly?

The Silk Road was a network of trade routes, which linked the eastern and western regions of the ancient world. The western portion of the road had its beginnings as the Persian Royal Road that ran from Susa to the Mediterranean Sea1. There was also an artery of the road that went west from the city Babylon to Damascus, skirting the northern border of the Syrian Desert. It’s here that the caravan transporting the body of the prophet gets lost in a terrible and fatal sandstorm.

As the Archangel Cassiel recounts…

“Several nights later a great sandstorm arose in the desert, obscuring the road and driving the caravan into the dark emptiness. When the winds subsided, they wandered, trying to find their way back, but it was no use. First their animals died. Then, thirsty and bleeding form the wounds inflicted by the sand, they themselves fell dead as well.
They left the sarcophagus, along with their journal, describing their journey. They also left a note to whoever should find the prophet’s body — that they be given wisdom in what to do.

Thus, the table is set for the novel to begin. As Cassiel goes on to say, “As is the nature of prophets, dead or alive, quiet is something that only lasts a season.”

Notes:

1. Joshua J. Mark, “Silk Road,” Ancient History Encyclopedia, last modified March 28, 2014, http://www.ancient.eu/Silk_Road/.

Flannery O’Connor and the Giant Jesus

On the left is “Prince of Peace” by artist Harry Anderson; on the right, Miss Flannery O’Connor

I wanted to say a word about Victoria Branham, the main character of my second novel The Prophet of Shattuck Avenue. Much of what drives the character of Victoria was influenced by the writing of Flannery O’Connor. As a nod to Miss O’Connor, I mention her in the book. At the beginning of Chapter 12, Victoria is having breakfast with her brother when the following exchange takes place…

Victoria drank the last of her coffee then set down the cup. “No, that’s the thing. Since my early adolescence the dreams have been few and far between. There was some resurgence of them when I was doing research for my book. You know, the one about speaking in tongues?”

Mark squinted a bit, then nodded. “I remember. Whatever possessed you to write about that stuff anyway?”

Victoria shrugged, “I don’t know. It was a way of working though some issues from the past. Plus I genuinely found it intriguing. I guess the whole Jesus thing is still hidden in my head like a stinger.”

Mark gave his sister a blank look, “hidden in your head like a stinger?”

“Flannery O’Connor.”

He continued to stare.

“You mean to tell me they let you through Georgetown without knowing who Flannery O’Connor is?”

“That was law school, Vicky. I wasn’t there to study Jesus or stingers.”

Victoria smiled and took a bite of toast. “Anyway, I think being around religious or emotional fervor triggers it … the dreams I mean.”

The reference to Flannery O’Connor comes from her novel Wise Blood where she writes…

His grandfather had been a circuit preacher, a waspish old man who had ridden over three counties with Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger.

What an unusual image … “Jesus hidden in his head like a stinger.” Like some sort of small foreign object lodged in to the back of the brain—controlling the thoughts and driving one on. Yet, I think anyone who has been involved in fundamentalism will understand.

A couple of pages later, through the mind of her character Hazel Motes, O’Connor expands on this caricature of Jesus…

He [Jesus] would chase him all over the waters of sin! …That boy had been redeemed and Jesus wasn’t going to leave him ever. Jesus would never let him forget he was redeemed. …Jesus would have him in the end.

…Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown.

Here, I envision Jesus growing into a giant figure, walking over oceans and across continents in pursuit of Hazel.

When I was a child, my grandparents had this picture of a giant Jesus knocking on the front of the United Nations building in New York City. That’s the figure I picture … stomping across Siberia and the Aleutian chain, through Canada and right down to Hazel’s train car as it rattles through the American south.

The imagination of the reader is indeed an interesting thing 🙂

In my new book, I try to employ some of O’Connor’s strategy to get across the idea of what she calls “the inescapable Jesus.” I once wrote a paper on O’Connor in graduate school that discusses this idea. It began like this…

In the stories of Flannery O’Connor there runs a thread of ambiguity towards fundamentalist Christianity, the salvation experience, and the grip that Holy Spirit has on the mind of the believer. While through her characters she seems to be mocking this hard dogmatic world, Miss O’Connor, at the same time, gives credence to the mystical penetration of God that goes deep into the soul of the faithful: a claim upon the heart that cannot be shaken or undone, regardless of how hard one may try to do so.

This is what I try to leverage in the character of Victoria—a well-educated woman who long ago broke with the beliefs of her rural Pentecostal upbringing, yet who can’t shake everything entirely. As I conclude in my essay…

There is an assent given in these [O’Connor’s] writings to there being a power in the beliefs of the Motes and the Tarwaters of the world. A power that is unshakable. A power that, like a fungus, only spreads when someone tries to stamp it out. A firebrand that sears the heart, leaving a scar that is as unchangeable as the soul itself.

A little heavy perhaps, but I was 28 at the time. Nevertheless, important to the story of Prophet of Shattuck Avenue is that tilled soil of Victoria’s past—a condition that leads her to reopen spiritual eyes that never really lost their sight but have only been closed for a season.


For further reading…

The Theology of Flannery O’Connor as Seen in Some of Her Characters by H. Steven Ackley

My aforementioned graduate school essay

Welcome to my blog!

My intent is to use this blog to discuss the things that have inspired my writing. I thought I’d start off by telling the story of how my first novel, Our Lady of West 74th Street (Our Lady) got started.

Some of the groundwork for the novel had been laid by previous writings. For example, those of you who’ve read Our Lady know that angels play a major part. In some of my earlier writing, I experimented with different ideas on angels. All that stuff about angelic appearance and behavior is the result of a long simmering pot (a pot that still simmers).

However, the main idea for the story came from a 60 Minutes episode from 2011. In the episode the late Bob Simon visited the monasteries of Mt. Athos in Greece. He interviewed a few of the monks and told of the history of the place.

Having been a practicing Orthodox Christian for nearly ten years, I knew of Mt. Athos and was highly intrigued by Simon’s piece. One part in particular was very interesting … about the Nazis sending an advance team to Athos to investigate and catalog its religious treasures. Watching the episode, I thought to myself, “There’s a good story in there.”

Here’s the 60 Minutes clip, starting at the key point…

(Click on image to play.)

This odd chapter about Athos and the Nazis gave birth to the character of Klaus Bronner, a fictional member of the team sent to Athos by Hitler.

At the beginning of Our Lady, Klaus writes in a letter…

“By 1941, German forces had occupied Greece. Hitler had a keen interest in art, particularly religious art. A team was assembled to go to monasteries on the Athos peninsula in Greece to survey and catalog works of art for the purpose of bringing them back to Germany. Professor Dölger and I, as his assistant, were part of that team.”

Klaus’s visit to Athos sets the plot of Our Lady in motion. As Klaus himself writes of the trip, “Events would occur that would alter my life.”