Catholic Tastes by Peter Davidson

Peter Davidson

Catholic Tastes

 

It is when you notice the pictures hung above the bookcases that you begin to realise that things are not as they appear.

It had seemed such an uncomplicatedly English place: a wonderful long library with scuffed Victorian linoleum on the floor and soaring bookcases with busts ranged along them; all down the left-hand wall, tall windows with gritstone mullions overlooking a stone quadrangle; a doorway at the far end showing light beyond and sports fields under a rainy sky. But if you look up, you see that the row of portraits hanging near the ceiling do not show periwigged benefactors or alumni: they depict the monarchs of the Incas, beginning with Manco Cápac and Mama Ocllo, who bear the sun and moon in their hands. The impression of an alternative England, a Renaissance England in correspondence with a bewilderingly wide world, grows stronger when you become aware of the Baroque saints whose pictures hang between the mullioned windows, and of the medals and reliquaries displayed on the obelisk near the library door.

If you turn back the linen covers from the glass cases ranged down the middle of the room, this sense of a lost, alternative past increases.

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