“If Adam was punished for wishing to resemble God, how do men come to have God inside them without being punished, and even when they do not wish to receive Him they go unpunished, for to have and not to wish to have God inside oneself amounts to the same absurdity, and the same impossible situation, yet the words Et ego in illo imply that God is inside me, how did I come to find myself in thus labyrinth of yes and no, of no that means yes, of yes that means no, opposed affinities allied contradictions, how shall I pass safely over the edge of the razor, well, summing up, before Christ became man, God was outside man and could not reside in him, then, through the Blessed Sacrament, He came to be inside man, so man is virtually God, or will ultimately become God, yes, of course, if God resides in me, I am God, I am God not in triune or quadruple, but one, one with God, He is I, I am He, Durus est hic sermo, et quis potest eum audire.”
In “Baltasar and Blimunda” by José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (translator)
(“ […] Se a Adão por querer assemelhar-se a Deus, como têm agora os homens a Deus dentro de si e não são castigados, ou o não querem receber e castigados não são, que ter e não querer ter Deus dentro de si é o mesmo absurdo, a mesma impossibilidade, e contudo Et ego in illo, Deus está em mim, ou em mim não está Deus, como poderei achar-me nesta floresta de sim e não, de não que é sim, do sim que é não, afinidades contrárias, contrariedades afins como atravessarei salvo sobre o fio da navalha, ora, resumindo agora, antes de Cristo se ter feito homem, Deus estava fora do homem e não podia estar nele, depois, pelo Sacramento, passou a estar nele, assim o homem é quase Deus, ou será afinal o próprio Deus, sim, sim, se em mim está Deus, eu sou Deus, sou-o de modo não trino ou quádruplo, mas uno, uno com Deus, Deus nós, ele eu, eu ele, Durus est hic sermo, et quis potest eum audire.”
In “Memorial do Convento” by José Saramago
Arriving in Mafra, let us imagine ourselves as part of the crowd that, on October 22, 1730, attended the consecration of the convent. Impossible not to be impressed by this façade more than 230 meters in length. To the centre, the basilica with its dome and bell towers, and on each side the imposing turrets. The portico columns clearly showed the neoclassical influence, complemented by several sculptures in the same style. Saramago tells us that 40,000 workers worked night and day so that the Basilica could be finished on D. João V's birthday. Three centuries later, this Portuguese National Monument gave way to the atmosphere of the sacred places: a row of chapels, a high altar with an altarpiece of an Italian master and a magnificent crucifix four meters high. Of course little Manuel had no idea who Saramago was. "Do you think this an ugly or beautiful King?" Mafra's convent guide asked little Manuel, as the group passed by his portrait in one of the rooms. The little visitor's response was peremptory: "It's ugly!" “Very fat, it appears that the King ‘even brought chicken legs to the opera,’” the cicerone whispered to little Manuel. But it was this monarch that clothed the Palace with the most valuable furnishings and other artistic treasures such as tapestries and paintings by renowned artists of the time. During his exile in Brazil, he also took with him a large part of these works. The guide also told little Manuel that the massive silver bathtub commissioned from England by King John V was also missing, although he did not bathe very often. At the time, the idea was that the maladies of the body entered through the pores of the skin. Therefore, the more they were covered by accumulated dirt, the fewer diseases they picked up. For this, the "sangrias" (bleeding) were used a lot at the time; little Manuel also saw in the Infirmary and in the Botica objects to remove blood, male sweepers and syringes with large centimeters in size and width, attached to the nucleus of Sacred Art (also visited). Without stopping, the guide still had time to mention in passing, about the time of greater decorative magnificence of the Convent, that the building "was perhaps one of the first in the country to have a mechanical elevator" and that Queen Maria Pia (regent who almost indebted the Portuguese crown with her whims) demanded that her piano not be transported by a normal joint of oxen, but rather by the effort of "eight men of confidence", who brought it along on the their shoulders to Mafra, traveling about 40 kilometers. Thomaz de Mello Breyner (1866-1933) was the 4th Count of Mafra and doctor of D. Carlos I. When he was a child, at the end of a vacation before returning to Lisbon, he left an inscription on the walls of one of the corridors of Church that visitors can still observe today. What this inscription has of special relevance is that the author is the grandfather of the poetess Sophia de Mello Breyner and great-grandfather of Miguel Sousa Tavares. Ludicrous was also the way King D. Carlos hunted pigeons on the terrace: he ordered torches to be put in the chimneys' respirators, where those birds nested, and these, frightened by the smoke, fled. The monarch, comfortably seated, shot at them. It is said that "only 43 pigeons were caught at a time, suspecting that many others had fallen around the neighborhood," says the guide with her eyes gleaming with gusto… It was also the pigeons that motivated the Convent's greatest myth: the existence of murderous rats. A soldier from the Infantry Prison School (who had been in the building for nearly 100 years as the story goes), when he was on the terrace hunting pigeons with a colleague, fell off from eight stories high, directly into the sewer canals. The colleague did not immediately report the accident to his superiors so as not to be punished, and a few weeks later the body was found chewed on by the rats. Obviously he was not attacked by rats; died yes, of the dizzying fall. But the story went beyond the borders of the village and recently a laboratory talked about the possibility of delimiting the area for reasons of public health. There are even schools in various parts of the country that still call the Palace to ask whether students can visit the Palace safely without being bitten. "I am living proof that the rats do not harm anyone. I visited the sewage canals and the rats ran away from the slightest presence of light," said the guide rubbing her hands together with a malevolus look towards little Manuel. It’s also true that even bats fly through the endless Library of the Convent of Mafra. Although the eighteenth-century paper of the nearly 38,000 existing volumes is of high quality, these small rodents of the night help preserve the books of small insects that are harmful to the maintenance of the huge tomes. Amazed, little Manuel could even see one of these small animals, dead, in the hands of the guide when they went through the library, through many reading-rooms and the scientific study rooms. Also a must-see, for a complete script of the book's action, are the Throne Room, the Hunting Room, the Music Room or the Royal Rooms. Saramago tells us of the cold meetings between the king and his wife, twice a week, in which he made the 200 meters that separated his rooms in the North Tower from the South Tower (the rooms of D. Maria). Of course little Manuel was not told of the King’s perambulations by the guide.
(my own copy of the Portuguese edition)
Coda - In 2010 I wrote this:
The body of José Saramago was cremated this Sunday in Lisbon next to an edition of the "Memorial of the Convent", one of his fundamental works and thanks to which he met his wife, Pilar del Río. The work was placed next to the coffin by Eduardo Lourenço, contemporary of Saramago and considered one of the most outstanding Portuguese intellectuals of the twentieth century. Lourenço handed over the book, with tears in his eyes, to Pilar del Rio and wrote some words that nobody was able to read, since it was deposited and closed next to the coffin in Lisbon’s City Hall.