two falcons with gold rings

30. Your Constant and True Friend — Caterina

5 April, 1287

My Dearest Sister Maria Grazia,

This parchment cannot hold all that I need share with you of my change of fortunes. Life is a long dark tunnel which we are obliged to travel not knowing when a bend in the path shall reveal a warmly lit room or a dangerous drop. We proceed unaided by the light of a taper, our fingers feel their way across the uneven wall, guiding us toward our fate unable to affect the outcome. My life has taken a turn and I await to discover if it will result in warm comfort or a cold solitude.

My father has come with his carriage to fetch me and bring me home—forever. He says that I will never return to the Abbey for I am

to be wed.

Those words, “to be wed” hang in the air filling the room. I cannot breathe.

Instead of bringing joy to my heart, my father’s pronouncement strikes fear. My head is filled with the unknowns–who my husband is? What will be my life as a Lady of a household? The one truth of which I am sure is that I shall not see you to say a proper farewell, and perhaps we shall never meet again. That truth tears my heart and makes what might have been my joyful liberation from this prison of God a march to the gallows.

I sit at the window penning you this note by the light that shines into our shared cell. It warms my face as I write. The birdsong outside, normally cacophonous and distasteful to me, is so sweet in my ears this day for it reminds me of the hundreds of mornings we have awoken in this room together. I see Suora Benedetta’s garden, your garden as well, and smelling the sweet perfume of flower blossoms I can think of naught but you. I spy our tree. Spring green leaves covering its gnarled grey fingers, buds that will yield fruit punctuate the leaves. I shan’t taste its sweet fruit again. I can almost make out our initials boldly cut into its flesh not a month hence.

Your absence these past weeks has been an affliction. I have prayed for your swift return to the Abbey and to me more than I have ever prayed for anything. But God never answers my prayers, he knows my wicked soul too well. He knows that I do not say my rosary, and that I would sooner sleep than rise for Lauds. Rather than answer my prayers he has done me a turn. In a show of his omnipotence, he answers my prayers for reunion with permanent separation!

Maria Grazia, I know you would tell me that I must have faith. But faith is what I lack. You gave me faith, your steadfastness and calm. How will I go on without you, dear sister?

My father has told me nothing about my soon to be lord or my new life. He says we will have time to discuss the details on the ride home to Lucca. We are departing as soon as I can pack my belongings. At least my time embroidering at the Abbey is not to waste, I have linens to cover all the beds of a veritable palace! One joy I can look forward to while at my lord father’s in Lucca, is that I shall be reunited with my sisters. I long to speak with Agneta of all that has come to pass since my father rewed. And also I will arrange my trousseau! I shall enjoy filling the cassone with new gowns, and other household objects as my father will permit me. But it will all be too brief for I am to be with my family but for a fortnight, and then leave to meet my new lord and be made his wife.

And so I must end this letter. In what should be my hour of victory, my relief at being released from my imprisonment here, is weak as Winter sunlight—all the illumination with none of the heat.

I depart now, Maria Grazia. All I have to leave you, after all this time, is this note and my undying love.

Dear sister, I must try to believe we will meet again or else I will not be able to go on.

Please write me.

Your constant and true friend,


Abbey of Santa Giulia, Brescia



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