by Sue Hubbard
It’s Easter and the museum is empty. Nothing but relics
and saints’ bones – a thumb, a foreskin – it’s impossible to tell,
in their ornate reliquaries, what things are – and holy of holies,
a sacred nail. There’s also a gilded gospel from Constantinople
enamelled in cobalt blue. Tiny Byzantine figures: cobblers,
farriers, bakers and monks stuck forever In the 11th century.
Once this maze of crypts housed weary pilgrims and the sick.
Wet nurses suckled abandoned infants for a fee.
Sorore, the shoemaker-founder, so my guidebook tells me,
died back in 898. Being here, certainly, gives you time
to contemplate the brevity of it all. To wonder where
this strip of cloth, a fragment of the Virgin’s belt, has been
these many years, and whether all truth contains
a contradiction – so even though I know there’s
no heaven, if I stand here long enough,
I’ll, maybe, learn the art of prayer.