For several minutes nurse Hoffman stood still, just standing rigidly on those aged and well-scrubbed church wooden floorboards. That certainly must have been previously assaulted by thousands of the boots of past town worshippers over the centuries.
Now she was simply terrified, feeling so alone and wretched and waiting for that frightening apparition to glide once again with menace towards her.
But then with desperation, she somehow quickly turned herself around and pulled open that heavy door with her failing strength. And it suddenly, miraculously opened and she was finally outside at last in the fresh pine-scented air. The relief that finally she was now free was so overwhelming that she fainted sliding quietly into a gentle heap onto the pavement.
That distressing experience had never deserted her. And after many years later she was still tormented by bizarre nightly dreams and terrible visions that would frequently reappear from her subconscious and now today in this cathedral and being confined within its high foreboding walls.
She really had to try and get the memory out of her mind and simply get on with her life if indeed possible.
They were now both here apparently on an important Party mission. And on the personal request of Reichfuhrer Himmler himself no less. Karen had earlier whispered this unexpected news to her with a rather wicked smile around her hand-covered mouth.
Karen meanwhile was amazed (and obviously unaware of the nurse’s discomfort of all closed spaces) at just how high the decorated ceiling ascended almost into infinity it seemed. And the girth of the stone columns that supported the leaded roof was just as awesome.
And the great bells couldn’t be ignored either by the power they both projected over the town and of course the stretching beautiful countryside.
They both were then aware surprisingly of how many other visitors arriving at the church who now just wandered around the naves and cloistered crypts rather freely it seemed. With most being unescorted by the willing verger.
Karen had originally and wrongly thought and hoped the building would be empty. She now noticed among the assorted visitors viewing its gothic features, were surprisingly several women, slowly pushing perambulators.
She wondered how these women had managed to navigate such awkward vehicles up the high stone-chipped steps of the cathedral. And with great difficulty, if unaided, she thought.
Perhaps, she wondered, if these women were of an orthodox outlook in their personal faith. And wanting to buttress it even more here today in the cathedral by prayer and meditation?
Or that simply they just wished to leave a sunny day behind them to then walk freely around this cool rather sombre building. There also to see the depiction of female Catholicism and Judaism as depicted by some of the grey stone statues that Karen noticed.
An occasional artist herself when time permitted, the rich details of the classical depiction of a beautiful almost flawless young woman placed on a statue, clad in a fine jewelled dress and fixed stars above her head caught her roving eye. Yet the same artist’s grotesque presentation of a Jewess in another depiction elsewhere, has her portrayed as being a blindfolded hag for some reason. And barely clothed, in a rough plain shift dress and holding high a raised book of perhaps the Torah. And covering, well just about, she thought, an aged almost emaciated wrinkled body and a toothless grin or perhaps a sneer from the canvas at any of the visitors who would then quickly pass by.
Karen then noticed as indeed did nurse Hoffman with trepidation that famed, familiar portrait of the famous depiction of Saint George. The usual depiction of him slaying that well-known mythical dragon of old. Displayed now for some reason in the darkened cobwebbed east chancel of the building.
A life-sized metal sculpture also of a lone young handsome male bare-headed figure was placed proudly also on horseback near St. George and popularly known to most of the locals as the “Bamberg rider.”
This person certainly caught Karen’s attention. Simply because this young man seated in his saddle, seemed somehow to greet the gawping visitors from his high position on a fixed plinth with a rather bemused, patronising smile directed at all onlookers. Or perhaps thought Karen, was he just gazing maybe far into the distance looking for any future dangerous military invaders that might arrive at the undefended Bamberg gates? Perhaps sometime soon to arrive and demolish his beloved city or starve its citizens to a slow torturous death.
Later both women stood respectively before the front of an imposing, large, white marble sarcophagus dedicated to a dead monarch.
This masterpiece had taken fourteen long years of toil to be finished by the commissioned sculpture Karen had informed the nurse from her handy guidebook.
“What took him so long?” asked the nurse with amusement, adding: “And more importantly did he get paid?” A sly reference of course to Michelangelo and his ongoing financial feud with Pope Julius over the cost of finishing the Sistine Chapel.
They both laughed.
‘This magnificent shrine [Karen read] was proudly erected in always loving memory of King Heinrich II and his beloved wife Queen Cunigunde.’
The tomb, Karen noticed, had many fine delicate carved detailed reliefs, that cleverly depicted many royal pageants from their privileged and pampered life as Bamberg regents.
Both Karen and the nurse had earlier noticed the statue of this same queen outside placed on a bridge. But neither knew who she was or who or what she represented. Being seen by them both on their way into the cathedral where she still stands placed today upon the bridge wearing her gold crown in all its glory and looking so serene and content.
Somehow she seemed to be hopefully watching over her beloved town and its loyal people. Two faithful and much loved dogs it seems had been fashioned perhaps, later by the same artist and both were lovingly placed at the feet of the prostrate couple now in the church nave.
This was a very moving gesture thought Karen as she then thought of her own dear pets at home safely in Munich she hoped. And missing them as only a true animal lover can understand. And especially her dear dog Gus a great dane with such a voracious appetite.
She later read that this privileged couple were sadly childless. Then perhaps she speculated those probably spoilt pet dogs somehow replaced those children they had never been blessed with to raise and love.
Some cloisters now depicted aged oil cracked portraits of Old and New Testament images Karen suspected that could also just about be viewed in darkened crevices. And could also be very easily missed by any interested onlooker with their purchased guidebook.
But Karen had certainly come today with a private mission to locate if possible, the tomb of the German pope Clement II who may have been poisoned. She later surprisingly learned from an amused Heinrich at their home in Munich one Christmas morning some years earlier.
When the tomb was quickly located (there are now some doubts I believe that Karen had actually placed the pendant onto the wrong tomb by mistake) both women stood stiffly than before the stone sculpture of the pontiff clothed in his fine silk robes and his strange fish embroidered shaped mitre in honour of Dagon the despicable fish god.
And she then quietly decided where and how the swastika pendant should be placed and without being seen before they left or were noticed.
As nurse Hoffman keenly watched, Karen eagerly perform her designated requested task with glee, for Reichfuhrer Himmler and at his personal bidding it seemed. The nurse wondered why?
But as a newly signed up and still excited party member herself she felt she ought to try and make an early favourable impression. And placed herself next to Karen her head held high. And she realised of course, who better than Frau Karen Kyper, an important crucial member of the Hitler Goering/Himmler inner circle. And to gain personal insight herself if possible into how the party functioned from the top echelon down to the lowest party member such as herself.
Karen had decided to somehow secure the small flag under the king’s left shoulder if possible.
They then both prepared themselves and then waited for the right moment to act.
Then she looked around and saw no one near them. Karen and the nurse quickly walked behind the knotted rope barrier and Karen swiftly fitted the pendant securely into the crease under the naked shoulder of the stone image.
And it fitted perfectly and she was delighted. She stepped back and looked around and still no enquiring eyes were pointed in her direction. And she felt now very proud of herself in what she had performed for the party and herself of course.
Then both women offered a brief half-party salute then quickly walked out of the building. Both laughed with concealed excitement of what had been achieved.
An ominous sacristy bell sounded somewhere behind the high altar. But of that little welcoming verger, he was now nowhere to be seen.
Although nurse Hoffman was used to the hospital ward aromas she had worked with in the past, the smells that assaulted her nostrils now were of stale incense followed by the heated votive candles mixed with the numerous unpleasant body odours that lingered over all else in the air.
All were now almost causing her to retch. And it seemed that the terrible memory of being trapped in that church of her childhood had now easily escaped from the vaults of her recollections. She shivered at its memory.
“Are you feeling alright nurse?” asked a concerned Karen, noticing the woman’s ashen pallor and seeming unsteadiness on her feet.
“Yes I’ll be fine I expect. I just want to get out of this confined stuffy building perhaps?” she replied softly not wanting to cause any fuss.
“Oh let’s go anyway I think we’ve both seen enough and we accomplished what we came for didn’t we?” Karen quickly replied with a mischievous smile.
And she then for some reason linked her own arm through the nurse’s arm and steered both of them towards the main entrance.
The old verger was now on duty when they finally departed. But they had paused, but only briefly to examine an old cracked mural they assumed of an artist’s exaggerated imagination of how Adam and Eve should be portrayed artistically. But many of the fine details were lost in time or could not be viewed due to some exterior water damage.
And now the old man kindly hoped they had enjoyed their brief visit as he got to his feet. Then added almost as if by rote and with a low bow adding: “And do please come again, dear ladies.”
They both thanked him very briefly and then silently departed.
Karen again noticed again, those difficult steep steps as they both walked out into the bustling town.
She pondered at the fact that they would certainly hinder any future wheelchair access or baby prams of any size being admitted into the imposing cathedral.
Maybe that was the idea all along she mused rather cynically. Ordered from the fussy and all-obvious male resident church-dominated hierarchy.
To be continued….