Robert Langdon had little doubt that the chaos and hysteria coursing through St. Peter’s Square at this very instant exceeded anything Vatican Hill had ever witnessed. No battle, no crucifixion, no pilgrimage, no mystical vision . . . nothing in the shrine’s 2,000‑year history could possibly match the scope and drama of this very moment.
As the tragedy unfolded, Langdon felt oddly separate, as if hovering there beside Vittoria at the top of the stairs. The action seemed to distend, as if in a time warp, all the insanity slowing to a crawl . . .
The branded camerlegno . . . raving for the world to see . . .
The Illuminati Diamond . . . unveiled in its diabolical genius . . .
The countdown clock registering the final twenty minutes of Vatican history . . .
The drama, however, had only just begun.
The camerlegno, as if in some sort of post‑traumatic trance, seemed suddenly puissant, possessed by demons. He began babbling, whispering to unseen spirits, looking up at the sky and raising his arms to God.
“Speak!” the camerlegno yelled to the heavens. “Yes, I hear you!”
In that moment, Langdon understood. His heart dropped like a rock.
Vittoria apparently understood too. She went white. “He’s in shock,” she said. “He’s hallucinating. He thinks he’s talking to God!”
Somebody’s got to stop this, Langdon thought. It was a wretched and embarrassing end. Get this man to a hospital!
Below them on the stairs, Chinita Macri was poised and filming, apparently having located her ideal vantage point. The images she filmed appeared instantly across the square behind her on media screens . . . like endless drive‑in movies all playing the same grisly tragedy.
The whole scene felt epic. The camerlegno, in his torn cassock, with the scorched brand on his chest, looked like some sort of battered champion who had overcome the rings of hell for this one moment of revelation. He bellowed to the heavens.
“Ti sento, Dio! I hear you, God!”
Chartrand backed off, a look of awe on his face.
The hush that fell across the crowd was instant and absolute. For a moment it was as if the silence had fallen across the entire planet . . . everyone in front of their TVs rigid, a communal holding of breath.
The camerlegno stood on the stairs, before the world, and held out his arms. He looked almost Christlike, bare and wounded before the world. He raised his arms to the heavens and, looking up, exclaimed, “Grazie! Grazie, Dio!”
The silence of the masses never broke.
“Grazie, Dio! “the camerlegno cried out again. Like the sun breaking through a stormy sky, a look of joy spread across his face. “Grazie, Dio! “
Thank you, God? Langdon stared in wonder.
The camerlegno was radiant now, his eerie transformation complete. He looked up at the sky, still nodding furiously. He shouted to the heavens, “Upon this rock I will build my church!”
Langdon knew the words, but he had no idea why the camerlegno could possibly be shouting them.
The camerlegno turned back to the crowd and bellowed again into the night. “Upon this rock I will build my church!” Then he raised his hands to the sky and laughed out loud. “Grazie, Dio! Grazie! “
The man had clearly gone mad.
The world watched, spellbound.
The culmination, however, was something no one expected.
With a final joyous exultation, the camerlegno turned and dashed back into St. Peter’s Basilica.