Nearly asphyxiated by fumes, Langdon struggled up the ladder toward the light at the top of the pit. Above him he heard voices, but nothing was making sense. His head was spinning with images of the branded cardinal.
Earth . . . Earth . . .
As he pushed upward, his vision narrowed and he feared consciousness would slip away. Two rungs from the top, his balance faltered. He lunged upward trying to find the lip, but it was too far. He lost his grip on the ladder and almost tumbled backward into the dark. There was a sharp pain under his arms, and suddenly Langdon was airborne, legs swinging wildly out over the chasm.
The strong hands of two Swiss Guards hooked him under the armpits and dragged him skyward. A moment later Langdon’s head emerged from the Demon’s hole, choking and gasping for air. The guards dragged him over the lip of the opening, across the floor, and lay him down, back against the cold marble floor.
For a moment, Langdon was unsure where he was. Overhead he saw stars . . . orbiting planets. Hazy figures raced past him. People were shouting. He tried to sit up. He was lying at the base of a stone pyramid. The familiar bite of an angry tongue echoed inside the chapel, and then Langdon knew.
Olivetti was screaming at Vittoria. “Why the hell didn’t you figure that out in the first place!”
Vittoria was trying to explain the situation.
Olivetti cut her off midsentence and turned to bark orders to his men. “Get that body out of there! Search the rest of the building!”
Langdon tried to sit up. The Chigi Chapel was packed with Swiss Guards. The plastic curtain over the chapel opening had been torn off the entryway, and fresh air filled Langdon’s lungs. As his senses slowly returned, Langdon saw Vittoria coming toward him. She knelt down, her face like an angel.
“You okay?” Vittoria took his arm and felt his pulse. Her hands were tender on his skin.
“Thanks.” Langdon sat up fully. “Olivetti’s mad.”
Vittoria nodded. “He has a right to be. We blew it.”
“You mean I blew it.”
“So redeem yourself. Get him next time.”
Next time? Langdon thought it was a cruel comment. There is no next time! We missed our shot!
Vittoria checked Langdon’s watch. “Mickey says we’ve got forty minutes. Get your head together and help me find the next marker.”
“I told you, Vittoria, the sculptures are gone. The Path of Illumination is—” Langdon halted.
Vittoria smiled softly.
Suddenly Langdon was staggering to his feet. He turned dizzying circles, staring at the artwork around him. Pyramids, stars, planets, ellipses. Suddenly everything came back. This is the first altar of science! Not the Pantheon! It dawned on him now how perfectly Illuminati the chapel was, far more subtle and selective than the world famous Pantheon. The Chigi was an out of the way alcove, a literal hole‑in‑the‑wall, a tribute to a great patron of science, decorated with earthly symbology. Perfect.
Langdon steadied himself against the wall and gazed up at the enormous pyramid sculptures. Vittoria was dead right. If this chapel was the first altar of science, it might still contain the Illuminati sculpture that served as the first marker. Langdon felt an electrifying rush of hope to realize there was still a chance. If the marker were indeed here, and they could follow it to the next altar of science, they might have another chance to catch the killer.
Vittoria moved closer. “I found out who the unknown Illuminati sculptor was.”
Langdon’s head whipped around. “You what ?”
“Now we just need to figure out which sculpture in here is the—”
“Wait a minute! You know who the Illuminati sculptor was?” He had spent years trying to find that information.
Vittoria smiled. “It was Bernini.” She paused. “The Bernini.”
Langdon immediately knew she was mistaken. Bernini was an impossibility. Gianlorenzo Bernini was the second most famous sculptor of all time, his fame eclipsed only by Michelangelo himself. During the 1600s Bernini created more sculptures than any other artist. Unfortunately, the man they were looking for was supposedly an unknown, a nobody.
Vittoria frowned. “You don’t look excited.”
“Bernini is impossible.”
“Why? Bernini was a contemporary of Galileo. He was a brilliant sculptor.”
“He was a very famous man and a Catholic.”
“Yes,” Vittoria said. “Exactly like Galileo.”
“No,” Langdon argued. “Nothing like Galileo. Galileo was a thorn in the Vatican’s side. Bernini was the Vatican’s wonder boy. The church loved Bernini. He was elected the Vatican’s overall artistic authority. He practically lived inside Vatican City his entire life!”
“A perfect cover. Illuminati infiltration.”
Langdon felt flustered. “Vittoria, the Illuminati members referred to their secret artist as il maestro ignoto —the unknown master.”
“Yes, unknown to them. Think of the secrecy of the Masons—only the upper‑echelon members knew the whole truth. Galileo could have kept Bernini’s true identity secret from most members . . . for Bernini’s own safety. That way, the Vatican would never find out.”
Langdon was unconvinced but had to admit Vittoria’s logic made strange sense. The Illuminati were famous for keeping secret information compartmentalized, only revealing the truth to upper‑level members. It was the cornerstone of their ability to stay secret . . . very few knew the whole story.
“And Bernini’s affiliation with the Illuminati,” Vittoria added with a smile, “explains why he designed those two pyramids.”
Langdon turned to the huge sculpted pyramids and shook his head. “Bernini was a religious sculptor. There’s no way he carved those pyramids.”
Vittoria shrugged. “Tell that to the sign behind you.”
Langdon turned to the plaque:
ART OF THE CHIGI CHAPEL
While the architecture is Raphael’s, all interior adornments are those of Gianlorenzo Bernini.
Langdon read the plaque twice, and still he was not convinced. Gianlorenzo Bernini was celebrated for his intricate, holy sculptures of the Virgin Mary, angels, prophets, Popes. What was he doing carving pyramids ?
Langdon looked up at the towering monuments and felt totally disoriented. Two pyramids, each with a shining, elliptical medallion. They were about as un‑Christian as sculpture could get. The pyramids, the stars above, the signs of the Zodiac. All interior adornments are those of Gianlorenzo Bernini. If that were true, Langdon realized, it meant Vittoria had to be right. By default, Bernini was the Illuminati’s unknown master; nobody else had contributed artwork to this chapel! The implications came almost too fast for Langdon to process.
Bernini was an Illuminatus.
Bernini designed the Illuminati ambigrams.
Bernini laid out the path of Illumination.
Langdon could barely speak. Could it be that here in this tiny Chigi Chapel, the world‑renowned Bernini had placed a sculpture that pointed across Rome toward the next altar of science?
“Bernini,” he said. “I never would have guessed.”
“Who other than a famous Vatican artist would have had the clout to put his artwork in specific Catholic chapels around Rome and create the Path of Illumination? Certainly not an unknown.”
Langdon considered it. He looked at the pyramids, wondering if one of them could somehow be the marker. Maybe both of them? “The pyramids face opposite directions,” Langdon said, not sure what to make of them. “They are also identical, so I don’t know which . . .”
“I don’t think the pyramids are what we’re looking for.”
“But they’re the only sculptures here.”
Vittoria cut him off by pointing toward Olivetti and some of his guards who were gathered near the demon’s hole.
Langdon followed the line of her hand to the far wall. At first he saw nothing. Then someone moved and he caught a glimpse. White marble. An arm. A torso. And then a sculpted face. Partially hidden in its niche. Two life‑size human figures intertwined. Langdon’s pulse accelerated. He had been so taken with the pyramids and demon’s hole, he had not even seen this sculpture. He moved across the room, through the crowd. As he drew near, Langdon recognized the work was pure Bernini—the intensity of the artistic composition, the intricate faces and flowing clothing, all from the purest white marble Vatican money could buy. It was not until he was almost directly in front of it that Langdon recognized the sculpture itself. He stared up at the two faces and gasped.
“Who are they?” Vittoria urged, arriving behind him.
Langdon stood astonished. “Habakkuk and the Angel,” he said, his voice almost inaudible. The piece was a fairly well‑known Bernini work that was included in some art history texts. Langdon had forgotten it was here.
“Yes. The prophet who predicted the annihilation of the earth.”
Vittoria looked uneasy. “You think this is the marker?”
Langdon nodded in amazement. Never in his life had he been so sure of anything. This was the first Illuminati marker. No doubt. Although Langdon had fully expected the sculpture to somehow “point” to the next altar of science, he did not expect it to be literal. Both the angel and Habakkuk had their arms outstretched and were pointing into the distance.
Langdon found himself suddenly smiling. “Not too subtle, is it?”
Vittoria looked excited but confused. “I see them pointing, but they are contradicting each other. The angel is pointing one way, and the prophet the other.”
Langdon chuckled. It was true. Although both figures were pointing into the distance, they were pointing in totally opposite directions. Langdon, however, had already solved that problem. With a burst of energy he headed for the door.
“Where are you going?” Vittoria called.
“Outside the building!” Langdon’s legs felt light again as he ran toward the door. “I need to see what direction that sculpture is pointing!”
“Wait! How do you know which finger to follow?”
“The poem,” he called over his shoulder. “The last line!”
“‘Let angels guide you on your lofty quest?’ “She gazed upward at the outstretched finger of the angel. Her eyes misted unexpectedly. “Well I’ll be damned!”