Today in the Real Time Reading of Shadow of Night, it’s time to descend into the crypt and meet Father Hubbard. I hope your New Year’s Eve plans are better than Matthew and Diana’s…
“She’s taken over one of the castle’s towers and painted the walls with images of the philosopher’s stone. It’s like working inside a Ripley scroll! I’ve seen the Beinecke’s copy at Yale, but it’s only twenty feet long. Mary’s murals are twice as big. It made it hard to focus on the work.”
In the Real-Time Reading Companion, Deb shares some personal photographs of the Ripley scrolls from the Yale copy Diana mentions in the text. George Ripley was a renowned alchemist whose poetry adorns the “Ripley scrolls,” a series of illustrated manuscripts showing the stages of creation of the philosopher’s stone. There is no evidence that Ripley actually created the scrolls; the 15th century original attributed to him has been lost.
I had planned to include photos from one of the scrolls, but Google beat me at my own game. I highly recommend the Google tour of the British Library’s Ripley Scroll, which is interactive and beautifully-rendered. One can only imagine the color and detail Diana noticed on the walls of Mary’s laboratory.
You can also explore other copies of the scrolls via the Bodelian’s website. Because they’re the best.
“We hunted the green lion.”
As Diana tells us in the text, the hunt for the “green lion” refers to the point in the process of creating the philosopher’s stone where alchemists combined two acid solutions (usually green vitriol, distilled from copper sulfate and something else) capable of dissolving anything (save gold).
Symbolically, the dissolution of substances in green vitriol is said to represent the purification of the innermost self — the stripping away of torment to reveal the “golden self” within.
“Andrew Hubbard is a former priest, one with a poor education and enough grasp of theology to cause trouble. He became a vampire when the plague first came to London. It had killed nearly half the city by 1349. Hubbard survived the first wave of the epidemic, caring for the sick and burying the dead, but in time he succumbed.”
Andrew Hubbard succumbed to the first outbreak of the plague to reach England in the twelfth century. According to the BBC, the plague entered the country in its bubonic form and then transformed into pneumonic form by the winter. Bubonic plague results from the bites of infected fleas (delightful) — the bacteria move from the flea bite to the nearest lymph node before attacking the rest of the body. Pneumonic plague spreads through infected droplets inhaled by the unwary — it’s harder to control because it’s passed from person to person. Matthew’s stats are correct — the first plague to hit London killed 40,000 people within eighteen months.
The medieval plague devastated England — especially the poor. Survivors buried the dead in mass graves with children occupying the small spaces between adults. During this period, many believed that the plague was evidence of the wrath of God, so outward observances of religion increased. Unfortunately, pilgrimages and other religious processions did little but spread the disease between communities. The plague had lasting impacts on the structure of English society, including changes in agriculture and religious observance, that determined English history into the present day.
Hubbard’s cold glance touched my neck, taking in the scar there. For once I wished Francoise had outfitted me with the largest ruff she could find. He exhaled in an icy gust smelling of cinnabar and fir before his wide mouth tightened, the edges of his lips turning from pale peach to white.
Cinnabar is the solid form of mercury sulfide, an ore often used to refine mercury for commercial use. It is also the source of brilliant red pigments, such as vermilion. The Met has a great resource on the use of cinnabar in art and pigment making. I couldn’t find anything to tell me what it smells like, precisely, but the fact that it’s normally sourced from volcanic soil makes me think it smells rocky and mildly sulfuric. Unsurprisingly–given the world of the AST, at least–cinnabar was prized by alchemists because of its unusual properties and because it supplied mercury.
Jen and I hope that you have a wonderful, prosperous new year — one that doesn’t start with someone threatening you and your family in a crypt in the middle of the night. In fact, we hope that your 2019 is full of blessings and good luck. We can’t wait to celebrate with you and continue exploring this amazing world together in the new year.