The supernatural is more real, and yet more complex, than today’s materialist culture would have us believe. To such purely secular thinking the following tale reveals that there are more things in heaven and earth… Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. Admittedly, the advice that follows on from it may sound strange to modern ears and that prevailing ideology, however, for that I make no apology as it is both a warning and also, mercifully, a remedy, nay a protection, against that which wishes us harm. We would do well to heed it.
Our tale begins in Italy, in 1839, with the tolling of a bell as a young seminarian was laid to rest. And as the earth was heaped upon the casket below, those assembled slowly dispersed.
One of those present, as well as being a friend of the deceased was also a seminarian. And it was to that place of formation that he started to walk back to just as the first hints of night began to draw in. As he did so, his thoughts returned to a curious conversation some months previously, one with the seminarian just buried, and thereafter to an even stranger pact entered into …
The two had been firm friends. Both devoutly religious, at the end of that curious conversation, they had agreed, that whichever of them died first then he would return from the grave and tell the other of what happened next. Perhaps it was born from piety, more likely from a boyish prank, as neither expected to die for quite some time. Then, shortly afterwards, one of them did die.
His name was Louis Comollo; he was the frailer of the two, but still his death was unexpected. His friend was as shocked as the whole seminary proved to be. He mourned this loss with a difference, however, for he did so with a sense of expectancy.
As he sat through the subsequent Requiem Mass, he waited, he listened, he watched for a sign – any sign – but none came. Nothing. And so, on that mournful day, and as the mortal remains of his friend had finally been laid to rest, all seemed forever shrouded in an opaque silence.
Finally that night, the mourner arrived back at the seminary in the Italian town of Cheri, not far from Turin. It was late, but his thoughts were far from sleep. His bedchamber was a dormitory, one he shared with other seminarians; by then, all were sound asleep. He was unable to join them, though. Instead, he was to sit on the edge of his bed, with a mind unusually tense and that still pondered what had taken place that day; it was then just as the clocks struck the midnight hour that it began…
It sounded like a dull roll, one that emanated from the end of the passageway that ran adjacent to the dormitory. As yet nothing was visible; there was only an eerie sound that grew louder, and as it did so it became more distinct. The young man, now keenly alert to everything around him, sat listening intently.
The sound continued. It grew in intensity, now like a clanging of a chain, as seemingly it drew closer. Closer still, it approached, the vibrations of which ricocheted off the walls and ceilings all around: strange echoes like the sound of many horses, like the push of a railway engine. Unable to move, unsure what was coming hence, the young man sat frozen in fear. He proved not to be alone in this. The whole dormitory had by then been roused. In the twilight darkness of that long chamber, all 20 or so youths were now wide awake, not able, or willing, to utter a single word, but instead were lying in the darkness awaiting something, the very sound of which cast terror into their hearts. The final sound remembered that night was reported to be one similar to the discharge of a cannon, and with that the doors of the dormitory flew open.
What had entered the room was not a person, or even a shape that could be identified, but, rather, a light. On its appearance, the sounds that accompanied it stilled, as if controlled by this spectral glow, before beginning to change colour in front of the bewildered eyes of those now watching. Then, the apparition spoke. Calling out the name of the young man who had earlier returned from the graveside, it roared: ‘I am saved’.
And with that the sounds began again, louder, more terrific than before. The light too grew brighter still, before illuminating the whole chamber. The noise reverberated against the walls so intensely that those present feared the very building itself was about to collapse. Then, as quickly, and as unexpectedly, as it had all started, it stopped.
It proved too much for many of those present. Some leapt from their beds and fled the dormitory, but not the young man still sat on his bed. Whereas the others had looks of terror on their faces, his countenance was now one of thoughtfulness as he began to comprehend what had taken place. This ghostly presence was none other than his friend, Comollo. He had kept their pact. And, in so doing, had announced where he had entered upon death. The young man looked at those around him and tried to calm them, telling his fellows what they had witnessed was nothing to fear, but instead something to rejoice in.
The account of that night suggests that the young man’s words fell upon barren soil, however, such was the panic induced by their earlier visitation, and, as a consequence, most of his fellows remained huddled together until the dawn came at last. That same account goes on to conclude that at the seminary for a long time afterwards there was no other topic of conversation to be had but that pertaining to the events of this unarguably remarkable night.
As to the veracity of what took place: I have no reason to doubt any aspect of the story given that its teller and subject, the then living participant of the pact in question, was none other than the man who would later become known to the world as Don Bosco.