Friday, 1 November 2013
The ancient Mother Superior faced the camera and told of her earliest memories:
“It was a-nice, playing in-a-da sunshine in the convent-a garden.”
Her tanned and lined face worked economically as she recalled her youth. Abandoned at the doors of the convent outside a small town in Northern Italy she was adopted by the sisters, grew up in the convent during the nineteen twenties and became a bride of Christ before the outbreak of the Second World War.
“But then, Mussolini’s men, they come up-a to the convent and they raped all of the nuns except-a for Sister Matilda.”
The film crew remained silent, looking away and shuffling their feet as she gathered her strength to continue. A small tear glistened in her opaque, cataract-inflicted eye as she relived the memories. A runner brought her a glass of water and the interviewer quietly asked if she was able to continue; he kept the camera rolling as she nodded her assent.
“Then later, the Germans. The German troops came into Italy and when they came up-a to the convent they raped all of the nuns, except-a for Sister Matilda.”
Another moment passed as the only sound in the room was her shallow, irregular breathing. The television historian conducting the interview made to ask again if she was able to carry on but she quickly forestalled his enquiry with a raised hand. One moment, she indicated, then took a sip of her water and carried on.
“For a while it-a continued like this; every few weeks, the German soldiers… well-a, you know... Then at-a the end of the war, the Germans left and once more the Italian soldiers came up-a to the convent and-a raped all of the nuns.”
The crew were rapt as the Mother Superior summoned the strength to recall these extreme times and tell of her bitter experiences. Tears sprang freely from her eyes as her mouth worked soundlessly for a few beats… and then the sound came.
“Except-a for Sister Matilda”
The interviewer leaned forward. He wanted to share her burden by entering the conversation, but even as he struggled to find an adequate question she held up her hand again as she, with much effort, drew in a deep breath and went on to finish her account.
“And then, the Allies. The English, the Polish… all-a sorts of-a soldiers. They all come up-a to the convent and they… rape… all of the nuns…
Except Sister Matilda
The interviewer seized his chance: “Except, Sister Matilda?”
The Holy Mother looked directly at him with her good eye and held him firmly with her gaze. She leaned forward, gathered her arms about her and replied.
“Yes. Sister Matilda didn’t-a like-a that sort of thing.”