Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Hanique, Part I

It began, as all good adventures do, at an academic conference in the south of France. The conference was called "Saint Catharine of Boulagnon: Identity and Fragmentation," and I had attended to present my paper, "Misattribution of Identity: The Case of Catharine of Bourdeaux," which (of course) discussed the common conflation in hagiographies of Saint Catharine of Boulagnon and Catharine of Bordeaux. Catharine of Bordeaux, of course, was much later, and, far from being a mystic visionary, she was a merchant's wife around whom a minor legend had developed. The conflation was perhaps not unnatural. There are similarities between the two lives. Further, nobody knows where 'Boulagnon' is located. Indeed, the common view of the scholarship (but it is really just an educated guess) is that 'Boulagnon' is a textual corruption for some other name; which other name is a matter of considerable dispute.

After I had given my paper at the conference, I noticed an earnest young man dogging my steps. He was dressed all in black, rather like a valet, looking odd and out of place in this conference of staid and stuffy academics. He seems, however, to have been one of the presenters, and well known to several others attending the conference. I did not quite catch his name (it sounded vaguely like Dr. Personne, which I doubt is right); but I believe he delivered a paper on the confusion of identities between Saint Catharine of Boulagnon and another Catharine, Catharine of Hanique. My reason is this. Once, when I had tired a bit of idle conversation and had moved away from the main mass of chattering academics, he urgently beckoned for me to come with him into a quiet, empty side-room.

"I enjoyed your paper," he said. "I think you are the only one here who could appreciate this as it should be appreciated." He took a small box out of his satchel, and, opening it, carefully produced a book of exquisite make, an incunabulum which had been carefully illuminated to look as if it had been hand-produced. It was small and leather-bound, fitting comfortably into the hand; the spine was about an inch-and-a-half thick. I was not familiar with the typography of the Latin script, but it strongly reminded me of fifteenth-century English print, e.g., a late fifteenth-century edition of Christine de Pisan's The Fayte of Armes and Chyvalrye.

"What is it?" I asked.

"It is a family heirloom," he said. "This book appears to be the only remaining copy of the Vision of Two Souls, by Catharine of Hanique."

"Catharine of Hanique?"

"Yes. The Blessed Catharine of Hanique was the stepsister of Saint Catharine of Boulagnon, or so she claims. They had the same father, but different mothers. The two are often conflated; all the achievements of Catharine of Hanique are attributed to Catharine of Boulagnon. It has been one of the foremost obstacles to her canonization. While I am not Catholic myself, my family had a long history of advocating her cause, which is how this came into my hands."

"It seems like a priceless discovery."

"Indeed. Not only is it the primary evidence for the distinction of Catharine of Hanique from Catharine of Boulagnon, there is reason to believe it was printed in 1441 by Janszoon Koster, which would make it one of the earliest printed books."

I was very skeptical of such a claim, since it did not seem likely that anyone reasonable would carry a book that old in a box in a satchel. But my skepticism did not have time to be expressed, because, as the man held the book out to me to show an exquisitely illuminated capital, a man in a mask rushed out of a dark adjoining room, grabbed the book, and sped away.

Without thinking, I ran after the thief. Across the lobby, out the door, and across the field we ran. Although he was fast, and had the headstart surprise had given him, I was catching up to him. I did not catch him, however; for in the middle of the field was a black helicopter. He jumped in and it rose into the air, carrying away the priceless book by Catharine of Hanique.

I returned to report the sad matter to the earnest young man. "Ah," he said sadly, "they have taken it to Hanique." And he would say no more.

Part II of "Hanique" is soon to come!

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