One morning, early, the doorbell rang. It woke me and for a moment I was confused. Then it rang again. I pulled on tracksuit pants, ran down the stairs and opened the door to a postman carrying a parcel. Tied up with string and covered in sealing wax, it was an impressive piece of post! I had to sign for it and took it from the postman, surprised at both its existence and its weight. I did not recognize either the hand writing on the address label, or the postmark which was a London one. Who did I know in London? I could think of no-one.
Intrigued, I fetched a pair of scissors from the kitchen and sat down at the table. The string was easy to cut, but the parcel was secured with a great deal of tape, and it took a while to open it. Inside, lying on top of a second, securely wrapped parcel, were two letters. The one was typed and addressed to me like a business letter: Mr B Johnson, followed by my full address. In the top left hand corner were the words, ‘Please open this letter first’. The other had the simple word ‘Ben’ hand-written across it in black ink.
I opened the typed envelope. It was a formal letter with the address of a legal firm at the top. I am not used to formal letters, unless they are junk mail, and even then they have a stereo-typed formality. But this was very business-like, addressing me as ‘Sir’ and I read on with amusement that soon turned to sadness.
The letter informed me of Benjamin’s death. His illness had taken him faster than anyone had imagined it would and he had refused to have further treatment. In his possessions his brother had come across a letter addressed to him with instructions that he should forward this parcel and the letter with my name on it to me. It had taken the executors a few weeks to find me, but they had tracked me down and were now enclosing the parcel as per Benjamin’s instructions.
I sat for a moment, stunned. Benjamin had gone. Although we had not known each other well, somehow that evening he had spent with me had forged a bond between us that is difficult to explain. My mother could not have heard the news or she would have told me. I knew the first thing I had to do was speak to her and so I rang her and we had a long conversation. She had been close to Benjamin for many years – one of those friendships that distance and time does not weaken – and she shed a few tears over his memory.
As the call ended I became aware of a reluctance to open the second letter. I was not sure why, but I had a feeling that it would be an important milestone in my life. I put the kettle on, made myself a cup of coffee and sat down again at the table. I took a knife and slit the envelope open to read Benjamin’s letter.
My dear Ben,
Time and tide wait for no man and I know that we are unlikely to meet again. So I will not be able to tell you face to face what has occurred since I saw you on that memorable evening back in spring last year. My energy is fast running out and I have spent all my time with the jar and its contents. As I have done so I have found myself unwrapping a treasure that goes beyond my wildest dreams and, I am sure, your own.
When I returned home I contacted the relevant authorities and spoke to them about your discovery. Within a day or so they sent a man out to see me – and the jar – and it was agreed that I was the best and most experienced person to examine the contents. For you see, we were to discover that the rolls of parchment in the jar are very special documents indeed. Each one tells a story. I will not go into the details here, for I have enclosed a transcript of them in the packet that accompanies this letter.
The Legend of Osmond is well known to local historians. It tells of Osmond a monk who lived in a monastery close to your home. The legend goes that at the beginning of the eleventh century, the monastery and the small village attached to it were attacked by Viking invaders. The monastery possessed some important treasure which was buried in the woodlands nearby. This treasure was contained in a clay jar. The legend is vague about what the treasure was but it suggests that the jar contained documents that were important to the universal Church.
It is said that the jar came into the possession of the monastery by way of a wandering monk who sought refuge there. He was deathly ill and was unable to tell his carers the history of the jar. However he managed to convey its worth by holding it close to his chest until he died. It was only after he had sighed his last breath that those attending him were able to prise it from his arms and the Abbot of that time took it to look at its contents.
Whatever the jar contained, the Abbot never spoke of what he had seen. The story goes that he did not hesitate but gave the request that same day to a talented carpenter to build a new altar containing a secret vault. And the jar was sealed with a clay seal and placed in the vault and sealed again.
During the Viking attack Osmond was instructed to take the jar and bury it in the woodlands nearby, with the intention of returning it to the monastery when it was safe to do so. But both the monastery and the village were burned to the ground and it is said that whoever buried the treasure was killed.
It has never been discovered – until now – for I am convinced that this is what you have found!
My boy, this is a discovery beyond description. I am delighted, and feel both humbled and privileged to have played a small part in translating these documents and bringing them to the notice of the world. I have requested that the news of the find be held back until you have read the transcripts of the scrolls enclosed with this letter. Then you can give the instruction to the lawyers for their publication. And give it you must, for this is too great a treasure to hide from the world.
There will be dissenters, of course, and you are to prepare yourself for the usual accusations of hoax and fraud. But these are genuine documents, written by unknown scribes for posterity.
I would be grateful if you would stop reading this letter now and look at the packet. Read through the stories at your leisure, one by one; and read them again, as many times as it takes for you to absorb the truth of them. Then read the rest of this letter.
My dear boy, I can only say thank you. Read the stories now …
There was an element of sincerity in Benjamin’s words and it seemed to be important that I follow his instructions, so I returned the letter to its envelope.
I was intrigued but I have to admit I was also sceptical. It all seemed a bit far-fetched. Ordinary people did not find such things unless they were in some archaeological dig in a remote place. Certainly someone like me did not make such a discovery in a quiet street in England! Surely it was some sort of hoax. There were doubts and questions tumbling around in my mind.
Yet Benjamin and his colleagues seemed to think it was authentic. Apart from anything else, I could not help thinking what a strange coincidence it was that on the day after I had found the jar, Benjamin had come to stay. I had not seen him in such a long while – but there he was, in my home when I discovered something I did not even realise he would know anything about. I had known he was an academic, but had no idea what his area of expertise was – and yet he had taken the scrolls and worked through them and then returned them to me. It was very strange and it left me with shivers up and down my spine.
I was eager to find out what the jar had contained, but I was aware of a sense of reluctance too. Benjamin spoke of the Church and the local monastery. I had struggled with the concept of God all my life. My parents were believers, my mother especially. My father was a busy man and would accompany her to church if he was not travelling somewhere. Perhaps his faith was more a reflection of hers, rather than his own. I had rebelled against their faith when I was in my early teens. It was almost the only thing we disagreed about. My home had been a loving place in which to grow up. My brother, sister and I had been given everything that my parents could give us. The only thing they had not handed down to me was their faith. Oh, I believed that God existed, but did not follow him as my parents seemed to do. So we agreed to differ.
I opened the second parcel. Inside was a sheaf of papers between two substantial pieces of card. The pages were neatly typed – it was obvious these were the transcripts. The original documents would be in a safe place somewhere under lock and key.
I knew that whatever these pages contained, I could not ignore them. So I made myself more coffee and sat down in the front room with just a single table lamp shining. Taking a deep breath, I turned to the first page.
There was a hand written note on top.
What you are about to read may seem strange to you – as it did to me. Read each story taking your time and read them again and again. I pray that you may hear the message contained in each one and that they may touch your heart and change your mind.
The writing was Benjamin’s. What did he mean ‘pray’? And why and how should I ‘change my mind’? I knew that Benjamin was of the Jewish faith but he had never spoken about praying before. Intrigued I turned the page and began to read …