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  • On our way through southern Italy we were staying for a week in the town of Otranto, in southernmost Puglia, by Libyan sea. There was a huge Norman cathedral in the middle of town, built in 11th century. Normans, Northern Men, we Scandinavians are very much interested in them, they were Vikings.

    There were three things to see inside the cathedral. First was quite macabre. In 1480 a fleet of Ottoman ships invaded the town and Turcs beheaded most of Otranto citizens because they refused to renounce their Catholic faith. Two weeks later the Ottoman fleet had to escape and the skulls of the beheaded were taken into the cathedral. So, there they are still today, over five hundred years later, gaping at us from the glass-doored skull altarpieces. 800 skulls of different sizes, small and big, trying to tell their stories with their empty eye sockets and hollow mouths.

    The second thing to see in cathedral is huge mosaic floor that covers entire cathedral area. It was chef-d’oeuvre of monk Pantaleone, he finished it in 1166. The mosaic is over fifty meters long and nearly thirty meters wide and consists of over 600 000 pieces of tiny mosaic stones, tesseras. The mosaic is more than just mosaic, it’s the huge book of everything, encyclopedia.

    Mosaic encyclopedia includes all the legends and sagas of Antiquity. It includes all the stories of Bible. It includes the annual agricultural calendar. It includes the astrological calendar. It includes zoological and botanical guides of all known animal and plant species in 12th century. You could spend a month studying the mosaic. We spent one week.

    The third thing in cathedral caused our greates quarrel during the whole journey. In Finland our neighbour had a big black-and-white cat called Pope wandering in our yard. In Otranto Cathedral Kirsi saw a photo on the wall, it showed the real Pope of Vatican visiting Otranto Cathedral some years earlier (because of mosaics and martyr skulls).

    - Oh! Pope has visited also this cathedral, she said to Havu, our son.

    Havu laughed back, as teasingly, as arrogantly and as noisily as a boy can do when he is absolutely certain that somebody tries to cheat him lousily.

    - Pope has never visited this cathedral, Havu answered.
    - He most certainly has, Kirsi said.
    - You try to cheat me.
    - No, I don't. Pope has visited here and prayed here.
    - Never never never never never. You liar. I’m not so stupid as you always think.
    - I’m really insulted you don’t believe your own mother. I swear to you Pope has visited here. And blessed this place.
    - I swear and bless to you my ass. Never in my life he’s been here.

    And so it continued, over half an hour with voices raising and insults pouncing inside the cathedral between mother and son. There were couple of priests nearby. Their cheeks reddened and reddened and they tried to cough us to be silent. No use.

    At the end of the quarrel Kirsi and Havu both rushed out of the cathedral. They were determined not to speak to each other never again.

    It took some time to clear out afterwards that Kirsi had been talking all the time about Pope the Man in Vatican and Havu about Pope the Cat in our yard. Havu had never heard about this other existing Pope. He was quite young then.

    Some time later we were in Rome and saw the real Pope in front of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican.

    - Look. That’s real Pope, Kirsi said.
    - No. He doesn’t have a tail or nine lifes, Havu answered.
    - Stop that. Listen how he blesses people in different languages.
    - My Pope can meow. Real Pope can meow.

    It started to rain really hard when Pope the Man was giving a sermon. I felt God above was laughing so loudly that tears were pouring out of his eyes on us.
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