Skip to content

An excerpt from “The Mystery of Julia Episcopa”

“VAL, COME here a minute.”

“What is it?” Valentina Vella scooted back from her table and rose from the pint-sized chair she used to peruse through piles of old documents in the small, tucked-away space of the VaticanSecret Archives. She smoothed her knee-length black skirt and stepped across the squeaky floorboards toward her friend and colleague, Erika Simone, sitting just a few feet away at the other end of the table, her eyes just inches from a tattered ancient parchment.

“Look at this. There’s a name change on this tag.” Erika looked up. A tiny line slashed across her otherwise-smooth brow, giving a hint to her concentration. “I didn’t see it at first because the tag is nearly worn-out and the ink is blurred. Here, take a look.”

Erika grabbed the arm of the magnifier attached to the table and pulled it toward the document. Valentina moved in closer and bent over. With their heads nearly touching, the twoscientists scrutinized the tag inked in ancient Greek.

Valentina brushed a white-gloved finger across the tag and spread a thin layer of dust onto the tabletop. “You’re right,” she murmured. “It looks like someone scraped off part of theoriginal name.”

“Yes.” Erika pulled the magnifier down to within inches of the document. “Look here, the Greek a in the name Julia has been covered over with the Greek µa? or u-s as it would be in English. Same with the last name: Episcopa changed to Episcopus. You can tell because the ink doesn’t match, and neither does the handwriting.”

“It looks as if the original name was Julia Episcopa, but now it reads Julius Episcopus,”….