Robert Ward

The Secret Garden (pg 69)The Secret Garden (pg 69)

There is one other pilgrim in the pure white Baroque chapel. Maria’s friend from yesterday, in his cut-off denim shorts and red-and-white bandanna. He’s pacing around the church, checking camera angles. Seems Charley is a photographer. He’s been walking since May, all the way from Budapest, doing a photo essay for an Austrian magazine. After a chat, he gets back to his picture-taking while I go looking for the door to the monastery’s famous cloister. When our paths cross again a few minutes later, Charley’s eyes are shining.

“I have been walking for six months,” he says in a hushed voice, “and this is the most beautiful church I have seen. So pure. So spiritual. It is the first place where really I can hear the silence. I must play my guitar.”

And under the bemused eyes of the custodian he opens his guitar case, takes out a balsa-wood travelling model – “I made it myself,” he tells me as he tunes – and starts to sing – what else? – “The Sound of Silence”… When he’s finished, Charley packs up his guitar and says, “I feel great now. Did you see the cloister?”

“No, I couldn’t find the door.”

“It’s right over there.” He points to a massive door near the back of the church that looks like it could only be opened by an aged priest with a gigantic key. “Just give it a push.”

I do. One touch and the door is open. Beyond lies the secret garden and the silent gallery where monks once paced and prayed. The fountain is overgrown with moss, the yard unkept. A single bird is singing. I wonder how many secret gardens I have missed in life because I didn’t give a door a little push.

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