A novice nun falls for a soldier in a sad marriage, they have a child and tragedy results.
| Tucked away in the rolling Italian countryside is the Covenant of the Sacred Heart. It is a large stone structure that was once a prison. The entire interior has been renovated but the outside is plain. The bars have been removed from the windows. One addition is a beautiful stained glass window above the large entrance. It shows a garden of colorful varieties of flowers with a little girl bent over and plucking a daisy. There is a dove with an olive branch in one corner. The convent is surrounded by gardens planned according to seasons. So a variety of flowers is always blooming. There are wonderful walkways, wrought iron benches, and wooden trellis' of wild roses.
Around a small lake are comfortable swings that entice one to sit: to enjoy a enchanting combination of the convent blending with nature. A eye pleasing pair of storybook swans grace the lake. They are seen together most of the time and their soft feathers are glistening white under the sun or moon. No one can remember when they first appeared.
The nuns here have a simple life; no phones, television, or novels. They eat the same menu every day and spend their time praying, working in the gardens, cleaning, attending Mass and reading the Bible. They do this with joy and grace. There is no social talk, only speaking when it is essential. When asked, they say this is a devout calling, not a choice.
In the following haunting bittersweet story, I must tell, is a novice nun. She feels deep desire and love as a woman for a man who, in turn, showers her with love. This is in dangerous conflict with what she had chosen; her true calling as a bride of Christ.
This brings a heart breaking mystery to this place of God filled serenity. It has drawn visitors here for many years. People in town have seen a woman that appears to be weeping in one window. She doesn't wear a nun's habit.
Since tours make money to maintain the building, the story isn't denied or encouraged. Visitors are encouraged not to speak and are able to see only certain areas. Of course, the room where the apparition is seen is off limits. That room is not even dusted.
People react in a variety of ways to the love story of this novice nun and a married soldier. At first, it was passed from person to person. For many years now, it has been written in magazines so the Convent has became famous.
Many see an immoral tryst where Alise and Newel are selfish lovers. They break the most sacred of vows. After all, she is a bride (of Christ) and he has a wife. Those who believe in the magic of love feel sorry for this star crossed pair with just moments of stolen joy.
I am going to relate the story to you as I have read and also heard it. To make it interesting, I feel free to embellish it as if a storyteller was writing it down with thoughts and feelings that were shared with a close companion. Since the Convent is a silent sancturary, meeting and speaking with this man must have been a wonderful gift for a young girl.
Captain James Newel was a handsome soldier. His eyes were deep brown with copper flecks. His hair was dark with auburn highlights. Alise came along with a basket of bread and vegetables from the market place. The first time she saw him, her fingers ached to play in his hair. It looked like he had tumbled out of bed. She never experienced this kind of feelings toward a man before.
James Newel saw Alise as a lovely girl with sapphire eyes, a peachs and cream complexion with a maiden's blush. Of course she was dressed from head to toe in the habit of a novice nun. He was compelled to speak with her but didn't wish to frighten her away.
He came by the next day at the same time. She sat under a citrus fruit tree reading her Bible. He suggested a basket lunch for the following day. Impulsively, she nodded. Something unexplainable in her heart already belonged to him.
Sister Alise came from a large family so she had watched her sisters marry. As far as she could see being a couple and a family took a lot of responsibility. She was only fifteen when she decided her path was to be a bride of Christ. She felt so sure when she attended Mass and it was an incredible honor for her family. Her parents were ecstatic.
As a little girl, Alise had an angel for a best friend. She called him Sir Apples. She told her Ma.
"Sir Apples holds my hand when we cross roads".
Another time, "Ma, a mean black dog with big sharp teeth ran at me. Sir Apples held me. He wrapped me with soft white wings."
Alise said, "His wings smell like roses and are soft like a baby's bottom. He won't talk but I feel safe."
She told the Parish Priest and he said, “You're a lucky little girl. Alise. Not many people get their own angel. Be very good and he will protect and guide you.”
Then one night, when she was twelve, a miracle happened. Like every night, she was on her knees asking God to make her worthy of an angel. She felt a warmth encircle her and a tingling all over her body.
A voice whispered in her ear, “You are mine forever. Listen to your angel and then do as Jesus did. Follow me."
Alise knew she was called by the Holy Spirit to be a bride of Christ. At the age of sixteen she had joined the Convent to begin her training.
Now this disturbing man entered her life and these intense feelings frightened her. Sir Apples hadn't felt as close to her for quite awhile but her life had gone smoothly as she read her Bible and prayed.
James brought fine wine, warm bread and cheese. The wine she was used to with communion but only a sip so this rushed to her head. His voice and knowledge of romantic poetry lit a flame in her virginal heart. He quoted from Shakespeare and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
She told him of her family with eight other brothers and sisters. Half were married with children of their own and two of those families lived with Ma and Papa. She missed her rough and tumble family. She really wished she had her sisters to talk with. Who could she tell this very important secret to? Her mother would never understand or her sisters. Her very Catholic family would feel disgraced.
James told her about his family. He was eight when his Papa was shot in the back in their barn. He happened to be between stacks of hay and watched in horror. He knew to stay quiet. He didn't know the two men. They were dressed in expensive business suits.
He was thankful that he didn't see but he heard his Ma scream from inside the house. He was sure she had suffered because of rope burns, bruises and the coroner said she had tried to fight back. He said she was raped and other horrible atrocities. The church helped with closed caskets for both of them. In spite of posters and rewards, the men were never caught. Even though he was only eight, he told Alise he felt guilty that he hadn't been able to stop the men. She reached up and touched the tears that streamed from his eyes.
Newel lived with his Ma's parents and helped them with Wilton's General Goods store until they both died. He cared for them both through lingering illnesses. He didn't know they had willed the shop to him. They could not have any more children after Jame's mother, Analee, was born so he had been like a son to them.
He sold the store and kept the money. No bank for him though. He put it in a safe. The incident with his Dad had taught him not to trust the business community.
He graduated from high school then he married a local farm girl, Katrina Foster. She was the first woman he had ever kissed or even dated. It was the proper thing to do, get a job, marry and have children.
James treated her well although he didn't really love her. She always needed money for something and her moods were erratic. He wanted children but she thought of every reason to keep him away.
Finally after three years of crazy behavior and attempted suicide, he found bottles of morphine hidden away. He had been called into the service, so now she lived with her parents. Her parents finally told him she had always had "nervous problems" and doctors had medicated her. They were afraid if he knew, he would not marry her.
Katrina became more paranoid and psychotic. He was called home from the Army base and after an almost fatal overdose, he had to have her committed. He was thankful he had the money to put her in a decent place.
James and Alise approached each other like sister and brother at first. They were both starved for someone to tell their problems to. Alise felt like they were friends that had known each other for years.
There were deeper feelings of desire but they denied it. Neither had a love life to speak of. You almost couldn't blame them. At first, they comforted each other with hugs. Then one day, his hands traveled as he kissed her face, tracing his fingers over her hot highly colored cheeks and wet lips.
One day she became very upset while speaking about her mixed feelings about God and the sacrifice the church required. While comforting her, he became aroused and reached under her habit and caressed her breasts. The release of all the pent up feelings was like an thunderstorm. It was a sweet pouring of sexual healing and savage lust. They were drained yet overcome with both love and guilt.
The war raged. They knew it was borrowed time and he could be called away at some time. One day he did not show up. Alise believed it was revenge for broken vows. Days passed, and then weeks, she discovered she carried a child.
A precious baby that would be beautiful and strong. How proud James would be. She laid in her room praying and crying. Surely, Jesus would understand this love that she felt for an innocent baby.
But the nuns cruelly shut her away. She could see through one window and they fed her well. If James were alive, he would find a way to get her out, so he must be badly injured or dead. She read her Bible for solace but cried so many tears, she soaked the very print. Her knees were bleeding from praying on the concrete floor. She felt the baby moving around and that brought joy.
The day came when her water broke and one of the nuns stayed with her for hours. Her name was Juliet and she was young and sweet. She had training in midwifery and was so helpful with breathing and panting. Alise delivered in pain but did see and hold her strong healthy son once. He was the image of his handsome father.
Alise cried for her son when the Reverend Mother took him out of her arms.
"Why do you treat me so badly? This baby was born from love. Jesus would not be so cruel".
Her breasts filled and overflowed with milk. Her eyes cried like a child; she didn't understand.
No one would talk to her. Juliet disappeared and never came back
"Sir Apples, I need you!"
After two months of isolation and emotional pain; her voice was weak but the words were screamed at the Heavens.
"Where is my family? Where is my child? God will punish you for this!!"
It is said she slit her wrists with a knife from a dinner tray. The blood she spilled represented all of the loss in her short life. God, family, lover and their child. It was more than any young heart could deal with.
Juliet was very disturbed over what had happened to Alise. Apparently she left the Convent in disgrace. She was seen later n the village with a baby. She didn't have a man with her and she called the baby "Newel".
No one knows what Alise's parents were told. There are no records of a child's birth. Alise is recorded as having died from consumption. No one claims to know of James Newel. It is assumed he died in the war and was buried in a large grave for many men.
There is a grave marker for Alise Dawson, twenty-one years old. If a person can die from a broken heart, it was surely her. A body may be in a wooden coffin there.
For those who believe in love and magic, James, Alise and their love child live on.
Sir Apples watches over them and babysits on occasion.
Some say the swans are Alise and James for swans only have one lover for their entire life.
Others claim to have seen the three ride a black stallion bareback, laughing with joy, in the face of the moon.
By Kathie Stehr