…then again, it still might…
The Cross: 1938
“Don’t die without knowing the Cross.”
--Prince Rogers Nelson (“The Cross,” 1987)
“Don’t die without knowing Lacrosse.”
--Gary Gait, 6-time National Lacrosse League (NLL) MVP and National Lacrosse Hall of Famer
It was a brilliantly dim and hazy night. What little light that once streamed through the cracks and openings from above had faded into darkness hours before, leaving the Drs. Smith, father and son, and their companions to search the dank and musty ruins by the weak light of several oil lamps some 20 feet below the Earth’s surface.
The German anthropologists Heinrich Kohl and Carl Watzinger, who, unfortunately, were caught up in the politics that were leading Europe ever closer to war, had originally discovered these ruins in 1905. Palestine was controlled by the British Empire, who had summarily expelled all Germans from their territories in 1914 and again in 1936. Now, Francis “Dakota” Smith, Jr., a history professor, and his father, Francis, Sr., a retired archeologist, were benefitting from the krauts falling out of favor with the Empire yet again.
These ruins were the third layer of ruins found on this site. Dakota’s own great grandfather, the reverend Eli Smith, and famed nineteenth century explorer Edward Robinson ironically found the first layer, the town itself. The town had been lost since the eighth century A.D. when Robinson and Smith rediscovered it in 1838. Back then, the village was known as Kafer Nachum, Hebrew for Nachum’s helmet.
After dozens of years of excavation, an octagonal church was found that had been originally erected in the fifth century in honor of St. Peter the Rock. After restoring the church, the site became a popular tourist site but became all but forgotten by the archeological community.
Then in 1903, Kohl and Watzinger, with the Empire’s permission, started digging around the octagonal church and found that it had been built over St. Peter’s house. The excavation was considered complete in 1916 with little to show for it as far as noteworthy artifacts were concerned. Again, the site was relegated to tourist attraction status.
Then in 1933, some megalomaniac with a Charlie Chapin mustache with dreams of empire and a liking for the occult and biblical artifacts came into power in Berlin. With more money than sense, he started sending his agents all over the world in search of the Ark of the Covenant, the Spear of Destiny and dozens of other lost holy artifacts for his thousand-year Reich. Capernaum was suddenly a thriving archeological site again. A group of German archeologists and biblical scholars accompanied by an escort of armed guards got permission to begin a new excavation around the church and St. Peter’s home, which ended when all Germans were expelled from British territories on November 26, 1936, the day after the Germans and Japanese signed the Anti-Comintern Pact.
Some six months later, Dakota Smith was invited by the British government to continue the excavation of the site. After a month of preparation and another three weeks of travel, Dakota’s group arrived in Palestine and began work. They had now been working at the site for a little over a year. Two months ago, one of Dakota’s colleagues had discovered a hidden tunnel heading away from St. Peter’s house that lead to a large chamber. Unfortunately, there seemed to be little of note in the chamber, just a few minor pieces of pottery and farming implements assumed to be dated around the second or third century A.D.
After the items had been removed and catalogued, Dakota had begun to search around the perimeter of the chamber with a horsehair brush carefully searching for breaks in the walls that might be another hidden tunnel. After four days, Dakota finally found something.
“Dad, over here!” Dakota called, peering at the wall closely with the aid of the oil lamp. “I think I’ve found something.”
The elder Dr. Smith walked over, followed by several other workers. “What do you see, Junior?”
Dakota said with an exasperated tone, “Dad, can you please quit calling me Junior?”
“Son, I’m not going to call you Dakota. That was your bunny’s name,” the elder Dr. Smith replied matter-of-factly, the nearby workers trying to stifle laughs and smirks as they looked on.
Dakota was grateful that the dim light and his Panama hat were hiding the fact his face was flushing vermillion. It really irked him when his father’s dementia reared its annoying head. He bit his lip, holding back his urge to yell at his father. He took a deep breath and said evenly, “Dad, my sister’s bunny was named Sniffles. Our hog was named Dakota.”
His colleagues began snickering anew when Dakota shot back, “Dakota won a blue ribbon at the State Fair.” The group hushed uncomfortably.
“Well, that’s much better, son,” Francis, Sr. replied, seeming genuinely relieved. “We wouldn’t want everybody thinking you’re queer or something, now would we? So what did you find?”
Dusting off the crack in the wall in the floor, Dakota said, “I think this is an entrance to a tunnel or maybe a hidden compartment. It seems hollow.” He tapped gently on the stone.
“Good ear, son. Everyone, let’s work on getting this stone moved.”
After forty minutes of labor, the party managed to slide three two-foot by one-foot stones from along the floor edge of the east wall of the chamber to reveal a small cavity that contained a long package some six feet long and almost a foot around wrapped in a dusty burlap-like material. The party carefully slid the package from the cavity.
Dakota gently unwrapped the covering to expose a heavy bronze cross about 10 inches tall and 6 inches wide with several gems in it, sapphires, emeralds and rubies from their looks. There was also a an old, rotted, stinking 4-inch by 4-inch post about six feet long made from what looked like dogwood.
The elder Smith, upon seeing the bronze cross, gaped, “Oh, my Lord, the Cross of Coronado!”
“Jesus, Dad.” Dakota shook his head in disgust. “What the heck would the Cross of Coronado be doing in Palestine? Coronado lived over 1,400 years after St. Peter, 2,000 miles from here…”
He stopped his tirade when his father grabbed his Panama hat off his head and smacked him with it. “Junior! Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain!”
“But didn’t you just…uh, yes, sir,” Dakota said obediently, taking his hat back, straightening it and putting it back on his head. “Anyway, I read somewhere Dr. Jones found the Cross of Coronado in Portugal last year, so this can’t be it. I’m sure not what this is. We’ll have to send it back to England and research it.”
Dakota knelt and placed the cross next to the old post. As he was rewrapping the package, he heard a rumbling coming from the tunnel behind him. The explorers turned to see a cloud of dust fill the air as the tunnel collapsed.
Dakota sat down in disbelief. “What the…?”
As if in response, as the dust settled he saw dozens of sets of menacing, dark eyes reflecting the yellow lamplight from where the tunnel had collapsed moments earlier.
Dakota laid on the ground, staring up the ceiling. “Gophers…why did it have to be gophers? I hate gophers.”