• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 07

Like so many martyred saints

In The Third Reich of Dreams Charlotte Beradt retells the testimony of Sophie Scholl’s cellmate, to whom Scholl recounted a dream she’d had the night before her execution. In her dream she is carrying a child in baptismal dress – Scholl herself was not yet twenty-two – when they come upon a precipice. She is able just to set the babe safely on the other side before falling into the depths. Scholl interprets the dream as an allegory for the sacrifice trailblazers make in service to the realization of their vision. Beradt compares this episode to the dreams of heroes in classical dramas, and footnotes with further examples from Madame Julien in the French Revolution, and Bismarck. She emphasizes its transcendent quality and the question of conscience with which she is preoccupied throughout the book. I am reminded of the visions of saints: Joan of Arc, teenaged martyr who at puberty began having visions that inspired her military campaigns which led to French victory and the end of the Hundred Years’ War; Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals who preached to birds – Sir Stanley Spencer’s humorous Saint Francis and the Birds, rejected by the Royal Academy in 1935, is among my very favorite paintings – and who is said to have received a vision on Mount La Verna followed by the stigmata from which he perished; and Boethius, Roman philosopher statesman who wrote his Consolation of Philosophy while under house arrest awaiting execution for treason. In his treatise Boethius describes how, in the throws of grief, he is writing melancholy verses when he is visited in his cell by Lady Philosophy, who consoles him. The book reports their dialogue on various topics including free will, morality, human nature, justice, fortune, and the life of the mind. This last, says Lady Philosophy, is the source of true happiness, since it frees us from the abuses of chance and injustice. I’ve spent some time in pursuit of the things of the mind. Lately my reading ranges across novels, dreams collected from citizens in Nazi Germany, allegories of social ills, essays on animal consciousness and, more and more, diaries and biographies of women’s lives.


Like so many martyred saints

But I am not consoled. I keep thinking of the stake and guillotine, the trachoma, the axe or sword or, accounts vary, the rope tightened around the skull. I see the warm and clear-eyed gaze abruptly riven. I cannot separate the mind from the body, like so many martyred saints.