Shepherd Me As Your Heart Commands, A Silas/Aringarosa 'Ship Manifesto
Title: Shepherd Me As Your Heart Commands
Author: Angelica Albina/mypaleangel
Fandom: The Da Vinci Code
Pairing: Silas/Bishop Manuel Aringarosa
Spoilers: Contains plot and ending details for the Da Vinci Code novel and possibly for the film
Disclaimer: I don’t own these boys, they belong to Mr. Brown over there. I’m just borrowing them for a little while.
Word Count: 3,339 (excluding long quotations and recommendations list)
Notes: When I refer to canon in this essay, I will mostly be referring to the book, Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. The movie of this book has some major plot differences to the novel, and though I may make mention of it from time to time when it is relevant, I consider the film a secondary source to the book’s primary text. Many thanks to everyone who contributed their support and wisdom, especially blue_nbeautiful, cassiejo and girl4edwards04.
In the beginning, upon my first reading of the novel “The Da Vinci Code” I wasn’t really a fan at all. To start with, I don’t usually get interested in the genre the book belongs to (thriller/crime/mystery – I had picked up the book merely to see what all the fuss and controversy was about), and wasn’t very enthused about Dan Brown’s style of writing. Another concern was the inaccuracies and stereotypes used in the novel regarding people with albinism – Silas is described in the book, for example, as having red eyes (in reality, most people with his type of albinism tend to have blue eyes – Silas is depicted with blue eyes in the movie to make him slightly more realistic, and I too describe his eyes as blue in my own fan fiction) and functions as an antagonist within the plot, causing controversy about his being a stereotypical “evil albino” – a hackneyed plot device found within many Hollywood movies.
But upon further reading, I began to find Silas strangely compelling. Among many characters who seemed somewhat like cardboard cutouts, Silas stood out as a character with depth and personality. Although not a conventionally religious person myself, I have always been strangely drawn to fictional persons who profess intense religious faith. The monk called Silas’s passions and desires, his suffering and his devotion, both to God and to his mentor and patron, one Bishop Manuel Aringarosa, thoroughly caught my attention. An avid writer and reader of slash fan fiction in other fandoms, I began to see the potential for these two, the monk and the bishop, as a slash couple. As I soon discovered via LiveJournal, I was not alone in my belief, and thus I became a Silas/Aringarosa ‘shipper.
Now, I invite you to meet the characters, and I’ll explain to you why I think they work together as a pairing. Not only is there canon evidence of their affection for one another, but there is powerful subtext to suggest the possibility of deeper love.
Silas (seen here as portrayed by Paul Bettany in the film The Da Vinci Code) is about forty years of age during the novel’s main period of action (he seems somewhat younger, about in his early thirties, in the movie). He has albinism (is albino) and is a monk, a numerary member of the conservative Catholic organisation Opus Dei, vowed to celibacy and living within its precincts. In accordance with the regulations of Opus Dei, he practices corporal mortification, including severe self-flagellation and the wearing of a spiked metal discipline belt called a cilice around his thigh. His devotion to Opus Dei being more intense than that of his fellow numeraries leads him to be excessive in his use of corporal mortification at times, resulting in high levels of pain and blood.
His name was not Silas as a child, and we are never told Silas’s real name in the book or the film. He is referred to merely as “the ghost” during the part of the book that relates his early history, as that is the term used by people who mock him for his pale skin and white hair. He is a Frenchman by birth, spending his early years in the city of Marseilles. When he was born, his father (a tall, powerfully built, alcoholic dockworker from whom Silas inherits his size and strength) rejected him, blaming the child’s mother for the birth of an albino son and beating her mercilessly. When the young boy tried to defend his beloved mother, he too was beaten.
In the child’s seventh year, the father finally beat the boy’s mother to death in a drunken rage, and the boy blamed himself for the fatal attack. Whilst his father slept, the child killed him with a butcher knife, then fled to the streets. Shunned by his fellow runaways for his difference, he spent most of his time alone, teaching himself to read with magazines found in the trash and growing strong and physically powerful, able by the age of twelve to fight back against those who mocked him, often with excessive force due to the rage that burned inside him caused by his suffering. Banished from Marseilles for one such violent incident, he lived the life of a nomad, drifting from one town to the next along the coast.
At eighteen, the boy was caught breaking into a docked cargo ship to steal food to survive, and killed one of the two sailors who attacked him. He was sent to prison in Andorra to serve a life sentence, and remained there for about twelve years, enduring many horrors. Miraculously freed by an earthquake which brought the prison’s walls down, he made his way to Oviedo in the north of Spain, hungry, battered and weakened. He awakened eventually in a warm bed, his wounds tended, and was provided with food and drink. He believed he heard the voice of Christ speaking to him, telling him that he had been saved.
His rescuer was a young priest named Manuel Aringarosa, whom the erstwhile prisoner saved from an intruder who had broken in to steal the offertory money. Aringarosa had heard of the earthquake and guessed that the albino man had escaped from the prison in Andorra, but did not judge him or shun him because of this. As his new-found companion could not recall his true name, however, Aringarosa decided to call him Silas, after a Biblical figure who was also freed from imprisonment by an earthquake. The newly named Silas remained with Aringarosa, helping him to build a church for the organisation Opus Dei, which Aringarosa worked for. In return, Aringarosa befriended and educated Silas, and convinced him to devote the rest of his life to the Catholic Church – and to Aringarosa himself. Silas took monastic vows, and Aringarosa eventually became a Bishop and the head of Opus Dei.
Manuel Aringarosa (pictured above, as portrayed by Alfred Molina in the movie) is fairly close in age to Silas in the book, though he is depicted as being some years older than his protégé in the film. Originally from Madrid, Aringarosa began his career in the church as a missionary sent to Oviedo in order to build a church for Opus Dei. Over time, he worked his way up to becoming a Bishop and President-General of the conservative Catholic organisation, his plush penthouse residence being in the Opus Dei World Headquarters in New York – Silas also took up residence in the same building so he could stay by the Bishop’s side. From the beginning, Aringarosa has been passionately loyal to the ideals of Opus Dei, and in both book and film condemns the modern world and its values as sinful, and in need of the discipline of traditionalist, rigorous Catholic doctrine as preached and practiced by Opus Dei.
Aringarosa was therefore horrified to be summoned to the Vatican (five months before the main events of the novel transpire) and informed by the Vatican secretarius that the Pope had decided, in six months’ time, to withdraw his sanction of Opus Dei and declare the organisation no longer part of the Catholic Church. However, a mysterious man calling himself the Teacher later contacted Aringarosa. This Teacher claimed he could obtain for Aringarosa a valuable artifact that would restore Opus Dei to power – a “keystone” that led to the Holy Grail. Aringarosa was eager for Silas, his beloved pupil, to be involved in this grand plan, and the Teacher sent the monk to find the keystone.
Unfortunately for Aringarosa and Silas, the Teacher was in fact no holy man, but the villainous Sir Leigh Teabing, who wanted to discover the Grail himself (the Holy Grail being not the cup of Christ’s blood as frequently assumed, but the Biblical figure Mary Magdalene and the alleged bloodline descended from the child she is supposed to have produced with Jesus Christ according to the novel). He insisted that Silas and Aringarosa did not speak to each other until Silas’s mission was over, and manipulated Silas into murdering the leaders of the Priory of Sion, a shadowy group charged with protecting the Grail, and later a nun named Sister Sandrine who was in league with the Priory. When Silas killed the Priory’s Grand Master at the Louvre in Paris, this led to the story’s protagonist, Harvard professor Robert Langdon, and cryptologist Sophie Neveu, granddaughter of the murdered Grand Master, becoming involved with the whole plot.
The main story of The Da Vinci Code unfolds from there, with a series of events too long and complex to paraphrase here as many of them do not relate directly to the connection between Silas and Aringarosa. Suffice to say that there is violence, pursuit involving the French police, cracking of codes and solving of mysteries. The part of the story involving Silas and Aringarosa culminates when the so-called Teacher directs Silas to seek refuge in the London headquarters of Opus Dei (the Grail quest having now led to England). However, the British police have been tipped off as to Silas’s whereabouts and informed that he is a dangerous killer, and armed policemen are sent to arrest Silas. Aringarosa, now knowing that the Teacher is a fake and that he and Silas have been tricked, races to the scene to stop Silas’s murderous rampage and protect his protégé from further harm. He arrives too late, however – Silas has been mortally wounded in a gun battle with the police and accidentally shoots Aringarosa, screaming in horror as he realises what he has done.
In a last act of devotion to the mentor he so adores, Silas carries Aringarosa to the hospital. He vows to kill the Teacher in revenge, but Aringarosa begs him not to, telling him to forgive and to pray instead. After delivering the Bishop to the hospital, Silas makes his way to Kensington Gardens where he says a last prayer for forgiveness and dies, hearing the Bishop’s voice inside his head telling him that God will indeed show him mercy. Thus do Silas and Aringarosa at last find some kind of redemption. (Sadly, in the movie, Silas and Aringarosa are portrayed more as conventional “bad guys” than the well-meaning but misguided souls they are in the novel – but even then, they seem to have a lot more depth of character than the heroes of the story).
Why The Pairing Works
“There's something about the forbidden that appeals to me. Not only does their religion forbid homosexual relationships, but they have sworn celibacy. They're breaking everything, and it's beautiful.” – cassiejo
“I think it was the whole forbidden love thing for me. Both seem like such devoted people to their 'cause' in particular Silas and his efforts to do whatever must be necessary, yet in the pairing, there is a problem that both know should be overcome and still they cannot deny it. The way I have tried to portray it in my own fics have been more along the unrequited love line, rather than simple lust. It is a test for them both” – blue_nbeautiful
“I’m quite fond of the forbidden-ness of a relationship between celibate clergymen. It’s the whole “closeness” thing, too. The only ones they have are one another, in a way” – girl4edwards04
Judging from my conversations with fellow Silas/Aringarosa ‘shippers, as evidenced above, the theme of forbidden love is a major factor in the appeal of the pairing. Many romantic tales, from great works of literature to popular fan fiction, are about lovers who must overcome obstacles to their union. These factors include feuding families, differences in social class and status, or being of the same gender or different races in times and places where such relationships were or are prohibited. Whether these stories end in tragedy or conclude in the joyful spirit of “love conquers all,” they resonate within the romantic side of many of us.
Aringarosa and Silas are members of Opus Dei, one of the most ultra-conservative of Catholic organisations. Not only are same sex relationships forbidden within their church, the vows that they have taken mean that they are barred from all sexual activity. They are passionately devoted to their cause, and the Bishop, as the head of Opus Dei, would most likely speak out against such things as gay rights in the media. According to canon, Silas has been celibate since joining Opus Dei, and it goes without saying that Aringarosa will have been too. Silas endured sexual abuse in prison at the hands of other men, and was mocked and shunned on the streets because of his appearance by many people he met, including women he may have desired, so he would have very strong reasons to distrust sexual connections with both genders.
Vows of chastity, conservative attitudes, and past abusive experiences – some may see these as a barrier to any kind of romantic or sexual attachment between the two men. But I believe that these obstacles are not insurmountable – indeed, there are convincing arguments as to why these two would fit together well, and could become lovers despite the hurdles supposedly in their way (either before the events of the Da Vinci Code novel or film, or in an alternate universe where Silas does not die). Indeed, these seeming barriers could strengthen the appeal of “forbidden love” for readers of the pair.
One of these ideas as to why the pairing works has to do with the unique devotion that Silas and Aringarosa feel for each other. These two men have saved each other’s lives, both literally and symbolically. Aringarosa found Silas on his doorstep, took him in and nursed him back to health, and became his mentor, educating him and giving him not only a new name but also a purpose, a reason to live and hope. Silas fought off the thief who attacked Aringarosa, helped him with his mission of building the church, and stayed by his side as a loyal and trusted companion. With his intelligence and determination, Silas could have studied for the priesthood and had an illustrious career within Opus Dei, but that would have likely meant separation from Aringarosa, so Silas chose to remain a monk and Aringarosa's pupil.
By all appearances, it is canon fact that Aringarosa is the only person who has shown Silas any affection or kindness other than Silas’s mother. This has resulted in Silas becoming so intensely loyal to Aringarosa that it goes beyond mere friendship or admiration. It is hinted that Silas joined Opus Dei because of Aringarosa, and although his commitment to the church is strong, his feelings for the Bishop are even stronger. In the novel, after the killing of Sister Sandrine, Silas severely flagellates himself and thinks to himself, “I have failed the church. Far worse, I have failed the Bishop.” It is obvious which he thinks is the greater sin.
This intensity of feeling is by no means one-sided. Aringarosa also cares deeply for Silas, in ways that seem more than just priestly duty. He treats Silas as a confidant – the monk is the only person he shares the news with about the Vatican’s repudiation of Opus Dei and the Teacher’s plans. This excerpt from the novel best illustrates Aringarosa’s trust in Silas and the passionate loyalty the monk displays towards his mentor:
The Bishop had seemed hopeful for the first time. “Silas,” he whispered, “God has bestowed upon us an opportunity to protect The Way. Our battle, like all battles, will take sacrifice. Will you be a soldier of God?”
Silas fell to his knees before Bishop Aringarosa – the man who had given him a new life – and he said, “I am a lamb of God. Shepherd me as your heart commands.”
So, there is the first of my reasons why the pairing works – the more intense than usual emotional bond between Silas and Aringarosa. They are teacher and pupil, father and son in Christ, friends and allies, with a hint of something deeper that could possibly lead to their love becoming more than the aforementioned. The two of them have this special closeness only with each other, so I believe that it is only with each other that a love that transgresses their vows could be formed.
Other justifications for my ‘shipping Silas/Aringarosa have to do with the characters as individuals and their motivations and beliefs. The novel gives evidence that Aringarosa not only sees the intelligence, strength and potential for greatness within Silas, but views him as physically beautiful too. Whilst educating Silas in the rectory in Oviedo, Aringarosa tells his protégé that his albinism is nothing to be ashamed of, that he has “skin white like an angel” and compares him to Noah of the Ark, believed by many to have had albinism. Aringarosa believes that Silas is special, and that God intends Silas to do His work. Seeing himself through Aringarosa’s eyes, Silas finds a sense of self-esteem, beginning to think of himself as “Pure. White. Beautiful. Like an angel,” instead of the hideous “ghost with the eyes of a devil” that he had previously believed himself to be. Through the eyes of love Silas comes to see his true beauty.
For his part, Silas appears to adore Aringarosa so completely that he would do absolutely anything for him. He is willing to die and kill for the Bishop, commit sins and then repent of them, punishing himself severely, if that is what Aringarosa asks of him, or if Silas believes that is what Aringarosa wants. If Aringarosa desired him physically, I believe Silas would give himself to the Bishop. He is willing to commit the sin of murder for the man he adores – so perhaps it is not too far-fetched to imagine that Silas would willingly commit the lesser sin of breaking his vow of chastity with the man who is everything to him? He trusts Aringarosa absolutely, so maybe he could rise above the sorrows of his past abuse and discover the joys of physical love with his mentor. There is a possibility, also, that Silas may become the teacher rather than the pupil if the relationship became sexual – there appears to be a slight “fanon” developing amongst some Silas/Aringarosa fan fiction writers, including myself, that the Bishop may have had little to no sexual experience before taking priestly vows. This would make Silas the more skilled and knowledgeable partner in this regard, allowing the power balance to shift a little and a mutuality to flourish.
The next reasons for my loving this pairing come more from my own interpretation, speculation and erotic imagination than canon evidence. In my own view of the pairing, I can see the possibilities for the very restrictions, taboos and penalties that could be viewed as barriers to their intimacy to become ways to facilitate it.
As I mentioned earlier, Silas is seen to be deeply enthusiastic and over the top in his use of corporal mortification, flogging himself till bleeding with a vicious knotted whip called the Discipline, and wearing the spiked cilice belt around his thigh for longer than the two hours recommended for Opus Dei numeraries’ use of this instrument. Fan writers and artists have often interpreted this as indicating that Silas is a sexual masochist and takes a more than pious delight in the pain. I have often imagined that Aringarosa, as Silas’s mentor, may have initially taught Silas about corporal mortification by chastising the monk himself, and might continue to do so on occasion. Either as punishment for real or imagined sins, or as a pleasurable activity for Silas and himself, or both. And then there is the matter of the cilice. It is meant to not only cause pain but dispel lust (in the novel, Silas notices two teenage prostitutes in Paris and flexes his thigh to drive the spikes in and get rid of his lustful feelings), but my theory is that this device would be a lot less successful in preventing sexual desire brought on by the pangs of love. And perhaps as a pain-giving device, it could also be enlisted in the pair’s carnal activities as well as the whip.
The secrecy that a love affair between these two holy men would necessitate could also strengthen the emotional bond between them, making them closer than ever. Possibly, they might come to believe themselves above the accepted rules of their church, rationalising that since God brought them together, then any emotional or physical developments between them might be God’s will. They could see themselves as special, unlike the homosexuals whose way of life the church condemns. Or they may continue to view their love as pure but the sex as sinful, and use pain and penance to purify themselves after they have indulged in carnal embraces, in line with the extreme practices of Opus Dei if not with the letter of its dogma. A cycle of “sin, repent, repeat” if you will.
Intense and complex, the pairing of Silas/Aringarosa appeals to me like no other pairing in any fandom ever has. Its combination of forbidden love, potential for kink and passionate devotion combined with religious imagery makes it unique. It is hard to express in words the feelings that this pairing arouses in me, but I hope that this essay may encourage potential readers to discover the pairing for themselves.
Recommended Reading And Artwork
Although there seems to be quite a large number of people who are interested in Silas/Aringarosa or who actively ‘ship this pairing (there is even a LiveJournal community, silasaringarosa, devoted to the pairing), there are disappointingly few people writing fan fiction about them, technically making Silas/Aringarosa a rare pairing. But what fics do exist tend to be mostly of excellent quality, and there is also some brilliant Silas/Aringarosa fan art in existence.
The Secrets We Keep by blue_nbeautiful, R
To Touch An Angel by blue_nbeautiful, NC-17
Silas/Aringarosa Drabbles, by pele, here and here.
Touching God by cassiejo, R
At the Gates by girl4edwards04 A Da Vinci Code/RPS crossover with some good, strong Silas/Aringarosa content.
Angel by musical_rainbow
I have also written some Silas/Aringarosa fan fiction of my own, the longest fics to date being The Chastisement of Silas, NC-17, Angelic Visions, Hard R, and For I Have Sinned (under my other pen name of Carol Anne Caiafa, Hard R).
Please? by dragong, NC-17, NWS
Untitled by tentaclees
It's All Right, I Forgive You by tentaclees
Two Images by tentaclees (the second possibly NWS)
My Silas by sage_of_spice
Je t'aime by sage_of_spice
Silas = Sirasu in Japanese - Art from a Japanese fan site