While most priests look after the poor and needy, we found one in Casa Alta, a chateau-like house in the walls of the Castle of Ourém who believes the rich and powerful also need to be looked after.
Father Mariani, a character bigger than life, with a long list of honours and titles – including that of Royal Chaplain to the Dukes of Braganza, Pretenders to the Portuguese Crown, received us in true splendour.
At first we couldn’t understand how our intended pilgrimage to the shrine of the Blessed Virgin in Fatima had landed us in a house full of silver, works of art, and portraits of grand benefactors. In attendance were a Ukrainian butler and a devoted housekeeper, and a beautiful white Samoid dog, called Prince. But soon we met the real Prince, Father Mariani, who had the demeanour of a 19th Century bishop. He greeted us with a flourish at the front door dressed in a voluminous black soutane and monogrammed black velvet slippers. After stepping into his library for minimal formalities, we couldn’t count the amount of titles and Orders of Merit bestowed on the worldly Californian priest.
After being shown to our rooms by Igor and Valentina, either one of whom could have been KGB plants, we emerged into a garden and pool area of magnificent flowers overlooking the valley of Ourém and Fatima. Father had planned pastels with walls of hydrangea in full bloom, but Valentina’s wish for a spot of colour had red polyanthus roses climbing the thick trunk of a Canary Island Palm, and now with Father’s begrudged approval.. To our delight, cocktails and dinner proceeded in three different ‘stage-settings’ in the garden.
Adding a touch of the magnificent, Father Mariani appears in full regalia with some of the minor decorations around his neck. What an engaging individual!