They shook my hand, kissed me and bade me welcome. The man with the purple sash had gone ahead and stood facing us now from a dais at the far end of the room. I saw him there first as the others had their backs to him. When they saw me looking they turned and saw him too and we all walked forward towards the dais.
The golden hangings above us to left and right impressed me greatly. There were six in all, three on each wall, with purple line drawings depicting in turn an eagle, a chalice, a tower, a lightning flash, a book, and a flight of stairs. On the dais, in front of our leader, was a round table with a red and gold covering. 'Come friends,' he said, and we climbed onto the dais and formed a circle around him. I was the eleventh and last and so I found myself standing in the middle, face to face with him from the other side of the table.
'Fratres,' he began. 'You may call me Marcus, though I am known by countless names and have many roles across both time and space. I have been asked by Heaven to rekindle in Britain the civilisational and spiritual light of Rome in all her manifestations, from the princely city of Troy to the Pax Romana of Augustus to the Holy Roman Church and the Christian Empire founded by Constantine, right up to the Houses of Romanov in the East and Habsburg in the West, the last representatives, thus far, of the Imperial principle.'
His expression was earnest, his eyes wide and deep like pools of sea-green light. 'The Pope,' he went on, 'is with us still, serving as bridge and mediatior between Heaven and Earth. He holds the keys to the City of God and guides souls to its gates. But his counterpart, the Emperor, who watches over the City of Man and fashions it into a mirror of the Divine order, has been absent now for sixty-four years, and this is a gap the world feels keenly. It is a wound which speaks.'
I glanced down and saw a golden cross imprinted on the table's vivid red. Beneath it were the words, IN HOC SIGNO VINCES. 'Saint Paul,' Marcus continued, 'in his second letter to the Thessalonians, speaks of the Katehon - the restrainer - he who holds back evil and keeps the Antichrist at bay. This, traditionally, has been the role of the Emperor, so what happens when the restrainer is removed, as he has been since the demise of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian Empires? Decline and degeneration, as we see, and the setting of the stage for that ape of Christ, he whom the Apostle calls "the man of lawlessness." The Roman Emperor, my friends, is this Katehon, and it is the will of God that his throne be re-established and that he join hands once more with the Roman Pontiff and cast his protective, restorative aegis over all the realms of the Empire and beyond.'
I'm not sure if it was the potency of his words, the red ceremonial glare of the torches or the deep archetypal pull of the purple pictures, but somehow I felt myself lifted up, to the third heaven, as it were, a still point from where I saw and felt the rise and fall of civilisations - the power, glory and pity of it all - and the multiform incarnations of the Roman spirit throughout the ages. From such a height the vacuity and emptiness of our own time struck me, even as a child, with tangible force - the arrogance and blindness of an epoch which had voluntarily lopped off its own head. But Marcus was speaking again now, and he was talking about Britain.
'In the year Three Hundred and Six, when Constantine was acclaimed Emperor in York, this country was a mere outpost - the wind-swept, North Western fringe of the Empire. Our Lord Himself lived, died and rose in the Imperium's opposite corner - the South East. Transformation and renewal, this shows us, come not from the centre but the periphery. And so it is that the wheel is come full circle and the chain of Emperors begins anew in this land. It is our God-given task, my brethren, to forge the first link and set the chain in motion, as we did before the dawn of time when we stepped forth from the Heavenly Halls to bring shape and definition to the Holy One's new world.'
As he spoke, the mise en scène inside me shifted again and I was in a wild and formless void, lashed by wind and rain, with my companions beside me. And we were changed utterly, ordinary people no more, neither young nor old but beings of power and light, moulding and shaping the elements, raising the mountains, setting down valleys and fixing the boundaries of land, sea and air.
Then we entered a more primal region still - a timeless, mysterious place - quite indescribable. We stood around a throne in a semi-circle, chanting an ancient liturgy, and the figure on the throne shone with such intensity that we - high angels though we were, and Marcus the highest of all - could hardly bare to look. But there were thirteen of us gathered there, not twelve, and Marcus was standing next to me on my right. In the middle, facing the throne, was a woman in red and gold with long dark hair, holding up a small golden cross. And she alone could look directly at the light.
Back in Didsbury, I heard Marcus say, 'One comes after me now who ranks above me because she was before me. From age to age she carries out the works of God on Earth. Day and night she gazes upon the face of the Most High and her countenance is stamped with the splendour of His light. She it is who will guide us into truth. Look now where she comes.'
Together again on the dais, we turned as one to look, and there she was, standing in the doorway, the swings and slides of the playground visible behind her still in the dying light. But she was like the sun, clad in red and gold, bearing a golden cross in her right hand and a bowl of burnished bronze in her left. Though looking nothing like a nun, I knew her straightaway as the woman on the coin. She held the cross aloft, and her voice was akin to a rushing, cleansing wind, sweeping through the hall and making everything new.
'In hoc signo vinces,' she said. 'By this sign we will conquer, create, and once more renew the face of the Earth.'