The Veil of Forgetfulness

Libretto and Music by Susan Stoderl
Real-Time Art Installation by Painter, Sarah Elizabeth Olson


Shaftesbury Abbey, 1199. The Scriptorium and the Chapel share a mutual wall. A doorway between them allows for spying and intrigue.

The main characters have lived in close proximity, with little privacy, for many long years. For some it is a gift, but for Sister Regina it is a bitter trial. She ardently believes that it is herself who should have been made Abbess, rather than Marie.

The position of Abbess is one of great power and is the only position to allow its holder to travel outside the confining walls of the abbey. When Regina was cast out as mistress of King Henry II, she was promised the position as a parting gift. Instead, Henry named his half sister, Marie de France to the position. Marie de France is a woman of many secrets. Not only is she secretly a very famous woman poet, but is the heretical leader of a mystical alliance. To add to her sins, according to Regina, she allows an escaped Jew from the massacre of York to be their cook, as well as a woman of Cathar descent to remain within the walls of the abbey. Furthermore, she allows Sister Dympha, who is clearly mentally disturbed, to remain as a practicing sister rather than being sent to an asylum.

Abbess Marie is aware that they will very soon have their seventh member in Joan Plantagenet, who has arrived at the abbey seeking asylum from an extremely cruel husband. As if Regina needed any other reason for her discontent, Joan is the child of King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, born during his affair with Regina.

It is essential that Joan wants to both accept the Veil of Forgetfulness and be initiated before her death, or before Regina exposes them all as heretics. Joan has arrived at the abbey in a very advanced state of pregnancy and is in extreme ill health. The group will meet in the Scriptorium that night to present their position to Joan. Regina discovers the plan and calls for the soldiers of her good friend, the Archbishop, to catch the heretics in action, thus paving the way for her to become the next Abbess.

Abbess Marie knows that Regina will be spying on the group's activities that evening, and in instructing Joan as the Seventh Keeper, she will also be instructing Regina in a new way of being. Each member tells their own personal story to Joan and about the legend of the Veil of Forgetfulness. Regina begins to see that even though she has hated and resented each one of them, they have all lived very difficult lives and have something now she does not, peace and contentment. She comes to realize how truly kind and good these women are and how she has so gravely sinned against them. Regina frantically urges each of them to leave before the soldiers arrive.

As Joan reaches to accept the Veil of Forgetfulness, she slowly sinks to the floor, dead, but not before she has become the Seventh Keeper. The black veils of the other six slip to the floor, and underneath are veils of iridescent blue. Regina, overcome with emotion, kneels over Joan's body, seeing a vision of what her life is to become. She takes the Veil from Joan's hand and covers the dead body. Abbess Marie takes the Veil off Joan and places it in Regina's hands, then departs with the others, their mission completed. After an anxious moment, Regina hides the Veil in her sleeves and kneels in prayer over Joan. She is now the new First Keeper.

The Veil of Forgetfulness
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