Douglas Preston, “The Monster of Florence”

“Myriam urged her husband to seek help, and finally he agreed. Instead of going to a psychiatrist, Spezi, a devout Catholic, turned to a monk who ran a small mental-health practice out of his cell in a crumbling eleventh-century Franciscan monastery. Brother Galileo Babbini was short, with Coke-bottle glasses that magnified his piercing black eyes. He was always cold, even in summer, and wore a shabby down coat beneath his brown monk’s habit. He seemed to have stepped out of the Middle Ages, and yet he was a highly trained psychoanalyst with a doctorate from the University of Rome.

Brother Galileo combined psychoanalysis with mystical Christianity to counsel people recovering from devastating trauma. His methods were not gentle, and he was unyielding in his pursuit of truth. He had, Spezi told me, an almost supernatural insight into the dark side of the human soul. Spezi would see him throughout the case; he would confide to me that Brother Galileo had preserved not only his sanity, but also his life.”

Originally printed in The Atlantic, July 2006

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