G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

A medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation online

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of God and not them disprove by disputation."




An Encyclopaedists Difficulties. 3

Wonders be not all to be untrowed : for Hieronymus
saith : " Many wonders thou shalt find that thou
wouldest not believe, and yet they be full sooth :
nature may not do against God, Lord of nature."
Also of many things that seemeth full sooth, never-
theless skilfully we doubteth. Isidorus saith : "If
reason is uncertain of the building of the city of
Rome, what wonder though men be uncertain of the
building of other cities and towns ? Wherefore we
shall not blame makers and writers of stories, that
diversly speak and \vrite ; for long passages of time
and elde of deeds maketh them unknown and writers
to err." Therefore Hieronymus saith : " It is seemly
to trow their saws that withsayeth not our belief
nor soothness that is known."

Wherefore in Avriting of this history I take not
upon me to affirm for sooth all that I write here, but
such as I have seen and y-read in divers books, I
gather and write mthout envy, and [make] common
A\ith other men. For the Apostle saith not : " All
that is written to our lore is sooth," but he saith :
" All that is y- written to our lore it is y-written."*



* Dr. Gairdner {Lollardij and the Reformation, I. 212) is mistaken in
quoting this passage as a proof of medieval freedom from that
Bibliolatry which beset the Reformers. Higden is obviously
apologizing, not for historical errors in Holy Writ, but for the
unequal historical value of the different authors from whom he has
compiled. Even if this were not plain enough in the context, it is
clinched by the chapter immediately following, which is headed
" Names of the Authors quoted in this work." Then follows a list of
40 names, from Josephus and Hegesippus down to Florence of
Worcester, but with no mention of the Bible.



4 A Medieval Garner.

Ralph Glaber was put by his uncle to a monastic school, and took
the vows in due course. His wandering and somewhat irregular life was
partly spent in the Monastery of St. Benigne at Dijon {see No. 14), and
seems to have ended at Cluny somewhere about 1044, at which date
his Chronicle finishes. In spite of his crabbed style, he is one of the
very few French chroniclers of the 10th and 11th centuries who are
worth reading : " it is, with the Miracles de Samt-Benoit, the most
precious source we possess for manners and ideas in France at the end
of the 10th and beginning of the 11th century " (G. Monod, in Revue
Historique, t. xxviii., p. 272). Certain exaggerated deductions drawn
from him by modern writers, as to the overwhelming significance of
the year 1000 A.D., have been corrected by Jules Roy in his admirable
little monograph UAn Mille (Hachette 1885). It was not only at and
about this date that our forefathers expected strange events : the
medieval mind was perpetually haunted by the expectation of Anti-
christ, and even Sir Thomas More seems to have beheved that the end
of all things was at hand in his own days. The following extracts are
from Migne's Edition (P.L. cxhi., col. 635 fE).



3.— Ci)e S^\x%t 6^illennium.

AE-NED by the prophecy of Holy Writ, we
see clearer than daylight that in process of
the Last Days, as love waxed cold and in-
iquity abounded among mankind, perilous
times were at hand for men's souls. For by
many assertions of the ancient fathers we are warned
that, as covetousness stalks abroad, the religious Rules
or Orders of the past have caught decay and cor-
ruption from that which should have raised them to
growth and progress. . . . From this [covetousness]
also proceed the constant tumult of quarrels at law,
and frequent scandals arise, and the even tenour of the
different Orders is rent by their transgressions. Thus
also it cometh to pass that, while irreligiousness stalks
abroad among the clergy, froward and incontinent
appetites grow among the people, until lies and deceit
and fraud and manslaughters, creeping abroad among
them, draw almost all to perdition ! And, since the
mist of utter blindness hath darkened the eye of the
Catholic Faith (that is, the prelates of the Church),
therefore their flocks, ignorant of the way to salvation,
fall into the ruin of their own perdition. . . . For






The Millennium. 5

whensoever religion hath failed among the pontiffs,
.and strictness of the Rule hath decayed among the
abbots, and therewith the vigour of monastic discipline
hath grown cold, and by their example the rest of the
people are become prevaricators of God's command-
ments, what then can we think but that the whole
human race, root and branch, is sliding willingly down
again into the gulf of primaeval chaos. . . . And
because, in fulfilment (as we see) of the Apostle's
prophecy, love waxeth cold and iniquity aboundeth
among men that are lovers of their own selves, there-
fore these things aforesaid befel more frequently than
usual in all parts of the world about the thousandth
year after the birth of our Lord and Saviour,

For, in the seventh year before that date. Mount
Vesuvius (which is also called Vulcan's Caldron) gaped
far more often than his wont and belched forth a multi-
tude of vast stones mingled with sulphurous flames
which fell even to a distance of three miles around ;
and thus by the stench of his breath he began to make
all the surrounding province uninhabitable. ... It
befel meanwhile that almost all the cities of Italy and
Gaul were ravaged by flames of fire, and that the
greater part even of the city of Rome was devoured by
a conflagration. During which fire, the flames caught
the beams of St. Peter's church, beginning to creep
under the bronze tiles and lick the carpenters' work.
When this became known to the whole multitude that
stood by, then, finding no possible device for averting
this disaster, they turned with one accord and, crying
with a terrible voice, hastened to the Confession* even
of the Chief of the Apostles, crjdng upon him with
curses that, if he watched not over his own, nor showed
himself a very present defender of his church, many
throughout the world w^ould fall away from their
]^rofession of faith. Whereupon the devouring flames
straightway left those beams of pine and died aw^ay.

* The part of the choir in which the celebrant makes his confession
before saying mass. This was usually just in front of the altar
steps — See Dom Martene, De Antiquis Ecclesiae Ritibm, lib i, cap.
iv., art 2, ad fin.



6 A Medieval Garner.

... At this same time a horrible plague raged among
men, namely a hidden fire which, upon whatsoever
limb it fastened, consumed it and severed it from the
body.* Many were consumed even in the space of a
single night by these devouring flames. . . . Moreover,
about the same time, a most mighty famine raged for
five years throughout the Roman world, so that no
region could be heard of which was not hungerstricken
for lack of bread, and many of the people were starved
to death. In those days also, in many regions, the
horrible famine compelled men to make their food not
only of unclean beasts and creeping things, but even of
men's, women's, and children's flesh, without regard
even of kindred ; for so fierce waxed this hunger that
grown-up sons devoured their mothers, and mothers,
forgetting their maternal love, ate their babes. [The
chronicler then goes on to speak of two heresies which
arose in France and Italy, of the piety of King Robert
of France, etc., etc.]

So on the threshold of the aforesaid thousandth
year, some two or three years after it, it befel almost
throughout the world, but especially in Italy and Gaul,
that the fabrics of churches were rebuilt, although
many of these were still seemly and needed no such
care ; but every nation of Christendom rivalled with
the other, which should worship in the seemliest
buildings. So it was as though the very world had
shaken herself and cast off her old age, and were cloth-
ing herself everywhere in a white garment of churches.
Then indeed the faithful rebuilt and bettered almost
all the cathedral churches, and other monasteries
dedicated to divers saints, and smaller parish churches.
. . . When therefore, as we have said, the whole world
had been clad in new church buildings, then in the
days follomng — that is, in the eighth year follo^ving
the aforesaid thousandth after the Incarnation of our
Saviour — the relics of very many saints, which had
long lain hid, were revealed by divers proofs and testi-
monies ; for these, as if to decorate this revival,

* St. Anthony's fire, one of the curses of the Middle Ages, which
modern medicine has traced to poisons generated in corrupt rye-bread.



8 A Medieval Garner.

revealed themselves by God's will to the eyes of the
faithful, to whose minds also they brought much con-
solation. This revelation is known to have begun first
in the city of Sens in Gaul, at the church of the blessed
Stephen, ruled in those days by the archbishop Leoteric,
who there discovered certain marvellous relics of ancient
holy things ; for, among very many other things
which lay hidden, he is said to have found a part of
Moses' rod, at the report whereof all the faithful flocked
together not only from the provinces of Gaul but even
from well-nigh all Italy and from countries beyond the
sea ; and at the same time not a few sick folk returned
thence whole and sound, by the intervention of the
saints. But, as most frequently befalleth, from that
source whence profit springeth to men, there they are
wont to rush to their ruin by the vicious impulse of
covetousness ; for the aforesaid city having, as we
have related, waxed most wealthy by reason of the
people who resorted thither through the grace of piety,
its inhabitants conceived an excessive insolence in
return for so great benefits. ... At that time, more-
over, that is in the ninth year after the aforesaid
thousandth anniversary, the church at Jerusalem
which contained the sepulchre of our Lord and Saviour
was utterly overthrown at the command of the prince
of Babylon. . . . After that it had been overthrown,
as we have said, then within a brief space it became
fully evident that this great iniquity had been done by
the wickedness of the Jews. When therefore this was
spread abroad through the whole world, it was decreed
by the common consent of Christian folk that all Jews
should be utterly driven forth from their lands or
cities. Thus they were held up to universal hatred
and driven forth from the cities ; some were slain with
the sword or cut off by manifold kinds of death, and
some even slew themselves in divers fashions ; so that,
after this well-deserved vengeance had been wreaked,
scarce any were found in the Roman world. Then also
the bishops published decrees forbidding all Christians
to associate themselves with Jews in any matter whatso-
ever ; and ordaining that, whosoever would be converted



The Millennium* 9

to baptismal grace and utterly eschew the customs or
manners of the Jews, he alone should be received. Which
indeed was done by very many of them for love of this
present Ufe, and impelled rather by fear of death than
by the joys of the life everlasting ; for all such of
them as simulated this conversion returned impudently
wdthin a brief wliile to their former way of life. . . .

After the manifold signs and prodigies which came
to pass in the world, some earlier and some later, about
the thousandth year from our Lord's birth, it is certain
that there were many careful and sagacious men who
foretold other prodigies as great when the thousandth
year from His Passion should draw nigh. [Glaber
here goes on to relate the rival claims of the Greek
Church, the growth of heresy in Italy, the success of
false miracles wrought by evil spirits, and another
three years of famine and cannibalism ; after which a
series of church councils were held for peace and
reform.] Then were innumerable sick folk healed in
those conclaves of Holy men ; and, lest men should
think lightly of mere bursten skin or rent flesh in the
straightening of arms and legs, much blood flowed
forth also when the crooked limbs were restored ;
which gave faith to the rest who might have doubted.
At this all were inflamed with such ardour that through
the hands of their bishops they raised the pastoral
staff to heaven, while themselves with outspread palms
and with one voice cried to God : Peace, peace, peace !
that this might be a sign of perpetual covenant for
.that which they had promised between themselves and
God ; on condition that, after the lapse of five years,
the same covenant should marvellously be repeated by
all men in the world in confirmation of that peace.
That same year, moreover, so great was the plenty and
abundance of corn and wine and other fruits of the
earth, that men dared not hope to have so much during
all the five years next to come ; for no human food
was aught accounted of save flesh or choice victuals,
and this year was like unto the great Jubilee of ancient
Mosaic times. Next year again, and again in the third
and fourth years, the fruits were no less abundant.



lo A Medieval Garner.

But, alas for shame ! the human race, forgetful of Grod's
lovingkindness and prone from its very beginnirig to
evil, like the dog returning to his own vomit again or
the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire,
made the covenant of their own promise of none effect
in many ways ; and, as it is written, they waxed fat,
and grew thick, and kicked. For even the princes of
both orders, spiritual and secular, turned to covetous-
ness and began to sin in theft and greed as grievously
as before, or even worse. Then those of middle rank
and the poorer people, following the example of the
greater, decUned into horrible crime. For who ere
now had heard of such incests, adulteries, and illicit
aUiances between close kindred, such mockery of
concubines and such emulation of evil men ? More-
over, to fill up the measure of so great wickedness,
since there were few or none among the people to
correct the rest, and to rebuke such crimes, therefore
the prophecy was fulfilled which saith, " And it shall
be as with the people, so with the priest " ; seeing
especially that all the rulers in those days, both secular
and spiritual, were mere boys. For in those days,
through the sins of the people, that saying of Solomon's
was fulfilled : " Woe to thee, O land, when thy king
is a child." For even the universal Pope of Rome
himself, the nephew of the two popes Benedict and
John who had preceded him, was a boy scarce ten
years old, whose money and treasures had procured
his election by the Romans ; by whom in process of
time he was dishonourably treated and oftentimes cast
forth, so that he had no power.* Moreover, as we
have already said, the rest of the prelates in those days
owed their promotion rather to their gold and silver
than to their merit. Alas for shame ! It is of such
that the Scripture saith — nay, rather God's o\vn
mouth — " They have been princes, and I knew not."
At this same time so innumerable a multitude began to

* " The foulness of his conversation and life is horrible to relate,"
notes Glaber of the same Pope on a later page (698). This was the
lowest ebb reached by the Papacy until the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries.



A Fighting Monk. 1 1

flock from all parts of the world to the sepulchre of our
Saviour at Jerusalem, as no man could before have
expected ; for the lower orders of people led the way,
after whom came those of middle rank, and then all
the greatest kings and counts and bishops ; lastly (a
thing which had never come to pass before), many
noble ladies and poorer women journeyed thither. For
many purposed and desired to die before they should
see their homes again. . . . Moreover, some of those
who were then most concerned in these matters, being
consulted by many concerning the signification of this
concourse to Jerusalem, greater than the past age had
ever heard of, answered with some caution that it
portended no other than the advent of that reprobate
Antichrist, whose coming at the end of this world is
prophesied in Holy Scripture.



The Monastery of Novalese, under Mont-Cenis, was founded A.D. 726,
its well-known Chronicle was compiled by one of its monks in the first
and second quarters of the eleventh century. References are to Pertz's
smaller edition {Chronlcon }\ ovaiiciense, Hanover, 1890).

4.— a jFigbting ^onk.

{CJiran. Nov., pp. 13, 28).

[T is said that there dwelt in this monastery
in early days an ancient monk named Wal-
ther, of noble race and royal blood, who
is said to have been a most famous and
mighty champion . . . who, after many
wars and battles which he had fought doughtily in the
world, feeling his body now almost broken down with
old age, and remembering the burden of his sins,
thought within himself how to come to right penance ;
and, having resolved in his mind that he could best do
this in the monastery wherein the monks kept their
Rule most strictly, forthwith he sought out a staff of
most cunning workmanship, at the head whereof he
bade fashion many rings, and to each of these rings a




12 A Medieval Garner.

little bell ; then, taking a pilgrim's habit, he wandered
thus throughout almost the whole world to explore
with this staff, whensoever he came to a monastery,
what zeal of common life the monks had and how they
kept their Rule. So then he set out upon this pilgrim-
age, whereof the tradition survives ; and to whatso-
ever monastery he came, he would enter at the hour
when the monks themselves came into the church to
praise their God — for this he marked very narrowly —
then would he smite his staff twice or thrice upon the
church pavement, that he might mark the strictness
of their discipline by the sound of the bells that hung
thereon ; for the man's mind was most subtle and
crafty to discern by this means between the discipline
of divers monasteries. So when, as we have said above,
he had wandered almost over the world, he came at
length to Novalese, then most renowned for its zeal of
sanctity ; and, having entered the church, he smote
his staff, as he was wont, upon the sanctuary floor, at
which sound one of the boys looked backwards to see
what this might mean ; whereupon the master of the
novices leapt upon him and smote this boy, his disciple,
upon the cheek, which when Walther saw, he groaned
within himself and said : " Lo, here is that which I
have sought for so many days and throughout so many
lands, and as yet had never found." Wherefore he
went out forthwith from the church and besought the
abbot that he would deign to speak with him ; and,
having told him of his wish, he presently took the
monastic cowl and was made forthwith, by his own
choice and will, the gardener of our monastery. In
that office he was wont to take two cords of exceeding
length and stretch them across the garden, one length-
wise and another crosswise, whereon in summertime
he hung all baleful weeds, stretching out their roots
to the heat of the sun that they might never live again.
[The Chronicler goes on to describe the vast trains of
waggons which brought grain to the monastery from
all its farms, led by an empty waggon with a bell on a
pole to mark out the sacred convoy, which no man
ever ventured to touch ; until at last one day the king's



A Fighting Monk. 13

servants robbed one of these convoys. Walther was
deputed by the abbot to go and recover them, as far as
possible by gentle means.]

... So Walther, going forth from the abbot's pre-
sence, and bearing in mind what so great a master had
said unto him, enquired of the servants of the monas-
tery whether there were any horse there which was
inured to war in case of necessity ; and, when the
servants answered that they had good and stout cart-
horses, he bade them be brought forthwith to his
presence. There he considered each one, mounting it
with spurs on his heels to prove its mettle ; and,
pricking one after another, he was displeased with all
and refused them, and told forthwith their faults.
Then he remembered how he had once brought with
him into that monastery a most excellent charger, and
said to the servants : " That steed which I brought
hither when I became a monk, liveth he still or is he
dead ? " They answered : " He liveth, lord, but he is
old, and hath been given over to the baker, for whom
he beareth the corn daily to and from the mill." Then
said Walther : " Bring him hither and let us see how
his mettle is." The horse was brought, and Walther,
mounting him and spurring him on, said : " The horse
beareth still in mind those steps and paces which I
sought to teach him in liis younger days." Then the
abbot and all the brethren blessed Walther ; and he,
bidding them farewell, took with him two or three
servants and hastened to meet the aforesaid robbers.
Wlien, therefore, he had humbly saluted them, he
began to warn them that they should not again do God's
servants such harm as they had even now wrought.
But they answered him with hard words, whereupon
he rebuked them all the more sternly and more fre-
quently. They therefore, moved with wrath at this
proud spirit of his, compelled Walther to strip him of
the garments which he wore ; and he obeyed them
humbly in all things, according to his obedience, saying
how the Brethren had laid this command upon him.
They therefore, in course of stripping him, began to
despoil him even of his shoes and his breeches ; but



14 A Medieval Garner.

when they had come to his breeches, Walther resisted
long, sa^dng that the brethren had by no means com-
manded him to suffer those garments to be taken from
him ; whereupon they answered that they cared
nought for the bidding of the monks ; but Walther
withstood them to their face, saying that it was not
seemly that he should abandon these garments. When
therefore they began to lay violent hands upon him,
Walther withdrew secretly from the saddle the stirrup
wherein his foot had rested, wherewith he so smote one
of these ruffians on the head that he fell lifeless to the
earth. Then, seizing his arms, the monk struck right
and left. . . . (Now some men say that when one of
them had pressed upon him with more importunity
than the rest, and was bending down to draw his shoes
from his feet, this Walther smote him with his fist so
sore upon the neck that his neckbone brake and fell
into his gullet.) Many therefore were slain, and the
rest took to flight and left all that they had. Walther
therefore, having gained the victory, took all that was
his and theirs to boot, and returned forthwith to the
monastery laden with the spoil. But when the abbot
had heard of these things and saw what had been done,
he groaned and gave himself up to lamentation and
prayers together with the rest of the Brethren, rebuking
him sore. But Walther took his penance forthwith
from the abbot, lest he should grow proud of his evil
deeds in this life and suffer harm in his soul.



5.— C6e Earliest EecorDcn aipine Climti.

(Chron. Nov., p. 11).

O the right hand of this monastery [of Nova-
lese] is Monte Romuleo, the loftiest of all
the mountains near. In this mountain dwelt
one Romulus, a most gigantic king [rex
elefantiosissimus] from whom also it took
its name, on account of the refreshment and pleasant
nature of the place or of the lake thereon. This moun-
tain, therefore, surrounds on the right hand, as I have




Early Alpinism. 15

said, the aforesaid monastery ; and at the roots
thereof runs the road to Burgundy. On this mountain,
as also on Mont Cenis, the common folk say that
several sorts of wild beasts live — bears, chamois, wild
goats, and others good for hunting. There also rises
a stream, falling through the dizzy heights of those
rocks, wherein it is said that a spring of salt water
arises and runs mingled with the other ; so the chamois
and goats and tame sheep are wont, for the love of the
salt, oftentimes to flock to this stream, that is, through
the gorge of the river-bed at the point where it opens
into the plain. Now men say that the aforesaid
Romulus had amassed a vast hoard of money on this
Monte Romuleo when he dwelt there ; to which moun-
tain no man can ever cUmb, howsoever fervently he
desire it ; but this old man, who told me so much of
the same place, told me how at a certain season he had
marked the exceeding clearness of the sky ; at which
time he rose at early dawn with a certain Count named
Clement, and they two hastened with all their might
to ascend the aforesaid mountain. But, when they
were now hard by the summit, its peak began to be



Online LibraryG. G. (George Gordon) CoultonA medieval garner; human documents from the four centuries preceding the reformation → online text (page 2 of 61)