G. G. (George Gordon) Coulton.

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

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-wdth amazement ; for they paced slowly forward,
one behind the other, until they came at last to the
Brethren. Then they entered in among them, thread-
ing their way backwards and forwards among the
monks and lay-brethren, as though they would have
overseen their work ; until, even as they moved, they
vanished from his eyes, and returned unto the heaven
whence they had come. Meanwhile this man of God
stood rooted to the spot, nor could he move until this
miracle was altogether past.

30.— Ct5C 31ackDato of Efteims.

Ih., col. 1144.
This is perhaps the earhest version of the now famous legend.

ILBEIT all who call themselves Christians
are as it were naturally persuaded, by that
Faith wherewith they have been imbued,
that the sentence of excommunication is
no less than a separation from God and
an estrangement from eternal life ; yet, for that hearts
benumbed wdth negligence are sometimes more easily
moved by examples than by preaching, I have thought
it necessary to show how terrible is this peremptory
sentence to a rational creature, when even a brute
beast is thereby sometimes subjected either to
death or to some most grievous calamity. . . . This
monastery [of Corvey] in the time of the last Emperor
Frederick [Barbarossa, d. 1190] was ruled by one
Conrad, who, according to the pompous custom of
prince-abbots, among other gauds of worldly glory.


A Medieval Garner.

wore gold rings — in a spirit far different to that of the
truly poor and humble-minded abbot-founder of
Clairvaux, who (we find it written) dehghted more
in rake and hoe than in mitre and ring. Now it
came to pass one day when he sat at meat and, in
courtly fashion, had laid down a precious golden ring
for the sake of washing his hands, that some trifle or
some serious matter intervened, and the ring was left,
somewhat too negUgently, on the table. Meanwhile
a tame raven, whom the abbot's courtiers kept as a
pet, watching an unguarded moment, caught the ring
in his beak and flew away swiftly to his nest without
conscience of his own guilty theft. When, therefore,
the feasters' hunger was satisfied, and the meats
removed, and the guests arisen from the table, then
the abbot learned his loss, blamed his servants'
negligence, and bade them seek the ring forth-
with in every corner : which, however, could no-
where be found, nor could the thief be discovered.
Whereupon the abbot, suspecting both guests and
servants, and stirred to fervent indignation, sent word
to the parish priests of the great and wealthy town
which was situated hard by the abbey and subjected
to its rule, bidding them pubhcly launch the most
grievous sentence of excommunication upon him who
had not feared to defile himself with this crime. The
sentence was proclaimed ; and, as all rational beings
in those parts found in their guiltless conscience a
crown of innocence, so the irrational creature itself
could not escape the temporal penalties of that curse,
whereof the eternal pains could take no hold upon his
fragile and shortlived condition. For this thief, guilty
yet unaware of his own guilt, began to sicken little by
little, to loathe his food, to cease more and more from
his droll croakings and other irrational follies whereby
he was wont to delight the minds of fools who neglect
the fear of God ; then he began even to droop his
wings ; and at last his very feathers fled from the
corruption of his decaying flesh, exposing him as a
miserable and marvellous spectacle to all beholders.
It came to pass one day that, as the abbot's household

Sons of St. Bernard. 79

disputed one mth the other, in his presence, concerning
this portentous change in the bird, and concluded that
so great a marvel must have some cause, one of them
said half in jest to the abbot : " Ye ought to consider,
my lord, whether by chance this be the thief whom ye
seek, and whether this loathsome plague which ye
behold be not the token of that curse wherein he is
involved." At which word all were astonished ; and
the abbot bade one of his servants straightway to
climb the tree wherein this bird had his nest, and to
turn over diligently his couch of straw and plaited
twigs. The servant climbed, found the ring forthwith,
cleansed it from the filth that disfigured it, and laid it
A\ithin the abbot's hands, to the amazement of all that
stood by. Wherefore, since the wretched thief, who
suffered these horrible pains for his crime and yet had
no guilty conscience thereof — when he, as we must
believe, had been discovered by the finger of God, then
the lord Abbot, by the advice of prudent men, sent
word to the priests who had pronounced this sentence
of excommunication, to proclaim that the ring was
now restored, and the curse of none effect. Where-
upon, even as at first the aforesaid bird had sickened
hy slow degrees, and visibly languished from day to
day under that insidious disease, even so he now began
slowly to re\dve and to recover his former strength ;
until at last, by a plain miracle of God, he was wholly
restored to his first health and beauty.

31.— monastic PotJertp.

lb., col. 1345.

] BR AH AM of blessed memory, formerly abbot
of Prateae [near Bourges] of whom it is
reported that he kept his virginity intact,
by Christ's bountiful gift, until the day
of his death, was a man of exceeding
sanctity and unmatched meekness, and bare the
Lord's yoke from his youth unto the end of his life.
This man, being young both in age and in ReHgion,

8o A Medieval Garnen

hid without permission in his pallet a small piece of
new cloth wherewith to patch his frock. After a
while he sought it and found it not, even though he
turned his whole pallet over and over again ; where-
upon he withdrew abashed and, smitten with remorse
of conscience, hastened to wipe out this stealthy theft
in secret confession. But some time afterwards, as
he stood alone in the kitchen washing the dishes, lo !
this piece of cloth fell suddenly through the air and
was placed in his hands as though some man had
borne it to him. He recognized it forthwith and,
looking around on all sides, seeing no man either up
or down, he knew for a certainty that it had been
stolen by some foul fiend who, after his confession, had
been unable to keep it. Whereupon he became aware
how perilous and terrible is even the least private
possession to those who have professed a Ufe of purity
and perfect poverty : even as we read that a certain
nun suffered the rebukes of the devil on her deathbed
for the sake of a slender thread of silk which she had
laid away without leave in her bed.

Now this good and pious man, for his exceeding
purity of mind and body, was wont to receive many
consolations from God and His saints, and especially
from the blessed Mother of God, so that this same
most holy Queen, coming sometimes in visions and
telling him of things that should come to pass, after
the most sweet words which she would speak unto him
at such kindly visitations, would press upon his pure
lips, with a scarce credible condescension, the most
chaste kiss of her mouth. One night, however, he
dreamed that he strove in disputation with certain
faithless Jews concerning the Christian religion. When
therefore they had long debated, suddenly so great a
stench exhaled from those reprobates and infected his
nostrils, that the bitterness of this most dismal odour
awakened him. Yet, even when the sleep had left
him, for many days afterwards he still smelt in his
waking hours that same foul stench which had first
assailed him in his dream. Nay, not only so, but even
as often as any cause demanded that he should speak

I'i^^y^J^'^^C'^l. ' V "'■•C+' '• ''V-CJ^■'^ O -^^^^^i-^.. - Z


From an old engraving reproduced in Viollet-le-Duc. Diet, de I' Architecture, i, 271-

82 A Medieval Garner.

with Jews, or see them near him, or enter their houses,
or pass by them, so often was he wont to smell that
intolerable exhalation. Moreover, these things which
we have even now related of the aforesaid man, we
learned from his own mouth in private talk.

Extracts 32—34 are from the Life of St. Stephen of Obazine in
Baluze-Mansi, Miscellanea, vol. i., pp. 161, 169, 171. St. Stephen,
with a few hke-minded companions, founded, near Limoges, in the then
desert spot of Obazine, a monastery of which he became Abbot. About
1148 he procured the incorporation of his abbey into the Order of
Citeaux, then in its full glory. This Life, written by a disciple and
fellow-monk, is full of interesting information upon twelfth-century
monasticism in its strictest forms.

32.— Monastic 2r>i9Cipime.

HIS [Stephen] was strenuous in discipHne,
and most severe to correct the faihngs of
delinquents. For, as we have said above,
if any raised his eyes but a little in church,
or smiled but faintly, or slumbered but
lightly, or neghgently let fall the book which he held,
or made any heedless sound, or chanted too fast or out
of tune, or made any undisciplined movement, he
received forthwith either a rod on his head or an open
hand upon his cheek, so loud that the sound of the
blow rang in all men's ears ; a punishment which was
especially infhcted on the younger boys, to their own
correction and to the terror of the rest. When one of
the honoured novices held a book in church, and,caUing
the fellow-novice who sat by him, showed something
with his forefinger in that same book, the holy man,
seeing this, would not avenge it upon the [offending]
person, but caught the book from his hands, brake it
asunder upon the desk in all men's sight, and thus
returned to his own place ; whereby he struck such
fear into the rest that scarce any dared to open a book
in choir even in cases of necessity. But such discipHne
as this reigned especially when the monastery itself
flourished in its glad beginnings, if I may so speak ;

Monastic Discipline. 83

when the monks were fewer in number and more
perfect in Hfe. For, since there was no law of any
Order yet determined, therefore the master's precepts
were as a law, teaching naught else but humility,
obedience, poverty, discipline, and above all continual
charity. . . . But we [nowadays], straining at the
gnat and swallowing the camel, seeking to tithe mint
and rue and all manner of herbs, make light of right-
eousness and faith, neglecting things of more import-
ance under the cloke of every trifle, wearied, more-
over, mth the long time [of our service] and harassed
by the multitude of those who live with us, — we have
fallen away from our earlier vigour, and treat ourselves
with more remissness and negligence ; so that, while
we would fain condescend to the weaker brethren, we
hasten rather to follow their negligence than to draw
them to perfection : a necessity which in those days
existed not, since the men of that age were more
perfect, and there were few or none to trouble
their purpose. . . .

(169.) And, w^hile I write of children, let it not seem
absurd if I record some examples of their simplicity,
whence it may be seen how pure was their upbringing,
and how^ foreign to all cunning of worldly wisdom. A
certain boy was brought up by his mother in a convent
of women ; and when he was now past the limit of five
years, (bej^ond which age none are permitted to dwell
there), he was removed from thence and sent to the
boys' quarters. . . . But, while he was yet on the way,
the Brother who led him enquired of him how the
women bore themselves among whom he had been
brought up ; whereimto he replied that he had never
seen women (for those of whom the Brother enquired
were to him not women, but sisters, as he always heard
them called). The Brother, therefore, wiUing to prove
whether he said this of his simplicity, or in a figure of
speech, asked again : " Wouldst thou then see clearly
what women are ? " " Yes," quoth he : and the
other, seeing certain goats that fed afar off, said : ' Lo,
those are women." The boy believed impUcitly as he
had been told ; wherefore, when he came among his

84 A Medieval Gamer.

boyish fellows, he boasted (among other things) that
he had seen women grazing in the field ; whereat the
simpler marvelled, and others laughed who more cer-
tainly, yet not more happily, knew women by sight,

A boy from another cell was sent by his prior to bring
green hay from the meadow. The servants loaded
this upon an ass which, on the way homeward, passed
through a certain sunken way ; where the load was
caught between the banks on either side and the ass,
slipping away, came home without the boy's know-
ledge. Yet he stood meanwhile by the hay, smiting it
oftentimes and threatening it as best he could ; nor
did he stir from that spot until the Brethren came out
to seek him, who could scarce persuade him that the
ass was clean gone, and that the hay could not walk
without a beast of burden. . . .

(171.) [The Blessed Stephen] would oftentimes
correct certain excesses without vengeance of punish-
ment, and by mere terror, as will be clearly seen from
the following example. One Saturday, after Compline,
as he went round the monastic offices according to his
wont, he found the bakers in the bakehouse rejpicing
in the completion of their week's work ; for they had
taken certain poles and were striving together in a
mock tourney. This he saw through a hole, himself
unseen ; whereupon he made a noise in his throat that
they might know him to be there, and passed on,
leaving them in such terror that one of the crew pre-
pared forthwith to flee from the monastery, not daring
to face the tribulation to come ; but his fellow with.
much ado was barely able to keep him. On the
morrow, therefore, both came into the Chapterhouse,
and besought mercy of their own accord without
waiting to be accused. When, therefore, they stood
thus dumb before the judgment-seat, and the Saint
asked them what cause they had to accuse themselves,
they answered, " You know ! " He, therefore, as if
in indignation, sent them back to their seats. Where-
fore then did he condemn them no further, but that
he knew with how sore a terror he had smitten them
the night before ? He would not heap grief upon

Monastic Discipline. 85

grief, as many do, who, the more they are feared of
their subjects, bear all the harder upon them, not as
being more guilty but as being less formidable.

Another Brother, one of the most dignified, had
been grievously chastised with rods in the Chapter-
house ; after which, as he sat alone and full of bitter-
ness ^\dthout the door, the Saint saw him and, willing
to heal his wound, passed by of set purpose. He,
though unwillingly, rose and went with the Abbot,
not daring to refrain from following him when he
passed by. Then the Saint turned unto him and said :
'' Perchance thou hast followed me that we may make
peace." " Nay ! " answered the other, " God forbid !
I had no such thought." Whereat the Abbot caught
him by the neck and, embracing and kissing him
closely, turned his heart to such sweetness that he fell
forthwith to the earth and clasped his feet, weeping
and praying forgiveness for that former wrath.

Another monk, again, unwilling to quit the monas-
tery without leave, and having importuned the Saint
daily for such permission without ever obtaining it,
besought this favour one day in Chapter. But the holy
man, neither willing to consent unto him nor able to
break his evil purpose, answered at length as though
overcome with weariness, " If therefore you will by all
means go forth, first render that which you owe."
" What is that ? " quoth he. " Make yourself ready,"
quoth the Saint, " for Discipline." The monk obeyed,
and the Abbot caused him to be so grievously chastised
that there was no man there present but shuddered to
see it. When therefore he was risen to his feet, then
said the Abbot, " Now you may depart, if it pleaseth
you." Yet he, (though men thought him all the more
troubled at that time, and the more incited to depart),
answered : " Lord, God forbid that I should go hence
or leave you all the days of my fife. For that whole
temptation is now so utterly uprooted from my mind
that I desire nothing less than to depart." Who can
doubt that the Devil had been troubled and driven
forth from him in that hour, even as though he himself
in the monk's body, had received these stripes.

86 A Medieval Garner,

33.—" MIJ)o tiuiins goon Cfturcljes must
J)imself hz gooD."

(76., p. 161.)

MONG other changes [involved in the in-
corporation with Citeaux] the use of flesh-
food for the sick was introduced, according
to the Cistercian Rule. This so deeply
grieved the holy man that, seeing one of the
animals being slaughtered for the sick monks, he was
moved in spirit and said : " Ye have brought your
butcher's shambles into the House of God ! " When
the Chapter of the Rule concerning the sick was quoted
to him, he held his peace, since he could neither like
the clause itself nor mislike the authority of the Rule.
For when our abbey-church was a-building, before the
Brethren were yet made monks (as I was told by one
who was present and heard and saw it), the hired
workmen, impatient of so long an abstinence from
flesh, bought for themselves a pig, cooked its flesh, and
ate thereof in the forest ; the rest they brought back
and hid in their lodging, that they might consume it
secretly next morning. When this was told to the
Abbot, he was moved to grievous indignation ; and,
taking some of the Brethren, he began to go round the
workshops, until, coming to the masons' lodge, he
found the flesh hidden between two barrels, even as he
had heard. Seizing it therefore, and looking round
upon his companions, he asked what should be done
with this stuff. Some judged that it should be given
to the poor ; others, that it should be returned to the
workmen, lest they should be grieved and depart ;
whereupon he answered, " Not so, my Brethren, not
so ; but rather let us send it on the road which it must
so soon have taken " : saying which, he bade them
cast it into the draught, and returned by the wa}^ he
had come. By this time the workmen were set again
to their work ; who, hearing of this deed, and moved
to furious indignation, cast away their tools, left their
labour, and began to rage against the Man of God


From the 13tli-ceutiiry windows of Chartres, reproduced in Didron's
Annals ArctieolofjiqucK, ii, '242.

Masons at Work. 87

with murmurs and mad words of wrath. He for his
part went to pacify them ; but when with soft words
he began to soothe their vexation, then they attacked
him with revihng and curses, threatening that neither
they nor any others would thenceforward work in his
service, who had done them so great an injustice.
Then, making Hght of their threats, he began to
reproach them with their infirmity and their stealthy
repasts ; adding that, if they abandoned God's work
for the allurements of their belly, he would not fail to
find the builders necessary for the Lord's house, and
such as, without carnal indulgences, would rear it
better than they. Nay, even though none such
could be found, it were better (as he said) that God's
house should never be built than that the habitations
of His servants should be defiled with unclean
meats : whereupon he would have departed. But they,
pricked to the heart, followed him and fell at his feet,
praying forgiveness for their words of folly ; which
when they had obtained, they came back forthwith
to their work, corrected and amended to their own
profit and to the health of their souls.

Glimpses of medieval architects or masons at work are so rare that
the reader will perhaps be glad to have two extracts describing the
work, apparently at a later stage when the Brethren had learned to do
their own building.

34.— arcbitcctutal a^itacles.

{lb., pp. 154, 156).

N the daytime [the Brethren] worked busily
in the fields. . . . Moreover, they built their
own habitations, trimming with hammers
the stones hewn from the mountain, and
carrying them on their own shoulders to
the builders' yard. It was marvellous to see huge
stones, which many men could not have carried, borne
by four of the Brethren, who went so nimbly that
they seemed to bear no load at all. . . . When the

88 A Medieval Garner.

Man of God came back from his visit to the Chartreuse,
as the Brethren increased in number, he purposed to
increase likewise the buildings of the monastery, which
were but small. Beginning first with the sanctuary,
he began to build a church in honour of Mary, the
holy Mother of God, after the model of the Chartreuse.
But as the Brethren were building it, one of the great
men of that land feared lest it should become a refuge
for his enemies and a cause of ruin to himself, where-
fore he came with a great band of followers to stop
them ; by whose threats the Brethren were so terrified,
(for the Man of God was absent) that for wellnigh two
days they continued the work after a feebler fashion
than they had begun, and without proper cement.
When, therefore, he returned and found the walls
bound not with cement but with slime, and thus not
only defiled but weakened, then he rebuked the
Brethren and soon brought the work back to its first

model in matter and in form And when the

building itself rose higher, and the Brethren that
went upon the scaffolding were carrying an immense
stone in their stretcher, then the scaffold began to
yield under the weight, groaning and bending and
threatening ruin. The Saint, seeing this from afar,
ran up quickly and, making the sign of the cross, set
his shoulders to the load ; whereby he supplied such
virtue that the scaffold was confirmed in the twinkling
of an eye, while the Brethren were so fortified that
they went as though they felt no load.

The main story of Abelard's life is too well known to need repetition
here. After his separation from Heloise he became a monk at St.
Denis ; but here he roused his fellow-monks to fury by throwing doubt
upon their claim to possess, in their patron saint, no other than Diony-
sius the Areopagite of Acts xvii. 34. After Abelard had suffered
some persecution at St. Denis, the Abbot was persuaded by his
protectors to suffer his retirement to a sohtude near Nogent-sur-Seine,
where he finally founded a monastery as related in the following
extract. He died in 1142 at the age of 63 : his last years had been
spent at Cluny under the protection of Peter the Venerable.

Abelard and his Pupils. 89

35.— Cf)e IReligion of Learning:.

THEREFORE withdrew to a solitary spot
that I knew of in the country of Troyes.
Here I received the gift of some land where-
on, with the assent of the Bishop of that
diocese, I first built a little oratory of reeds
and straw, which I dedicated to the name of the Holy
Trinity. Here I lived in hiding with a certain clerk
for my companion, and could with truth chant that
psalm to the Lord, " Lo, I have gone far off fl3dng
away ; and I abode in the wilderness." When the
scholars heard of this, they began to flock together
from all parts, leaving their cities and towns and
coming to live in my wilderness. Here, instead of
spacious houses, they built themselves Uttle taber-
nacles ; for dehcate food they ate nought but herbs of
the field and rough country bread ; for soft couches
they gathered together straw and stubble, nor had
they any tables save clods of earth. They seemed in
very truth to imitate those ancient philosophers of
whom Jerome thus wrote in his second book against
Jovinian : " Through the senses, as through windows,
vices creep into the soul. . . . Impelled by such
reasons, many philosophers have left the press of cities
and suburban gardens, where the fields are pleasantly
watered and the trees thick with foliage ; where birds
chirp and living pools mirror the sky, and the brook
babbles on its way, and many other things entice men's
ears or eyes ; lest through the luxury and abundance
of plenty a soul's strength be turned to weakness, and
its modesty be violated. For indeed it is unprofitable
to gaze frequently on that whereby thou mayest one
day be caught, and to accustom thyself to such things
as thou shalt afterwards scarce be able to lack. For
the P}i;hagoreans also, avoiding such frequented spots,
were wont to dwell in the wilderness and the desert."
Moreover Plato himself, though he was a rich man,

90 A Medieval Gamer.

whose costly couch Diogenes once trod under his muddy-
feet, chose the Academe, a villa far from the city, and
not only solitary but pestilent also, as the fittest spot

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