Mrs. (Anna) Jameson.

Legends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art online

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"wherefore," said he, "it behooves us to answer his
heavenly admonition with due fear and love."

St. Guthlac (a. d. 714) would necessarily find a
place in a series of the Mercian Saints. His story gave
rise to the foundation of Croyland Abbey, one of the
grandest of all the Benedictine commuuities, famous
for its libraries and seminaries ; and for the story of
Turketel, so well and pleasantly told by Lord Camp-
bell, that I only wish the pious old chancellor (I mean
Turketel, of course) had been a saint, that I might
have had the pleasure of inserting him here. Of St.
Guthlac, who is not connected with any existing institu-
tions or remains of art, there is not much to say. The
legend relates that " at the time of his birth a hand of
a ruddy splendor was seen extended from heaven to a
cross which stood at his mother's door " : and this
vision prefigured his future sanctity. Nevertheless he
grew up wild and lawless in wild and lawless times ;
and at the age of sixteen, gathering a band of military
robbers, placed himself at their head : " yet such was
his innate goodness, that he always gave back a third
part of the spoil to those whom he robbed." After
eight years thus spent, he began to see the evil of his
ways ; and the rest of his life was one long penance.
He retired first to the monastery of Repton, rendered
famous by St. Werburga ; there he learned to read, and
having studied the lives of the hermit fathers he deter-
mined to imitate them. He retired to a vast marshy
wilderness on the eastern shore, where was a sort of
island, as much infested by demons as the deserts of
Egypt. And they led St. Guthlac such a life, that the
blessed St. Anthony himself had never been more tor-
mented and scared by hideous shapes and foul tempta-
tions. Guthlac, trusting in his chosen protector, St.
Bartholomew, defied the demons ; and many times the


blessed apostle visited him in person, and drove them
into the sea. In the solitude where he dwelt, arose
first an oratory ; afterwards a most splendid church and
monastery, built upon piles with wondrous art and wis-
dom, and dedicated to St. Bartholomew. The marshes
were drained and cultivated, and good spirits (that is,
health, peace, and industry) inhabited where foul spir-
its (disease, and famine, and savage ignorance) had
dwelt before.

The ruins of Croyland Abbey cover twenty acres,
and stand again in the midst of an unhealthv marsh.
Remains of a mutilated but once beautiful sculpture
adorn the eastern front. Among these is the figure of
St. Guthlac, holding a whip, his proper attribute : this
has been explained as alluding to his severe penances ;
but among the relics left to the monastery by St. Pega,
the sister of St. Guthlac, is " the whip of St. Bartholo-
mew," with which I suppose he chastised and drove
away the demons which haunted the hermit saint : this
is the more probable interpretation of the attribute.
On the antique bridge of Croyland is seen the throned
figure of Ethelbald, king or duke of Mercia, the first
founder of this great monastery.

The first Benedictine nunnery in England was that
of Barking, in Essex ; and its first abbess St. Ethel-
berga, of whom there is nothing related except that she
led a most pious and orderly life, governing her congre-
gation with great wisdom, studying the Scriptures, and
healing the sick. She is represented in the old missals
with her pastoral staff and a book in her hand. As
she was one of the few Saxon abbesses not of royal
birth, she should not wear the crown.

A still greater saint was Queen Ethelreda, whom
our Anglo-Saxon ancestors regarded with peculiar
veneration, (a. l>. 679.) The common people wor-


shipped her under the name of St. Audrey, and effi-
gies of her formerly abounded in the old missals, in
stained glass, and in the decorative sculpture of the old
ecclesiastical edifices in the eastern counties. To her
we owe the foundation of the magnificent cathedral of
Ely; and the most curious memorial which remains 'to
us of her legendary life still exists there.

She was the daughter of Ina, king of the East An-
gles, and Hereswida his wife ; and was married at an
early age to Toubert, prince of the Gervii, receiving for
her dowry the isle of Elv. Being: left a widow at the
end of three years, she was married to Egfrid, king of
Northumbria, with whom she lived, say the historians,
in a state of continency for twelve years. She at length
obtained his permission to withdraw entirely from the
world, and took the veil at Coldinfjham. A vear after-
wards she founded a monastery on her own lands at
Ely, where she lived for seven years in the practice of
those religious austerities which were the admiration of
the time, and gathered around her many virgins dedi-
cated to God. Wonderful things are recorded of her
by our early chronicles. When the beautiful lantern
of Ely Cathedral was designed by Allan de Walsing-
ham (sub-prior of Ely, and one of the most excellent
architects of the time, — A. d. 1342), the capitals of the
great pillars which sustain it were carved with groups
of figures representing the chief incidents in the life of
Ethelreda, to whom the church, on its restoration by
bishop Ethelwold, had been originally dedicated.

The subjects, taken in order, exhibit the chief inci-
dents of her life : —

1 . We have the marriage of Ethelreda to King Eg-
frid : her father, King Ina, gives her away.

2. She is represented making her religious profes-
sion : she has taken otf her royal crown, and laid it on
the altar; St. Wilfrid, bishop of York, pronounces the
benediction ; and Ebba, abbess of Coldingham, places
the veil upon her head.

3. The third capital represents the miraculous preser-


vation of the saint. It appears that King Egfrid re-
pented of his concession, and threatened to drag her
from her convent. She fled, attended hy two com-
panions, and took refuge on the summit of a rock, a
promontory since called St. Ebb's Head. Egfrid pur-
sued her to the foot of the rock, and would have ac-
complished his purpose, had not a sudden advance of
the tide surrounded the rock so as to render it inaccessi-
ble ; which was attributed to the prayers of the saint
and her companions. King Egfrid retreated, and con-
soled himself by marrying another wife.

4. The fourth capital represents the miraculous
dream of the saint. After her escape from Egfrid, she
crossed the Humber, and sought repose in a solitary
place, while her two virgins, whose names were Se-
werra and Sewenna, watched beside her. In her sleep
she had a vision, and dreamed that her staff, which she
had stuck into the ground, had put forth leaf and
branch, and had become a tall tree ; and, being much
comforted, she continued her journey.

5. The next pillar represents her receiving the pasto-
ral staff, as abbess of Ely, from St. Wilfred, archbishop
of York ; who, being cruelly persecuted by Ermen-
burga, Egfrid's second choice, had fled southwards,
and taken refuge at Ely.

6. The sixth capital represents the sickness of St.
Ethelreda, who is lying on her couch, with her pastoral
staff in her hand, and her physician beside her. An-
other group in the same capital represents her interment.

7. The seventh capital commemorates a miracle of
the saint, which is said to have occurred about four hun-
dred years after her death. There was a certain man
whose name was Britstan, an usurer and a son of Belial.
Being seized with a grievous sickness, he repented of his
crimes, and resolved to dedicate himself to God in the
monastery at Ely. But on his way thither he was
overtaken by the officers of justice and thrown into
prison. He implored the protection of St. Ethelreda;
ami one night, in his sleep, St. Benedict and St. Ethel-


reda appeared to him, and the former touching his fet-
ters, they fell from his ankles, and he became free. In
this group, an angel is in attendance on St. Ethelreda.
The other figure represents St. Sexburga, her sister,
who succeeded her as abbess.

8. The eighth and last capital exhibits two groups.
In the first St. Sexburga, St. Ermenhilda, and St.
Werburga of Chester, are consulting together concern-
ing the removal of the body of St. Ethelreda, which had
rested in the common cemetery for sixteen years. In
the second is seen the body of St. Ethelreda undeeayed
with the royal crown on her head, while the attendants
express their astonishment and admiration. On this
her second burial, Ethelreda was laid in an antique
marble sarcophagus most beautifully wrought, proba-
bly a relic of the Romans, but which the people sup-
posed to have been constructed by angels expressly for
the purpose.

The devotional figures of St. Ethelreda represent
her richly dressed, as was usual with all the Saxon
princess-saints of that time. St. Ethelwold of Win-
chester had a particular veneration for her, and in his
famous* Benedictional she leads the choir of virgin
saints, in a tunic of gold, with golden shoes, and a
crown on her head. Her proper dress would be a rich
mantle, clasped in front, worn over her black Benedic-
tine habit; a crown, to denote her rank as princess ; the
white veil flowing underneath it ; the pastoral staff in
one hand, a book in the other. I do not know that she
has any particular attribute to distinguish her from other
royal abbesses ; but the visionary tree which sprang
from her staff might be introduced at her side.

St. Ethelreda had a niece, Werburga, daughter of
Wulphcre, king of the Mercians, to whom the cathe-
dral of Chester has been dedicated since the year 800 ;
she being, with St. Oswald, still the tutelar saint of
Chester. She was brought up under her aunt, St.
Ethelreda, at Ely, and altogether devoted to good

* Coll. of the Duke of Devonshire.


works, having founded many religious edifices, and,
among others, the monasteries at Weedon, Trentham,
Rcpton, and Hanhury, over which she presided until
her death, at Trentham, about the year 708.

Her shrine at Chester was magnificent, and enriched
with many statues. " A part of this shrine is now at
the upper end of the choir, where it serves as a sup-
porter to a fair pew erected for the bishop of the dio-

I must mention here, Modwena, an Irish saint, of
whom a curious effigy existed at Stratford-on-Avon,
and is engraved in Fisher's Antiquities. King Egbert,
says the legend, had an epileptic son, whom none of
the physicians of his court could heal ; and he was told
that in Ireland, over the sea, there dwelt a holy virgin
who had power to cure such diseases ; and thither he
sent his son with many presents, and the virgin healed
the boy. But she refused the gifts of the king. Then
he invited her into England ; and, being surprised by
her learning as well as her sanctity, he built for her the
monastery at Polesworth in Warwickshire, and placed
under her care and tuition his daughter Edith, who be-
came afterwards famous as St. Edith of Polesworth.
St. Modwena, in this ancient picture above referred to,
wears the black habit of a Benedictine nun, and a white
veil ; she holds a crosier in one hand, as first abbess of
Polesworth, and a book in the other.

In a group of the early Mercian saints, we ought to
find St. Chad as bishop, and St. Guthlac as hermit, St.
Ethelreda and St. Werburga as princesses and abbesses,
conspicuous, and admitting of a very beautiful variety
in age, in dress, and in character.

The period I have just reviewed, from about 650 to
750 was remarkable for great mental activity and pro-
gressive civilization, as well as for enthusiastic religious

* v. King's Hist, of Chester.


In approaching the Danish invasions, which laid low
our ecclesiastical edifices, and replunged the whole isl-
and into a state of temporary barbarism, we must pause
for a while, and take a view of those Anglo-Saxon Ben-
edictines who became Christian missionaries in foreign
and (in those days) barbarous lands. The apostles of
Friesland and Germany form a most interesting group
of saints in early German and Flemish art : not less do
they deserve to be commemorated among our own na-
tional worthies. At the head of these we place

St. Boniface, Martyr.

Lat. and Ger. Sanctus Bonifacius. Ital. San Bonifaccio. Arch-
bishop of Mayence, and first primate and apostle of Germany.
June 5, 755.

Habit and Attributes. — He appears as bishop, wearing the
episcopal robes over the black Benedictine habit. In his hand is
a book stained with blood, or transfixed by a sword.

The story of St. Boniface is one of the most beauti-
ful and authentic of the mediaeval legends. As one of
the Saxon worthies, educated in an English Benedictine
convent aud connected with our own early history, he
is especially interesting to us : his was a far different
existence from that of the good abbot of Wearmouth.
His active, eventful life, bis sublime devotion, and his
tragical death, afford admirable subjects for Christian
art and artists.

The sketch of the history and mission of St. Boni-
face, which forms a striking passage in the " Essays in
Ecclesiastical Biography," is so beautiful and compre-
hensive, that I venture to inseit it almost entire.

" In the Benedictine abbey of Nutsall, or Nuscella,
near Winchester, poetry, history, rhetoric, and the Holy
Scriptures were taught in the beginning of the eighth
century, by a monk, whom his fellow-countrymen called
Wiufred, but whom the Church honors under the name


of Boniface. He was born at Crediton, in Devonshire,
of noble and wealthy parents, who had reluctantly
yielded to his wish to embrace the monastic state.
Hardly, however, had he reached middle life, when his
associates at Nutsall discovered that he was dissatisfied
Avith the pursuits by which their own thoughts were- en-
grossed. As, in his evening meditations, he paced the
long conventual avenue of lime-trees, — or as, in the
night-watches, he knelt before the crucifix suspended in
his cell, he was still conscious of a voice, audible though
inarticulate, which repeated to him the Divine injunc-
tion to 'go and preach the Gospel to all nations.'
Then, in mental vision, was seen stretching out before
him the land of his German ancestry ; where, beneath
the veil of the customs described by Tacitus, was con-
cealed an idolatry of which the historian had neither
depicted, nor probably conjectured, the abominations.
To encounter Satan in this stronghold became succes-
sively the day-dream, the passion, and the fixed resolve
of Boniface ; until, at length, abandoning for this holy
war the studious repose for which he had already aban-
doned the world, he appeared, in his thirty-sixth year,
a solitarv and unbefriended missionarv, traversing the
marshy sands and the primeval forests of Friesland.
But Charles Martel was already there, the leader in a
far different contest. Nor, while the Christian mayor
of the palace was striking down the pagans with his
battle-;ixe, could the pathetic entreaties of the Benedic-
tine monk induce them to bow down to the banner of
the Cross. He therefore returned to Nutsall, not with
diminished zeal, but with increased knowledge. He
had now learned that his success must depend on the
conduct of the secular and spiritual rulers of mankind,
and on his own connection with them.

" The chapter of his monastery chose him as their
abbot, but at his own request the bishop of Winches-
ter annulled the election ; then, quitting forever bis
native England, Boniface pursued his way to Rome to
solicit the aid of Pope Gregory II. in his efforts for the
conversion of the German people."



This was in the year 719 ; and it is said that on the
occasion of his visit to Rome he quitted his Anglo-Sax-
on name of "Winfred, and assumed that of Boniface.
Having received his mission from the Pope, he travelled
into Thuringia and Bavaria : he again visited Fries-
land, where Charles Martel now reigned as undisputed
master ; he penetrated into the wilds of Saxony, every-
where converting and civilizing the people, and found-
ing monasteries, which, it should be remembered, was
much the same as founding colonies and cities. In the
year 732 Boniface was created Archbishop and Primate
of all Germany ; and soon afterwards King Pepin-le-
Bref, whom he had crowned and anointed, created him
first Bishop of Mayence. Into the monasteries which
he founded in Germany he introduced copies of the
Holy Scriptures ; and, in the miijst of all his labors and
honors, he was accustomed to carry in his bosom the
treatise of St. Ambrose, " De Bono Mortis." In his
seventy-fourth year he abdicated his ecclesiastical hon-
ors, and solemnly devoted the remainder of his life to
the labors of a missionary.

" Girding round him his black Benedictine habit, and
depositing his Ambrose, ' De Bono Mortis/ in the folds
of it, he once more travelled into Friesland, and, pitch-
ing his tent on the banks of a small rivulet, awaited
there the 'arrival of a body of neophytes, whom he had
summoned to receive at his hands the rite of confirma-
tion. Erelong a multitude appeared in the distance
advancing towards the tent ; not, however, with the
lowly demeanor of Christian converts drawing near
their bishop, but carrying deadly weapons, and an-
nouncing, bv their cries and gestures, that thev were
pagans, sworn to avenge their injured deities against
the arch-enemy of their worship. The servants of Boni-
face drew their swords in his defence ; but, calmly and
even cheerfully awaiting the approach of his enemies,
and forbidding all resistance, he fell beneath their blows,
— a martyr to the faith which he had so long lived and
so bravely died to propagate. His copy of Ambrose,


* De Bono Mortis,' covered with his blood, was exhib-
ited during many succeeding centuries at Fulda as a
relic. It was contemplated there by many who regarded
as superstitious and heretical some of the tenets of Bon-
iface ; but no Christian, whatever might be his own pe-
culiar creed, ever looked upon that blood-stained memo-
rial of him without the profoundest veneration. For,
since the apostolic age, no greater benefactor of our race
has arisen among men than the monk of Nutsall, unless
it be that other monk of Wittemberg, who, at the dis-
tance of seven centuries, appeared to reform and re-
construct the churches founded by the holy Benedic-

Is not this a man whom we Anglo-Saxons might be
proud to place in our ecclesiastical edifices ?

In the single figures and devotional pictures St. Boni-
face is represented in the episcopal robes and mitre, the
crosier in one hand in the other a book transpierced
with a sword. Or he is in the act of baptizing a con-
vert, while he sets his foot on the prostrate oak, as a
sign that he had overcome the Druid superstitions.
Such figures are frequent in German art ; and doubt-
less had once a distinguished place in the decorations
of our own abbeys and cathedrals : but he is found
there no longer.

He is seldom met with in Italian art. Bonifaccio,
the Venetian, has represented the martyrdom of his
patron saint ; but I rather think that this is the Italian
martyr Boniface, whose story has been related in the
second volume of Legendary Art.

The most splendid monument ever consecrated to
St. Boniface is the Basilica which bears his name, and
which was founded by King Louis of Bavaria in 1835,
in celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of his mar-
riage. The interior is sustained by sixty-three pillars
of white marble. The whole of the choir and nave are
covered with frescos, executed by Professor Hess and
his pupils ; those in the choir represent our Saviour,

* Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, i. 372.


and on each side his mother Mary and St. John the
Evangelist ; beneath, in a line, stand St. Benedict and
the most celebrated of those teachers of the Christian
faith who preached the Gospel in Bavaria, — St. Boni-
face, St. Willibald, St. Corbinian, St. Rupert, St. E'm-
meran, St. Cylien, and St. Magnus, abbot of Fiissen,*
all of whom were Benedictines. Along the upper walls,
on each side of the central nave, runs a series of com-
positions in thirty-six compartments, representing inci-
dents in the lives of all those saints who preached the
Gospel throughout Germany, from the year 384 down
to the baptism of Wittikind in presence of Charlemagne
in 785. Beneath these thirty-six small compartments
are twelve large compartments, containing on a larger
scale scenes from the life of St. Boniface, in each com-
partment two : —

1. The father of Winfred (afterwards Boniface), be-
ing healed of a grievous malady by the prayers of his
pious son, solemnly devotes him to the priesthood. 2.
Boniface receives the Benedictine habit. 3. He leaves
the monastery at Nutsall, and embarks at the port
of Southampton for Rome. 4. He arrives at Rome.

5. Pope Gregory II. consecrates him as missionary.

6. Boniface crosses the Alps into Germany. 7. He
preaches the Gospel in Eriesland. 8. He receives the
papal command to repair to Rome. 9. Pope Gregory
creates him Bishop of the new converts. 10. Return-
ing to Germany, he is miraculously fed and refreshed
in passing through a forest. 11. He hews down the
oak sacred to the German divinity Thor. 12. He
founds the bishoprics of Eichstadt and Wurzbourg.
13. He founds the great monastery of Fulda. 14. The
solemn consecration of the monastery. 15. He receives

* In the Belle Arti at Venice, there is a charming picture by
Cima da Conegliano, of the Incredulity of St. Thomas. On one
side stands a bishop, called in the catalogue St. Magnus -, on what
authority I do not know, nor w-hy a Bavarian bishop should be
represented here, unless as the patron of the donor of the pic-


into his monastery St. George of Utrecht as a child.
16. He crowns Pepin d'Heristal King of the Franks.
(March 1, 752.) 17. He is created first Archbishop
of Mayence. 18. He resigns his archiepiscopal dignity,
resumes the habit of a simple monk, and prepares to
depart on his second mission. 19. He suffers martyr-
dom at the hands of the barbarians. 20. His remains
are borne to Mayence, and finally deposited in his
monastery at Fulda.

I have given the list of subjects, because it will be
found useful and suggestive both to artists and travel-
lers. The frescos have been executed with great care
in a large, chaste, simple style. The dress of the saint,
the short black sleeveless tunic over the White cassock,
is the travelling and working costume of the Benedic-
tine monks.

In the time of St. Boniface two Saxon brothers left
England to preach the Gospel in Westphalia, (a. d.
695, or 700, Oct. 3.) These brothers, who were twins,
were baptized by the same name, but, being diverse in
hair and complexion, were distinguished as St. Ewald
the Black and St. Ewald the Fair. Having
studied for some time in Ireland, then famous for its
seminaries of learning, they embarked on their mission,
encouraging each other, and singing psalms and hymns
by the way, and, passing through Friesland, reached in
safety the frontiers of Westphalia: there they required
to be conducted to the lord of the country, that they
might obtain his permission to preach the Gospel among
his people ; but the ignorant and barbarous infidels of
the neighborhood fell upon them, murdered them cruel-
ly, and threw their bodies into the river. A light was
seen to hover above the spot, and, search being made,
the bodies of the martyrs were found, and, by order of
Pepin d'Heristal, buried at Cologne, in the church of
St. Cunibert. They are venerated as the patron saints
of Westphalia.

There is a set of curious pictures illustrating the

SS. EWALD. 117

story of these brother martyrs, which appear to have
been executed by Martin Hemskirk, for the church of
St. Cunibert : —

1. The two brothers, distinguished as the Black and
the Fair Ewald, stand together; the former carries a
sword, the latter a club. 2. The brothers depart on
their mission. 3. St. Ewald the Fair heals a possessed
woman in presence of Radbrad, duke of Friesland. 4.
The brothers defend their faith before the judge. 5.
One of the brothers stands before a pagan emperor.

6. St. Ewald the Fair is beaten to death with clubs.

7. The Martyrdom of St. Ewald the Black. Two are

Online LibraryMrs. (Anna) JamesonLegends of the monastic orders, as represented in the fine arts. Forming the second series of Sacred and legendary art → online text (page 10 of 41)