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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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engraved in the Boissere'e Gallery.

The attitude of St. Ewald in the scene of the mira-
cle is precisely that which I once saw assumed by a
famous mesmerist, when throwing a patient into a mes-
meric sleep.

Drayton, in his Polyolbion (Song 24) celebrates a
long list of the saints whom we sent from England to
other countries, and among them he gives a conspicu-
ous place to these brothers :

" So did the Ewaldi there most worthily attain
Their martyr's glorious types, in Ireland first approved,
But after, in their zeal, as need required removed,
They to Westphalia went, and as they brothers were,
So they, the Christian faith together preaching there,
The old pagan Saxons slew, out of their hatred deep
To the true faith, whose shrines brave Cullen * still doth keep."

St. Swidbert, an English Benedictine monk, left his
monastery in Northumberland to preach the Gospel to
the heathen in Friesland and the duchy of Berg. (March
1, a. d. 690.) He built a great monastery in Kaisers-
werdt, on the Rhine, six miles below Dusseldorf. In
a picture by B. de Bruyn (Munich Gal.) he is repre-
sented as bishop, holding up a star in both hands, which
may be a symbol of the rising li^ht of the Gospel, which
he preached in that district. He died in 713.

* i. e. Cologne.



n8 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

The companion picture, of the same size, represents
St. Cunibert, who was bishop of Cologne, and counsel-
lor of King Dagobert and several of his successors, and
he was also the intimate friend of Pepin d'Heristal.
(660.) He governed the diocese of Cologne during
thirty-seven years, and one of the most ancient churches
of that ancient city bears his name. According to the
legend, it was St. Cunibert who discovered the spot
where St. Ursula and her companions lay buried, being
directed thither by a dove. There is a curious picture
of this prelate painted by B. de Bruyn (Munich Gal.),
one of the old Cologne school, probably for his church ;
he is represented as bishop, holding a church in his
hand : his proper attribute is a dove.

I must mention one more of these old Benedictine
missionaries, who has been illustrated in Flemish art.
St. Lieven was born and educated in Ireland, then fa-
mous for its ecclesiastical schools. After being conse-
crated bishop in his native land, he was called on, or
believed himself inspired, to preach the Gospel in the
Low Countries, where so many martyrs had already
preached, and he was destined to add to the number.
"While preaching and baptizing near Ghent he was
cruelly murdered, the infuriated pagans having first
torn out his tongue and then cut off his head. His
hostess, a Christian lady, and her infant son (called St.
Brictius, or St. Brice), were slain with him. (656.)

St. Lieven was a poet, and, among other produc-
tions, composed a hymn in honor of St. Bavon, within
whose church, at Ghent, his remains are still preserved.
He is sometimes represented as a bishop, holding his
own tongue with a pair of tongs. Rubens painted the
horrible Martyrdom of St. Lieven (Muse'e Brussels)
with most horrible skill, for the altar-piece of his chapel
in the Jesuits' Church at Ghent.

Connected with St. Boniface and the early German
martyrs and missionaries, in pictures, in architectural



ST. WALBVRGA. n 9

ornament, and in the stained glass of the German
churches, we find two famous female saints, St. Wal-
burga and St. Ottilia.

The various names borne by the former saint, accord-
ing to the various localities in which she has been
honored, in Bavaria, Alsace, Poitou, Flanders, and
England, testify to her popularity ; — she is St. Wal-
purgis, Walbourg, Valpurge, Gualbourg, and Avan-
gour. Her Anglo-Saxon name, Walburga, is the same
as the Greek Eucharis, and signifies gracious. She was
the niece of St. Boniface, and sister of St. Willibald.
When her uncle and brother had decided on bringing
over from England a company of religious women, to
assist in their missions among the pagans, by teaching
and by example, Walburga, after passing twenty-seven
years in the monastery of Winburn, in Dorsetshire,
set forth with ten other nuns (a. d. 728), and repaired
to Mayence ; thence her brother Willibald removed her
to Eichstadt, and made her first abbess of the Benedic-
tine nunnery at Heidenhaim, about half-way between
Munich and Nuremberg. Walburga appears to have
been a strong-minded and, for her time, a learned wo-
man. She is the author of a Latin history of the life
and mission of her brother Willibald ; she governed her
sisterhood with such a strong hand, and was so efficient
in civilizing the people around her, that, after the death
of St. Willibald, she was called to Eichstadt, and for
several years governed the two communities of monks
and nuns. Her death took place about the year 778.

Like many of the religious women of that time,
Walpurgis had studied medicine for the purpose of
ministering to the poor. The cures she performed,
either through faith or skill, were by the people at-
tributed solely to her prayers. After her death she was
laid in a hollow rock, near the monastery of Eichstadt,
a spot where a kind of bituminous oil exuded from the
stone. This oil was for a long time supposed to pro-
ceed from her remains, and, under the name of Wal-
purgis oil, was regarded by the people as a miraculous



120 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

cure for all manner of diseases. The cave at Eichstadt
became a place of pilgrimage. A beautiful church arose
upon the spot ; and other churches dedicated to St.
Walburga are found, not only in Bavaria, but all over
Flanders, and in Burgundy, Poitou, and Lorraine.
There is a chapel dedicated to her honor in the cathe-
dral of Canterbury.

She died on the 25th of February ; but, in the Ger-
man and Belgic calendars, the 1st of May, the day on
which she was enshrined as a saint, is recorded as her
chief festival, and it was solemnized as such over all
Germany. On this night, the famous Walpufgis Nacht,
the witches held their orgies on the Bloeksberg. For
other wild and poetical superstitions connected with the
name of Walpurgis, I must refer the reader to the Notes
to " Faust," and the writers on German ecclesiastical
antiquities.

In German and Flemish art, St. Walburga is con-
spicuous.

She is represented, in the devotional figures, as
wearing the habit of a Benedictine nun, with the cro-
sier, as abbess of Heidenhaim, and in her hand a vial
or flask, which originally may have been intended to
express, in a general way, her medical skill ; but, latter-
ly, the flask is always supposed to contain the miracu-
lous oil which flowed under her shrine at Eichstadt.

Bubens painted for the church of St. Walburga at
Antwerp, — 1 . The Voyage of the Saint and her com-
panions from England to Mayence : they are in a small
boat, tossed in a storm ; 2. The Burial of St. Wal-
burga.

The Voyage of St. Walburga is also among the fres-
cos painted by Hess, in the church of St. Boniface, at
Munich, and occupies the twenty-seventh compartment.

With St. Walburga should be represented her most
famous companion, St. Lioba, also singularly learned
for the time, and a poetess. She was greatly loved and
honored by Charlemagne and his empress Hildegarde,
who would willingly have kept her in their court as



ST. OTTILIA. 121

friend and counsellor, but she preferred the seclusion of
her monastery. She died about the year 779, and was
buried at Fulda by the side of St. Boniface.

It appears that some of the early Benedictine abbesses
in England and Germany were " ladies spiritual," {as
the bishops and abbots were " lords spiritual,") and had
large communities of monks, as well as nuns, under
their rule and guidance. We are told that five of these
" ladies spiritual " signed the acts of the great council
held at Beckenham. If it be easy to mock at all this,
and to contemn a state of the Church iu which women
held a high, a venerable, and an influential position, let
us first consider all that the women of these early times
owed to the sanctity and teaching of such institutions,
though even those sacred asylums could not always
protect them from outrage and injustice. To this day,
women must feel grateful that thus was kept alive in
the hearts and the consciences of men that religious
idea of the moral equality of woman, that reverence for
womanhood, which the Divine Author of our faith was
the first to promulgate, which is enforced by his doc-
trine, by his example, and by the most touching inci-
dents of his ministry on earth.

St. Ottilia shares in the honors paid to St. Lucia
as patron saint against all diseases of the eyes. She
was the daughter of Duke Adalrich of Alsace, and born
blind (Dec. 13, 720) ; her father, who was a heathen,
then commanded that she should be carried out of the
house and exposed to perish, but her nurse fled with her
to a monastery. Our Lord appeared to Erhard, a pious
bishop in the country of Bavaria, and said, " Go to a
certain monastery, in which thou wilt find a little maiden
of noble birth ; baptize her, and give her the name of
Ottilia ; and it shall be, that after thou hast baptized
her she shall recover her sight." Afterwards her father
repented, and dying left to her all that he possessed.
She, knowing that her father was tormented in purga-
tory because of his cruelty, gave the first proof of her



122 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

piety by delivering him from torment, by dint of pray-
ers and tears ; she built a monastery at Hohenbunr, in
which she lived in great austerity and devotion. She
collected around her one hundred and thirty nuns, who
walked with her in the paths of Christian perfection ;
and died Abbess of Hohenburg in 720. She is the
patron saint of Alsace, and more particularly of the city
of Strasbourg.

In consequence of her great austerities and mortifica-
tions, she has taken rank as martyr in the Church, and
is generally represented as an abbess in the black Bene-
dictine habit ; in one hand a palm or a crosier, in the
other a book upon which are two eyes. She is prin-
cipally to be met with in the German ecclesiastical
sculpture ; and I have seen a picture of her in the gal-
lery at Vienna, in which she is represented kneeling at
the feet of the Virgin and Child, who look down upon
her with benignity: opposite to her stands St. Peter
Martyr.

The baptism of St. Ottilia by St. Erhard of Bavaria
is one of the subjects in the church of St. Boniface at
Munich. It is the twenty-second compartment.*

A distinguished personage in this group of early
German saints is St. Sebald. As an object of venera-
tion, he belongs exclusively to Nuremberg, but the
rarity and value of some of the old prints and wood-
cuts in which he is represented have spread his name,
at least, among collectors and amateurs : and who that
has visited Nuremberg, will not recall the pilgrim-pa-
tron of that most ancient city ? — his antiquated church
and wondrous shrine 1 What student in art does not
possess, or at least does not wish to possess, the casts
from those beautiful bronzes of Peter Vischer, which
emulate in feeling, grandeur, and simplicity the fin-

* In a picture by Albertinelli in the Munich Gallery (549) the
saint called Ottilia in the German catalogue is St. Lucia. We
must remember that St. Ottilia was an abbess, and in all devotional
pictures is so represented.



ST. SEBALD.



123



est Italian productions of the fifteenth century, — the
bronzes of Ghiberti and Donatello 1

St. Sebald is represented in the popular legends of
Nuremberg as the son of a Danish king : it is most
probable that he was of Anglo-Danish lineage, and
that he left England with Boniface and his companions ;
his name, anglicized, is St. Siward, Seward, or Sig-
ward, and we find him in connection with SS. Willi-
bald and Willibrod, the Anglo-Saxon missionaries. It
appears that he travelled through the North of Germany
to Nuremberg, and took up his residence near the city,
preaching, converting, baptizing, and performing mira-
cles until his death, which is placed about the year 770.

St. Sebald is portrayed as a pilgrim and missionary,
with the shell in his hat, a rosary, a staff, and a wallet ;
and holding in one hand his church with its two towers,
one of the most venerable edifices of the most venerable
city of Nurembex-g. He is thus represented in the
statue by Peter Vischer ; in a fine woodcut by Albert
Diirer, where he is standing under an arch adorned
with the armorial bearings of the city ; and in a most
exquisite little print by Hans Sebald Beham, where he
is seated under two trees, as one reposing after a long
journey, yet still embracing his beloved church.

The bas-reliefs on his shrine exhibit four incidents
of his life: 1. St. Sebald, accompanied by his disci-
ple, called by some Dionysius, and by others Deocari,
meets Willibald and Winibald, almost dead with hun-
ger and fatigue : he transforms stones into bread, and
water into wine. 2. "While preaching to the people of
Nuremberg, a wicked blasphemer mocks at him and
his doctrines ; he prays for a sign, and the earth opens
to swallow up his adversary ; the man, half buried, calls
aloud for pardon and mercy, and the saint rescues him
from perdition. 3. St. Sebald dwelt in a cell, whence
he made almost daily journeys to the city of Nurem-
berg to instruct the Christian converts, and he was ac-
customed to rest in the hut of a poor cartwright. One
day, in the depth of winter, he found his host and all



i-4 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

his family ready to perish with cold, for there was no
wood to make a fire. The saint desired him to bring
in the icicles hanging from the roof of the house and to
use them for fuel. The grace and naivete with which
this quaint legend is represented are particularly strik-
ing : the female figure, who, on her knees, is feeding
the fire with icicles ; the attitude of the saint, who is
turning up the soles of his feet to the flame, are both
admirable. 4. St. Sebald requiring fish, to keep
a fast-day, desires the poor cartwright to go to the
market and buy it. Now the lord of Nuremberg, be-
ing a tyrant and a pagan after the usual pattern, had
prohibited his vassals from buying fish in the market
till the inmates of the castle were supplied : the cart-
wright is seized, and his eyes are put out; he is re-
stored to sight by St. Sebald. This group is also
beautifully managed, and the figure of the weeping wife
is conceived and draped with truly Italian grace. The
inscriptions on this wonderful shrine inform us that
Peter Vischer began to cast it in 1508, and finished it
with the assistance of his five sons, who, with their
wives and children, dwelt under his roof, and shared
his labors and his fame. The citizens of Nuremberg
have been excellent Protestants for the last three hun-
dred years, and withstood most manfully the Catholic
forces of the empire in 1632; but, happily, it never
occurred to them to prove their sincerity or their piety
by desecrating and destroying their monuments of art;
and the shrine of St. Sebald — guarded by the twelve
apostles, crowned with saintly teachers, while angels
and seraphs, lovely Elysian forms, hover and cling like
birds round its delicate tracery — stands just where it
did three centuries ago.

St. Bexno, a German Benedictine, was Bishop of
Meissen in Saxony, in the time of the Emperor Henry
IV. After Henry was excommunicated in 1075, he
attempted to make a forcible entry into the Cathedral
of Meissen. Benno closed the doors against him, flung



ST. BEN NO. 125

the key into the Elbe, and retired to Rome. On his
return to his bishopric he recovered the key, — miracu-
lously, says the story ; for he ordered a fisherman to
cast his net in the river, and a fish being caught, the
key was found within it. St. Benno is often repre-
sented in the old German prints with a fish in his hand ;
in the mouth of the fish, a key.

In the German church at Rome (Sa. Maria dell'
Anima) there is an altar-piece representing St. Benno
and the miraculous recovery of the key. The painter,
Carlo Saraceni, was one of the late Venetian school ;
and the picture, which is well colored and animated,
is, in arrangement and costume, an odd combination
of the German and Venetian manner. St. Benno was
canonized in the time of Luther, who made a most
vigorous attack on the " new idol set up at Meissen."
In the beautiful cathedral we may now look in vain for
its intrepid bishop ; we find, instead, the portraits of
the intrepid reformer and his wife Catherine, by Lucas
Cranach. Such are the changes on which pictures
make us ponder, — not idly nor irreverently.



We return to England.

One thing which particularly strikes us in the history
of the early Benedictine communities, in England and
elsewhere, is, their perpetual feuds and tilts with the
drinking, hunting, fighting barons around them ; their
quarrels, peaceful men though they were, with the sen-
eschals and foresters who invaded their privileges and
ignorantlv opposed their plans of improvement.

Their fields, their gardens, and their mills had sprung
up in heretofore uncultivated places, and were often
grants of land reclaimed from some royal or baronial
forest, in which the game, jealously preserved, trampled
their fences, destroyed their corn, and worried their
sheep. Our Norman kings, — of one of whom it was
said " that he loved the tall stags as though they had



126 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

been his children," while of another it is related that he
laid waste two hundred villages to make a hunting-
ground, — often interfered with the peaceful agricultu-
ral pursuits of the Church vassals. The Church, in
her turn, had recourse to her spiritual weapons. Thus
we find St. Hugh of Lincoln excommunicating the
foresters of King John ; and some of the earlier Church
legends exhibit in a curious manner the feeling which
existed between the two great powers in the state, the
military and the ecclesiastical. But, as Mr. Turner
observes, every battle which the churchman fought
against the king or the noble was, then, for the advan-
tage of general freedom.

There is a most picturesque story of St. Anselm,
archbishop of Canterbury, one of the most learned
and distinguished of the canonized churchmen of those
times. The contemporary histories are full of his con-
tests with that uncivilized and irreligious barbarian,
William Rufus. Anselm, as archbishop, presided in
the council wherein it was forbidden to sell the serfs
with the land as though they had been cattle, which
was formerly the custom in England. But the story I
am now going to relate exhibits him merely as op-
posed to the rude nobles of that age. One day, as he
was riding to his manor of Herse, a hare, pursued by
the huntsman and dogs, ran under the housings of his
mule and cowered there for refuge : the hounds stood
at bay ; the foresters laughed ; but St. Anselm wept,
and said, " This poor hare reminds me of the soul of a
sinner, beset by fiends impatient to seize their prey."
And he forbade them to pursue the creature, which
limped away, while hounds and huntsman remained
motionless as if bound by a spell.

The famous German legend of the hermit and the
wild huntsman seems to have originated in a similar
feeling.

I do not know that the pretty story of St. Anselm
has ever been represented in art ; but the legend of
Dale Abbey I found illustrated in some old painted



ST. EDMUND. 127

glass in Morley Church, in Derbyshire. There are five
small subjects. In the first the abbot, being aggrieved
by the trespasses of the game which had devoured his
wheat in the green blade, is seen shooting the deer with
a cross-bow. In the second, the king's foresters com-
plain of him, and the king has a label from his mouth
on which is written, " Bring ye him before me." In
the third and fourth he is in the presence of the king,
who kneels at his feet, and grants him as much land
as between sun and sun he shall encircle by a furrow
drawn with his plough, to which he is to yoke two
stags caught wild from the forest: the inscriptions, " Go
take them and tame them " ; " Go home and take ground
with the plough." In the fifth compartment he is plough-
ing with the two stags ; the inscription is, " Here St.
Robert ploiveth with them."

There is a version of this legend in a collection of
Ballads by William and Mary Howitt ; but the turn
which they have given to the story differs altogether
from what I conceive to be the real significance of the
legend. The monks would hardly have placed in their
great window, over the altar, a series of pictures com-
memorating their own trespasses : that they should
commemorate the wrongs done to them, the invasion
of their ancient charter, and the amends granted by the
king, seems perfectly intelligible.

These curious fragments of glass were brought from
a window of Dale Abbey, together with a part of the
ruins, which have evidently been used in building the
north side of the little church at Morley.



St. Edmund, King and Martyr.

a. d. 870. Dec. 12.

The history of Ragnar Lodbrog, and the first inva-
sion of the Danes, may be found in most of our chroni-
clers. The ecclesiastical legend, as connected with St.
Edmund the Martyr, is exceedingly picturesque, and



128 LEGENDS OF THE MONASTIC ORDERS.

the real horrors are here softened by a veil of religious
poetry, and graceful and instructive fiction.

Lodbrog, who was of the royal race of the North-
men, dwelt on the coast of Denmark. One day, taking
his hawk on his hand, he went out fowling in a small
skiff.

A storm came on, and, after being tossed about for
several days, he was driven upon the English coast, at
Redham in Norfolk. The people of the country car-
ried him to Edmund the king, who reigned over the
East Angles.

Edmund was then in the bloom of youth, a gentle
and accomplished prince ; and Lodbrog was struck with
wonder at the splendor of a court which so far exceeded
in civilization all he had left in his own country. Ed-
mund, on his part, was attracted by the immense
strength of the Dane and .his skill in the chase. But
the king's huntsman envied his superiority ; and one
day, when they were out hunting together, he treacher-
ously slew him, leaving his body in the wood.

Nov. lodbrog had reared a greyhound in King Ed-
mund's court, which tarried by his master's body and
watched it ; but after some days, being hungry, he re-
turned to the king's house, and, after being fed, again
disappeared. When this had occurred several times,
the servants, by the king's command, followed after
the dog, and discovered the body of Lodbrog concealed
in a thicket. The treacherous huntsman confessed his
crime, and was sentenced by the king and his counsel-
lors to be put alone into the boat which had brought
Lodbrog to England, and set adrift on the sea ; and the
winds and the waves carried him to that part of the
coast where dwelt Hinguar and Hubba, the sons of
Lodbrog. They, seeing their father's boat, and con-
cluding he had been murdered, burst into a most bitter
weeping, and were about to put the huntsman to a
cruel death ; but he, doubly treacherous, saved him-
self by accusing King Edmund of the deed, whereupon
they swore by all their gods that they would not leave



ST. EDMUND. 129

unavenged the death of their father ; and they collected
a great fleet of ships, in which eight kings, and twenty
earls, with their followers, embarked and steered to-
wards England. They landed in Northumbria, laid
waste the whole country from the Tweed to the Hum-
ber, and then penetrated into East Anglia. They
burned and destroyed everything before them, slew the
monks of Croyland and Peterborough ; " and from this
period," says the historian of the Anglo-Saxons, " lan-
guage cannot describe their devastations : it can only
repeat the words, plunder, murder, famine, and dis-
tress ; it can only enumerate towns and villages, church-
es and monasteries, harvests and libraries, burnt and
demolished, and wounds inflicted on human happiness,
and human improvement, which ages with difficulty
healed."

When they approached the dominions of Edmund,
they sent him a haughty message, requiring of him that
he would relinquish the half of his kingdom ; whereupon
Edmund called to him his counsellor Humbert, bishop
of Helmham, and said to him, " Humbert ! servant
of the living God ! and half of my life ! the fierce barba-
rians are at hand, and oh ! that I might fall, so that
my people might thereby escape death ; for I will not,



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 11 of 41)