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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through love of a temporal kingdom, subject myself to
a heathen tyrant." Then the bishop replied, " Unless
thou save thyself by flight, most beloved king, these
fierce pirates will presently destroy thee." But the
king absolutely refused to fly ; for said he, " I will not
survive my faithful and beloved friends ; it is nobler to
die for my country than to forsake it." Then, calling
in the messenger, he thus addressed him : " Stained as
ye are with the blood of my people, ye deserve the
punishment of death ; but, following the example of
Christ, I will not pollute my hands with your blood.
Go back to your master, and tell him, that though you
may rob me of the wealth and of the kingdom which
Divine Providence bestowed on me, you shall not make
me subject to an infidel. After slaying the servants,



slay also the king, whom the King of kings will trans-
late into heaven, there to reign forever."

When the most blessed King Edmund had sent back
the messenger with these words, he advanced boldly
against the enemy with all the forces he could raise,
and met the Danes near the town of Thetford, and gave
them battle ; and after great slaughter on both sides,
King Edmund retreated, and was afterwards surround-
ed by Hinguar and Hubba, who had united their forces.
He took refuge in the church with his friend Humbert,
whence he was dragged by the barbarians, bound to a
tree, and, after being scourged, shot with arrows " un-
til," as the old legend expresses it, "his body was stuck
as full of darts as is the hedgehog's skin with spines."
At length, they cut off his head ; and with him suffered
his friend and inseparable companion, Bishop Humbert.

This happened on the 12th day of December (or
Nov. 20), in the year 870, in the twenty-ninth year of
his age.

"When the Christians came forth from their hiding-
places, they sought everywhere for the remains of. the
martyred king ; and then appeared a wonderful and
unheard-of prodigy, for they found a huge gray wolf
of the wood watching over the severed head. Then
they, taking it up boldly and reverently, carried it to
the place of interment, followed by the wolf. And,
after many years a great church and monastery was
erected over his remains ; and around them rose a town,
called, in memory of him, Bury St. Edmunds, which
name it retains to this day.

In the old effigies, St. Edmund bears an arrow in
his hand, which is his proper attribute, and is some-
times accompanied by the "gray wolf" crouching at
his side.

Contemporary with this martyred king, we find the
preceptor and kinsman of the great Alfred, St. Neot.
He was a monk of Glastonbury, and it is recorded of


him that he visited Rome seven times, was very learned,
mild, religious, fond of singing ; " humble to all, affable
in conversation, wise in transacting business, venerable
in aspect, severe in countenance, moderate even in his
walk,' sincere, upright, calm, temperate, and charitable."
This good man is said to have reproved Alfred for his
faults, and consoled him in his misfortunes. He lived
for a time in a wild solitude in Cornwall, and died in
878. Two towns in England bear his name.

He should be represented as an aged man with a
venerable beard, wearing the black habit of his Order,
and a pilgrim's staff and wallet, to signify his frequent

St. Swithen shared with St. Neot the glory of
educating our Alfred. (862.) He was chancellor under
Egbert and Ethelwolf, and " to him," says Lord Camp-
bell, " the nation was indebted for instilling the rudi-
ments of science, heroism, and virtue into the mind of
the most illustrious of our sovereigns." He also ac-
companied Alfred on his pilgrimage to Rome. He
was bishop of Winchester ; a learned, humble, and
charitable man ; a devout champion of the Church ;
and munificent in building, like most of the prelates
of that time. It is related of him that while presiding
over the erection of a bridge near his city of Win-
chester, a poor old woman complained to him that
some insolent workman had broken all the eggs in her
basket ; whereupon the good bishop restored them all;
or, according to the popular legend which converts the
simple act of justice and charity into a miracle, he re-
stored the broken eggs by making them whole. He had
ordered that his body should be buried among the poor,
outside the church, " under the feet of the passengers,
and exposed to the droppings of the eaves from above."
When his clergy attempted to remove the body to a
more honorable tomb inside the church, there came on
such a storm of rain as effectually stopped the proces-
sion ; and this continued for forty days without inter-


mission, till the project was abandoned, and his remains
were suffered to rest in the humble grave he had chosen
for himself. St. Swithen figures in our Protestant
calendar as the Jupiter Pluvius of our Saxon ancestors ;
and, in this character, perhaps, a waterspout would be
his most appropriate attribute : but he has some graver
claims to reverence. He ought to be conspicuous in a
series of our southern canonized worthies, bearing the
cope, mitre, and pastoral staff as bishop, and the great
seal as chancellor ; and, thus distinguished, he should
be placed in connection with the kingly Alfred, the
wise St. Neot, St. Dunstan the skilful artificer, and St.
Ethelwold the munificent scholar.

St. Dunstan.

A. D. 9^8. May 19.

In the history of our earlier English hierarchy, St.
Dunstan stands out a conspicuous figure ; but the col-
ors in which he is portrayed are as contrasted as night
and day. In the hands of some of our historians he
appears a demon of ambition and cruelty. I recollect
that my own early impressions of him, after reading
sentimental versions of the story of Edwin and Elgiva,
were revolting; I could think of him only as a bigoted
and ferocious priest. The story of the Devil and the
red-hot tongs, adding a touch of the grotesque, com-
pleted the repulsive picture. More extensive sources
of information, and awakened reflection and comparison,
have considerably modified these impressions. Dun-
stan was, in fact, one of the most striking and interest-
ing characters of the times ; and not merely as a subject
of art, but as being himself an artist, he must be com-
memorated here.

He was born in the year 925, in the beginning of the
reign of Athelstan, the grandson of Alfred. His early
years were passed in the neighborhood of Glastonbury,
where he afterwards became a professed monk. He



profited by all the means of instruction which that great
seminary placed at his disposal. He became, not only
learned in books, but an accomplished scribe, and made
himself master of those arts which, according to the
rule of the Order, were carried on within the walls.
He was a painter, a musician, and an excellent artificer
in metal. He constructed an organ " with brass pipes,
filled with air from the bellows, and which uttered a
grand and most sweet melody." (Bede.) In those
days, when a complete and well-written copy of the
Scriptures was a most precious possession, such volumes
were frequently enclosed in caskets of metal, adorned
with figures of our Saviour, the Virgin, and the Apos-
tles ; or guardian angels spread their wings over them,
as over the ark of old. Some curious and elegant speci-
mens of the piety and skill of the early monks are still
preserved, and arts were thus kept alive which would
else have perished. Dunstan, like St. Eloy, whose
story has been already related (Sacred and Legend.
Art), was a cunning artificer in metals. " To have
excelled his contemporaries in mental pursuits, in the
fine arts, though then imperfectly practised, and in me-
chanical labors, is evidence of an activity of intellect,
and an ardor for improvement, which proclaim him to
have been a superior personage, whose talents might
have blessed the world." (Turner's Anglo-Saxons.)
He repaired at a very early age to court, where he was
at first much beloved by King Edmund, who took par-
ticular delight in his musical talent", which was then
rare, and which, added to his skill in mathematics, his
mechanical dexterity, and the power he obtained over
the king, exposed him to the imputation of sorcery.
His enemies persuaded the king that he was assisted by
a demon ; and Edmund reluctantly drove him from his
presence. Some time afterwards, as the king was hunt-
ing, having outstripped his courtiers, it happened that
the stag and the hounds in pursuit, coming suddenly
to the edge of a precipice, fell over and were dashed to
pieces. The king following at full speed, and seeing


the precipice, endeavored to rein in his horse. But,
unable to do so, and seeing his impending destruction,
he recommended himself to God in prayer ; — recalling,
and at the same time repenting, his injustice to Dun-
stan. His horse, on reaching the edge of the precipice,
instead of tumbling headlong, stood still, trembling and
panting. The king was saved : he sent for Dunstan,
who had retired meantime to his cell at Glastonbury,
where he was occupied with his usual pursuits, and
restored him to favor.

The famous story of the Devil seems to be referred
to this period. One night, as Dunstan. was working at
his forge, the most terrible howls and cries were heard
to proceed from his cell. The Devil, as he related,
had visited him in the form of a beautiful woman, and
endeavored to tempt him from his holy work. He had
seized the disguised demon by the nose with his red-
hot tongs which had caused him to roar with pain, and
to flee discomfited.* A much more beautiful legend
is that which relates that on a certain day, as Dunstan
sat reading the Scriptures in his cell, his harp, which
hung on a peg against the wall, sounded, untouched
by human hands ; for an angel played on it the hymn
Gaudeate am'mi, to the great delight and solace of the
holy man. Dunstan was a poet and an artist : and
later poets have heard in the chords of a harp, swept
by the " desultory breeze," now the " full celestial
choir," chanting " the lofty anthem " ; now the wail-
ing of an imprisoned spirit; and anon, the soft com-
plainings of love. There needs no miracle here.

There was a certain royal lady at this time, whose
name was Ethelfreda, who particularly admired the tal-
ents of Dunstan, and venerated his sanctity. For her

* One would have thought that, fire being the natural element
of the demon, he might have taken it more easily. The same story-
is told of St. Eloy. And the reader will probably recollect the inci-
dent, also related by himself, of Luther throwing his inkstand at
the Devil. Such fancies may be interpreted without the imputa-
tion of deliberate falsehood calculated for a certain purpose.

ST. DUN ST AN. 135

he is said to have designed the pattern of a robe which
she embroidered with her own hands. The probability
is, that Dunstan drew the design for some vestment for
the church service, or covering for an altar, such as it
was then, and is even now, considered an act of religion
to prepare and to decorate. Dunstan returned to court
and became the minister and favorite of the king, who
appointed him Abbot of Glastonbury and his treasurer.
Edwin succeeded, and, from his accession, appears to
have resisted the power of Dunstan. His character
has of course suffered in the hands of the ecclesiastical
historians, who represent him as abandoned to vice, and
Elgiva not as his wife, but as his mistress. He drove
Dunstan from his court. His subjects rebelled against
him, and raised his brother Edgar to a share of the
throne. Edwin died about the age of twenty, and
Edgar became sole king. Dunstan was now at the
height of power. He was made successively Bishop of
Worcester, of London, and at length Archbishop of
Canterbury. Mr. Turner represents Dunstan as hav-
ing introduced the Benedictine Order into England :
but there had existed no other order in England from
the time of St. Augustin of Canterbury. The fact is,
that he introduced the reform of the Benedictine rule ;
restored its discipline ; and used all the means which
his energy, his talents, and his influence placed at his
disposal, to extend and exalt his already powerful

In the year 960 he made a jouraey to Rome, was
received there with great honor by Pope John XII.
from whose hands he received the pallium as Primate
of the Anglo-Saxon nation. Returning to England
he set himself assiduously to found monasteries and
schools, and to extend everywhere the taste for knowl-
edge and the civilizing arts. His miracles, his super-
natural arts, and his visions, form a large part of the
ecclesiastical history of his time. He relates himself a
vision in which he beheld the espousals of his mother,
for whom he entertained the profoundest love and


veneration, with the Saviour of the world, accompa-
nied with all the circumstances of heavenly pomp, amid
a choir of angels. One of the angels asked Dunstan
why he did not join in the song of rejoicing 1 when he
excused himself on account of his ignorance. The
angel then taught him the song. The next morning,
St. Dunstan assembled his monks around him, and,
relating his vision, taught them the very hymn which
he had learned in his dream, and commanded them to
sing it. Mr. Turner calls this" an impious story ; where-
as it is merely one form of those old allegorical legends
which are figurative of the mystic espousals of the soul,
or the Church (as in the marriage of St. Catherine),
and which appear to have been suggested by the lan-
guage and imagery of Canticles.

St. Dunstan died at Canterbury in 988.

The few representations which remain to us of St.
Dunstan must be considered as devotional. I have not
as yet met with any dramatic or historical pictures
relating to his life, which, however, abounds in pictu-
resque incidents. A drawing from his own hand has
been most erroneously described as " St. Dunstan on a
throne, and a monk kissing his feet " : however out-
rageous the pride of Dunstan, he never would have
dared such an exhibition of presumption.

A miniature (B. Museum MS.), in which St. Dun-
stan is enthroned, and three ecclesiastics kneel at his
feet, one wearing the black, the other the white Benedic-
tine habit, and the third the dress of a priest or canon
regular, is also very curious, and of a much later period.

St. Dunstan seated, writing, is engraved in " Strutt's
Regal and Ecclesiastical Antiquities," from an ancient

In a series of pictures from the life of St. Dunstan,
the scene with Edwy and Elgiva would of course find
a place, and the sentiment would vary according to the
view taken of his character. Either he would appear
as the venerable ecclesiastic, as one clothed with Divine
authority, reproving a licentious boy unmindful of the


decencies and duties of his high station ; or as a fierce
and cruel priest, interfering to sever the most holy ties
and to crush the most innocent affections. This last is
the view taken by Mr. Taylor in the drama of " Edwin
the Fair," and by Wordsworth : — '

" The enthusiast as a dupe
Shall soar, and as a hypocrite can stoop,
And turn the instruments of good to ill,
Moulding a credulous people to his will, —

Such DUNSTAN." .

In connection with St. Dunstan, we must not forget
St. Edith of Wilton, one of the most interesting of the
princess-nuns of the Anglo-Saxon race. She was the
daughter of King Edgar by Wilfrida, a beautiful nun,
whom he had carried off forcibly from her seclusion.
For this sacrilege, Edgar was placed by St. Dunstan
under an interdict for seven years. Wilfrida, as soon
as she could escape from the power of the king, again
took refuge in her convent, and there brought forth a
daughter, Editha, whom she educated in all the learn-
ing of the times, and who was a marvel for her beauty
as well as her sanctity and her learning. She refused
to attend her father's court, but expended the rich
dowry he gave her in founding the nunnery at Wilton,
which, since the Reformation, has been the seat of the
earls of Pembroke. This St. Edith should be grouped
with St. Dunstan and St. Ethelwold, and St. Denis of
France. She should be young and beautiful, and richly
dressed ; for, even at a time when all the sainted prin-
cesses wore costly garments, she was remarkable for the
splendor of her attire. On this account being rebuked
by St. Ethelwold, she replied that the judgment of
God, which penetrated through the outward appearance,
was alone true and infallible. " For," said she, " pride
may exist under the garb of wretchedness ; and a mind
may be as pure under these vestments as under your
tattered furs." And the holy man, being so answered
by this wise and royal lady, held his peace. St. Edith


died soon after the consecration of the church she had
built in honor of St. Denis, heing in her twenty-third

St. Edward the Martyr.*

a. d. 978.

As King Edward, the son of Edgar, was one day
weary with hunting and very thirsty, he left his attend-
ants to follow the dogs, and hearing that his step-mother
Elfrida and his brother Ethelred were living in a certain
village named Corvesgate (Corfe- Castle), he rode thith-
er, unattended, in quest of something to drink ; in his
innocence suspecting no harm, and judging the hearts
of others by his own. His treacherous step-mother re-
ceived him with caresses, and, kissmg him, offered him
the cup ; and, as he drank it off, one of her servants
stabbed him in the back with a dagger. Finding him-
self wounded, he set spurs to his horse, and his attend-
ants coming up followed him by the track of his blood,
and found his body mangled and bleeding in the forest.
The wicked woman Elfrida, and her son Ethelred,
ordered the body of Edward to be ignominiously buried
at Wareham, in the midst of public rejoicing and fes-
tivity, as if they had buried his memory and his body
together ; but Divine pity came to his aid, and ennobled
the innocent victim with the grace of miracles, for a
celestial light was shed on that place, and all who
labored under any infirmity were there healed. And
when multitudes from all parts of the kingdom resorted
to his tomb, his murderess Elfrida, being severely re-
proved by Dunstan, and struck with remorse, would
also journey thither ; but when she mounted her horse,
he, who before had outstripped the winds and was full
of ardor to bear his royal mistress, now by the will of
God stood immovable; neither whip nor spur could
urge him forward ; and Elfrida, seeing in this the hand

* v. Chronicle of "William of Malmesbury.


of God, repented of her crime, and, alighting from her
horse, walked humbly and barefooted to the tomb. His
body was taken up, and he was buried with great honor
in the nunnery which had been endowed by his ances-
tor, Alfred the Great, at Shaftesbury.

St. Edward is represented as a beautiful youth, with
the diadem and flowing hair, holding in one hand a
short sword or sceptre, and in the other the palm as
martyr ; further to distinguish him, the scene of his as-
sassination is frequently represented in the background.
This incident, from its tragical and picturesque circum-
stances, has always been a favorite subject with English
artists. I am not sure that the title of martyr properly
belongs to St. Edward, for his death was not voluntary,
nor from any religious cause. The Anglo-Saxons re-
garded his memory with devout reverence, but as a
patron-saint he was not so popular as his namesake,
Edward the Confessor.

St. Edward, King and Confessor.

A. D. 1066. Jan. 5.

The effigies of St. Edward were formerly com-
mon in our ecclesiastical edifices, and are still to be
found. I shall give his legendary history here as it
is represented in the singular bas-reliefs in his chapel
in Westminster Abbey, of which there are accurate
engravings in Carter's " Specimens of Ancient Sculp-

1. King Ethelred had by his first wife Edmund Iron-
side ; and by his second wife, Queen Emma, he had
Alfred.* The queen was near her second confinement,
when Ethelred assembled his council to deliberate on
the concerns of his kingdom, and whom he should ap-
point to succeed him ; some inclined towards Edmund
on account of his great bodily strength, others towards

* Camden's Remains, ed. 1654, p. 484.



Alfred. St. Dunstan, who was present, prophesied the
short life of both these princes, therefore the council
decided in favor of the unborn child, afterwards Ed-
ward the Confessor ; and all the nobles then present
took the oath of fealty to him, dans le sein de sa mere.

In the bas-relief, Queen Emma, standing in the cen-
tre, is surrounded by prelates and nobles, who seem to
do her homage.

This same Queen Emma afterwards married Canute,
and, during the reign of Edward, was accused of many
ciimes ; she was said to have hated her son, to have
refused him aid from her treasures, " to have loved
Canute more when living than her first husband, and
more commended him when dead," — an unpardonable
sin in the eyes of the Saxons, though excusable, con-
sidering the contrasted characters of the cruel, slothful
Ethelred, and the warlike fiery-spirited Dane. She
cleared herself by walking blindfold and unhurt over
eleven red-hot ploughshares ; ever since a favorite legend
with the English.

2. The second compartment represents the birth of
King Edward the Confessor, which took place at Islip
in Oxfordshire. " In the chapel, not many years since,
there stood the very font wherein that religious prince
St. Edward the Confessor received the sacrament of
baptism, which font being rescued from profane uses,
to which it had been condemned during the Common-
wealth, was placed by Sir He my Brown on a pedestal,
and adorned with a poem rather pious than learned."

3. In the third compartment we have the coronation
of the saint, on Easter-day 1043.

4. A large sum of money having been collected for
the tribute called Danegelt, it was conveyed to the pal-
ace, and the king was called to see it ; at the sight
thereof he started back, exclaiming, that he beheld a
demon dancing upon the money, and rejoicing : there-
upon he commanded that the gold should be restored
to its owners, and released his subjects from that griev-
ous tribute. In the bas-relief the money is represented


la casks, and upon these casks there seems to have
been a figure of a demon, which has been broken away.

5. Hugolin, the king's chamberlain, one day took
some money out of a coffer in the king's bed-chamber,
leaving it open, the king being then on his couch. A
young man who waited on the king, believing him to
be asleep, put his hand into the coffer, took out a hand-
ful of gold, went away and hid it ; he then returned a
second time, took another handful ; and again a third
time, on which the king cried out, " Nay ! thou art too
covetous ! take what thou hast, and be content ; for if
Hugolin come, he will not leave thee one penny " :
whereupon the young man ran out of the room and
escaped. When Hugolin returned, he began to lament
himself because of the robbery. " Hold thy peace,"
replied the king ; " perhaps he who hath taken it hath
more need of it than we have : what is left is sufficient
for us."

6. King Edward partaking of the eucharist before
the altar at Westminster, attended by Leofric, earl of
Chester (the husband of Godiva), had a vision of the
Saviour standing in person on the altar.

7. The king of the Danes had assembled an army
for the purpose of invading England, and, on going on
board his fleet, fell over into the sea and was drowned ;
which circumstance was miraculously made known to
Kin<r Edward in a vision. In the bas-relief the Danish
kins - is floundering in the sea.

8. The king, the queen, and Earl Godwin, the
queen's father, are seated at table. In front is' the
contest between Harold and Tosti, two boys, the sons
of Godwin : the king, looking on, foretold the destruc-
tion of both, through their mutual enmity.

9. On Easter-day, as the king was seated at table,
he was observed to smile, and then to look particularly
grave. After dinner, being asked by Earl Harold and
the Abbot of Westminster the reason of his smiling, he
told them that at that moment he had had a vision of

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 12 of 41)