Thursday, 14 May 2009

More from 'Beasts and Saints'

As you may have noticed from previous posts, I have a gentle addiction to that delightful book ‘Beasts and Saints’ translated from the Latin by Helen Waddell. I find these stories magical in the best sense of the word, and I love to read and re-read them. They are filled with a simplicity, and love and respect for God and His Creation, which is truly infectious. I find them a wonderful tonic, especially on a grey day, and I hope that you too will enjoy these little gems.

The first story today concerns ‘The death of King Teudiric’ which in the words of the translator, “belongs to that century and country about the Severn Sea, which is the matrix of the legend of Arthur and the last fight with heathendom. It is embedded in the Book of Llan Dav, among charters and boundaries, its purpose there being to explain the possession by the bishops of Llandaff of the lands about Mathern, free of tax or impost to any secular man, inasmuch as Mouric gave the earth upon which his father died, to St Oudouceus, Bishop of Llandaff, and his successors in the see, for ever. St Oudouceus died early in the seventh century: the book was compiled in the twelfth: but the story, like its more famous counterpart, has the quality of timelessness.”

The Death of King Teudiric

“King Teudiric had kept peace and justice with his people for the years that he held kingship, till such time as he laid aside the temporal power for ever, in that he commended his kingdom to his son Mouric, and began to live a hermit life in the cliffs of Tintern. But while he was in that life, the Saxons began to invade his land against Mouric his son, and beyond himself there was none to help, that his son might not be driven from his inheritance by strangers. Of Teudiric it was said in the days when he held his kingdom, that never had he been vanquished by the enemy but ever was the victor, and that once his face was seen in the battle-line straightway the enemy were driven to flight. And the night before, the angel of the Lord said to him: “Tomorrow go to the help of the people of God against the enemies of the Church of Christ, and the foe shall turn their face in flight as far as Brockwere, and do thou stand armed in the battle-line, and when thy face as in time past is seen and known, they shall take to flight. And hereafter for XXX years they shall not dare to come against thy country in thy son’s time, and the men of thy land and their sons that come after them shall be in quiet peace: and thou thyself shalt be wounded with a thrust above Tintern, and after three days thou shalt die in peace”
So in the morning he rose as the army of Mouric, his son, came by, and he mounted his horse and rode with them, joyous of the bidding of the angel. And he stood in armour in the battle-line above the bank of the Wye near Tintern ford. And at the sight of his face they turned their backs and fled, yet one of them hurled a lance and the lance wounded him even as he had been told, and he rejoiced over it, as a man rejoices over the rout of his foe and the taking of the spoil. Then Mouric, his son, returning victorious with the captured spoil, would have his father come with him. And he said, “I will not go from this place until my Lord Jesus Christ shall bear me hence to the place of my desire, to the island of Echni, where I have willed to lie after my death”
And in the morning at dawn, there were two stags yoked and ready with his bier before his lodging. And the man of God, knowing that they were sent on God’s behalf, ascended the bier; and wherever they rested, there springs welled up, until they came to a place beside a meadow towards the Severn Sea. And after they had come to that place, a spring of clearest water welled up and swept the bier asunder, and straightway he commended his soul to God and bade the stags depart: and there he remained alone, and after a while gave up the ghost.”


The next two short stories concern St Malo, the saint of Brittany, who died in 618, and whose life was written five centuries later by a quiet scholar, Sigebert of Gembloux, about whom, said his admiring disciple, there was always an air “of antique knowledge and reverence”

St Malo and the Sow.

“At one time when he was going up and down through Brittany to sow the seed of the divine word in the field of the husbandry of God, he came upon a swine-herd in a meadow, twisted with bitter grief. He had been herding a drove of pigs, and a greedy unmannerly sow among them was destroying a field of standing corn, and he, trying to save his neighbour’s crop, had thrown an ill-directed stone at her and killed her. And now he was in dread of his lord’s wrath on his offence, and what he knew would put a keener edge upon it was the seven piglings trotting about, trying to draw milk as of old from their dead mother’s dugs, and able to find no stay for their own lives from that lifeless body. St Malo, whose heart had room only for compassion, could not watch the swineherd’s tears without tears himself: and pouring out a prayer to God, he laid his staff on the ear of the dead sow, and raising her up by that sole touch, he brought back joy to the mourner. The swineherd told the story to his master, and had the praises of the servant of God in every man’s mouth. And the master, mounting his horse, came to give his thanks to the saint, face to face, and offered one of his farms to the church, for the use, under him, of the Servants of God.”

St Malo and the Wren

“And another miracle he wrought like to this, worthy of record for its compassion alone. He was a follower of Paul the Apostle, whose hands supplied his wants, if aught were lacking: and when he had leisure from his task of preaching the Gospel, he kept himself by the work of his hands. One day he was busy with the brethren in the vineyard, pruning the vines, and for better speed in his work took off his cloak and laid it out of sight. When his work was done and he came to take his cloak, he found that the small bird whom common folk call a wren had laid an egg on it. And knowing that God’s care is not far from the birds, since not one of them falls on the ground without the Father, he let his cloak lie there, till the eggs were hatched and the wren brought out her brood. And this was the marvel, that all the time that cloak lay there, there fell no rain upon it. And whoever came to hear of it, they glorified the power of God, and they praised God’s own pity in man.


The final story relates to ‘Benno, Bishop of Meissen, a spirited saint who died at a great age in 1106, and who took the precaution, before obeying a summons to Rome, of bidding two trusty canons lock his cathedral doors in case of trouble, and throw the keys into the Elbe: whence they were recovered, under the fin of an obliging fish, upon its astute bishop’s return. His life was written in 1512 by Jerome Emser, a Doctor of Canon Law, author of a dialogue as to whether potation is to be tolerated in a properly constituted State, and of tracts against the more spiritual intemperances of Luther and Zwingli.’

St Benno and the Frog

It was often the habit of the man of God to go about the fields in meditation and prayer: and once as he passed by a certain marsh, a talkative frog was croaking in its slimy waters: and lest it should disturb his contemplation, he bade it to be a Seraphian, inasmuch as all the frogs in Seraphus are mute. But when he had gone on a little way, he called to mind the saying in Daniel: “O ye whales and all that move in the waters, bless ye the Lord. O all ye beasts and cattle, bless the Lord.” And fearing lest the singing of the frogs might perchance be more agreeable to God than his own praying, he again issued his command to them, that they should praise God in their accustomed fashion: and soon the air and the fields were vehement with their conversation.

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