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Title: Virgin Saints and Martyrs
Author: Baring-Gould, S. (Sabine)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                             VIRGIN SAINTS
                              AND MARTYRS

                           By S. BARING-GOULD
                 Author of “_The Lives of the Saints_”

                         WITH SIXTEEN FULL-PAGE
                       ILLUSTRATIONS BY F. ANGER

                  New York      THOMAS Y. CROWELL & Co.
                  Publishers              1901



                    I. BLANDINA THE SLAVE             1
                   II. S. CÆCILIA                    19
                  III. S. AGNES                      39
                   IV. FEBRONIA OF SIBAPTE           53
                    V. THE DAUGHTER OF CONSTANTINE   75
                   VI. THE SISTER OF S. BASIL        93
                  VII. GENEVIÈVE OF PARIS           111
                 VIII. THE SISTER OF S. BENEDICT    129
                   IX. S. BRIDGET                   149
                    X. THE DAUGHTERS OF BRIDGET     179
                   XI. S. ITHA                      197
                  XII. S. HILDA                     217
                 XIII. S. ELFLEDA                   231
                  XIV. S. WERBURGA                  253
                   XV. A PROPHETESS                 275
                  XVI. S. CLARA                     295
                 XVII. S. THERESA                   315
                XVIII. SISTER DORA                  349

[Illustration: BLANDINA THE SLAVE.]


                          _BLANDINA THE SLAVE_

In the second century Lyons was the Rome of Gaul as it is now the second
Paris of France. It was crowded with temples and public monuments. It
was moreover the Athens of the West, a resort of scholars. Seated at the
confluence of two great rivers, the Rhône and the Sâone, it was a centre
of trade. It is a stately city now. It was more so in the second century
when it did not bristle with the chimneys of factories pouring forth
their volumes of black smoke, which the atmosphere, moist from the
mountains, carries down so as to envelop everything in soot.

In the great palace, now represented by the hospital, the imbecile
Claudius and the madman Caligula were born. To the east and south far
away stand Mont Blanc and the snowy range on the Dauphiné Alps.

Lyons is a city that has at all times summed in it the finest as well as
the worst characteristic of the Gallic people. The rabble of Lyons were
ferocious in 177, and ferocious again in 1793; but at each epoch, during
the Pagan terror and the Democratic terror, it produced heroes of faith
and endurance.

The Emperor Marcus Aurelius was a philosopher full of good intentions,
and a sentimental lover of virtue. But he fondly conceived that virtue
could only be found in philosophy, and that Christianity, which was a
doctrine and not a speculation, must be wrong; and as its chief
adherents belonged to the slave and needy classes, that therefore it was
beneath his dignity to inquire into it. He was a stickler for the
keeping up of old Roman institutions, and the maintenance of such rites
as were sanctioned by antiquity; and because the Christians refused to
give homage to the gods and to swear by the genius of the emperor, he
ordered that they should be persecuted to the death.

He had been a pretty, curly-haired boy, and a good-looking young man. He
had kept himself respectable, and looked on himself with smug
self-satisfaction accordingly. Had he stooped to inquire what were the
tenets, and what the lives, of those whom he condemned to death, he
would have shrunk with horror from the guilt of proclaiming a general

In Lyons, as elsewhere, when his edict arrived the magistrates were
bound to seek out and sentence such as believed in Christ.

A touching letter exists, addressed by the Church of Lyons to those of
Asia and Phrygia giving an account of what it suffered; and as the
historian Eusebius embodied it in his history, it happily has been
preserved from the fingering, and rewriting, and heightening with
impossible marvels which fell to the lot of so many of the Acts of the
Martyrs, when the public taste no longer relished the simple food of the
unadorned narratives that were extant.

“The grace of God,” said the writers, “contended for us, rescuing the
weak, and strengthening the strong. These latter endured every species
of reproach and torture. First they sustained bravely all the insults
heaped on them by the rabble—blows and abuse, plundering of their goods,
stoning and imprisonment. Afterwards they were led into the forum and
were questioned by the tribune and by the town authorities before all
the people, and then sent to prison to await the coming of the governor.
Vetius Epagathus, one of the brethren, abounding in love to God and man,
offered to speak in their defence; whereupon those round the tribunal
shouted out at him, as he was a man of good position. The governor did
not pay attention to his request, but merely asked whether he, too, were
a Christian. When he confessed that he was, he also was transferred to
the number of the martyrs.”

What the numbers were we are not told. The most prominent among them
were Pothinus, the bishop, a man in his ninetieth year, Sanctus, the
deacon of the Church of Vienne, Maturus, a recent convert, Attalus, a
native of Pergamus, Blandina, a slave girl, and her mistress, another
woman named Biblis, and Vetius, above referred to.

Among those arrested were ten who when tortured gave way: one of these
was Biblis; but, although they yielded, yet they would not leave the
place of trial, and remained to witness the sufferings of such as stood
firm; and some—among these was Biblis—plucking up courage, presented
themselves before the judge and made amends for their apostasy by
shedding their blood for Christ.

The slaves belonging to the Christians of rank had been seized and were
interrogated; and they, in their terror lest they should be put to
torture, confessed anything the governor desired—that the Christians ate
little children and “committed such crimes as are neither lawful for us
to speak of nor think about; and which we really believe no men ever did

The defection of the ten caused dismay among the faithful, for they
feared lest it should be the prelude to the surrender of others.

The governor, the proconsul, arrived at the time of the annual fair,
when Lyons was crowded; and he deemed this a good opportunity for
striking terror into the hearts of the Christians.

Those who stood firm were brought out of prison, and, as they would not
do sacrifice to the gods, were subjected to torture.

Blandina was a peculiarly delicately framed young woman, and not strong.
Her mistress, who was one of the martyrs, was apprehensive for her; but
Blandina in the end witnessed the most splendid confession of all. She
was frightfully tortured with iron hooks and hot plates applied to her
flesh from morning till night, till the executioners hardly knew what
more to do; “her entire body being torn and pierced.”

Brass plates, red hot, were also applied to the most tender parts of the
body of the deacon, Sanctus, but he continued unsubdued, firm in his
confession. At last he was thrown down on the sand, a mass of wounds, so
mangled and burnt that he seemed hardly to retain the human shape. He
and Blandina were conveyed back to prison.

Next day “the tormentors tortured Sanctus again, supposing that whilst
his wounds were swollen and inflamed, if they continued to rend them
when so sensitive as not to bear the touch of the hand, they must break
his spirit”—but it was again in vain.

Then it was that Biblis, the woman who had done sacrifice, came forward
“like one waking out of a deep sleep,” and upbraided the torturers;
whereupon she was dragged before the chief magistrate, confessed Christ,
and was numbered among the martyrs.

The proconsul ordered all to be taken back to prison, and they were
thrust into a black and noisome hole, and fastened in the stocks, their
feet distended to the fifth hole—that is to say, stretched apart as far
as was possible without dislocation—and so, covered with sores, wounds
and blisters, unable to sleep in this attitude, they were left for the
night. The suffocation of the crowded den was too much for some, and in
the morning certain of those who had been crowded into it were drawn
forth dead.

Next day the aged bishop Pothinus was led before the magistrate. He was
questioned, and asked who was the God of the Christians.

“If thou art worthy,” answered he, “thou shalt know.”

He was then stripped and scourged, and beaten about the head. The crowd
outside the barriers now took up whatever was at hand, stones,
brickbats, dirt, and flung them at him, howling curses and blasphemies.
The old man fell gasping, and in a state hardly conscious was dragged to
the prison.

And now, on the great day of the fair, when the shows were to be given
to the people, the proconsul for their delectation threw open the
amphitheatre. This was a vast oval, capable of holding forty thousand
spectators. It was packed. On one side, above the arena, was the seat of
the chief magistrate, and near him those reserved for the city magnates.
At the one end, a series of arches, now closed with gates of stout bars
and cross-bars, hinged above and raised on these hinges by a chain,
opened from the dens in which the wild beasts were kept. The beasts had
not been fed for three days, that they might be ravenous.

It was the beginning of June—doubtless a bright summer day, and an
awning kept off the sun from the proconsul. Those on one side of the
amphitheatre, the slaves on the highest row, could see, vaporous and
blue on the horizon, above the crowded tiers opposite, the chain of the
Alps, their crests white with eternal snows.

“No sooner was the chief magistrate seated, to the blare of trumpets,
than the martyrs were introduced. Sanctus had to be supported; he could
hardly walk, he was such a mass of wounds. All were now stripped of
their garments and were scourged. Blandina was attached to a post in the
centre of the arena. She had been forced every day to attend and witness
the sufferings of the rest.”

But even now they were not to be despatched at once. Maturus and Sanctus
were placed on iron chairs, and fires were lighted under them so that
the fumes of their roasted flesh rose up and were dissipated by the
light summer air over the arena, and the sickening savour was inhaled by
the thousands of cruel and savage spectators.

Then they were cast off to be despatched with the sword.

The dens were opened. Lions, tigers, leopards bounded forth on the sand
roaring. By a strange accident Blandina escaped. The hungry beasts paced
round the arena, but would not touch her.

Then a Greek physician, called Alexander, who was looking on, unable to
restrain his enthusiasm, by signs gave encouragement to the martyrs. So
at least it would seem, for all at once we learn that the mob roared for
Alexander, as one who urged on the Christians to obstinacy. The governor
sent for him, asked who he was, and when he confessed that he was a
Christian, sent him to prison.

Attalus was now led forth, with a tablet on his breast on which was
written in Latin, “This is Attalus, the Christian.”

As he was about to be delivered to the tormentors, some one whispered to
the proconsul that the man was a Roman. He hesitated, and sent him back
to prison.

Then a number of other Christians who had Roman citizenship were
produced, and had their heads struck off. Others who had not this
privilege were delivered over to the beasts. And now some of those who
had recanted came forward and offered themselves to death.

Next day the proconsul was again in his place in the amphitheatre. He
had satisfied himself that Attalus could not substantiate his claim to
citizenship, so he ordered him to torture and death. He also was placed
in the iron chair; after which he and Alexander were given up to be
devoured by the beasts.

This was the last day of the shows, and to crown all, Blandina was now
produced, together with a boy of fifteen, called Ponticus. He, like
Blandina, had been compelled daily to witness the torments to which the
rest had been subjected.

And now the same hideous round of tortures began, and Blandina in the
midst of her agony continued to encourage the brave boy till he died.
Blandina had been roasted in the iron chair and scourged.

As a variety she was placed in a net. Then the gate of one of the larger
dens was raised, and forth rushed a bull, pawed the sand, tossed his
head, looked round, and seeing the net, plunged forward with bowed head.
Next moment Blandina was thrown into the air, fell, was thrown again,
then gored—but was happily now unconscious. Thus she died, and “even the
Gentiles confessed that no woman among them had ever endured sufferings
as many and great.” But not even then was their madness and cruelty to
the saints satisfied, for “... those who were suffocating in prison were
drawn forth and cast to the dogs; and they watched night and day over
the remains left by beasts and fire, however mangled they might be, to
prevent us from burying them. The bodies, after exposure and abuse in
every possible way during six days, were finally cast into the Rhône.
These things they did as if they were able to resist God and prevent
their resurrection.”

The dungeons in which S. Pothinus, S. Blandina, and the rest of the
martyrs were kept through so many days, are shown beneath the abbey
church of Ainay at Lyons. It is possible enough that Christian tradition
may have preserved the remembrance of the site. They are gloomy cells,
without light or air, below the level of the river. The apertures by
which they are entered are so low that the visitor is obliged to creep
into them on his hands and knees. Traces of Roman work remain. Adjoining
is a crypt that was used as a chapel till the Revolution, when it was
desecrated. It is, however, again restored, the floor has been inlaid
with mosaics, and the walls are covered with modern frescoes,
representing the passion of the martyrs.

What makes it difficult to believe that these are the dungeons is that
the abbey above them is constructed on the site of the Athenæum founded
by Caligula, a great school of debate and composition, and it is most
improbable that the town prisons should have been under the university
buildings. In all likelihood in the early Middle Ages these vaults were
found and supposed to have been the prisons of the martyrs, and
supposition very rapidly became assurance that they were so. The prison
in which the martyrs were enclosed was the _lignum_ or _robur_, which
was certainly not below the level of the river.

The question arises, when one reads stories of such inhuman cruelties
done, did the victims suffer as acutely as we suppose? I venture to
think not _at the time_. There can be no question, as it is a thing
repeatedly attested, that in a moment of great excitement the nerves are
not very sensitive. The pain of wounds received in battle is not felt
till after the battle is over. Moreover, it may be questioned whether
the human system can endure pain above a certain grade—whether, in fact,
beyond a limit, insensibility does not set in.

I attended once a poor lady who was frightfully burnt. A paraffin lamp
set fire to a gauze or lace wrap she had about her neck. All her throat
and the lower portion of her face were frightfully burnt. I was
repeatedly with her, but she was unconscious or as in a sleep; there was
no expression of anguish in her face. She quietly sank through
exhaustion. I have questioned those who have met with shocking
accidents, and have always been assured that the pain began when nature
commenced its labour of repair. Pain, excruciating pain, can be endured,
and for a long period; but I think that when carried beyond a fixed
limit it ceases to be appreciable, as insensibility sets in.

This is a matter for investigation, and it were well if those who read
these lines were to endeavour to collect evidence to substantiate or
overthrow what is, with me, only an opinion.

[Illustration: S. CÆCILIA.]


                              _S. CÆCILIA_

In 1876, when I was writing the November volume of my “Lives of the
Saints,” and had to deal with the Acts of S. Cæcilia, I saw at once that
they were eminently untrustworthy—they were, in fact, a religious
romance, very similar to others of the like nature; and my mistrust was
deepened when I found that the name of Cæcilia did not appear in either
the Roman Kalendar of the fourth century, nor in the Carthagenian of the

The Acts were in Greek, and it was not till the time of Pope Gelasius
(496) that her name appeared at all prominently; then he introduced it
into his Sacramentary.

The Acts as we have them cannot be older than the fifth century, and
contain gross anachronisms. They make her suffer when Urban was Pope,
under an apocryphal prefect, Turcius Almachius; but the date of Pope
Urban was in the reign of Alexander Severus, who did not persecute the
Church at all—who, in fact, favoured the Christians.

But although there is so much to make one suspicious as to the very
existence of S. Cæcilia, a good many facts have been brought to light
which are sufficient to show that it was the stupidity of the composer
of the apocryphal Acts which has thrown such doubt over the Virgin

If we eliminate what is obviously due to the romantic imagination of the
author of the Acts in the fifth century, the story reduces itself to

Cæcilia was a maiden of noble family, and her parents were of senatorial
rank. From her earliest youth she was brought up as a Christian, but
that her father was one is doubtful, as he destined his daughter to
become the wife of an honourable young patrician named Valerian, who
was, however, a pagan.

Cæcilia would not hear of the marriage on this account; and Valerian,
who loved her dearly, by her advice went to Urban the Pope, who was
living in concealment in the Catacomb in the Appian Way, to learn
something about the Faith. Valerian took with him his brother,
Tiburtius; they were both convinced, were baptised, and, as they
confessed Christ, suffered martyrdom; and the officer who arrested them,
named Maximus, also believed and underwent the same fate. All three were
laid in the Catacomb of Prætextatus.

Cæcilia, in the meantime, had remained unmolested in her father’s house
in Rome.

The Prefect resolved to have her put to death privately, as she belonged
to an illustrious family, perhaps also in consideration for her father,
still a heathen.

He gave orders that the underground passages for heating the winter
apartments should be piled with wood, and an intense fire made, and that
the room in which Cæcilia was should be closed, so that she should die
of suffocation. This was done, but she survived the attempt. This is by
no means unlikely. The walls were heated by pipes through which the hot
air passed, and there was a thick pavement of concrete and mosaic
between the fires and the room. Everything depended on the chamber being
shut up, and there being no air admitted; but it is precisely this
latter requisite that could not be assured. In her own house, where the
slaves were warmly attached to her, nothing would be easier than to
withdraw the cover of the opening in the ceiling, by means of which
ventilation was secured. By some means or other air was admitted, and
although, doubtless, Cæcilia suffered discomfort from the great heat,
yet she was not suffocated.

The chamber was the _Calidarium_, or hot-air bath attached to the
palace, and in the church of S. Cæcilia in Trastevere a portion of this
is still visible.

As the attempt had failed, the Prefect sent an executioner to kill her
with the sword.

Her beauty, youth, and grace, so affected the man that, although he
smote thrice at her throat, he did not kill her. It was against the law
to strike more than thrice, so he left her prostrate on the mosaic floor
bathed in her blood.

No sooner was the executioner gone than from all sides poured in her
relatives, the slaves, and the faithful to see her, and to receive the
last sigh of the Martyr. They found her lying on the marble pavement,
half conscious only, and they dipped their kerchiefs in her blood, and
endeavoured to staunch the wounds in her throat.

She lingered two days and nights in the same condition, and without
moving, hanging between life and death; and then—so say the Acts—Pope
Urban arrived, braving the risk, from his hiding-place, to say farewell
to his dear daughter in the Faith. Thereupon she turned to him,
commended to him the care of the poor, entreated her father to surrender
his house to the Church, and expired. In the Acts she addresses the Pope
as “Your Beatitude,” an expression used in the fifth century, and
certainly not in the third.

She died, as she had lain, her face to the ground, her hands and arms
declining on the right, as she rested on that side.

The same night her body was enclosed in a cypress chest, and was
conveyed to the cemetery of S. Callixtus, where Urban laid it in a
chamber “near that in which reposed his brother prelates and martyrs.”

So far the legend. Now let us see whether it is possible to reconcile it
with history.

In the first place, it is to be observed that the whole of the
difficulty lies with Urban being Pope. If we suppose that in the
original Acts the name was simply “Urban the Bishop,” and that the
remodeller of the Acts took the liberty of transforming him into Pope
Urban, the difficulty vanishes at once. He may have been some regionary
bishop in hiding. He may not have been a bishop at all, but a priest;
and the writer, ignorant of history, and knowing only of the Urbans as
Popes, may have given rise to all this difficulty by transforming him
into a Pope.

Now, in the Acts, the Prefect does not speak of the Emperor, but of
“Domini nostri invictissimi principes” (our Lords the unconquered
Princes). The Emperor, therefore, cannot have been Alexander. Now, Ado
the martyrologist, in or about 850, must have referred to other Acts
than those we possess, for he enters S. Cæcilia as having suffered under
Marcus Aurelius and Commodus—that is to say, in 177. This explains the
Prefect referring to the orders of the Princes.

If we take this as the date, and Urban as being a priest or bishop of
the time, the anachronisms are at an end.

That the Acts should have been in Greek is no proof that they were not
drawn up in Rome, for Greek was the language of the Church there, and
indeed the majority of the most ancient inscriptions in the Catacombs
are in that language.

So much for the main difficulties. Now let us see what positive
evidences we have to substantiate the story.

The excavation of the Cemetery of S. Callixtus, which was begun in 1854,
and was carried on with great care by De Rossi, led to the clearing out
of a crypt in which the early Bishops of Rome had been laid. The bodies
had been removed when Paschal I. conveyed so many of those of the saints
and martyrs into Rome, on account of the ruin into which the Catacombs
had fallen, but their epitaphs remained, all of the third century, and
in Greek; among these, that of Urbanus, 230; and it was perhaps
precisely this fact which led the recomposer of the Acts to confound the
Urban of S. Cæcilia’s time with the Pope. The first Pope known to have
been laid there was Zephyrinus, in 218. Here also was found an
inscription set up by Damasus I., recording how that the bodies of
bishops and priests, virgins and confessors lay in that place.

Now by a narrow, irregular opening in the rock, entrance is obtained to
a further chamber, about twenty feet square, lighted by a _luminare_ in
the top, or an opening to the upper air cut in the tufa. This, there can
be no manner of doubt, is the crypt in which reposed the body of S.

In the Acts it was said to adjoin that in which were laid the Bishops of
Rome; though, as these bishops were of later date than Cæcilia, if we
take her death to have been in 177, their crypt must have been dug out
or employed for the purpose of receiving their bodies at a later period.

Again, it is an interesting fact, that here a number of the tombstones
that have been discovered bear the Cæcilian name, showing that this
cemetery must have belonged to that _gens_ or clan. Not only so, but one
is inscribed with that of Septimus Prætextatus Cæcilianus, a servant of
God during thirty years. It will be remembered that Prætextatus was the
name of the brother of Valerian, who was betrothed to Cæcilia, and it
leads one to suspect that the families of Valerian and of Cæcilia were

The chapel or crypt contains frescoes. In the _luminare_ is painted a
female figure with the hands raised in prayer. Beneath this a cross with
a lamb on each side. Below are three male figures with the names
Sebastianus, Curinus (Quirinus), and Polycamus. Sebastian is doubtless
the martyr of that name whose basilica is not far off. Quirinus, who has
the _corona_ of a priest, is the bishop and martyr of Siscia, whose body
was brought in 420 to Rome. Of Polycamus nothing is known, save that his
relics were translated in the ninth century to S. Prassede.

Against the wall lower down is a seventh-century representation of S.
Cæcilia, richly clothed with necklace and bracelets; below a head of
Christ of Byzantine type, and a representation of S. Urban. But these
paintings, which are late, have been applied over earlier decoration;
behind the figure of S. Cæcilia is mosaic, and that of Christ is painted
on the old porphyry panelling. There are in this crypt recesses for the
reception of bodies, and near the entrance an arched place low enough to
receive a sarcophagus; and there are traces as though the face had at
one time been walled up.

The walls are covered with _graffiti_, or scribbles made by pilgrims. An
inscription also remains, to state that this was the sepulchre of S.
Cæcilia the Martyr, but this inscription is not earlier than the ninth
or tenth century.

In 817 Paschal I. was Pope, and in the following year he removed
enormous numbers of the remains of martyrs from the Catacombs into the
churches of Rome, because the condition into which these subterranean
cemeteries were falling was one of ruin. They had been exposed to the
depredations of the Lombards, and then to decay. Some had fallen in, and
were choked.

Precisely this Catacomb had been plundered by the Lombard king, Astulf,
and it was not known whether he had carried off the body of S. Cæcilia
or not. All those of the former popes Paschal removed.

In 844, however, Paschal pretended that he had seen S. Cæcilia in a
dream, who had informed him that she still lay in her crypt in the
Catacomb of S. Callixtus. No reliance can be placed on the word of a man
so unprincipled as Paschal. At this very time two men of the highest
rank, who were supporters of Louis the Pious, the Emperor, had been
seized, dragged to the Lateran Palace, their eyes plucked out, and then
beheaded. The Pope was openly accused of this barbarous act. The Emperor
sent envoys to examine into it, but Paschal threw all sorts of
difficulties in their way. He refused to produce the murderers; he
asserted that they were guilty of no crime in killing these unfortunate
men, and he secured the assassins by investing them with a half-sacred
character as servants of the Church of S. Peter. Himself he exculpated
from all participation in the deed by a solemn, expurgatorial oath. Such
was the man who pretended to visions of the saints. His dream was an
afterthought. In the clearing out of the crypt of S. Cæcilia, the wall
that had closed the grave was broken through, and the cypress chest was
disclosed. Whereupon Paschal promptly declared he had dreamt that so it
would be found. The body was found in the coffin, incorrupt, and at its
feet were napkins rolled together and stained with blood.

This discovery, which seems wholly improbable, is yet not impossible. If
the _arcosolium_ had been hermetically sealed up, the body need not have
fallen to dust; and, as a fact, De Rossi did discover, along with
Marchi, in 1853, a body in the Via Appia, without the smallest trace of
alteration and decay in the bones.[1]

Paschal himself relates that he lined the chest with fringed silk, and
covered the body with a silk veil. It was then enclosed in a sarcophagus
of white marble, and laid under the high altar of the Church of S.
Cæcilia in Trastevere.

This church has been made out of the old house of S. Cæcilia, and to
this day, notwithstanding rebuildings, it bears traces of its origin.

Nearly eight hundred years after this translation, Sfondrati, cardinal
of S. Cæcilia, being about to carry on material alterations in the
basilica, came on the sarcophagus lying in a vault under the altar. It
was not alone—another was with it.

In the presence of witnesses one of these was opened. It contained a
coffin or chest of cypress wood. The Cardinal himself removed the cover.
First was seen the costly lining and the silken veil, with which nearly
eight centuries before Paschal had covered the body. It was faded, but
not decayed, and through the almost transparent texture could be seen
the glimmer of the gold of the garments in which the martyr was clad.
After a pause of a few minutes, the Cardinal lifted the veil, and
revealed the form of the maiden martyr lying in the same position in
which she had died on the floor of her father’s hall. Neither Urban nor
Paschal had ventured to alter that. She lay there, clothed in a garment
woven with gold thread, on which were the stains of blood; and at her
feet were the rolls of linen mentioned by Paschal, as found with the
body. She was lying on her right side, the arms sunk from the body, her
face turned to the ground; the knees slightly bent and drawn together.
The attitude was that of one in a deep sleep. On the throat were the
marks of the wounds dealt by the clumsy executioner.

Thus she had lain, preserved from decay through thirteen centuries.

When this discovery was made, Pope Clement VIII. was lying ill at
Frascati, but he empowered Cardinal Baronius and Bosio, the explorer of
the Catacombs, to examine into the matter; and both of these have left
an account of the condition in which the body was found. For five weeks
all Rome streamed to the church to see the body; and it was not until S.
Cæcilia’s Day that it was again sealed up in its coffin and marble

Cardinal Sfondrati gave a commission to the sculptor Maderna to
reproduce the figure of the Virgin Martyr in marble in the attitude in
which found, and beneath this is the inscription:—“So I show to you in
marble the representation of the most holy Virgin Cæcilia, in the same
position in which I myself saw her incorrupt lying in her sepulchre.”

A woodcut was published at the time of the discovery figuring it, but
this is now extremely scarce.

In the second sarcophagus were found the bones of three men; two, of the
same age and size, had evidently died by decapitation. The third had its
skull broken, and the abundant hair was clotted with blood, as though
the martyr had been beaten to death and his skull fractured with the
_plumbatæ_ or leaded scourges.

The Acts of S. Cæcilia expressly say that this was the manner of death
of Maximus. The other two bodies were doubtless those of Valerian and

Of the statue by Maderna, Sir Charles Bell says: “The body lies on its
side, the limbs a little drawn up; the hands are delicate and fine—they
are not locked, but crossed at the wrists; the arms are stretched out.
The drapery is beautifully modelled, and modestly covers the limbs....
It is the statue of a lady, perfect in form, and affecting from the
resemblance to reality in the drapery of the white marble, and the
unspotted appearance of the statue altogether. It lies as no living body
could lie, and yet correctly, as the dead when left to expire—I mean in
the gravitation of the limbs.”

S. Cæcilia is associated with music: she is regarded as the patroness of
the organ. This is entirely due to the highly imaginative Acts of the
Fifth and Sixth Century.

             “Orpheus could lead the savage race;
              And trees uprooted left their place,
                   Sequacious of the lyre:
              But bright Cæcilia rais’d the wonder higher:
              When to her organ vocal breath was given,
              An angel heard, and straight appear’d,
                   Mistaking earth for heaven.”

So sang Dryden. Chaucer has given the Legend of S. Cæcilia as the Second
Nun’s Tale in the Canterbury Pilgrimage.

There is a marvellous collection of ancient statues in Rome, in the
Torlonia Gallery. It was made by the late Prince Torlonia. Unhappily, he
kept three sculptors in constant employ over these ancient statues,
touching them up, adding, mending, altering. It is a vast collection,
and now the Torlonia family desire to sell it; but no one will buy, for
no one can trust any single statue therein; no one knows what is ancient
and what is new. The finest old works are of no value, because of the
patching and correcting to which they have been subjected.

It is the same with the Acts of the Martyrs: they have been tinkered at
and “improved” in the fifth and sixth centuries, and even later, no
doubt with the best intention, but with the result that they have—or
many of them have—lost credit altogether.

What a buyer of statuary from the Torlonia Gallery would insist on
doing, would be to drag the statues out into the sunshine and go over
them with a microscope and see where a piece of marble had been added,
or where a new face had been put on old work. Then he would be able to
form a judgment as to the value of the statue or bust. And this is
precisely the treatment to which the legends of the martyrs have to be
subjected. But this treatment tells sometimes in their favour.
Narratives that at first sight seem conspicuously false or manufactured,
will under the critical microscope reveal the sutures, and show what is
old and genuine, and what is adventitious and worthless.

[Illustration: S. AGNES.]


                               _S. AGNES_

About a mile from the Porta Pia, beside the Nomentine road that leads
from Rome to the bridge over the Arno and to Montana, are the basilica
and catacomb of S. Agnese. We are there on high ground, and here the
parents of the saint had a villa and vineyard.

They were Christians, and their garden had an entrance to a catacomb in
which the faithful were interred. We know this, because some of the
burials in the passages underground are of more ancient date than the
martyrdom of S. Agnes, which took place in 304.

A little lane, very dirty, leads down hence into the Salarian road, and
there is a mean dribble of a stream in a hollow below.

The rock is all of the volcanic tufa that is so easily cut, but which in
the roads resolves itself into mud of the dirtiest and most consistent

New Rome is creeping along the road, its gaunt and eminently vulgar
houses are destroying the beauty of this road, which commanded exquisite
views of the Sabine and Alban mountains, and the lovely Torlonia gardens
have already been destroyed. Nor is this all, for the foundations of
these useless and hideous buildings are being driven down into more than
one old catacomb, which as soon as revealed is destroyed.

Where now stands the basilica of S. Agnese was the catacomb in which her
body was laid. The church is peculiar, in that it is half underground.
One has to descend into it by a staircase of forty-five ancient marble
steps, lined with inscriptions taken from the catacomb. The cause for
this peculiarity is not that the soil has risen about the basilica, but
that when it was proposed to build the church over the tomb of the saint
who was below in the catacomb, the whole of the crust of rock and earth
above was removed, so that the subterranean passages were exposed to
light; and then the foundations of the sacred edifice were laid on this
level, and were carried up above the surface of the ground.

But this is not the only church that bears the name of S. Agnes: there
is another in Rome itself, opposite the Torre Mellina, on the site of
her martyrdom, in the Piazza Navona, which occupies the place of the old
circus of Domitian. It is a very ugly building of 1642, but contains a
tolerable representation, in relief, of the martyrdom of the saint.

Unfortunately we have not got the Acts of the martyrdom of S. Agnes in
their original form. It was the custom of the Church to have scribes
present at the interrogation and death of a martyr, who took down in
shorthand the questions put and the answers made, and the sentence of
the judge. These records, which were of the highest value, were
preserved in the archives of the Roman Church. Unhappily, at a later
age, such very simple accounts, somewhat crude maybe in style, and
entirely deficient in the miraculous, did not suit the popular taste.
Meanwhile the stories of the martyrs had been passed from mouth to
mouth, and various additions had been made to give them a smack of
romance; the account of the deaths was embellished with marvels, and
made excruciating by the piling up of tortures; and then the popular
voice declared that the persecutors must have been punished at once; so
it was fabled that lightning fell and consumed them, or that the earth
opened and swallowed them.

Now, when the Acts of Martyrs were found to contain nothing of all this,
then writers set to work—not with the intention of deceiving, but with
the idea that the genuine Acts were defective—to recompose the stories,
by grafting into the original narrative all the rubbish that had passed
current in popular legend. Thus it has come to pass that so few of the
Acts of the Martyrs, as we have them, are in their primitive form. They
have been more or less stuffed out with fabulous matter.

The Acts of S. Agnes are in this condition, although not so grossly
meddled with as some others have been. That she was a real martyr, and
that the broad outlines of her story are true, there can be no doubt.

The martyrdom took place during the reign of Diocletian.

In 304 he was in Italy. He had come to Rome the preceding year to
celebrate the twentieth year of the reign of his colleague, Maximian,
and at the same time the triumph over the Persians. He left Rome in ill
humour at the independence of the citizens, after having been accustomed
to the servility of the Easterns; the day was December 20th, and he went
to Ravenna. The weather was cold and wet, and he was chilled, so that he
suffered all the rest of the winter, and became irritable as his health
failed. However, he went back to Rome; and at this time several
martyrdoms ensued, as that of S. Soteris, a virgin of the noble family
from which sprang S. Ambrose, also the boy Pancras, and S. Sebastian.
But the most notable was Agnes.

She was aged only thirteen, and was the daughter of noble and wealthy
parents, who were, as already said, Christians.

Her riches and beauty induced the son of a former prefect to seek her
hand in marriage. Agnes, however, refused. She had no desire to become a
wife; at all events, at so early an age; and, moreover, she would on no
account be united to a pagan. “I am already engaged to One,” she said:
“to Him I shall ever keep my troth.”

Not understanding what she meant, he inquired further; and she is
reported to have replied in an allegorical strain: “He has already bound
me to Him by His betrothal ring, and has adorned me with precious
jewels. He has placed a sign upon my brow that I should love none as I
love Him. He has revealed unto me treasures incomparable, which He has
promised to give me if I persevere. Honey and milk has He bestowed on me
by His words. I have partaken of His body, and with His blood has He
adorned my cheeks.”

It must not, however, be supposed that this was actually what she said.
There was then no scribe present to take the sentences down; they are
words put into her mouth at a later period by a romance writer.

The young man was incensed, and complained to her father, who would in
no way force his daughter’s inclinations. The youth, unquestionably, did
not understand her, and supposed that she had already given her heart to
some earthly lover.

Presently it all came out. Agnes was a Christian, and, as a Christian,
would not listen to his suit.

Then, in a rage, the young man rushed off and denounced her to the
prefect, who sent immediately for her parents, and threatened them. They
were weak in the faith; and, returning home trembling, urged their
daughter to accept the youth. She, however, steadfastly refused.

There was now nothing for it but for her to appear before the Prefect of
Rome. She stood before his tribunal with calmness and confidence.

“Come,” said he, “be not headstrong: you are only a child, remember,
though forward for your age.”

“I may be a child,” replied Agnes; “but faith does not depend on years,
but on the heart.”

The prefect presently lost his temper, and declared roundly: “I will
tell you what shall be done with you; you shall be stripped and driven
naked forth to the jeers and insults of the rabble.”

Then the clothes were taken off the slender body of the girl. Thereupon
she loosened the band that confined her abundant golden hair, and it
fell in waves over her body and covered her to the knees.

“You may expose me to insult,” said she; “but I have the angel of God as
my defence. For the only-begotten Son of God, whom you know not, will be
to me an impenetrable wall and a guardian; never sleeping, and an
unflagging protector.”

“Let her be bound,” ordered the judge, sullenly.

Then the executioner turned over a quantity of manacles, and selected
the smallest pair he could find, and placed them round her wrists.

Agnes, with a smile, shook her hands, and they fell clanking at her

The prefect then ordered her to death by the sword.

The Roman tradition is that she suffered where is now her church, by the
Piazza Navona; but executions were never carried out within the walls of
Rome. She was taken to the place where she was to die. Here she knelt,
and with her own hands drew forward her hair, so as to expose her neck
to the blow. A pause ensued; the executioner was trembling with emotion,
and could not brandish his sword.

The interpolated Acts say that before this an angel had brought her a
white robe, which she put over her. What is probable is that the
magistrate, ashamed of what he had done, suffered one of those angels of
mercy, the deaconesses, to reclothe the girl.

As the child knelt in her white robe, with her head inclined, her arms
crossed on her breast, and her golden hair hanging to the ground, she
must have looked like a beautiful lily, stooping under its weight of

“And thus, bathed in her rosy blood,” says the author of the Acts,
“Christ took to Himself His bride and martyr.”

Her parents received the body, and carried it to the cemetery they had
in their vineyard on the Nomentian Way, and there laid it in a
_loculus_, a recess cut in the side of one of the passages underground.
It was probably just under one of the _luminaria_, or openings to the
upper air, which allowed light to enter the Catacombs; for here, two
days later, Emerentiana, a catechumen, the foster-sister of Agnes, was
found kneeling by her grave; and the pagan rabble, peering in and seeing
her, pelted her with stones, stunned, and then buried her under the
earth and sand they threw in.

Constantine the Great built the church over the tomb, removing the upper
crust; but it was rebuilt by Honorius I., between 625 and 638. It was
altered in 1490 by Innocent VIII.; but retains more of the ancient
character than most of the Roman churches.

The day on which Agnes suffered was January 21st. The memory of her has
never faded from the Church. It is said that her parents dreamed, seven
days after her death, that they saw her in light, surrounded by a Virgin
band, and with a white lamb at her side. In commemoration of this
dream—which not improbably did take place—the Roman Church observes in
her honour the 28th of January as well as the actual day of her death.

So ancient is the cult of S. Agnes, that, next to the Evangelists and
Apostles, no saint’s effigy is older. It appears on the ancient glass
vessels used by the Christians in the early part of the century in which
she died, with her name inscribed, which leaves no doubt as to her

Mrs. Jameson says of the Church of S. Agnese, in Rome: “Often have I
seen the steps of this church, and the church itself, so crowded with
kneeling worshippers at Matins and Vespers, that I could not make my way
among them; principally the women of the lower orders, with their
distaffs and market baskets, who had come thither to pray, through the
intercession of the patron saint, for the gifts of meekness and

In the corrupted Acts, it is told that Agnes was set on a pyre to be
burned to death, but that the fire was miraculously extinguished. This
is purely apocryphal. It originates in a passage by S. Ambrose, in which
he speaks of her hands having been stretched over the fire on a pagan
altar, to force her to do sacrifice. This has been magnified into an
immense pyre.

“At this age,” said he, “a young girl trembles at an angry look from her
mother; the prick of a needle draws tears. Yet, fearless under the
bloody hands of her executioners, Agnes is immovable under the heavy
chains which weigh her down; ignorant of death, but ready to die, she
presents her body to the edge of the sword. Dragged against her will to
the altar, she holds forth her arms to Christ through the fires of the
sacrifice; and her hand forms, even in those flames, the sign which is
the trophy of a victorious Saviour. She presents her neck and her two
hands to the fetters which they produce for her; but it is impossible to
find any small enough to encircle her delicate limbs.”

[Illustration: FEBRONIA OF SIBAPTE.]


                         _FEBRONIA OF SIBAPTE_

The Church had endured a long period of peace after the persecution of
Decius, in 250; and in the half-century that had followed, although
there had been recrudescences of persecution, it had been spasmodic and

During those fifty years the Church had made great way. Conversions had
been numerous, persons in high station suffered not only their slaves,
but their wives and children, to profess themselves Christians. Places
about the court, even in the imperial household, were filled with
Christians; and even some were appointed to be governors of provinces,
with exemption from being obliged to assist at the usual sacrifices. The
Christians built churches of their own, and these not by any means small
and such as might escape observation.

But, internally, there had been a great development of her own powers in
the Church, such as had not been possible when she was proscribed, and
could only exercise her vital functions in secret.

And among one of the most remarkable and significant phenomena of this
vigorous expansion of life was the initiation of monastic life. In Syria
and in Egypt there had for long been something of the kind, but not
connected with Christianity.

In Palestine were the Essenes. They numbered about four thousand; they
lived in convents, and led a strange life. Five writers of antiquity
speak of them—Josephus, Philo, Pliny the Elder, Epiphanius and
Hippolytus. They were a Jewish sect, a revolt against Pharisaism, and a
survival of the schools of the prophets.

Of fervent and exalted piety, of ardent conviction impatient of the
puerilities and the bondage of Rabbinism, they sought to live to God in
meditation and prayer and study.

They built for themselves great houses on the eastern shore of the Dead
Sea, which they occupied. They observed the law of Moses with great
literalness; they had all things in common; they fasted, prayed, and saw
visions. They did not marry, they abstained from wine, they tilled the
soil when not engaged in prayer. They were, in a word, monks, but Jewish

When Christianity spread, it entered into and gave a new spirit to these
communities without their changing form.

In Egypt, in like manner were the Theraputæ, not Jews, nor confined to
Egypt, but most numerous there. They were conspicuous for their habits
of great austerity and self-mortification. They left their homes, gave
up their substance, fled towns and lived in solitary places, in little
habitations or cells apart yet not distant from one another. Each had
his little oratory for prayer and praise. They neither ate nor drank
till the sun set. Some ate only once in three days, and then only bread,
flavoured with salt and hyssop. They prayed twice a day, and between the
times of prayer read, meditated or worked. Men and women belonged to the
order, but lived separately though sometimes praying in common.

Here again we see the shell into which the new life entered, without
really changing or greatly modifying the external character.

Doubtless the teaching of the Gospel reached these societies, was
accepted, and gradually gave to them a Christian complexion—that was

Whether this sort of life was in accordance with the Gospel, was not
doubted by them, having before them the example of Christ who retreated
into the wilderness for forty days, and His words exhorting to the
renunciation of everything that men hold dear, and the recommendation to
sell everything, give to the poor, and follow in His footsteps.

It is significant that it was precisely in Palestine where the Essenes
had flourished, and in Egypt that the Therapeutæ had maintained such
numerous colonies that we find the most vigorous development of
monachism. It is not possible to doubt that the one slid into the other

The persecution of Diocletian broke out in 304. At that time there was
at Sibapte, in Syria, a convent of fifty virgins.

One of these, named Febronia, aged eighteen, was the niece of the
abbess, Bryene. She was wondrously fair of face and graceful of form,
and the old sisters seem to have regarded her with reverence as well as
love, because of her marvellous loveliness of body as well as innocence
of soul. Apparently when quite young she had lost her parents, and had
been taken by her aunt into the convent in earliest infancy, so that she
had grown up among the sisters, as a sweet flower, utterly ignorant of
the world.

She had studied Scripture so deeply, and was so spiritual in mind, that
many ladies living in the cities of Syria came to visit and consult her.
Bryene drew a curtain between her niece and those who visited her, so as
not to distract her thoughts, as also not to expose her to the gaze of
vulgar curiosity.

One day a young heathen woman came to the monastery in the first grief
at the loss of her husband, to whom she had been married but seven
months. She had found no comfort in the religion of her parents, who
could not assure her that the soul had any life after death; it was no
true consolation to her to set up a monument in honour of the deceased,
and so, hearing of Febronia, she came to Bryene, and falling at her
feet, entreated to be allowed to tell her trouble to the girl Febronia.

The abbess hesitated, as the woman was a pagan; but at length, moved by
her tears and persistency, gave consent, admitted her into the cell of
the nun, and allowed her to tarry with her as long as she pleased.

They passed the night together. Febronia opened the Gospel and read to
the broken-hearted woman the words of life. They fell on good ground.
The widow wept and listened, and wept again, and as the sun rose on
them, she begged to be properly instructed, so as to receive baptism.

When she was gone, “Who,” asked Febronia, “was that strange woman who
came to me, and who cried as though her heart would break when I read
the Scriptures to her?”

“It was Hiera,” answered the nun Thomais, who afterwards committed the
whole narrative to writing. “Hiera is the widow of a senator.”

“Oh,” said Febronia, “why did you not inform me of her rank? I have been
talking to her just as if she had been my sister.”

The noble widow did become the sister of the nun in the faith, and in
the family of Christ; and when, some time after, Febronia fell very ill,
Hiera insisted on being allowed to be with her and nurse her with her
own hands.

Febronia was but convalescent, and looking white as a lily, when
Selenus, charged with the execution of the imperial decree against
Christians, arrived at Sibapte. He was accompanied by his nephews
Lysimachus and Primus, the former of whom was suspected by Diocletian of
having a leaning towards Christianity, as his mother had been of the
household of faith, and he was a youth of a singularly meditative and
temperate life.

Selenus accordingly brought his nephews with him, to associate them with
himself in the deeds of cruelty that were meditated, and to awe them
into dread of transgressing the will and command of the emperor.

Primus was a cousin on his mother’s side to Lysimachus, and he shared
with him disgust at the cruelty of their uncle, and they did what was in
their power—they sent timely warning to the Christians to escape from a
city that was about to be visited.

As soon as the bishop and clergy of Sibapte heard that the governor
purposed coming to the place, they dispersed and secreted themselves.
The sisters of the convent in great agitation waited on the abbess, and
entreated her to allow them to escape for their lives.

Bryene bade them entertain no alarm, as the danger only threatened, and
was not at their doors: such humble, insignificant folk as they might
expect to be overlooked. At the same time she was really distracted with
anxiety, as Febronia was not strong enough to be removed, and she could
not leave her.

The sisters took counsel together, and electing one named Aetheria as
their spokeswoman, made a second remonstrance, and complained, “We know
what is your real reason for retaining us: it is that you are solicitous
about Febronia; but the bishop and clergy are in hiding. Do try to carry
Febronia away, and suffer us to leave.”

Febronia, however, could not be moved, so Bryene dismissed the nuns, and
they decamped forthwith; two alone remained—Thomais, the writer of the
history, and Procla, who acted as nurse to the sick girl, and who could
not find the heart to tear herself away.

Almost immediately after the sisters had fled, news reached those who
remained that the governor had arrived. Febronia heard her aunt sobbing.
She looked at Thomais, and asked, “I pray you, dear mother, what is the
great mistress” (for this was the title of the abbess) “crying so
bitterly about?”

“My child,” answered the old nun, “she is sore at heart about you. We
are old and ugly, and all that can chance to us is death; but you are
young and fair, and there are things we fear for you of which you know
nothing. We need not say more to you, dearest child, than bid you be
very cautious how you accept any offers made to you by the governor,
however innocent they may appear. A danger lurks behind them of which
you have no conception.”

The night passed in anxious conversation and in mutual encouragement.
Next morning Selenus sent soldiers to the convent, who broke open the
door, and would have cut down Bryene, had not Febronia started from her
pallet, and casting herself at their feet, implored them to kill her
rather than her old aunt.

Primus arrived at this juncture, rebuked the soldiers for their
violence, and bade them go outside the house. Then, turning to Bryene,
he asked somewhat impatiently why she had not taken advantage of the
warning that had been sent, and escaped.

“Even now,” said he, “I will make shift to help you. I will withdraw the
soldiers, and do you escape by the back of the house.”

Primus then withdrew, and it is possible that the three nuns and
Febronia might have escaped, but that Selenus, suspicious of his nephew,
sent back the soldiers with peremptory orders to secure Febronia and
bring her before him. This was done, and she and the rest were thrown
for the night into the common prison.

Next day Selenus ascended the tribunal, and was accompanied by his
nephews Primus and Lysimachus, whom he forced to attend.

Bryene and Thomais appeared, each holding a hand of the sick girl and
sustaining her. They begged to be tried and condemned with her.

“They are a pair of old hags,” said Selenus. “Dismiss them.”

Then they were separated from their charge.

“Mother,” said Febronia, clinging to and kissing Bryene, “I trust in God
that, as I have been ever obedient to thee in the monastery, so I may be
faithful to what thou hast exhorted me to do, faithful here openly
before all the people. Go then—do not stay here, but pray for me, but
before leaving give me thy benediction.”

Then she slid to her knees, and Bryene, stretching her hands to heaven,
cried: “Lord Jesus Christ, who didst appear to Thy handmaid Thecla, in
her agony, to comfort her, stand by Thy lowly one in her great contest.”

So saying, she fell on the neck of Febronia, and they kissed and wept
and clung to each other till parted by the soldiers.

Then, unable to bear the sight of what she knew must follow, Bryene
retired to the deserted convent, and begged that word might be sent her
as to how all ended.

In the meantime, Hiera had heard of the arrest of Febronia, and wild
with grief she rushed to the place of judgment. She found the court
crammed with people, mostly women, agitated, indignant, and murmuring.
There was a space clear before the tribunal, where stood the accused,
and at one side were various instruments of torture, and a stake driven
into the ground furnished with rings and ropes. On the judgment seat
were Selenus, with his nephews by him.

Selenus turned to Lysimachus, and said, “Do you open the examination.”

The young man, struggling with his emotion, began—“Tell me, young
maiden, what is thy condition?”

“I am a servant,” answered Febronia.

“Whose servant?” asked Lysimachus.

“I am the servant of Christ.”

“And tell me thy name, I pray thee.”

“I am a humble Christian,” answered Febronia.

“May I ask thy name, maiden?”

“The good mother always calls me Febronia.”

Then Selenus broke in: “We shall never have done if you push along in
this fashion. To the point at once. Febronia, I vow by the gods that I
have no desire to hurt thee. Here is a gallant young gentleman, my
nephew; take him as thy husband, and forget the silly stuff, thy
religion. I had other views for the boy, but that matters not; never
have I seen a sweeter face than thine, and I am content to accept thee
as my niece. I am a man of few words: accept my offer, and all is well;
or by the living gods I will make thee rue the refusal.”

Febronia replied calmly, “I have a heavenly Bridegroom, eternal; with
celestial glory as His dower.”

Selenus burst forth with, “Soldiers, strip the wench.” He was obeyed;
they allowed her to wear only a tattered cloak over her shoulders.

Calm, without a sign of being discomposed, Febronia bore the outrage.

“How now, you impudent hussy?” scoffed Selenus; “where is your maiden
modesty? I saw no struggles, no blushes.”

“God Almighty knows, judge, that till this day I have never seen the
face of man, for I was only two years old when I was taken as a little
baby to my aunt, and the rest of my life I have spent there among the
good sisters. Do I seem lost to shame? Nay, I have been assured that
wrestlers strip in the games when they strive for victory. I fear thee

“Stretch her, face downwards, over a slow fire. Bind her hands and feet
to four stakes, and so—scourge her.”

He was obeyed, and the crimson blood trickled over her white skin at
every stroke of the lash, and hissed in the glowing charcoal.

The multitude, looking on, could not bear the sight, and with one voice
entreated that she might be removed and dismissed.

But the shouts only made Selenus more angry, and he ordered the
executioners to redouble the blows. Thomais, unable to endure the sight,
fainted at the feet of Hiera, who uttered a cry of “Oh, Febronia, my
sister! Thomais is dying.”

The poor sufferer turned her head, and asked the executioner to throw
water over the face of the fainting woman, and begged to be allowed to
say a word to Hiera.

But the judge interposed to forbid this indulgence, and ordered Febronia
to be untied and placed on the rack.

This was sometimes called “the little horse.” It had four legs united by
planks. At each end was a crank. The sufferer was attached by the feet
and hands at ankles and wrists to cords that passed over rollers between
the planks. She thus hung below and between the two pieces of wood. At a
signal from the magistrate, the executioners turned the cranks, and
these drew the feet and hands tighter towards the rollers, and strained
them, so that if this were persisted in, the limbs were pulled out of

“Well, girl,” asked Selenus, “how do you like your first taste of

“Learn from the manner in which I have borne it, that my resolution is
unalterable,” answered Febronia.

On the rack her sides were torn with iron combs. She prayed incessantly:
“O Lord, make haste to help me. Leave me not, neither forsake me in my
hour of pain!”

“Cut out her tongue,” ordered the judge.

Febronia was detached from the rack and tied to the post in the centre
of the place. But when the multitude saw what the executioner was about
to do, the excitement and indignation became so menacing, that the judge
thought it prudent to countermand the order. Instead of which, however,
he bade the surgeon in attendance extract her teeth. When he had drawn
seventeen, Selenus bade him desist.

“Cut off her breasts.”

This atrocious order caused a renewed uproar. The physician hesitated.
But Selenus was fairly roused. “Coward, go on! Cut!” he shouted, and the
surgeon, with a sweep of the razor, sliced off her right breast.

Febronia uttered a cry as she felt the steel gash her: “My Lord! my God!
see what I suffer, and receive my soul into Thy hands.”

These were the last words she spoke.

“Cut off the other breast, and put fire to the wound,” said Selenus.

He was obeyed. The mob swayed and quivered with indignation; women wept
and fainted. Then with a roar broke forth the execration, “Cursed be
Diocletian and all his gods!”

Thereupon Hiera sent a girl running to the convent to Bryene to tell her
all. And the old abbess flung herself on the ground sobbing, “Bra, bra,
bra! Febronia, my child!” Then raising her arms and straining her eyes
to heaven, she cried, “Lord, regard Thy humble handmaiden, Febronia, and
may my aged eyes see the battle fought out, and my dear child numbered
with the martyrs.”

In the meantime Selenus had ordered the cords to be removed which bound
Febronia to the stake. Then she dropped in a heap on the sand, her long
hair flowing over and clothing her mangled body.

Primus said under his breath to his cousin, “The poor girl is dead.”

“She died to bring light and conviction to many hearts—perhaps to mine,”
answered Lysimachus aloud, that his uncle might hear. “Would that it had
been in my power to have saved her! Now let her finish her conflict and
enter into her rest.”

Then Hiera, bursting into the arena, stood wild with indignation and
anguish before the judge, and shrieked, as she shook her hands at
him,—“O monster of cruelty! shame on thee, shame! Thou, born of a woman,
hast forgotten the obligation to honour womanhood, and hast insulted and
outraged thy mother in the person of this poor girl. God, the Judge
above judges, will make a swift work with thee, and cut it short, and
root thee out of the land of the living.”

Selenus, stung with these words, exasperated at the resentment of the
mob, and finding that he had fairly roused his nephews into defiance of
his authority, shouted his orders to have the widow put on the rack.

But at this point some of the town authorities interfered, and warned
the judge that he was proceeding to dangerous lengths. Hiera was well
connected, popular; and if she were tortured, a riot was certain to
ensue. “Half the town will rush here and insist on being tried and
tortured. They will all confess Christ.”

Selenus reluctantly gave orders for the release of Hiera, and directed
the current of his rage on Febronia, now unconscious. He ordered first
her hands, then her feet, and finally her head to be struck off; and
when all was finished, rose from his seat, turned to Lysimachus, and saw
that his face was bathed in tears. He hastily withdrew to supper, angry
with himself, his nephews, and the mob.

Lysimachus and Primus descended to the arena, and standing by the
mutilated body, vowed to renounce the gods of Diocletian and to worship
the God of Febronia. Then the young men gave orders for the removal of
the mangled remains to the house of Bryene.

Almost the whole city crowded to see the body of the young girl who had
suffered so heroically.

That night Lysimachus could not eat or speak at supper, and Selenus
forced himself to riotous mirth and drunk hard.

We cannot quite trust what follows. It was too tempting to a copyist to
allow the governor to go away unchastised. Perhaps it is true that in a
drunken and angry fit Selenus, pacing the room storming, slipped on the
polished pavement, and in falling hit his head against a pillar—with the
result that he never spoke again, having congestion of the brain, and
died next day. It is quite possible that this may be true. If it were an
interpolation by a copyist, he would have killed him by fire falling
from heaven and consuming him—that was the approved way with the
re-writers of the Acts of Martyrs.

When Constantine became Emperor both the young men were baptised,
retired into solitude and embraced the monastic life.

The name of Febronia is in the Greek, Coptic and Abyssinian Kalendars.
The simple and apparently quite trustworthy account of her death was by
Thomais, the nun who saw her die, and had known her all her short life.



                     _THE DAUGHTER OF CONSTANTINE_

Constantia, whose name does not appear in the Roman Kalendar, but which
has found its way into several unauthorised lists of the Saints, is
chiefly known through the Acts of S. Agnes. Little or nothing reliable
is recorded concerning her, and her story would not have been included
in this collection, were it not for two circumstances—one, that two of
the most interesting monuments of Old Rome are associated with her name,
one directly, the other indirectly; and next, that a caution, very
desirable of being exercised, may be learned from a consideration of her
story—not to cast over as utterly fabulous and worthless the legends
that come down to us of the Saints of early times, because they are
stuffed with unhistorical and ridiculous incidents and marvels. Let us
now see very briefly what the _legend_ is concerning Constantia.

She was the daughter of Constantine the Great, and was afflicted with a
distressing disease, supposed at the time to be leprosy, but which was
in all probability scrofula.

The Roman general, Gallicanus, having been in favour with the Emperor,
and having lost his wife, was offered Constantia in marriage by his
master—not a particularly inviting proposal, and Gallicanus did not,
possibly, regret that he was called away by an inroad of the barbarians
into Thrace, to defend the Roman frontiers against them. Before engaging
in battle he made a vow, in the event of success, that he would believe
in Christ and be baptised. He succeeded in repulsing the enemy, and
returned to Rome to find that Constantia had been healed of her disorder
at the tomb of S. Agnes, and that she had persuaded his three daughters,
Augusta, Attica, and Artemia, to live with her, as consecrated virgins,
near the shrine of the Virgin Martyr, to whose intercession she
attributed her cure.

Constantia had two chamberlains, John and Paul, to whom, at her death,
she bequeathed much of her possessions.

When Julian the Apostate assumed the purple, in 361, he did not openly
persecute the Church, but he turned out of their situations such
officers of the court and army as refused to renounce Christ. John and
Paul he particularly disliked, partly because they were zealous
Christians, and had had much to do with the conversion of Gallicanus,
but also because they had obtained by bequest so much of Constantia’s
estate, which he desired to draw into the imperial treasury. He sent
word that they were to be deprived of their offices, and were to be
privately put to death in their own house.

Accordingly, when they had retired to their residence on the Cœlian
Hill, the ministers of Julian pursued them, dismissed the servants, and
secretly conveyed them down into the cellar of their palace, and there
killed and buried them.

Three persons, however, knew of what was going on—Crispinus,
Crispinianus, and Benedicta—and, to prevent the matter getting bruited
about, these the soldiers also put to death.

Gallicanus was living at Ostia, and he was ordered into exile. He
withdrew to Alexandria, where the chief magistrate, Baucianus, summoned
him before his tribunal, required him to do sacrifice to idols, and,
because he refused, had him decapitated. He has found a place in the
Roman Martyrology on June 25th.

Now the whole series of incidents is full of difficulties. The name of
Gallicanus was not uncommon. Vulcatius Gallicanus was prefect of Rome in
317, and Ovius Gallicanus was Consul in 330, but of either of them being
engaged against the barbarians in Thrace there is no historical

It is also incredible that the Gallicanus of the legend should have been
publicly tried as a Christian and condemned as such under Julian.

The Emperor Constantine had a daughter, Constantia, we know from profane
history, who was married to Hannibalianus—a thoroughly unprincipled
woman, in fact, if we may trust the highly coloured picture drawn of her
by Ammianus Marcellinus. She was a demon in human form, a female fury
ever thirsting for blood. But though generally called Constantia, her
correct name was Flavia Julia Constantina.

Of the Constantia of the legend there is no mention by the historical
writers of the time; but this is not remarkable if she were, as is
represented in the story, a woman who took no part in public life, but
lived in retirement, partly because of her disorder, and then because
she had embraced the religious life.

A further difficulty arises in the account of the martyrdom of SS. John
and Paul, her chamberlains. The Acts represent them as subjected to
interrogation by Julian himself in Rome, whereas it is quite certain
that after he became Emperor he did not set foot in Italy.

It will be seen, therefore, that there is here every reason for
repudiating the whole story as fabulous, and some would go so far as to
say that Constantia, the virgin daughter of Constantine, Gallicanus,
John and Paul were all of them mythical characters, creatures of the
imagination. But there are certain very good and weighty reasons on the
other side for inducing an arrest of judgment.

In the first place, close to the basilica and catacomb of S. Agnese is a
very interesting and precious circular church, erected by Constantine
the Great, at the request of his daughter Constantia, as a thankoffering
for her recovery from the distressing disease which had disfigured her
and made life a burden to her. This church is, perhaps, the most
remarkable specimen we have existing of ecclesiastical architecture of
the age of Constantine. It is quite untouched, and is rich with frescoes
of the period.

But a still more remarkable monument is one quite recently disinterred.
It is the house of the martyrs John and Paul, which has existed for
centuries buried under the foundations of the great church that bears
their names on the Cœlian Hill, a church erected by the one English
Pope, Nicolas Breakespeare, in 1158. The discovery of the house is
itself a romance. What is known of its early history is this: Julian the
Apostate died in 363. The death of John and Paul had taken place in 362.
Julian was followed by Jovian, who died in 364, and was succeeded by

Now, directly Julian was no more, Byzantius, a senator and a Christian,
interested himself in the matter. The recent martyrdom was in all
mouths, and it was known that the bodies lay in the cellar of the house.
Byzantius had the bodies lifted and placed in a white alabaster or
marble box, and converted the upper storey of the house into an oratory.

The son of Byzantius was Pammachius, the friend and correspondent of S.
Jerome. He did something also. He erected a handsome church over the
tomb of the saints, and this was completed in 410, forty-eight years
after their martyrdom.

There had, however, been no break in the tradition, for Byzantius had
made his oratory only two or three years later than their martyrdom.

The basilica erected by Pammachius consisted of an oblong nave, with
side aisles and an apse to the west. To the east end was a quadrangle,
surrounded by a cloister, and with a water-tank in the middle. By means
of a flight of steps visitors were enabled to descend to the
“Confession,” or place whence they could look down on the alabaster box
containing the relics of the martyrs in the cellar; and in the angles of
the wall below, a triangular white marble table was placed, hollowed out
in the middle for oil, in which a wick burned to throw light on the

Hard by, in later years, was the family mansion of S. Gregory the Great,
who sent Augustine and his little band, in 597, to convert the
Anglo-Saxons of Kent. Now, Gregory knew well this church of SS. John and
Paul, and often prayed there. Somewhere about 603 he sent a present to
Queen Theodelinda, the Bavarian Princess, who had married Agilulph, the
Lombard, and among other things some of the oil from this very lamp.
This identical vial of oil is preserved among the treasures of Monza,
along with some little gold hens and chickens presented by Theodelinda.

Now, a few years ago, Padre Germano, a Passionist father of the
monastery attached to the church, in studying the blank south wall of
the church that rises out of the little lane, the Clivus Scauri, by
which one mounts to reach the entrance of the church, observed that it
consisted of a whole series of blocked-up arches and windows above them.
In a word, it looked like a three-storey shop-front, or factory of
brick, with the openings filled in. What could be the meaning of this?
Such an arrangement was not suitable to the basilica of Pammachius, and
had certainly no significance for the Church of Adrian I.

Then, all at once, it flashed on him what it really was: it was nothing
more nor less than the street-front of the palace of John and Paul,
which had been solidly built, and consequently had been utilised first
by Pammachius and then by Adrian I. Now the church is built at the top
of a steep slope, and the level of the floor of the church is far above
the arches. It next occurred to the Padre: Is it not possible that the
old house of the martyrs may be beneath the floor of this church?

He obtained leave to search. He went round to persons interested in
Christian antiquities, and begged a little money, and so was enabled to
begin his excavations; and, lo! he discovered that when in 410
Pammachius had built his basilica he had filled in the lower portion of
the house, all the most important rooms and the cellars, with earth and
rubbish, and had raised his church above it all, knocking away the
floors of the upper storeys and blocking up what had been the bedroom
windows. The writer of this account was in Rome during two winters when
the Padre was engaged on the excavations, and was frequently there, and
saw the results as they were reached. And these results were: first,
that a Christian mansion of the fourth century was disinterred, the only
one of the kind known to exist; and more, the tomb of the saints into
which Byzantius had put the bodies was found; also the very lamp-table
from which S. Gregory took the oil for sending to Theodelinda, and the
early altar set up by Byzantius in one of the halls of the house which
he had converted into an oratory. Nay, more,—paintings were found,
whether of the date of Byzantius or of his son Pammachius is
uncertain—one representing the soldiers killing Crispinus, Crispinianus,
and Benedicta, and another showing Constantia, with her two chamberlains
and other attendants. There were also figures which may be Byzantius and
his wife, or Pammachius and his, bringing gifts to the tomb of the
martyrs. The cellar was discovered with the old wine-bottles, some
marked with the sacred sign; and the frescoes in the reception-room were
Christian: a woman lifting up holy hands in prayer; Moses, with the roll
of the Law; the good sheep and the bad one, with the Milk of the Word,
and so on.

Now, all this shows conclusively that there really were such martyrs as
John and Paul, and that although their story has been embroidered, there
is a substratum of truth in it.

What is probably the basis of the whole story is this: that Constantia,
an infirm, scrofulous daughter of Constantine, residing in Rome,
believing herself to have received some alleviation in her condition by
praying at the tomb of S. Agnes, not only induced her father to build a
basilica above that tomb, but also the remarkable Church of St.
Constanza, which is hard by. That she had chamberlains named John and
Paul, devout Christians, is also more than probable, as also that she
bequeathed to them a large portion of her fortune. The fact of their
being zealous Christians, and exerting themselves vigorously to advance
the Faith, that among other converts they made was Ovius Gallicanus, who
had been Consul in 330, is also probable. That they were secretly put to
death in their own mansion on the Cœlian Hill, by the orders of Julian,
and buried in their cellar, is quite certain. The chain of evidence is

That Constantia had as her friends and fellows in her retired devout
life three of the daughters of the ex-Consul, is not at all unlikely.
That he was banished to Alexandria by Julian may be admitted. But this
is the utmost. The recomposer of the Acts tried to spice the story to
suit the taste of his times, and in doing so fell into extravagances,
anachronisms, and absurdities.

Constantia may have felt grateful for the disorder that kept her out of
the current of public life, and from the intrigues of the palace.

Her father, with all his good qualities, was a violent man; and his
adoption of Christianity was due to political shrewdness rather than to

In 324 Crispus, her accomplished brother, whose virtues and glory had
made him a favourite with the people, was accused of conspiring against
his father by his stepmother Fausta, who desired to clear him out of the
way to make room for her own son Constantius. Another involved in the
same charge was Licinius, a son of the sister of Constantine, and who
was also a young man of good qualities.

Constantine was at Rome at the time. He went into a fit of blind fury,
and had his son put to death, and ordered the execution of Licinius.
Then, coming to his senses, and finding that he had acted without having
any evidence of the truth of the charges, he turned round on his wife
Fausta, and ordered her to be suffocated in a vapour bath.

Constantine died in 337.

“One dark shadow from the great tragedy of his life reached to his last
end, and beyond it,” says Dean Stanley. “It is said that the Bishop of
Nicomedia, to whom the Emperor’s will had been confided, alarmed at its
contents, immediately placed it for security in the dead man’s hand,
wrapped in the vestments of death. There it lay till Constantius
arrived, and read his father’s dying bequest. It was believed to express
the Emperor’s conviction that he had been poisoned by his brothers and
their children, and to call on Constantius to avenge his death. That
bequest was obeyed by the massacre of six out of the surviving princes
of the imperial family. Two alone escaped. With such a mingling of light
and darkness did Constantine close his career.”[2]

One of Constantia’s sisters, Constantina, has been already mentioned.
Her second husband was Gallus. “She was an incarnate fury,” says
Ammianus Marcellinus; “never weary of inflaming the savage temper of her
husband. The pair, in process of time, becoming skilful in inflicting
suffering, hired a gang of crafty talebearers, who loaded the innocent
with false charges, accusing them of aiming at the royal power or of
practising magic.” Those accused were all put to death and their goods
confiscated. She died of fever in 353.

Another sister, Helena, was married to the Apostate Julian. Her brother,
Constantius, although a Christian, was as ensanguined with murders as
one of the old Cæsars. Her brothers Constans and Constantine II. fought
each other, and Constantine was slain. Violence, bloodshed, stained the
whole family, except perhaps Helena and certainly the blameless
Constantia. In the midst of such violence and crime, it was indeed
something to disappear from the pages of the profane historian and to be
remembered only as a builder of churches.

The rotunda near S. Agnese, that bears Constantia’s name, was erected
during her life, to serve as her mausoleum, and in it she and her sister
Helena were laid. She was laid in the beautiful sarcophagus of red
porphyry that was in the church. This was carried off by Pope Paul II.,
who intended to convert it to his own use, and it is now preserved in
the Vatican.

The vaulting of the church is covered with mosaic arabesques of flowers
and birds referring to a vintage.

[Illustration: THE SISTER OF S. BASIL.]


                        _THE SISTER OF S. BASIL_

It is most rare to be able to obtain a glimpse into the home-life of the
ancients. In the first centuries of our era, in the Greek and Roman
world, life was so much in public, that there was hardly any domestic
life at all; and it was only with Christianity that the quiet, retired
and sweet home society constituted itself.

In the midst of flaunting paganism, the first believers were driven
indoors, so to speak; they were precluded from much of the amusement
that went to fill up the time of the heathen. They could not sit on the
benches of the amphitheatre, nor attend at the representations of the
theatre. They were largely prevented from being present at banquets
given by friends, as these began and ended with libations to the gods,
and the benediction of the deities called down on the meats. They were
precluded from taking part in civil life, by the oaths and sacrifices
associated with every official act.

Thinking, feeling, believing differently from their fellow-citizens,
they could not associate with them easily abroad, and were consequently
driven to find their society in their own homes.

Perhaps it is only in the writings of S. Basil and his brother S.
Gregory of Nyssa that we get anything like a look into the interior of a
Christian household in the fourth century. It is therefore, although a
quiet picture of an uneventful and unexciting existence, full of
interest and charm. S. Basil belonged to a family both noble and
wealthy, in Cappadocia, in Asia Minor. His ancestors had occupied public
positions either as magistrates or at the imperial court.

His grandmother, Macrina, a native of Neocæsarea, in Pontus, had been
brought up by S. Gregory the wonder-worker; and she and her husband,
whose name is not recorded, were confessors in the persecution of
Diocletian. They fled to the wooded mountain sides, leaving their houses
and possessions; and in their places of retreat subsisted mainly on the
wild deer, that were so tame that they allowed themselves to be easily
snared. They remained in concealment for seven years, and it was not
till an edict in favour of the Christians was promulgated, on April
30th, 311, that they ventured to return to Neocæsarea.

Macrina died in Pontus about 340. Her son Basil inherited the piety of
his parents, and he took to wife Æmilia, a woman of great virtue, the
daughter of a man who had been put to death after having been deprived
of his goods by the Emperor Licinius. She had lost her mother in early

Basil and Æmilia were very wealthy. They owned extensive estates in
Pontus, Cappadocia and Lesser Armenia; they had a large family, ten
children, of whom the eldest was Macrina, named after her grandmother;
S. Basil was the eldest son, then came Naucratius, Gregory, afterwards
of Nyssa, and Peter, the youngest, afterwards of Sebaste. We know no
more of the four younger girls than that they were well provided for in
marriage, and one of them had daughters who became superiors of a
monastery in Cæsarea under the direction of their uncle, S. Basil.

Basil the elder, the father, died about 349, shortly after the birth of
Peter. Æmilia was now left a widow with a large family to look after,
but she was assisted in everything by her eldest daughter, Macrina, who
was her inseparable companion.

When Macrina had been born she had been confided to a nurse, but it was
remarked that she was almost always in her mother’s arms. Æmilia took
pains to form the mind of the little girl, and give it a religious
direction. She taught her first of all sentences from the Book of
Wisdom, then made her commit sundry psalms to memory; so that, as her
brother Gregory wrote, the Psalter became to her a companion day and
night, and she was for ever singing psalms or reciting them in her

Macrina was a good and patient needlewoman. Not only was the house
large, but the brothers and sisters needed attention, and their clothes
keeping in order, and Æmilia and her eldest daughter were constantly
engaged at their needles, to keep pace with the demands of the family;
and as they were always together, one mind was but the reflexion of the

What tended to make Macrina a still, stay-at-home girl, was an early
love affair. She had been engaged by her father’s consent to a
high-principled, well-born young man, and the marriage was only deferred
because of Macrina’s youth. But before this took place he fell ill of
fever and was carried off rapidly. After this Basil thought of uniting
his daughter to some other suitable person, but Macrina urgently
entreated to be allowed to remain with her mother. “My dear husband,”
she said, “is not dead,—he lives with God. He has gone on a far
journey—that is all, and I shall remain faithful to him whilst he is

Her father did not press her—indeed, the devotion of Macrina to her
mother was so tender and so close that he thought neither could bear to
be parted. When he also died, then the union of hearts and interests
became closer.

As the children grew up they dispersed, and received their several
inheritances; but they all carried away with them indelibly the stamp
impressed on their hearts by their mother and eldest sister; and in the
end three of them became bishops and saints. Peter, the youngest, had
been most in their hands, but the favourite brother was Naucratius.

As soon as all the birds were out of the nest, then Æmilia felt that
there was nothing to retain her in the city, and she pined to be away
from its dusty streets and noisy market in the green, sweet country, and
in quiet with God.

Accordingly she and Macrina retired to a villa they possessed on the
banks of the river Iris, at some little distance from the town of Ibora.
This they converted into a sort of monastery. The slaves and other
servants, if they chose to unite in the same life, were given freedom
and accepted on the footing of sisters, no distinction being made
between the members of the little community.

S. Gregory of Nyssa says of this society: “They were all as one in what
they ate and drank, as to their furniture and cells, and there was no
token that they belonged originally to different ranks in the world.
There was no ruffle of temper among them, no petty jealousies, no
suspicions, no spite .... all their occupation was in prayer and the
singing of psalms, which went on night and day.”

Peter, the youngest, who had been ordained, lived near at hand, and for
the care he had received as a child returned his ministerial offices. S.
Basil also for awhile lived in retirement not far off, and was a help
and comfort to them.

Macrina suffered about this time from a painful abscess in her breast,
and Æmilia constantly urged her to let a doctor examine and lance it.
She was afraid lest, should it not be opened, it might break internally.
But Macrina was so modest and sensitive—perhaps absurdly so—that she
shrank from the ordeal of letting a man treat the place. At last the old
lady insisted; the abscess had become so hot and swollen that she was

Macrina, struggling against shame, went into the little oratory, and
remained weeping and praying there all night, sometimes with her face
against the ground and her tears running over the dust. The heat and
pain in her breast and the tension were so insupportable, that she
gathered up some of the cool earth and pressed it to the swelling, when
it burst, and she was relieved; and so the need for calling in a surgeon
was overpassed.

At length Æmilia died, at an advanced age. None of her children were
with her at the time except Macrina and Peter; however, as she was
dying, the old and saintly woman murmured blessings on the absent
darlings, and taking Peter by one hand and Macrina by the other, said,
“Lord, I offer to Thee my firstfruits and my tithe. Accept them, O Lord,
and pour the floods of Thy grace into both their hearts.” They were her
last words. She died in 373, and was laid beside her husband whom she
had loved so well. The grief of Macrina was not to be expressed. She had
been the inseparable companion of her mother since her earliest infancy,
and they had not had a thought or wish but what was in common.

Before Macrina had recovered from this blow she was called on to endure
another. Her favourite brother, Naucratius, was found dead in the field
along with his servant Chrysapius, without it being known what had
caused their death.

Six years later she was called to mourn the loss of her eldest brother,
S. Basil. It was she who, with his friend Gregory Nazianzen, had been
the means of turning his heart entirely to God. As a young man he had
been disposed to push his way as a statesman. In 355 Basil had been at
school with Julian, afterwards Emperor, and an apostate from the faith,
and with Gregory, who was the son of the Bishop of Nazianzus. Basil had
not formed a high opinion of the former, but with Gregory “it was one
soul in two bodies.” On returning to Cæsarea after his father’s death,
Basil turned towards a life in the world, and a prospect of advancement
in official life opened to him. It was then that Macrina had exerted all
her influence over him, and gave him that final direction which made of
him so glorious a saint and teacher of the Church.

And now Macrina had lost him.

In the month of September or October in the year following the death of
S. Basil, Gregory—now Bishop of Nyssa—was present at the Council held at
Antioch, and on leaving it he resolved on paying a visit to Macrina. He
had not seen her since the death of their brother Basil, and he wished
to talk with her about him. The journey was long, and the snows were
already powdering the lower ranges of the lofty mountains he had to

On the night previous to his arrival on the banks of the Iris, after a
tedious and long day’s travel, he had a dream. It seemed to him that he
held relics in his hands that emitted a blaze of white light.

When he awoke he wondered what this dream could signify, for he was not
above the superstition of his age which attributed importance to dreams;
but as he neared the monastery he met a servant who told him that
Macrina was dangerously ill, and Gregory at once concluded that his
dream was a portent of her approaching dissolution.

Sick at heart, he pressed forward, and arrived at the villa. Those
within came forth to welcome him, except the sisters, who remained in
the church, sorrowful at the prospect of losing their best friend, yet
glad that she should see her brother before her death.

Gregory at once entered the church and prayed, and gave his episcopal
benediction to all. Then he asked to be conducted to Macrina.

We have an account of the last scene from his own pen, and this shall be
given with only a little condensation.

“A woman who was there opened the door to me, and led me within. I found
my sister lying on the ground, on a plank covered with sackcloth (the
Cilician material made of goat’s hair, much in use for blankets) and
with a pillow of the same supporting her head. She was very ill, but
when she saw me, unable on account of her great weakness to rise and
meet me, she lifted herself on one elbow, placing the other hand on the
ground for her support. I ran to her, and insisted on laying her down
again as she had been. Then she lifted her hands to Heaven and said, ‘I
thank Thee, O Lord my God, in that Thou hast fulfilled the desire of my

“She did her utmost to conceal from us what a difficulty she found in
breathing, so as not to increase our distress; and her face was bright
and smiling, and she spoke of such matters as she thought pleasing to
us. But when we came to mention Basil, then my face expressed the grief
I was in at his loss. But she, on the contrary, spoke of the matter with
serenity of soul and elevation of mind, so that I felt myself as though
carried up above all worldly considerations into heavenly regions with

“Presently she said, ‘Brother, you have had a tedious journey, and must
be very tired: I pray you take a little rest.’ And although it was a
delight to me to listen to her, yet I obeyed; and I went forth into the
garden, where was a pleasant shady walk. However, I was in such trouble
of mind that I could admire nothing, and I could think only of what must
shortly happen.

“I suppose she must have divined my thoughts, for she sent word to me
not to fret, as she hoped speedily to be better; but she really meant
that she would escape from her present pains, and be with God, for whom
her soul ever thirsted. I got up when I heard this, and went to see her
again. Then, when we were together, she began to talk about old times,
since our childhood, and all as calmly and consequently as though she
were reading out of a book. She talked of the mercies shown by God to
our father, mother, and all the family.

“I wanted to tell her about my troubles when the Emperor Valens banished
me for the Faith, and of other troubles in which I had been involved;
but she cut me short with ‘Never lose sight of the obligations you owe
to God. Think chiefly of the advantages you have received from Him.’

“As she was speaking we heard the song of the virgins calling to
vespers, and my sister bade me go to the church. Thus passed the night,
and when day dawned I could see clearly by her condition that it would
be her last, for the fever had exhausted her last powers.

“My soul was agitated by double feelings: one was grief, for nature
would make me feel, and I knew that the words I heard were the last that
would be uttered by one very dear to me; the other was admiration at the
calm and trust with which she awaited death.

“The sun was nigh setting without her having lost the force of her mind.
Then she ceased to speak to us, but folded her hands and fixed her eyes
on her heavenly Bridegroom. Her little bed was turned with the feet to
the east, and she spoke to Him in a low voice, which we could hardly
hear. We did, however, collect some of her words: ‘O Lord, Thou
deliverest us from the fear of death; Thou makest the close of life the
commencement of a new and truer life. Thou sufferest us to sleep awhile,
and then wilt call us with the trumpet at the end of time. To the earth
Thou entrustest the dust of which Thy hands have fashioned us, to
reclaim it and clothe it with immortality and glory. Lord, Thou who on
the Cross didst pardon the malefactor, remember me in Thy kingdom.’

“Then Macrina made the sign of the cross on her eyes, her mouth, and her
heart; and, the strength of the fever having parched her tongue, we
could no longer follow her, but saw that her lips continued to move. She
closed her eyes; but when a lamp was brought into the room she opened
them, and made a sign that she desired to recite vespers. But her tongue
failed her, only her spirit was active, and her lips and hands moved as
before, and we understood when she had finished, by her again signing

“Finally she drew a long, deep sigh, and passed away in prayer. Seeing
what had taken place, and remembering a wish she had expressed to me, in
our last conversation, that I should render her the last offices, I put
out my shaking hand to her face to close the eyes and mouth. But I did
this only to fulfil my promise, for really there was no need, as eyes
and mouth were closed, so that she appeared rather to be sleeping than
dead. Her hands lay on her breast, and her body rested modestly, as that
of a virgin.”

When Macrina was being prepared for burial, there was no other raiment
of hers found save her veil, her mantle, habit, and a pair of worn-out
shoes. Then Gregory gave one of his own tunics for clothing his sister’s
body, and over her was cast her mother’s black cloak; “and,” says
Gregory, “the blackness of this cloak made her face seem so much the
whiter, as though it shone with light.”

As she was being clothed, a widow, who loved her and attended to these
last offices, untied a slender string that was round her neck, and
released a little cross and an iron ring.

“Keep the cross,” said Gregory to the widow, “as a remembrance of her;
and I shall ever preserve the ring.”

Who can tell? Perhaps that poor little iron ring was the reminiscence of
her engagement to the young man to whom she had long ago been betrothed,
and to whom she had remained ever faithful.

[Illustration: S. GENEVIÈVE.]


                          _GENEVIÈVE OF PARIS_

S. Geneviève was born and lived in a time of frightful disaster,
unparalleled in the history of Europe. From the commencement of the
fifth century a veritable deluge of diverse nations, driven on one by
another, inundated the crumbling empire, and gave the signal for its
complete ruin.

The Franks, under the long-haired Clodion, traversing the forest of the
Ardennes, and rolling to the banks of the Somme, had seized on Amiens,
Cambrai, Tournai, after having burnt Trèves, and sacked Cologne. The
citizens, of Trèves, which had been the residence of emperors since
Maximian, had been slaughtered in the circus to which they had fled. The
amphitheatre, which under Constantine has streamed with the blood of the
Barbarians, was now heaped with the bodies of Romans. Cologne had been
revelling in drunken orgy, when a slave ran to announce that the Franks
were on the walls. The citizens had not the manhood to rise from table
so as to die standing. Their blood mingled with the wine of their
overturned cups. God chastised Roman vices with disgrace as with iron.
In this fifth century three societies stood face to face—the Old Roman
polity, the Barbarian, and the Church. Rome went to pieces under the
blows of the Barbarians, but the Barbarian in turn was subjugated by

S. Geneviève was born at Nanterre, about seven miles from Paris, in 422
or 423. The old name of the place, Nemetdoor, is purely Celtic, as is
her name, which is the same as Gwenever or Gwenhwyvar in Welsh. Her
father was named Severus, and her mother Gerontia, the female form of
Geraint. There can be no doubt whatever that she was of Gallic origin,
but Latinised, and a Christian.

One word, before proceeding, about the authority for her life. This is a
biography, written eighteen years after her death, by the priest Genes,
her spiritual director. He learned from the saint the general outline of
the incidents in her childhood, and these he dressed up in what he
believed to be literary style.

Late in the Middle Ages it was said that S. Geneviève had kept sheep for
her father, and she is now generally represented as a shepherdess; but
there is no early authority for this, although the fact is very
probable. In the year 429 S. Germain, Bishop of Auxerre, and S. Lupus,
Bishop of Troyes, at the entreaty of the British Church, commissioned
for the work by a Council of Gallican bishops, left their dioceses to
visit our island, there to withstand the Pelagian heresy, which was
making way.

S. Germain was well qualified to go to Britain, as he was of Celtic
origin, and his sister was the wife of Aldor, brother of Constantine I.,
King of Devon and Cornwall.

On his way to the coast he passed through Nanterre. The people, hearing
of his approach, lined the road, and with them were the children in
goodly numbers.

As Germain and Lupus advanced, the eye of the former rested on a fair
little girl of seven, whose devout look, and sweet, innocent face,
arrested him. He stood still, and called her to him, then stooped and
kissed her on the brow, and asked her name. He was told that she was
called Geneviève. The pleased parents now stepped up, and the venerable
bishop asked, “Is this your child?”

They answered in the affirmative.

“Then,” said Germain, “happy are ye in having a child so blessed. She
will be great before God; and, moved by her example, many will decline
from evil and incline to that which is good, and will obtain remission
of their sins, and the reward of life from Christ.” And then, after a
pause, he said to the young girl, “My daughter, Geneviève.” She
answered, “Thy little maiden listens.”

Then he said, “Do not fear to tell me whether it be not your desire to
devote yourself body and soul to Christ.”

She answered, “Blessed be thou, father, for thou hast spoken my desire.
I pray God earnestly that He will grant it me.”

“Have confidence, my daughter,” said Germain; “be of good courage, and
what you believe in your heart and confess with your lips, that take
care to perform. God will add to your comeliness both virtue and

Then they went into the church and sang nones and vespers, and
throughout the office Bishop Germain rested his right hand on the fair
little head of the child.

That evening, after supper had been eaten and they had sung a hymn,
Germain bade Severus retire with his daughter, but bring her to him
again early next morning. So when day broke, Severus returned with the
child, and the old bishop smiled, and said, “Welcome, little daughter
Geneviève. Do you recollect what was said yesterday?”

She answered, “My father, I remember what I promised, and with God’s
help what I promised that I will perform.”

Then S. Germain picked up a brass coin from the ground, which had the
sign of the cross on it, and which he had noticed lying there whilst he
was speaking; and he gave it to her, saying, “Bore a hole in this, and
wear it round thy neck in remembrance of me, and let no other ornament,
or gold or silver or pearls, adorn thy neck and thy fingers.” Then he
bade her farewell, commending her to the care of her father, and pursued
his journey.

Now, we may ask, How much of this is true? Almost everything. Geneviève
was certain never to forget how the old bishop had stopped her, when a
little mite of seven, how he had asked her name, had made her promise to
love and fear God; how in church his hand had rested all through the
service on her head, and how he had given her the coin to wear. But as
to the prophecy relative to her future, and to his exacting of her a
promise to be a nun, all that may be the make-up of Genes, writing after
she had been a blessing to the people of Paris, and had embraced the
monastic life.

At the age of fifteen she and two other girls somewhat older than
herself presented themselves before the bishop to be veiled as dedicated
virgins. It was remarked that, although Geneviève was the youngest, yet
the bishop consecrated her first.

After their dedication they returned to their homes; for, at that time,
it was not a matter of course that consecrated virgins should live in

About this time her mother suffered from inflamed eyes, and for
twenty-one months, or nearly two years, could not see to do her
household work. Accordingly, Geneviève was of immense assistance to her.
She was wont repeatedly to bathe her mother’s eyes with water from the
well, and this in time reduced the inflammation, so that eventually
Gerontia recovered her sight.

At last Geneviève lost both her parents, and now, having no home duties
to restrain her, she went to Paris into a religious community.

In 447 S. Germain again visited Britain about the same trouble which had
occasioned his first journey; and when, on his way, he came to Paris, he
inquired for the little girl whom he had blessed at Nanterre eighteen
years before.

Genes tells us that some spiteful people sought to disparage her; but
Germain would not hearken to them, and sent for and communed with her.

What caused them to make light of her was probably this. She had adopted
a life of great asceticism, eating nothing but barley bread and beans,
and that only twice in the week; and remaining within her cell,
conversing with none from Epiphany till Easter.

There were a number of people in Paris who did not like these
extravagances; and it was these, in all probability, who spoke against
her to S. Germain. But, as we shall see presently, by this means she did
acquire an enormous power over the people of Paris, which she used for

S. Germain had probably but just returned from Britain before a new and
terrible scourge broke upon Gaul.

In 451, the Huns, headed by their king, Attila, burst in. In two columns
this vast horde had ascended the Danube. One of these drew several
German peoples along with it, eager for plunder, whilst the other fell
on and crushed the isolated Roman stations. This agglomeration of
invaders met at the sources of the Danube, crossed the Rhine at Basle,
where the proximity to the Black Forest favoured the construction of
rafts for passing over.

The Franks, who occupied the right bank of the Rhine, extended their
hands to the Huns. The Burgundians, however, offered a vain resistance,
and were cut to pieces. The Huns, entering Gaul, completed the
destruction of what had been left standing by Vandals, Suevi, and Alans.
Attila, following the Rhine as he had the Danube, devastated Alsace.
Strasburg, Spires, Worms, ruined by preceding invasions, had not risen
from the dust. Mayence was sacked, Toul sank in flames, Metz had its
walls and towers overthrown after a few months’ resistance. The savage
conquerors massacred all, even to the children at the breast. They fired
the town, and long after its site could only be recognised by the Chapel
of S. Stephen, which had escaped the conflagration.

Several cities opened their gates to Attila: they hoped to find safety
in submission; they did but expedite their destruction. Despair gave
courage to others, but no heroism availed against these devouring
hordes. Rheims and Arras were delivered over to the sack. The host broke
up into fractions, which ravaged the country, carrying everywhere fire
and sword.

Attila advanced to the Loire.

Then it was that a panic fell on the inhabitants of Paris. In madness of
fear, they prepared to desert it: the rich in their chariots and
waggons, the poor on foot.

It was now that S. Geneviève stood forward and rebuked their cowardice.
Whither could they fly? The enemy penetrated everywhere. The Hun gained
audacity by the universal panic. Better man their walls, brace their
hearts, and resist heroically.

The Parisian mob, headlong and cruel, as such a mob has ever been,
howled at her, and prepared to pelt her with stones and cast her into
the Seine, when, opportunely, appeared the Archdeacon of Auxerre, sent
expressly to Geneviève from the bishop, just returned from Britain, and
now dying, bearing Blessed Bread to her, that he had sent in token of
affectionate communion. This loaf, the _eulogia_, was that from which
the bread for the Communion had been taken, and which remained over. It
had been blessed, but not consecrated; and it was sent by bishops to
those whom they held in esteem.

Such a token of regard paid to Geneviève by one so highly esteemed awed
the rabble, and they swung from one temper to another. They were now
amenable to her advice. They closed the gates, accumulated the munitions
of war, and made preparations to stand a siege; but Attila did not
approach. He foresaw that it would take him too long to reduce so strong
a place. On the 14th of June, 451, the Huns encountered their first
repulse. They were driven from the siege of Orleans. On the field of
Châlons-sur-Marne, the memorable battle was fought between Aetius, the
Roman general, and Attila. “It was a battle,” says the historian
Jornandes, “which for atrocity, multitude, horror, and stubbornness has
not had its like.” The field was heaped with the dead, but it resulted
in the expulsion of the Huns from Gaul.

Feeling a great reverence for S. Denis, Geneviève desired greatly to
build a church on the scene of his martyrdom; and she urged some priests
to undertake the work. But they hesitated, saying that they had no means
of burning lime—it was a lost art. Then, so runs the tale, one of them
suddenly recollected having heard two swineherds in conversation on the
bridge over the Seine. One had said to the other: “Whilst I was
following one of my pigs the other day, I lit in the forest on an
ancient abandoned lime-kiln.”

“That is no marvel,” answered the other, “for I found a sapling in the
forest uprooted by the wind, and under its roots was an old kiln.”

The priests inquired where these kilns were and used them, and Geneviève
set the priest Genes, who was afterwards her biographer, to superintend
the work of building the church.

It shows to what a condition of degradation the art of building had
fallen, when the Parisians were unable to burn lime without old Roman
kilns for the purpose.

A little incident, very simple and natural, was afterwards worked up
into a marvel. She was going one night from her lodging to the church
for prayers, carrying a lantern, when the wind, which was violent,
extinguished it. She opened the lantern, when a puff of wind on the
thick red glowing wick rekindled the flame. This was thought quite
miraculous. It is a thing that has happened over and over again with
tallow candles when the snuff is long.

In the year 486, Childeric, King of the Franks, laid siege to Paris,
which had remained under Roman governors. The siege lasted ten years, to
496. It cannot have been prosecuted with much persistence.

The Frank army reduced the city to great straits, and famine set in. The
poor suffered the extremity of want, and were dying like flies. No one
seemed to know what to do. All energy and resourcefulness had deserted
those in authority. Geneviève alone showed what steps should be taken:
she got into a ship, and was rowed up the Seine, and then up the Aube to
Arçis, where she knew that she could obtain corn. In the Seine was a
fallen tree with a snag that had been the cause of the loss of several
vessels, but no one had thought of removing the obstruction. Geneviève
made her boatmen saw up the tree and break it, so that it floated down
stream and could effect no further mischief. Another instance of the
condition of helplessness into which the debased provincials of Gaul had
fallen: they neither could build lime-kilns nor keep their rivers open
for traffic. She got together what provisions she could at Arçis, then
went on upon the same quest to Troyes, and finally laded eleven barges
with corn, and returned with them to the famished city. As they neared
Paris a strong gale was blowing, and the barges being laden very heavily
ran some risk, especially as here also there were snags in the water.
But with patience and trouble they were manœuvred through these
impediments, and the convoy arrived in Paris, with the priests singing,
and all who were in the boats joining, “The Lord is our help and our
salvation. The Lord hath delivered us in the time of trouble.”

The joy and gratitude of the Parisians knew no bounds. Afterwards, when
the city did fall, Childeric resolved on executing a great host of
captives; but Geneviève, in a paroxysm of compassion, rushed to him,
fell on her knees, and would not desist from intercession on their
behalf till he had consented to spare them.

At length, worn out by age, she died in 512, and was buried in Paris,
where now stands the Panthéon. The church was desecrated at the
Revolution, and turned into a burial-place for Mirabeau, the regicide
Lepelletier de Saint-Fargeau, the brutal Marat, Dampierre, Fabre, Bayle,
and other revolutionaries. The bodies of Voltaire and Rousseau were also
transferred to it.

In 1806 it was again restored as a church, but was once more turned into
a temple after the July revolution of 1830. Once again consecrated in
1851, it was finally secularised in 1885 for the obsequies of Victor

[Illustration: THE SISTER OF S. BENEDICT.]


                      _THE SISTER OF S. BENEDICT_

It looked to the eyes of Christians of the Roman Empire crumbling to
pieces as though the end of all things were at hand. From every quarter
barbarism was extending over the confines of the Empire and was breaking
them down. The civilisation which had been built up through centuries,
the organism of political unity, the literature and learning of two
great and gifted races, the Greek and the Latin, achievements of art
never to be surpassed, and Christianity, all seemed destined to go down
and be trodden under foot never to reappear.

Throughout the Church there rose the wail to God—“Thine adversaries roar
in the midst of Thy congregations: and set up their banners for tokens.
He that hewed timber afore out of the thick trees was known to bring it
to an excellent work. But now they break down all the carved work
thereof with axes and hammers. They have set fire upon Thy holy places:
and have defiled the dwelling-place of Thy Name, even unto the ground.
Yea, they said in their hearts, Let us make havock of them altogether:
thus have they burnt up all the houses of God in the land. We see not
our tokens, there is not one prophet more: no, not one is there among
us, that understandeth any more. O God, how long shall the adversary do
this dishonour: how long shall the enemy blaspheme Thy Name, for ever?”

Confusion, corruption, despair and death, were everywhere; social
dismemberment was complete. The empire that had embraced the known world
was crumbling to dust under the blows of the mysterious multitudes
passing out of the darkness beyond the pale. Odoacer, the chief of the
Heruli, had snatched the purple of the Cæsars from the shoulders of
their last representative in 476, but himself disdained to wear a mantle
that was stained with cowardice and dishonour. Authority, morals, laws,
science, the arts, religion itself, all seemed to be sinking into the
vortex of death.

Germany was wholly pagan, a breeding-place of hordes that burst forth
periodically to devastate the land that had been cultivated, and to
extinguish the light wherever it burned. Gaul had been overwhelmed by
successive waves of barbarism. Spain was ravaged by Visigoths, Suevi,
Alani, and Vandals. These latter had swept over Northern Africa, and had
given it up to unpitying persecution. Britain had been invaded by the
Anglo-Saxons, who had driven the Britons and their Christianity to the
mountains of Strathclyde, Wales, and to the peninsula of Cornwall. Over
the frozen Danube, the Goths had passed on their cumbrous waggons, and
had spread from the woody shores of Dalmatia to the walls of

The condition of Italy, the heart and soul of the Empire that had been
dissolved, was deplorable to the last degree. For centuries agriculture
had decayed in it, as the farms were absorbed by the great senatorial
families and worked by their slaves. The people had come to expect their
grain from Egypt and Africa, and now these tributary harvests were
withdrawn. War, famine, pestilence stalked over its fair plains, and
mowed down such as remained of the population. Pope Gelasius affirmed,
with some exaggeration, that in Æmilia, Tuscany and the adjacent
provinces, the human species was almost extirpated. “The plebeians of
Rome,” says Gibbon, “who were fed by the hand of their master, perished
or disappeared, as soon as his liberality was suppressed; the decline of
the arts reduced the industrious mechanic to idleness and want; and the
senators, who might support with patience the ruin of their country,
bewailed their private loss of wealth and luxury. One-third of those
ample estates, to which the ruin of Italy is originally imputed, was
extorted for the use of the conquerors. Injuries were aggravated by
insults; the sense of actual sufferings was embittered by the fear of
more dreadful evils; and as new lands were allotted to new swarms of
barbarians, each senator was apprehensive lest the arbitrary surveyors
should approach his favourite villa, or his most profitable farm. The
least unfortunate were those who submitted without a murmur to the power
which it was impossible to resist.”

The general despair produced in religious minds the conviction that the
fashion of the world was passing away, there was nothing further to be
hoped for in it, and that the only direction in which the eternal spring
of hope could flow was in the channels of religion that led to heaven.

This was the condition of affairs in Italy, and this explains the origin
and the enormous expansion of the Benedictine Order.

S. Benedict was born along with his sister Scholastica in the year 480.
They were twins, and loved each other with that tenderness which so
generally exists between twins; they were of one heart and one soul.

They belonged to the noble Anician family, whose history is traceable to
the second century before Christ.

Benedict and his twin sister were born at Nursia, a Sabine town,
situated high up in the mountains near the source of the Nar. It was
here that Vespasia Polla, mother of the Emperor Vespasian, was also
born. Virgil speaks of the coldness of its climate, as the chilly cradle
of the waters of Tiber and Febaris. To the east tower up the Apennines
to the peak of the Monte della Sibilla. Two centuries after the death of
Benedict, the vast ruins of his ancestral palace were still to be seen
outside the town gates.

Doubtless it was to this Alpine retreat that the family had fled to hide
themselves from the Gothic invaders who were devouring the land.
Benedict and his twin sister, as their minds opened, became aware of the
universal hopelessness that possessed men’s minds. The doom of the great
nobles was as certainly sealed as at the French Revolution. No prospect
was open to them of any work, any career in political life. They could
not fly the fatherland to the colonies, for the colonies were in the
throes as well.

These little children, wandering hand in hand through the empty halls of
the palace, became prematurely grave, and at an early age were convinced
that the only life open to them was that of religion.

Scholastica was the first to speak out what she felt, and to resolve to
devote herself wholly to God. Who could think of marriage then, when
there was no prospect of being able to rear a family in sufficiency and
to any career? Benedict followed. Leaving his old nurse, to whom the
charge of the children had been committed, and who loved them as her own
soul, he plunged into the gorges of the mountains to seek for a retreat
where he might discipline his body and soul. The place he found was
Subiaco, twenty-six miles from Tivoli, up the valley of the Anio. Why he
chose this spot we do not know. He can hardly have stumbled on it in his
wanderings about Nursia, and it is probable that he went thence from
some other villa and estate of his parents.

The first place where he lodged was Mentorella, and there his nurse,
Cyrilla, came up with him, and insisted on furnishing him with supplies
of food. But thence he soon went on to Subiaco, where he found a cave in
the face of the rocks above the falls of the Anio, and there he spent
three years. Every day, Romanus, a monk who dwelt amid a colony of
anchorites among the ruins of Nero’s palace, near at hand, let down to
him half a loaf from the top of the rock above, giving him notice of its
approach by the ringing of a bell suspended to the same rope with the

It was an astounding mode of life for a boy growing into manhood, and we
should now consider it a most unprofitable one. But it was not destined
to be unprofitable—very much the contrary; and we must remember that
there was absolutely no other field for the activities of a young noble
open before him.

“How perfectly,” says Dean Milman, “the whole atmosphere was then
impregnated with an inexhaustible yearning for the supernatural, appears
from the ardour with which the monastic passions were indulged at the
earliest age. Children were nursed and trained to expect at every
instant more than human interferences; their young energies had ever
before them examples of asceticism, to which it was the glory, the true
felicity of life, to aspire. The thoughtful child had all his mind thus
preoccupied. He was early, it might almost seem intuitively, trained to
this course of life; wherever there was gentleness, modesty, the
timidity of young passion, repugnance to vice, an imaginative
temperament, a consciousness of unfitness to wrestle with the rough
realities of life, the way lay invitingly open—the difficult, it is
true, and painful, but direct and unerring way to heaven.”

Such a life is not needed now-a-days. What is now required is one like
that of Angela, in Sir Walter Besant’s “All Sorts and Conditions of
Men,” who will plunge into the sordid wretchedness of the slums of our
great cities, and labour there to bring happiness to the dull lives of
the toilers—who will labour to ameliorate the condition of those that
are the slaves of our nineteenth-century civilisation. What we
require—what God requires—are social reformers, men and women, who in
place of living selfish lives of amusement and luxury, will devote
themselves to helping to raise those who are down, who will seek
happiness, not in pampering self, but in making others happy.

After a while crowds of disciples flocked to Benedict, and then he left
Subiaco for Monte Cassino, which was thenceforth to be the capital of
monastic life.

Strange it may appear, but it was true, that Benedict found the people
round Cassino still pagans, offering sacrifices in a temple to Apollo on
the height where he chose to plant his settlement.

                                 “In old days,
             That mountain, at whose side Cassino rests,
             Was, on its height, frequented by a race
             Deceived and ill-disposed; and I it was,
             Who thither carried first the name of Him,
             Who brought the soul-subliming truth to man,
             And such a speeding grace shone over me,
             That from their impious worship I reclaim’d
             The dwellers round about.”—Dante, _Par._ xxii.

The visitor to Monte Cassino now leaves the station at San Germano, and
hires donkeys for the ascent. The steep and stony path winds above the
roofs of the houses of the town, and at every path opens fresh views of
entrancing beauty. The silver thread of the Garigliano lies below, with
towns studded on its banks; long ranges of mountains of the most
beautiful outline break the horizon, billow after billow of intensest
blue, crested as with a foam of snow. Little oratories by the wayside
commemorate incidents in the life of S. Benedict. First comes that of S.
Placidus, the favourite disciple of the patriarch; then that of
Scholastica his sister; then one where he is supposed to have wrought a
miracle; next a cross on a platform that indicates the place where
brother and sister met for the last time—of which more anon. Then a
grating and a cross where S. Benedict knelt to ask God’s blessing before
he laid the foundation stone of his monastery. Benedict had been
thirty-six years a monk before he came to Monte Cassino, and we know
nothing of his sister’s life through all these years, save that she had
maintained a still and holy converse with God. It is most probable that
she had never tarried very far from her brother. Now that he settled at
Monte Cassino, she came and planted herself with a little community of
pious women at the foot of the mountain. Scholastica was as white in
soul, as earnest, as devout as was Benedict. They were alike in
everything save in sex; and she became, as unawares as himself, a mighty
foundress—for if from him houses for men multiplied throughout the
Western world, so was she the mother spiritual of innumerable similar
refuges for holy women.

At Monte Cassino, according to the expression of Pope Urban II., “the
monastic life flowed from the heart of Benedict as from the fountain of
Paradise,” and here it was that he composed his famous rule, that
commenced with the words, “Hearken, O my sons” (_Ausculta o fili_).

When he drew it up, not a notion came into his head that he was doing a
work that would last, a work that was absolutely needed for the times,
and without which the barbarians would never have been tamed and
regenerated, and a new civilisation superior to the old rise out of the
ashes of that which expired.

It is quite true that there were plenty of monks and nuns already
scattered about; but they were under no definite rule, under no strict
obedience. We see exactly how it was among the Celtic societies. An
abbot or abbess rambled over the West, now in Ireland, then in Scotland,
in Britain, in Armorica, dived into the Swiss gorges, strayed about in
the woods of Germany, founding houses and churches, then going farther.
And just as the abbots were ever on the move, so was it with those who
placed themselves under their teaching. No sooner did they think they
knew enough, or no sooner did the itch of change affect them, than away
they went, now to pay a brief visit to some other great master, then to
be off again and found monasteries of their own. There was no stability
about them, and above all no organisation. The idea of obedience never
seems to have entered their heads, and, as a matter of course, a great
number of vagabonds too idle to work, and loving change, assumed the
tonsure and habit, and roved over the country leading scandalous lives;
in fact, the Hooligans of the day postured as saints. Monachism, which
should have served a high missionary purpose, for lack of organisation
was becoming a discredit to Christianity.

There is a striking French tale, “Mon oncle Celestin,” by Ferdinand
Faber, in which he describes the “ermites” of the Cevennes and the south
of France, a set of men who pretend to lead exalted lives, wear a
religious habit, are under no ecclesiastical discipline, and who—with
some notable exceptions—are a scandal and source of demoralisation. Now
the monks and ascetics before S. Benedict were very much like these
modern “ermites” of the Cevennes.

The great work of S. Benedict was to coordinate all these ardent men in
one body, to subject them to discipline, to insist on obedience, and
then to employ their powers for the good of the Church and of humanity
in general.

At that period, when nations had to be conquered, and those nations
barbarian, the ordinary methods of propagating the faith did not
suffice. Single priests were pretty sure to be butchered, or if not,
alone they could effect very little. Besides, the barbarians had to be
taught something more than Christianity; they had to be instructed in
the industrial arts and in agriculture.

Now, the Benedictine monastery was not only a missionary establishment
containing a great many men, but it was a school, a hospital, a
poorhouse, a great workshop, and an agricultural institution.

But we must leave this interesting topic to speak of S. Scholastica.

As already said, she had established herself at the foot of the mountain
with a community of like-minded women who were under the direction of
her brother. They met only once a year; and then it was that Scholastica
left her cloister to seek Benedict. He, on his side, descended part way
to meet her; and the place where they clasped hands and looked into each
other’s eyes was on the mountain side, not very far from the gate of the

“There, at their last meeting, occurred that struggle of fraternal love
with the austerity of the rule, which is the only episode in the life of
Scholastica, and which has insured an imperishable remembrance to her
name. They had passed the entire day in pious conversation, mingled with
the praises of God. Towards evening they ate together.

“While they were still at table, and the night approached, Scholastica
said to her brother, ‘I pray thee do not leave me to-night, but let us
speak of the joys of heaven till the morning.’ ‘What sayest thou, my
sister!’ answered Benedict; ‘on no account can I remain out of the

“Upon the refusal of her brother, Scholastica bent her head between her
clasped hands on the table, and prayed to God, shedding tears to such an
extent that they ran over the table. The weather was at the time serene:
there was not a cloud in the sky. But scarcely had she raised her head,
when thunder was heard muttering, and a storm began. The rain,
lightning, and thunder were such, that neither Benedict nor any of the
brethren who accompanied him could take a step beyond the roof that
sheltered them.

“Then he said to Scholastica, ‘May God pardon thee, my sister, but what
hast thou done?’ ‘Ah yes!’ she answered him, ‘I prayed thee, and thou
wouldst not listen to me; then I prayed God, and He heard me. Go now, if
thou canst, and send me away, to return to my convent.’

“He resigned himself, against his will, to remain, and they passed the
rest of the night in spiritual conversation. S. Gregory, who has
preserved this tale to us, adds that it is not to be wondered at God
granting the desire of the sister rather than that of the brother,
because of the two it was the sister who loved most, and that those who
love most have the greatest power with God.

“In the morning they parted, to see each other no more in this life.
Three days after, Benedict, being at the window of his cell, had a
vision, in which he saw his sister entering heaven under the form of a
dove. Overpowered with joy, his gratitude burst forth in songs and hymns
to the glory of God. He immediately sent for the body of the saint,
which was brought to Monte Cassino, and placed in the sepulchre he had
already prepared for himself, that death might not separate those whose
souls had always been united to God.

“The death of his sister was the signal of departure for himself. He
survived her only forty days. A violent fever having seized him, he
caused himself to be carried into the chapel of S. John the Baptist. He
had before ordered to be opened the tomb in which his sister slept.
There, supported in the arms of his disciples, he received the viaticum:
then, placing himself at the side of the open grave, at the foot of the
altar, and with his arms extended towards heaven, he died standing,
murmuring a last prayer.

“Died standing!—such a victorious death became well the great soldier of

He was buried beside his sister, on the very spot where had stood the
altar of Apollo which he had cast down.

[Illustration: S. BRIDGET OF KILDARE.]


                              _S. BRIDGET_

One would have to look through many centuries, and over a wide tract of
the earth’s surface, to find a woman who possessed in her own generation
so large an influence, and who so deeply impressed her personality on
after generations, as S. Bridget. A woman she was, with no advantages of
birth; but who by the mere force of character and her marvellous
holiness, became a predominating power in the Church of Ireland after
the death of S. Patrick.

It is said of the sick that the nurse is as important as the doctor; and
in the spread of the Gospel and the establishment of the Church, the
part of Bridget was only second to that of the great Apostle of Ireland.

The lives of S. Bridget that we possess are, unhappily, late, and
intermixed, nay, overloaded with fable; the most grotesque and
preposterous miracles are attributed to her. Nevertheless, when sifted,
and the extravagances have been eliminated, sufficient of truth, of real
history and biography remains behind for us to distinguish the main
outline of her story, and to discern the real characteristics of the

It would seem to be a law of Divine providence, that at such periods of
transformation as arise periodically, suitable persons should rise to
prominence for giving direction to the disturbed minds of men in the
general dislocation of received ideas.

To understand the exact position of S. Bridget, and the work she
wrought, it is necessary for us to look at the condition of Ireland
before it received the Gospel.

The whole political organisation was tribal, and not territorial. The
chief of the clan was almost absolute, and about him, as a centre of
unity, the tribesmen clung, as bees about their queen.

The chiefs had their Druids or Medicine-men, who blessed their
undertakings and cursed their enemies, and the most unbounded confidence
was placed in the efficacy of these blessings or curses. The Druids were
endowed with lands, and probably in Ireland, as in Britain, constituted
sacred tribes within the tribal confines of the secular chiefs.

When S. Patrick arrived he at once strove to effect the conversion of
the chiefs, for without that his efforts with the bulk of the population
must fail, and the conversion of a chief entailed as a consequence that
of his clan. The Druids, when discredited, were disposed to accept
Christianity; where they were not, the chiefs did not disestablish them,
but gave to S. Patrick and his followers fresh sites on which to
constitute their own ecclesiastical federations, on precisely the same
system as that of the Druids. S. Patrick throughout acted in the most
conciliatory spirit; he overthrew nothing that was capable of being
adapted, and his wise forbearance conciliated even those at first most
opposed to him.

There can be little doubt that in Ireland, as in Gaul, there had been
colleges of Druidesses, as there had been of Druids. We do not know this
by the testimony of texts, but it is more than probable. In Gaul these
women were prophetesses; they lived in solitary places, often on
islands. The nine Scenæ occupied an island in the Seine. The priestesses
of the Namnetes lived on another at the mouth of the Loire, in huts
about a temple. Once in the year they were bound, between one night and
another, to destroy and replace the roof of their temple; and woe to the
woman who dropped any of the sacred materials! Instantly she was set
upon by her sisters, and torn limb from limb.

When S. Patrick and his missionaries entered on the prerogatives of the
Druids, there was occasion for Christian women to usurp the places, and
to some extent the functions, of the Druidesses. And this is precisely
the line adopted by S. Bridget. The year of her birth was between 451
and 458, and she was the daughter of a slave woman, who had been sold to
a Druid. Her mother’s name was Brotseach. The father, Dubtach, was a
nominal Christian, but a thoroughly heartless and unprincipled man.

The Druid and his wife were kindly people, and provided a white cow with
red ears, on whose milk the little child was reared, and they allowed
only one woman whom they could trust to milk the cow. As she grew up,
Bridget was set to keep sheep on the moors; and there, not only did she
tend them, but she also tamed the wild birds that flew about her. Soon
the wild ducks and brent-geese allowed her to stroke them. When she had
grown old enough to be useful, she asked leave to go and see her father,
who lived in Leinster, whereas her mother was a slave in Ulster. The
Druid at once gave her leave, and she left. Her father was not cordial
in his reception of her, and set her to keep swine, and also at times to
manage the kitchen. On one occasion, when visited by an acquaintance, he
bade her boil five pieces of bacon for the entertainment. Unfortunately
a hungry dog came in and carried off some of the bacon. This threw
Dubtach into a fury, and he sent her back to her mother.

On her return, Bridget found Brotseach very ill and unable to attend to
her work. It was summer, and she had been sent with the cattle to a
mountain pasture, such as in Wales is called a _hafod_, whereas the
winter habitation is the _hendrê_. There were twelve cows to be milked,
and their butter to be made. Bridget undertook the supervision of the
dairy with energy, and some verses have been preserved which it is said
she sang as she churned: “Oh, my Prince, who canst do all things, and
God, bless, I pray Thee, my kitchen with Thy right hand—my kitchen, the
kitchen blessed by the white God, blessed by the Mighty King, a kitchen
stocked with butter. Son of Mercy, my Friend, come and look upon my
kitchen, and give me abundance.”

It was reported to the Druid that Bridget gave the buttermilk to the
poor, and he and his wife started for the mountain dairy to see that she
was not wasting their substance; but they found that the butter she had
made was so good and so plentiful that they were satisfied. Indeed, the
kindly old man at once gave Brotseach and Bridget their liberty, to go
where they would. He and his wife had been won by their piety and
blameless life, and gladly consented to be baptised.

Bridget and her mother left with thanks and tears, and went to Leinster
to Dubtach, who was well connected and rich, but avaricious. Bridget
particularly annoyed him by her readiness to give food to the poor. To
what extent she was justified in this may be questioned. But it must be
remembered that the period was one in which no provision whatever was
made for the poor, who starved unless assisted; and the girl’s tender
heart could not endure to see their sufferings and not to relieve them.

At last Dubtach could stand it no longer, and he took her in his chariot
to sell her into slavery, to grind at the quern for Dunlaing, son of the
King of Leinster. On reaching the king’s _dun_, or castle, Dubtach went
within and left Bridget outside in the chariot. A squalid leper came up,
begging. Bridget, whether out of impulsive charity, or more probably in
a fit of mischievous cunning, knowing that her father was selling her
like a calf or a sheep, gave to the leper the sword which Dubtach had
left in the chariot. The poor man at once disappeared with the gift.
Next moment the prince and her father issued from the _dun_; the prince
desired to look at the girl before purchasing her. Instantly Dubtach
discovered that his sword was gone, and he asked after it. “I have given
it away for your soul’s good,” said Bridget, with a twinkle in her eye.
“On my word!” exclaimed the prince, “I cannot afford to buy such
extravagant slaves as this.”

Dubtach drove home in a fury, and he made his house so intolerable that
she resolved to embrace the monastic life. She sought Bishop Maccaille,
taking seven companions with her, all desiring to unite in the service
of God and in ministering to the sick and needy.

Bishop Maccaille placed white veils on their heads, and blessed and
consecrated them. Bridget was then aged eighteen.

Each of the girls chose one of the Beatitudes as her special virtue,
which before all others she would seek to attain; and Bridget selected
as hers “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

An odd story was told in later times concerning this consecration. It
was said that Maccaille opened his book in the wrong place, and instead
of reading the office for the consecration of a virgin, read over her
that for the ordination of a bishop.

This fable was invented for a purpose. As we shall see presently,
Bridget became head of an ecclesiastical tribe, and had under her
jurisdiction a bishop who was amenable to her orders. This was a
condition of affairs not at all uncommon among the British, Irish, and
Scots, but it was incomprehensible in mediæval times to those trained
under another system, when bishops were sources of jurisdiction. So this
story was made up to give some justification for the exercise, by the
Abbess Bridget, of authority over a bishop and priests.

In the Life of S. Bridget we are assured that when she was twelve years
old she met S. Patrick, and that she wove the shroud in which he was
buried. According to the ordinary computation, S. Patrick came to
Ireland in 432, and died in 465; but Dr. Todd has shown good reason to
believe that this calculation rests on an error. Palladius, whose name
was also Patricius, was sent to Ireland in 432 by Pope Celestine; but he
failed in his mission, abandoned Ireland, and died at Fordun. Neither S.
Patrick himself, in his Confession, nor the earliest notices of him, say
a word of his having been sent by Celestine, and there is reason to
believe that he really came to Ireland in 460, and died in 493. If this
be the case, it is quite possible that there may be truth in the story
of the meeting of Bridget and the great apostle, and that it was his
influence which induced her to adopt the life she chose. Bridget was now
at the head of her little community of eight virgins, and they at once
devoted themselves to good works.

Very soon great numbers of pious women came to her from every quarter,
entreating to be received into her community and placed under her

We can see by the brutality of Dubtach selling the mother of his child
to a heathen Druid, though he himself professed to be a Christian, and
later, deliberately attempting to sell his daughter, that women at that
time were treated as chattels, and no respect was paid to them. It was
largely due to Bridget that an immense revulsion of feeling in this
particular took place.

She travelled over Ireland, and, wherever she was able, planted those
who placed themselves in her hands near their own relatives and in their
own country. She entered into correspondence with the bishops. She was
warmly seconded by Erc of Slane, by Mel of Armagh, and Ailbe of Emly.

She managed to dot her settlements through a large portion of the
island, and they became not only hospitals for the sick, but nurseries
of learning, for she made a point of having the young girls confided to
her for education taught their letters.

King Conall visited her on his way to make a raid, and to ask her
benediction on his arms; “for,” said he, “it is a mighty great pleasure
cutting the throats of our enemies.”

Bridget used all her endeavours to dissuade him from an unprovoked
attack against those who were at peace with him, but she could induce
him to go home only on one condition—that she would promise him her aid
in all legitimate wars.

Somewhat later he was engaged in a military expedition, and it had been

As he was returning, very tired, with his men, he reached a _dun_ or
castle, and resolved to rest there. His men dissuaded him, as the enemy
were in pursuit. “Bah!” said Conall, “Bridget has promised to look after
me,” and he threw himself down to sleep. A great fire was lighted, and
his men ranged the heads of the slain they had brought with them round
the fire, and they themselves sat up talking and singing. Meanwhile the
enemy came on, but they sent a spy, who crept unobserved up to the walls
and looked in. When he saw the dead faces with the flicker of the red
fire on them, and that Conall’s men were alert, his heart failed him,
and he went back and told his fellows that they must not risk a night
attack on the _dun_.

Many touching stories are told of Bridget’s tenderness to the sick: of a
poor consumptive boy whom she nursed; of a man who carried his mother on
his back for many days, that he might lay her before Bridget in the
hopes that she might be healed of the lung complaint that afflicted her.

One day—so says the legend—two lepers came to her, and she bade the one
wash the other. And he who was washed became whole. Then said she, “Go
and wash thy brother.” “Not I, forsooth!” replied the man. “I, a clean
man, with sound skin, shall I scrub that loathsome object?” “Then I will
do it,” said Bridget; and she took the poor leper and thoroughly
cleansed him.

The truth of this story would seem to be that Bridget bade a servant
wash the leper, that he refused, and she herself performed the office.

But she did more than attend to the sick. She saved the lives of men
condemned to death. On one occasion, a cupbearer to the King of Teffia
let fall a valuable goblet, and it was dented. The king, in a rage,
ordered the man to execution, though Bishop Mel interceded for him, but
in vain; then Bridget got the cup, and, as she had skilful smiths under
her, had the dents removed, so that it presented the same appearance as
before, and the king was then reluctantly induced to pardon the man.

She was for a long time under the direction of Erc of Slane, in Munster.
Whilst there, a certain anchorite, who had made a vow never to look on
the face of a woman, started with his disciples to go to one of the
Western Isles, there to establish a community. His way led near where
Bridget was. Night fell, and his disciples, not relishing spending the
hours of darkness on the open waste, and supperless, begged him to ask
Bridget to give them food and lodging for the night. The old man
absolutely refused. Bridget heard of this, and when the whole company
was asleep she and one or two of her maids went on tiptoe to them and
carried off all their bundles of goods and garments. When the men woke
next morning everything was gone. Here was a pretty kettle of fish! Most
reluctantly the old anchorite was obliged to swallow his objections and
go humbly to Bridget and beg for the restitution of the packages. “Very
well,” said she, “when I have fed and housed you for a couple of days,
you shall have them,—and do not hold up your nose and despise women any
more.” So she entertained the whole party, and when they departed she
provided them with a couple of sumpter horses to carry their bundles for
them. When the anchorite arrived at the island to which he had taken a
fancy, to his dismay he found that a man lived on it with his wife and
sons and daughters, and claimed it as his property, and absolutely
refused to leave. The anchorite was forced to send for Bridget to
arrange terms, and she with difficulty bought off the proprietor. “After
all,” said she, “you can’t do without the help of women—for all your
foolish vow.”

When with S. Erc, she must have been in that portion of King’s County
that then belonged to the kingdom of Meath. After that she removed to
Waterford, and remained for some time at Kilbride, near Tramore.

She heard that the King of Munster had a captive in chains very harshly
treated. She went to his castle to beg for the man’s release, but the
king was not at home. However, the foster-father and -mother, and
foster-brothers were there. They could give her no assistance. “I will
await the king’s return,” said Bridget. Time began to pass heavily. She
looked round, and saw that harps hung in the hall. “Come,” said she,
“let us have some music.” The foster-parents of the king expressed
themselves unwilling and incapable. But Bridget would take no excuse.
Towards evening the king returned, and as he neared his hall, heard the
twang of harps and voices singing and laughing. He came in at the door,
and when he saw his foster-father with a cracked voice piping out an old
ballad he laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. Every one was in
good humour, and he could not refuse Bridget her request.

Bridget next moved into Leinster, apparently to the district of Kinsale.
She had not seen her father for some time, so now she went to visit him.
He was not more amiable as he advanced in years. With difficulty she
withdrew from him a servant maid, whom he was thrashing unmercifully.
When she left, the maid said to her, “Oh! would to heaven you were
always here, to save us from the master’s violence!”

She—who had been a slave-girl herself—was pitiful to these poor things.
Some runaway slave-girls took refuge with her, and she had hard work
sometimes to reconcile their mistresses to leaving them under her

Before she left her father, the old fellow asked her to get the king to
let him keep as his own property a sword the prince had lent him.
Bridget went to the castle. No sooner had she arrived than one of the
king’s men entreated her to take him into her tribe. So she asked the
king to give her the man, and give her father the sword.

“You ask a great deal,” said he. “I must have something in return.”

“Shall I demand of God for you Life Eternal, and a continuation of
royalty in your house?”

“As to Life Eternal,” said the king, “I know nothing about it; and as to
royalty after I am dead, the boys of my family must fight for their own
crowns. Give me victory over my enemies.”

“I will obtain that for you,” she said. And on this being promised he
acceded to both her requests.

This is a very characteristic story of an Irish saint. The kings and
princes firmly believed that the saints could give them a place in
heaven and victory over their foes, could continue their line in power,
or deprive their posterity of sovereign rights.

This king was Illand, son of Dunlaing. Soon after this interview he went
into the plain of Breagh, west of Dublin, where he fought the Ulster men
and defeated them. After this he waged as many as thirty battles in
Ireland, and gained eight victories in Britain. He died in 506. On his
death the clan of Niall, taking courage, gathered their forces to attack
the men of Leinster, who actually dug up the body of the old king, set
it in a chariot, clothed in his regal garments, and marched against the
men of the north, headed by the corpse.

Bridget now went into Connaught, and founded an establishment there. It
was whilst there that an incident characteristic of the times occurred.

She had under her charge a poor decrepit woman who was failing rapidly.
“The old creature can’t live,” said one of Bridget’s women. “Let us
strip her at once. It is bitter weather and frosty, and it will be
awkward to get her garments off her back when she is stiff and stark.”

“On no account,” said Bridget. And when the cripple died she with her
own hands divested the body of its clothing, then laid the garments
outside the door in the frost, and washed them finally herself.

Bridget and some of her spiritual daughters paid a visit to S. Ibar of
Begery. He served them at supper with bacon. Bridget saw two of the
girls sitting with their platters before them and their noses turned up;
they would not touch the food. She was very angry, jumped up from her
seat, caught them by the shoulders, and turned them out of the hall, and
bade them stand there, one on each side of the door, till supper was
over. She had run short of seed-corn, and had gone to beg some of Ibar.
The season was probably Lent, and the scruple of the girls was on that

When S. Bridget first saw the great plain of Breagh stretched before
her, it was in early summer, and it was as though snowed over with the
white clover, and the air that breathed from it was sweet with scent and
musical with the hum of bees. She stood still, raised her hands in an
ecstasy of delight, and said: “Oh! if this plain were but mine, I would
give it all to God!”

“Good woman!” said S. Columba, when he was told this of Bridget. “God
accepted the desire of her loving heart just as surely as if she really
had made to Him the donation of all that land.”

Once a bishop and a party of clerks arrived, and began to inquire when
they were to have a meal and what they were to have to eat.

“It is all very well for you to be so clamorous,” said Bridget, “for you
are hungry. But can you not understand that I and my spiritual daughters
are hungry also? We have no religious teacher here, and we long to hear
the Word of God. Will you not give us who are hungry the nourishment of
souls before you call on us to satisfy your stomachs?”

The bishop was ashamed, and led the way to the church.

It happened that there was a couple who led a cat-and-dog life, and at
last declared that they could not live together, and that they would
separate. Bridget went to them, and by her charm of manner and earnest
words so won them over that thenceforth they came to love each other
devotedly. So much so, that one day when the husband left home to cross
an estuary, without saying good-bye, the wife ran after him into the
water, and would have been drowned had he not returned to kiss her.

There was a madman who wandered on the mountain—Slive Forait. Bridget
was crossing it, and her companions were in deadly fear of encountering
the maniac. “I fear him not,” said she; “I will go and find him.”

Before long she encountered the poor wretch. She said to him, “My
friend, have you anything to say to me?”

“Yes, nun,” answered he: “Love the Lord, and all will love thee.
Reverence the Lord, and all will reverence thee. I cannot avoid thee, O
nun, thou art so pitiful to all the miserable and poor.”

The life she led with the sisters was full of simplicity. She took her
turn to tend the sheep, she helped to brew the Easter ale which she sent
about to the bishops as her offering.

The following is a funny story.

Certain friends came to visit Bridget, and they left their house shut
without a caretaker in it. When they were well away, some robbers came,
broke open the byre and stole the oxen, and drove them away to the
Liffey. They had to cross the river at a ford, but the water was deep,
so the men stripped themselves, and that their garments might be kept
dry, attached them to the horns of the cattle. But no sooner were the
oxen in the water than they refused to proceed, and, turning, galloped
home, carrying away the clothing of the robbers on their heads.

Having such large numbers of women under her direction, Bridget was
obliged to draw up for them a set of rules. An odd legend attaches to
the rules. She sent, so it was told, seven men and a poor blind boy, who
was in her service, to Rome to obtain a rule. But as they were crossing
the English Channel, the anchor caught. They drew lots who was to go
down and release the anchor. The lot fell to the blind boy. He
descended, unhooked the anchor, and it was hauled up, but left him
behind. The seven went on, and returned at the end of the year, and were
without any rule. As they were crossing the Channel, again the anchor
caught, but it became disengaged, and up with it came the boy, and he
had a Rule of Life with him, acquired in the depths, and this he took to
Bridget, and it became her famous rule for all her communities. Perhaps
the story originated thus. It was said that she had sent to Rome for a
system of monastic discipline, but as none came to her, she fished up
one out of the depths of her own conscience and common-sense.

Bridget certainly to the utmost strove to show forth the grace of Mercy,
which she had elected as that for which she would specially strive, when
she was veiled. Poor lepers were kept by her attached to her convent,
and fed and administered to by her.

One day a woman brought her a hamper of apples. “Oh!” cried Bridget,
“how pleased my lepers will be with them!” The woman angrily said, “I
brought the apples for you, and not for a parcel of lepers.”

On another occasion, when Bishop Conlaeth came to vest for the
Eucharist, he found that his chasuble was gone. In fact, Bridget had cut
it up and made of it a garment for a leper. Conlaeth was not
overpleased. “I cannot celebrate without a proper vestment,” said he.
“Wait a moment,” said Bridget, and ran away. Presently she returned with
one she had made and embroidered with her own hands, and gave it to him
in place of that she had disposed of to the leper.

A poor fellow who had gone to prefer a petition to the King of Leinster,
saw a fox playing about in his _cashel_ (_i.e._ castle). Not knowing
that it was tame, and a pet of the king, he killed it. The king, Illand,
was furious, threw the fellow into chains and vowed he would have him
put to death. Bridget heard of it, and at once went to see him, and took
with her a fox that had just been trapped. She offered the fox to
Illand, on condition that he should let the man go. The king, supposing
it was tame, consented. No sooner was the fellow released than Bridget
let go her fox, when away dashed Reynard across the _dun_ and over the
walls, and was seen no more. “I have not got the best of this bargain,”
said the king.

In or about the year 480 she founded her mother house at Kildare—“The
Cell of the Oak.” She was granted land and a sanctuary, with
jurisdiction over all who lived on her land. Thus she became a great
ecclesiastical chieftainess, ruling not over women only, but over men as
well. Indeed, it would seem that schools for youths were also under her.
To regulate sacred matters in her tribe, she chose a bishop named
Conlaeth, who was a good smith in the precious metals, and could
manufacture bells.

In the great house of Kildare little children were taken charge of,
either because orphans, or because given to the sisters by their
parents. Tighernach, Bishop of Clones, was one of these. As a babe,
Bridget held him at the font, and his infant years were under her care.
He ever remained deeply attached to her. Perhaps it may be taken as a
token of his affection that when he founded a church in Cornwall, a
chapel dedicated to his foster-mother should have been planted in

One who deeply reverenced her was the famous S. Brendan, who sailed for
seven years on the Atlantic in quest of the Land of Promise. Once he was
in conversation with her, and he said to her, “Tell me, Bridget, about
your spiritual things. For my part I may say that, since I have learned
to love and fear God, I have not stepped across nine furrows without my
mind turning to Him.”

Bridget thought for a moment and said, “I do not think, Brendan, that my
mind has ever strayed from Him.”

As her age advanced, her influence extended throughout Ireland. Swarms
of her spiritual children must have crossed to Wales, to Devon and
Cornwall, to Brittany, for we find in all these districts dedications to
her; and these dedications signify churches placed under the rule of her
congregation. It may indeed be said that it was she who initiated a
great upheaval of woman from being a mere slave to become a revered
member of the social body.

There was no woman in the British Church, either in Wales or Alba, which
we now call Scotland, who occupied the same position. In Saxon England
the only woman who at all approached her was S. Hilda, and she was not,
like Bridget, an originator.

Conlaeth, Bridget’s bishop, died in 519. She was sought, consulted by
princes and by prelates. The sour Gildas, author of the “History of the
Britons,” if he did not pay her a visit, sent her as token of his esteem
the present of a small bell, cast by himself.

Nothing particular is recorded of her last illness. She received the
Communion from the hands of S. Nennid, whom years before she had gently
reproved for his giddiness, and she died on February 1st, 525. According
to some accounts she was aged seventy, according to others seventy-four.

There are two old Irish hymns in honour of her. One begins:

                       “Bridget, ever good woman,
                        Flame-golden, sparkling.”

This is variously attributed to S. Columba, S. Ultan, and S. Brendan.
The other hymn is by S. Broccan, who died in 650.

Both may be found in the Irish “Liber Hymnorum,” recently issued by the
“Henry Bradshaw Society.”


                       _THE DAUGHTERS OF BRIDGET_

The story of the introduction of Christianity into Ireland is altogether
so interesting, that it may be well to add something further to what has
already been told of S. Bridget, and to the story of S. Itha. In the
evangelisation of the Emerald Isle, woman had her place beside man, and
S. Bridget and S. Itha played their part as effectually as did S.
Patrick and S. Benignus.

Let us first see what the paganism of the Irish consisted in, and what
was their social condition before S. Patrick preached, so that we may be
able to realise to some degree what a revolution was effected by the
introduction of the Gospel.

The heathen Irish certainly adored idols; one of the principal of these
was Cromm Cruaich, which is said to have been the chief idol of Ireland.
It is said to have been of gold, and to have been surrounded by twelve
lesser idols of stone. To this Cromm Cruaich the Irish were wont to
sacrifice their children. There still exists an old poem that mentions

                “Milk and corn
                 They sought of him urgently,
                 For a third of their offspring,
                 Great was its horror and its wailing.”

Then there were the _Side_ worshipped. We do not know what these were,
but it is thought that they were the spirits of ancestors. The sun also
received adoration, so did wells. S. Patrick went to the well of Slan,
and there he was told that the natives venerated it as a god; it was the
King of Waters, and they believed that an old dead _faith_ or prophet
lay in it under a great stone that covered the well. S. Patrick moved
the slab aside, and so destroyed the sanctity of the well.

There can be no doubt that polygamy existed: Bridget’s father had a wife
in addition to Brotseach, her mother; and S. Patrick, like S. Paul, had
to insist that those whom he consecrated as bishops should be husbands
of one wife.

Women were in low repute; they were required to go into battle and fight
along with the men, and it was only on the urgency of Adamnan in the
synod of Drumceatt, in 574, that they were exempted. A man could sell
his daughter—it was so with Dubtach and Bridget. In the life of S.
Illtyt, a Welsh Knight, it is told how one stormy morning, when he
wanted to have his strayed horses collected, he pushed his wife out of
her bed and sent her without any clothes on to drive the horses
together. There is no doubt but the Irish husbands were quite as brutal.

There is a very curious story in the life of S. Patrick. He was desirous
of revisiting his old master Miliuc with whom he had been a slave as a
lad, and from whom he had run away. His hope was to convert Miliuc, and
to propitiate him with a double ransom. But the old heathen, frightened
at his approach, and unwilling to receive him and listen to his Gospel,
burned himself alive in his house with all his substance. This seems to
point to the Indian _Dharna_ having been customary in Ireland.

When S. Patrick converted the Irish he dealt very gently with such of
their customs as were harmless. The wells they so reverenced he
converted into baptisteries, and the pillar-stones they venerated he
rendered less objectionable by cutting crosses on them. The Druids wore
white raiment, and had their heads tonsured; he made his clergy adopt
both the white habit and the tonsure.

The oak was an object of reverence, and S. Bridget set up her cell under
an ancient oak. She did not cut it down, and when people came on
pilgrimage to it, taught them of Christ, from under its leafy boughs.

There was another relic of paganism that was not ruthlessly rejected.
The ancient Irish venerated fire. Now, in Ireland, where the atmosphere
is so charged with moisture, it is not easy to procure fire by rubbing
sticks together, as it would be in Italy or Africa. Consequently it was
a matter of extreme importance that fires should not be allowed to be
extinguished. It was the custom among the early Latins that there should
be in every village a circular hut in which the fire was kept ever
burning, and the unmarried girls were expected and obliged to attend to
it; and if by the fault of any it became extinguished, then her life was

As the Romans became more civilised, the central hut was called the
Temple of Vesta, or Hestia,—the Hearth-fire; and a certain number of
virgins was chosen, and invested with great privileges, whose duty it
was never to allow it to die out.

Now, it was much the same in Ireland, and it was more important there to
keep fire always burning, than it was in the drier air of Italy. S.
Bridget undertook that she and her nuns should keep the sacred fire from
extinction, and Kildare became the centre from which fire could always
be procured. The fire was twice extinguished, once by the Normans and
again at the Reformation, finally.

The monastery of Kildare had a _les_ about it—that is to say, it was
enclosed within a bank and moat; the buildings were, however, of wood
and wattle. This we know from a story in the Life of S. Bridget. When
she was about laying out her monastery, a hundred horses arrived laden
with “peeled rods,” for Ailill, son of that very prince Dunlaing who had
refused to buy her when he found she had given away her father’s sword.
Some of the girls ran to beg for the poles, but were refused. As,
however, some of the horses fell down under their burdens, which were
excessive, Ailill gave way and supplied them with stakes and wattles. He
very good-naturedly allowed his horses to bring to Bridget as many more
as were required, free of cost. “And,” says the writer, “therewith was
built S. Bridget’s great house in Kildare.”

All the sisters wore white flannel habits, and on their heads white
veils. Each had her own cell, but all met for Divine worship and for
meals. During the latter, Bridget’s bishop Conlaeth read aloud to them.

Bridget travelled about a great deal, visiting her several communities,
in a car or chariot; and her driver was at her desire ordained priest,
so that as she sat in her conveyance, he could turn his head over his
shoulder and preach to her and the sisters with her. One day Bridget
said: “This is inconvenient. Turn bodily about, that we may hear you the
better, and as for the reins, throw them down. The horses will jog

So he cast the reins over the front of the chariot, and addressed his
discourse to them with his back to the horses. Unhappily, one of these
latter took advantage of the occasion, and slipped its neck from the
yoke, and ran free; and so engrossed were Bridget and her companion in
the sermon of the priestly coachman, that they discovered nothing till
they were nearly upset.

On another occasion, she and one of her nuns were being driven over a
common near the Liffey, when they came to a long hedge, for a man had
enclosed a portion of the common. But Bridget’s driver had no relish for
such encroachments, and determined to assert his “right of way,” so he
prepared to drive over the hedge. Bridget told him to go round, but not
he—he would assert his right. Over went the chariot with such a bounce,
that away flew the coachman, Bridget, and her nun, like rockets; and
when they picked themselves up were all badly bruised, and Bridget’s
head was cut open. She had it bound up, and continued her journey. When
she got home she consulted her physician, who with shrewd sense said,
“Leave it alone. Nature is your best doctor.”

In the “Book of Leinster,” compiled in the twelfth century, is a list of
saintly virgins who were trained under S. Bridget. It is, however, by no
means complete. A few words shall be devoted to some of them. One, very
young, had been committed to Bridget when quite a child. Her name was
Darlugdach. She slept with Bridget, her foster-mother. Now, as she grew
to be a big girl, she became restive, and impatient of the restraints of
the convent life at Kildare, and she had formed a plan with another to
run away.

The night on which she had resolved on leaving the monastery she was, as
usual, sleeping in the same bed with Bridget; and she laid herself in
her bosom, her heart fluttering with excitement, and with her mind at
conflict between love of her foster-mother and desire to be out and free
as a bird.

At last she rose, and in an agony of uncertainty cast herself on her
knees, and besought God to strengthen her to remain where she knew she
would be safe. Then, in the vehemence of her resolve, she thrust her
naked feet before the red coals that glowed on the hearth, and held them
there till she could bear it no longer, and limped back to bed, and
nestled again into the bosom of the holy mother.

When morning broke, Bridget rose, and looked at the scorched soles of
Darlugdach, and touching them said gently, “I was not asleep, my darling
child. I was awake and aware of your struggle, but I allowed you to
fight it out bravely by yourself. Now that you have conquered, you need
not fear this temptation again.”

Darlugdach, when S. Bridget was dying, clung to her, in floods of tears,
and entreated her spiritual mother to allow her to die with her. But S.
Bridget promised that she should follow speedily—but not yet. Now, on
the very anniversary of S. Bridget’s departure, next year, Darlugdach
fell ill of a fever and died.

Another of Bridget’s nuns was named Dara, who was blind—indeed, had been
born without sight.

One evening Bridget and Dara sat together and talked all night of the
joys of Paradise. And their hearts were so full that the hours of
darkness passed without their being aware how time sped; and lo! above
the Wicklow mountains rose the golden sun, and in the glorious light the
sky flashed, and the river glittered, and all creation awoke. Then
Bridget sighed, because she knew that Dara’s eyes were closed to all
this beauty. So—the legend tells—she bowed her head in prayer; and
presently God wrought a great miracle, for the eyes of the blind woman
opened, and she saw the golden ball in the east, and the purple
mountains, the trees, and the flowers glittering in the morning dew. She
cried out with delight. Now for the first time she—

                “Saw a bush of flowering elder,
                    And dog-daisies in its shade,
                 Tufted meadow-sweet entangled
                    In a blushing wild-rose braid.

                “Saw a distant sheet of water
                    Flashing like a fallen sun;
                 Saw the winking of the ripples
                    Where the mountain torrents run.

                “Saw the peaceful arch of heaven,
                    With a cloudlet on the blue,
                 Like a white bird winging homeward
                    With its feathers drenched in dew.”

Then Dara tried to lift up her heart to God in thanksgiving; but her
attention was distracted,—now it was a bird, then a flower, then a
change in the light,—and she could not fix her mind on God. Then a
sadness came upon her, and she cried—

                            “‘O my Saviour!’
                    With a sudden grief oppressed,—
                ‘Be Thy will, not mine, accomplished;
                    Give me what Thou deemest best.’

                “Then once more the clouds descended,
                    And the eyes again waxed dark;
                 All the splendour of the sunlight
                    Faded to a dying spark.

                “But the closèd heart expanded
                   Like the flower that blooms at night
                 Whilst, as Philomel, the spirit
                   Chanted to the waning light.”

Again, another of Bridget’s nuns was Brunseach; she, however, went,
probably on Bridget’s death, to a religious house that had been founded
by S. Kieran of Saighir, over which he had set his mother, Liadhain.

She was young and beautiful, and Dioma, the chief of the country of the
Hy Fiachach, came by violence and carried her off to his _dun_ or

Kieran was angry, and at once seizing his staff, went to the residence
of the prince, and demanded that she should be surrendered to him. The
chief shut his gates and refused to admit the saint. Kieran remained
outside, although it was winter, and declared he would not return
without her.

During the night there was a heavy fall of snow, but the saint would not
leave. Then Dioma, taunting him, said, “Come, I will let her go on one
condition, that to-morrow I hear the stork, and that he awake me from

And actually next morning there was a stork perched on the palisade of
the _dun_, and was uttering its peculiar cries. The tyrant arose in
alarm, threw himself before the saint, and dismissed the damsel.

However, he had quailed only for a while, and presently renewed his
persecution. Brunseach, according to the legend, died of fright, but was
brought to life again by S. Kieran—that is to say, she fainted and was

The story is late, and has become invested in fable; but so much of it
is true, that Brunseach was carried off by Dioma, and that Kieran
managed to get her restored.

It was perhaps through the annoyance caused by the prince that he
resolved to leave Ireland. He settled in Cornwall. But he had taken with
him his old nurse and Brunseach, and he found for them suitable
habitations there. Kieran himself was there called Piran, and he founded
several churches. That of his nurse in the Cornish peninsula is Ladock,
and Brunseach is known there as S. Buriana.

“Nothing has been recorded of her life and labours in Cornwall, except
the general tradition that she spent her days in good works and great
sanctity; but the place where she dwelt was regarded as holy ground for
centuries, and can still be pointed out. It lies about a mile south-east
of the parish church which bears her name, beside a rivulet on the farm
of Bosleven; and the spot is called the Sentry, or Sanctuary. The
crumbling ruins of an ancient structure still remain there, and traces
of extensive foundations have been found adjoining them. If not the
actual ruins, they probably occupy the site of the oratory in which
Athelstan, after vanquishing the Cornish king, knelt at the shrine of
the saint, and made his memorable vow that, if God would crown his
expedition to the Scilly Isles with success, he would on his return
build and endow there a church and college in token of his gratitude,
and in memory of his victories.

“It was on that wild headland, about four miles from Land’s End, that S.
Buriana took up her abode; and a group of saints from Ireland, who were
probably her friends and companions, and who seem to have landed on our
shores at the same time, occupied contiguous parts of the same district.
There she watched and prayed with such devotion, that the fame of her
goodness found its way back to her native land; and thenceforth
Brunseach the Slender, by which designation she had been known there,
was enrolled in the catalogue of the Irish saints; but her Christian
zeal was spent in the Cornish parish that perpetuates her name.”[4]

Bridget had two disciples of the name of Brig or Briga. This was by no
means an uncommon name. A sister of S. Brendan was so called.

Another was Kiara, and this virgin we perhaps meet with again in
Cornwall as Piala, the sister of Fingar. Amongst the Welsh and Cornish
the hard sound K became P, thus _Ken_ (head), was pronounced _Pen_; so
S. Kieran became Piran.

Fingar and his sister formed a part of a great colony of emigrants who
started for Cornwall. Fingar had settled in Brittany, but he returned to
Ireland and persuaded his sister to leave the country with him. This she
was the more inclined to do as she was being forced into marriage in
spite of her monastic vows. They left Ireland with the intention of
going back to Brittany, but were carried by adverse winds to Cornwall,
and landed at Hayle.

King Tewdrig, who had a palace hard by, did not relish the arrival of a
host of Irish, and he set upon them and massacred most of them. Kiara,
however, was not molested, though her brother was killed. She settled
where is now the parish church of Phillack. The scene of her brother’s
martyrdom was Gwynear, hard by. She probably did not care to leave the
proximity to his grave; she had no one to go with to Armorica, and it
seems likely that a larger body of Irish came over shortly after,
occupied all the west part of Cornwall, and so made her condition more

[Illustration: S. ITHA.]


                               _S. ITHA_

What Bridget was for Leinster, that was Itha or Ita for Munster; and
from the way in which her cult spread through Devon and Cornwall, we are
led to suspect that there were a good many religious houses and churches
in the ancient kingdom of Damnonia that were under her rule, and looked
to Killeedy in Limerick as their mother-house.

S. Itha was a shoot of the royal family of the Nandesi, in the present
county of Waterford. Her father’s name was Kennfoelad, and her mother’s
was Nect. They were Christians, as appears from the fact of S. Itha
having been baptised in childhood.

She was born about 480, and probably at an early date received the veil
“in the Church of God of the clan.”

Unfortunately we have not the life of S. Itha in a very early form; it
comes to us sadly corrupted with late fables foisted in to magnify the
miraculous powers of the saint.

She moved to the foot of Mount Luachra, in Hy Conaill, and founded the
monastery of Cluain Credhuil, now Killeedy, in a wild and solitary
region, backed by the mountains of Mullaghareirk, and on a stream that
is a confluent of the Deel, which falls into the Shannon at Askaton.

The chief of the clan or sept of Hy Conaill offered her a considerable
tract of land for the support of her establishment, but she refused to
receive more than was sufficient for a modest garden.

Let us try to get some idea of what one of these monasteries was like.

In the first place a ditch and a bank were drawn round the space that
was to be occupied, and the summit of the bank was further protected by
a palisade of stakes with osier wattling. In such places as were stony,
and where no earthwork could well be made, in place of a bank, there was
a wall.

Within the enclosure were a number of beehive-shaped cells, either of
wattle or of stone and turf. Certainly the favourite style of building
was with wood; but of course all such wooden structures have perished,
whereas some of those of stone have been preserved. There were churches,
apparently small, and a refectory, bakehouses, and a brewery and

Outside the defensive wall of enclosure lived the retainers of the
abbey. Where an abbot or abbess was head of an ecclesiastical tribe, he
or she was bound to find land for each household: nine furrows of arable
land, nine of bog, nine of grass-land, and as much of forest. As the
population increased, a secular or an ecclesiastical chief was obliged
to obtain an extension of territory, or would be held to have forfeited
his claims as a chief. This led to incessant feud among the Celtic
princes; it forced the saints to be continually striving to obtain fresh
grants of land and make fresh settlements. When there was no more chance
of obtaining land in Ireland, they sent swarms to Britain and to
Brittany, to found colonies there, under the jurisdiction of the saint.
This explains the way in which the Celtic saints were incessantly moving
about. They were forced to do so to extend their lands so as to find
farms for their vassals.

A very terrible story is told of the condition of affairs in Ireland in
657. The population of the island had increased to such an extent that
the chiefs could not find land enough for the people. Dermot and
Blaithmac, the kings, summoned an assembly of clergy and nobles to
discuss the situation and consider a remedy. They concluded that the
“elders” should put up prayer to the Almighty to send a pestilence, “to
reduce the number of the lower class, that the rest might live in
comfort.” S. Fechin of Fore, on being consulted, approved of this
extraordinary petition. And the prayer was answered from heaven, but the
vengeance of God fell mainly on the nobles and clergy, for the Yellow
Plague which ensued, which swept away at least a third of the
population, fell with special heaviness on the nobles and clergy, of
whom multitudes, including the two kings and S. Fechin of Fore, were
carried off.

S. Itha does not seem to have coveted land, and she assumed a different
position from that taken by S. Bridget. She was not an independent
chieftainess over a sacred tribe, but acted as prophetess to the secular
tribe of the Hy Conaill. Just as among the Germans, the warriors had
their wise women who attended the tribe, blessed the arms of the
warriors, and uttered oracles, so was it among the Celts; and we are
assured that the entire sept, or clan, unanimously adopted S. Itha as
their religious directress and, in fact, wise woman. In such cases, when
a prophecy came true, when a military undertaking blessed by the Saint
proved successful, the usage was, that an award was made in perpetuity
to him or to her, a tax imposed that must be paid regularly by the

Thus there were two ways by which a Celtic saint might subsist—either as
an independent chieftain over a sacred tribe, or as the patroness or
prophetess of a tribe, not owning much land, but drawing a revenue from
the sept or clan.

We have a very curious illustration of this in the life of S. Findcua,
who was the great seer and prophet of Munster. He blessed the arms of
the king seven times in as many battles, and was rewarded for each; he
received tribute in this wise: “The first calf, and the first lamb, and
the first pig,” from every farm for ever. “For every homestead a sack of
malt, with a corresponding supply of food yearly.”

Now there is not a trace of S. Itha having allowed herself on any
occasion to degrade herself to blessing and cursing, blessing the arms
of the Leinster men and covering their foes with imprecations. She
succeeded in inspiring the whole of the people with such reverence, that
they were ready to receive what she declared as a message from God, and
she used this position for no other object than that of advancing God’s
kingdom, stirring up to good works, encouraging peace, and restraining
violence. She showed no eagerness for gifts. On one occasion a wealthy
man, to whom she had rendered a service, insisted on forcing money on
her. She at once withdrew her hand, absolutely refused it, and to show
him her determination, washed her hands that, she said, had been defiled
by contact with his filthy lucre. God’s gifts were not to be traded
with, and profit must not be made out of an office such as that filled
by her.

Parents, desirous of having their children brought up to the
ecclesiastical state, committed them to her; and thus she became the
foster-mother of S. Pulcherius or Mochoemoc, of S. Cumine, and S.
Brendan. The latter was committed to her when one year old, and she kept
him with her till he was five. Throughout his life Brendan retained not
merely the tenderest love for Itha, but such a reverence that he
consulted her in all matters of importance.

One day Brendan asked her what three works were, in her opinion, most
well-pleasing to God. She replied, “Faith out of a pure heart, sincerity
of life, and tender charity.”

“And what,” further asked Brendan, “what are most displeasing to God?”

“A spiteful tongue, a love of what smacks of evil, and avarice,” was her
ready reply.

Brendan, as a little fellow, was the pet of the community, and all the
sisters loved to have him and dance him in their arms. In the life of S.
Brendan is inserted a snatch from an older Irish ballad concerning him:

                “Angels in shape of virgins white
                   This little babe did tend.
                 From hand to hand, fair forms of light,
                   Sweet faces o’er him bend.”

S. Erc, Bishop of Slane, seems to have been Itha’s principal adviser and
friend; and when the five years of Brendan’s fostering were over, Erc
took the little boy away to teach him the Psalms and the Gospels. S. Erc
found it rather hard to keep the boy supplied with milk, but a hind with
her fawn, so says the legend, was caught, and gave her milk to Brendan.

It may be asked, What was the mode of life of the community of S. Itha?

Unhappily we do not know so much of that of the religious women as we do
of that of the monasteries of men, yet we cannot doubt that the rule of
the house for women much resembled that in the others. Here is an
account of the order as given in the life of S. Brioc, an Irishman by
race, though born in Cardigan.

“At fixed hours they all assembled in the church to celebrate divine
worship. After the office of vespers (6 p.m.) they refreshed their
bodies by a common meal. Then, having said compline, they dispersed in
silence to their beds. At midnight they rose and assembled to sing
devoutly psalms and hymns to the glory of God. Then they returned to
their beds. But at cockcrow, at the sound of the bell, they sprang from
their couches to sing lauds. From the conclusion of this office to the
second hour (8 a.m.) they were engaged in spiritual exercises and
prayer. Then they cheerfully betook them to manual labour.”

Happily one of the monastic offices of the early Irish Church has been
deciphered from a nearly obliterated leaf of the Irish MS. _Book of
Mulling_: it consisted of the Magnificat. What preceded this is
illegible: some verses of a hymn; the reading of the Beatitudes from the
Sermon on the Mount, a hymn of S. Secundinus, a commemoration of S.
Patrick, a portion of a hymn by S. Hilary of Poitiers, the Apostles’
Creed, the Lord’s prayer, and a collect.

The work of the day consisted in teaching the young girls their letters,
in needlework, tending the cattle—in which each, abbess included, took
turn—grinding corn in the handmill, and cultivating the garden.

Numerous visitors arrived to consult S. Itha, and she most certainly had
fixed hours in which to receive them.

One striking instance of the veneration in which she was held is that S.
Coemgen of Glendalough, when dying, sent to entreat her to come to him;
he would have no one else minister to him in his last sickness, and he
begged her, when he expired to place her hand over his mouth and close

One Beoan was a famous artificer; he was a native of Connaught. He went
to Itha and passed into her service; but was summoned by his military
chief to attend him in one of his raids. He departed most reluctantly.
Itha was greatly distressed at losing him. As he did not return after a
skirmish, she went to the scene of the encounter, and found him
grievously wounded, but still living. Under her fostering care he
recovered. According to late legend, his head had been cut off and
thrown away. She found his body but not his head, so she called “Beoan!
Beoan!” Whereupon the head came flying through the air to her, and she
set it on again. So a very simple transaction was magnified into a
ridiculous fable.

After leaving her, S. Brendan went about with Bishop Erc in his waggon,
from which the bishop preached to the people. One day when Erc was
addressing a crowd, Brendan was in the back of the waggon, looking over
the side, clearly not attending to the sermon. Then a small,
fair-haired, rosy-faced girl came near, and seeing the little fellow
peeping over the side, she tried to scramble up the waggon-wheel to get
to Brendan and play with him. But he laid hold of the reins and lashed
her with them, so that she was forced to desist, and fell back crying.
Erc was much annoyed at Brendan’s conduct, and sent him into the
black-hole in punishment.

Some years later, Itha required Brendan to come to her: she was in great
trouble, and needed his assistance. He went accordingly, and with many
tears she told him that one of her pupils had run away some time before,
and had fallen into very bad courses, which had led at last to her being
reduced to be a slave-girl in Connaught. Would he go in search of her
and bring her back, with assurance that everything would be forgiven and

Brendan readily undertook the task, and succeeded in redeeming the girl
and restoring her to her spiritual mother.

Now Brendan himself got into trouble. He had gone with a boat one day to
an island, taking with him two lads, one quite young. He left one boy in
charge of the boat, and advanced up the land with the other. Then this
latter said to him, “Master, the tide will rise before we get back, and
I am sure my little brother cannot manage the boat alone.”

“Be silent,” retorted Brendan. “Do you suppose that I do not care for
him as much as you do yourself?”

After a while the young man returned to the matter. “I am sure,” said
he, “it is not safe to leave the boy unassisted. The current runs very

“Bad luck to you!” said Brendan, flaming up,—he was a peppery man,—“Go
yourself, then;” and the youth took him at his word and found the boy
struggling with the boat, tide and wind were driving from shore, and he
was unable to control the coracle. The elder ran into the water to
assist his brother, and a great wave swept him off his feet and he was
drowned, but the little boy escaped.

After this S. Brendan had no peace of mind. He thought himself
responsible for the loss of the youth. He had wished him “Bad luck,” and
bad luck indeed had fallen to him.

He went at once to his foster-mother, and consulted her.

It is quite possible that the relatives of the drowned youth had taken
the matter up, and pursued Brendan in blood-feud. So Itha, after mature
consideration, advised Brendan to leave Ireland for a while; and in
punishment for his hastiness, and for having caused the death of the
youth, she bade him abstain from blood in everything.

So Brendan started. He went to Armorica, and determined to visit Gildas,
the historian, who was then at his abbey of Rhuys. Gildas was a sour,
ill-tempered man, very hard; and when Brendan arrived, it was just after
sundown and the gates of the monastery were closed. He announced who he
was—a traveller from Ireland—but Gildas replied that rules must be kept,
and it was against his rule to open after set of sun, so Brendan was
constrained to spend the night outside the gates.

Thence he went to Dol, but after a while, and a visit to S. David in
Wales, he returned to Ireland, and now Itha told him a marvellous story.
There was a rumour that far away to the west beyond the horizon was a
wondrous land of beauty. He must not remain in Ireland: let him put to
sea, sail after the sun as it set, and discover the mysterious land
beyond the Atlantic.

The imagination of Brendan was fired; he set to work to construct three
large vessels of wickerwork, and he covered them with skins; each vessel
contained thirty men—some were clergy, a good many laymen—and he took a
fool with him, because he begged hard to be admitted. Brendan was absent
three or five years, it is uncertain which—for apparently the time of
his absence in Brittany is included in one of the computations.

Wonderful stories are told of what he saw and did, but no trust can be
put in the narrative. On his return he went to Itha to report himself.
She received him with great pleasure, but objected that he had not
literally obeyed her, for his sails had been made of the skins of
beasts, so had been the covering of his boats, and cattle had been
slaughtered for the purpose, so that he had not wholly abstained from

But it is doubtful whether this is what she really said. It is probably
the legend writer’s explanation for what follows. “Why,” asked Itha,
“should you risk these lengthy voyages in such frail vessels as coracles
made of basket-work covered with hides? Next time build boats of wood.”

This was a new idea. The Irish, like the Welsh, had hitherto used large
coracles, and the only wooden boats they had employed were trunks of
trees hollowed out, and these only on lakes.

Brendan at once seized on the suggestion, and constructed ships of wood,
which were the first ever built in Ireland, and these were due to the
idea of S. Itha.

Brendan made a second voyage to the land beyond the ocean, and it is
possible that he may have actually reached America; but, as already
said, nothing trustworthy has come to us of the result of his attempts.

Itha had a brother, S. Finan, and she was related to S. Senan of

Itha in her old age was attacked by perhaps the most terrible and
painful disease to which poor suffering mortality is subject, and it is
one to which women fall victims more often than men. She was attacked in
her breast, but endured her pains night and day with the utmost patience
and trust in God’s mercy. Her nuns were affected to tears at her
sufferings, but she had always a smile and cheerful words on her lips to
banish their discouragement.

She died at length on January 15th, in the year 569 or 570, and was laid
in her church of Cluain Credhuil, which has since borne the name of
Killeedy or the Church of Ida.

She must have been known beyond the island of Ireland, for in the
Salisbury Martyrology she is entered in strange form as “In Ireland the
festival of S. Dorothea, also called Sith (S. Ith)” on January 15th.

In Cornwall a lofty and bare hill, that commands the Atlantic and the
coast, is crowned by a great ruined camp. It had belonged to the
British, but was wrested from them and became a stronghold of the
Saxons, who held it so as to dominate the entire neighbourhood. This is
Hellborough, not far from Camelford. It continued to be a royal castle,
the property of the Crown, though it does not seem that any mediæval
castle was built upon it. Now, curiously enough, in the midst of this
great camp is a mound of stone or cairn, and on this cairn is a little
chapel, at present in ruins, dedicated to the saint whose life has just
been given. And on the river Camel, that flows into the Padstow estuary,
is a parish that bears the name, though corrupted into S. Issey. But
near Exeter is a parish church that has her as patroness with the name
unmutilated, as S. Ide.

How came these dedications in Cornwall and Devon? Either because S.
Brendan on his way home from Brittany founded the churches in memory of
his dear foster-mother, or else because here were colonies of holy women
from the mother-house in Limerick.

In or about 656 Cuimin of Connor wrote the “Characteristics of the Irish
Saints” in metre, and this is what he says of Itha:—

              “My (dear) Itha, much beloved of fosterage,
               Firmly rooted in humility, but never base,
               Laid not her cheek to the ground,
               Ever, ever full of the love of God.”

[Illustration: S. HILDA.]


                               _S. HILDA_

Hilda was born in 614. She was the daughter of Hereric, nephew of Edwin,
king of Northumbria.

Her childhood was darkened by the civil wars that rent Northumbria, at
this time divided into two kingdoms, each engaged in fighting the other
for supremacy.

In 627, when aged thirteen, she received baptism, along with her uncle
Edwin, at the hands of S. Paulinus. She lived thirty-three years in her
family, “very nobly,” says Bede, and then resolved to dedicate the rest
of her life to God. Her intention was to go to Chelles, in France, for
her training; and, for this purpose, she went into East Anglia to its
queen, her sister.

She spent a year in preparation for her final exile; but her purpose was
frustrated by a summons from S. Aidan, the Apostle of Northumbria, to
return to her own country and settle there. She obeyed at once, and was
placed by Aidan as superior over a few sisters in a small monastic
settlement on the north bank of the Wear. But she was there for a year
only, when she was called to replace S. Heiu, the first Abbess of
Hartlepool. This was in 649.

At Hartlepool, the Saint’s care was to introduce order and discipline,
which had, apparently, been relaxed under Heiu. Hither came her mother,
who passed the rest of her days under the rule and care of her daughter,
and there she died and was buried.

In some excavations carried on at Hartlepool on the site of the old
abbey, between 1833 and 1843, among a number of Anglo-Saxon tombs that
were discovered, some bore the names of Berchtgitha, Hildigitha, and
other members of the sisterhood.[5]

So great was Hilda’s reputation for spiritual wisdom, that when King
Oswy, in fulfilment of his vow, consecrated his daughter, Elfleda, to
Almighty God, as a thank-offering for his victory over Penda, King of
the Mercians, it was to S. Hilda’s care that he committed her.

Whether now or later is uncertain, but she had a second convent at
Hackness, where some very remarkable relics of the ecclesiastical
foundations of Hilda still remain.

In 658, the peace and security of Northumbria had been secured by the
final victory gained by Oswy over the Mercians, at Winwaed. Hilda at
once took advantage of the king’s vow to give a certain number of farms
to God, to secure Streaneshalch, now Whitby, for the establishment of a
new and larger monastery.

M. de Montalembert, the historian of Western Monachism, says that: “Of
all sites chosen by monastic architects, after that of Monte Cassino, I
know none grander and more picturesque than that of Whitby. Nothing now
remains of the Saxon monastery, but more than half the Abbey-church,
restored by the Percies in the time of the Normans, still stands, and
enables the marvelling spectator to form for himself an idea of the
solemn grandeur of the great edifice.... The beautiful colour of the
stone, half-eaten away by the sea-winds, adds to the charm of these
ruins. A more picturesque effect could not be imagined than that of the
distant horizon of azure sea, viewed through the gaunt, hollow eyes of
the ruinous arches.”

Here, for thirty years, the great Hilda ruled. She must have been a
woman of commanding character, and of no mean mental power, for she
exercised a really marvellous influence over bishops, kings and nobles.
They came to consult her, and received her advice with respect. “All who
knew her,” says Bede, “called her Mother, on account of her singular
piety and grace. She was not merely an example of good life to those who
lived in her monastery, but she afforded occasion of amendment and
salvation to many who lived at a distance, to whom was carried the fame
of her industry and virtue.”

The story went that before her birth her mother had dreamt that she had
in her lap a jewel that sent forth streams of light; and it was proudly
thought that this meant that she would nurse Hilda, precious as a gem,
and diffusing the light of divine truth through dark Northumbria.

Under Hilda’s charge at Whitby was the little Elfleda, daughter of Oswy,
who was to succeed her in the abbacy.

The monastery was a curious institution. It was double. There was a
community of women and another of men. There was, however, but one
church in which they met for prayer. If we may judge by the Celtic
monasteries elsewhere, a wall separated the monks from the nuns, so that
they could hear but not see each other.

The monastery for men under Hilda became a nursery for bishops. Thence
issued Bosa, who became Bishop of York,—Hedda, Bishop of Dorchester, but
afterwards translated to Winchester; Oftfor, Bishop of Worcester, and
John of Hexham,—all saints; also Wilfrid II., afterwards of York.

How these double monasteries were managed one would have been glad to
learn, but very few details concerning them remain.

At Whitby, where she had to govern both men and women, her powers of
organisation and control were conspicuous. But she had others under her
beside monks and nuns: she ruled a large number of serfs with their
families, attached to the soil and tilling it.

Amongst these was an old cowherd, named Caedmon. He was, as a serf, very
ignorant and uneducated, but he had rare natural gifts, long
unsuspected. He attended the carouses so dear to the beer-drinking
Saxons and Angles, but he was unable to take his part, whenever the harp
was handed to him and it was his turn to sing a ballad. On such
occasions, mortified, he had been wont to rise from his place, and
retire to his own reed-thatched cottage, where he slept beside the cows
in their stall.

But one evening, when he had done this, as he was lying among the straw,
and the oxen were beside him chewing the cud, and the air was sweet with
their breath, he fancied, half-asleep and half-awake, that he heard a
voice say: “Sing me something.”

Then he replied: “How can I sing? I have left the feast because I am so
ignorant that I cannot.”

“Sing, nevertheless,” he thought the vision said.

“But—what can I sing about?”

“Sing the story of the World’s Birth.”

Then, somehow, an inspiration came on him, and in the night, among the
cows, out of the straw, he raised his voice, and began to throw into
rude verse the story of Creation. It was very rugged, but very fresh,
and it welled up from his heart; in the morning he thought over the
lines he had composed, and during the day talked of his newly-acquired

The Abbess Hilda heard of it, and she sent for him, and he recited his
poem before her.

Whether at the time he twanged the harp we do not know; probably he drew
his fingers across the strings as he finished each line, so as to give
time for him to form or remember the next.

Now, in this poetry there was no rhyme, as we understand it. The musical
effect was produced by alliteration—that is to say, by the repetition of
some ringing consonant or broad diphthong, usually at the _beginning_ of
a word. If we understood Anglo-Saxon music, we should understand the
charm to the ear of this alliteration.

Hilda at once recognised the genius of the old cow-herd; she took him
into her household, and bade him devote himself to the cultivation of
his talent. Thus it is due to her that Anglo-Saxon poetry took its
rise—or, at all events, was recognised as literature deserving of being
preserved. Caedmon’s poems are the earliest specimens we have.

But Hilda, with real genius, saw at once in the faculty of the old
peasant a great means of conveying to the rude people the story of
Scripture and the lessons of the Gospel. They were quite incapable of
reading. Priests were few, and widely scattered. The people loved
ballads; they would hearken for hours, sitting over the fire, to a
singer who twanged the strings and then sang a stave or a line. They
loved a long story. It could not be too long for them, having no books,
nothing wherewith to relieve the tedium of the long winter evenings.

Now, thought Hilda, if we can run the Bible stories into ballad form,
these will be sung in every cottage and farm wherever a gleeman can go
certain of welcome; they will be eagerly listened to. So she gave to
Caedmon clergy who translated the Scripture narrative from Latin into
homespun Saxon. He listened, took his harp, the fire came into his grey
eyes, and he sang it all in verse. Ninety-nine out of a hundred other
women would have said, “This is very interesting, but the man must be
snubbed; he is only a keeper of cows, and he must be taught not to
presume.” Hilda, however, was above such pettiness: seeing a divine gift
of song, though granted to quite a common poor man, she at once
endeavoured to ripen it, and to turn it to a practical, good end. How to
seize an occasion, an opportunity, and make use of it, is not given to

Another instance of Hilda’s clear mind and sound sense was in the
settlement of the vexed question of Easter.

About that I shall have more to say when we come to the story of S.

The British-Irish Church did not observe Easter on the same day as the
Roman Church; and as the Mercians and Northumbrians had received their
Christianity from Iona, the metropolis of the Scottish Church, they kept
the festival at one time, when the men of Kent and Wessex kept it at
another. This produced discord at the very season when minds should be
awed and calm; and it was a constant source of bickering and religious
quarrels. The situation was intolerable, and, probably at the
instigation of Hilda, a parliament was convoked at Whitby in 664 to
settle the difficulty. This was the _Witenagemot_, composed of the
principal nobles and ecclesiastics of the country, and presided over by
the king.

Hilda was now fifty years old, and one would have supposed at that age
would have adhered with the utmost tenacity to the rule in which she had
been brought up, and which had been observed by her Father-in-God, S.
Aidan, and by S. Cuthbert, whom she revered as a saint and a prophet
inspired by the Divine Spirit. But she was a woman too sensible and too
forbearing to force her own likings on the Church, against what her
judgment told her was right. Pope Honorius had written in 634 to the
Irish, exhorting them “not to think their small number, lodged at the
utmost fringe of the world, wiser than all the ancient and modern
Churches throughout the earth.” Even in Iona great searchings of heart
had begun. S. Cummian had written to the abbot there, explaining how the
error arose whereby the two Churches were separated, and he entreated
the Celtic clergy to give way. “What,” he asked, “can be worse thought
concerning the Church, our mother, than that we should say, Rome errs,
Jerusalem errs, Alexandria errs, Antioch errs, the whole world errs; the
Scots and Britons alone know what is right.”

Hilda’s leanings were entirely to the Scottish side, but Oswy strongly
adopted the other, and the nobles and freemen, not caring much one way
or the other, held up their hands to express their willingness to
observe Easter at such time as pleased the king.

Hilda seems at once to have submitted, and to have introduced the
observance of the Roman computation at Whitby, but the northern bishops
withdrew, unconvinced and discouraged. Hilda was almost certainly alive
when Caedmon died, but she was not long in following him. For the last
seven years of her life she suffered greatly; then, says Bede, “the
distemper turning inwards, she approached her last day, and about
cock-crow, having received the Holy Communion, to further her on her
journey, and having called together the servants of Christ that were in
the same monastery, she admonished them to preserve evangelical peace
among themselves and with all others; and as she was speaking she saw
Death approaching, and—passed from death to life.” She died in 680.

[Illustration: S. ELFLEDA.]


                              _S. ELFLEDA_

When the terrible Penda had advanced into Northumbria, against Oswy,
destroying homesteads and harvests with fire, and butchering all who
fell into his hands, then the Northumbrian king sent presents to him,
and asked for peace. The fierce Mercian refused the presents offered:
nothing would satisfy him but the absolute subjection of the Northern
Kingdom. Then, in despair, Oswy vowed to God that, as the old Pagan had
rejected his gifts, he would dedicate his little one-year-old daughter
to Him, together with twelve farms, if He would bless his arms in

The odds were against Oswy. The host opposed to him was thrice as
numerous as his own. Ethelhere, King of the East Angles, had come to the
aid of Penda; and Odilwald, son of S. Oswald, who had been given an
underlordship of part of Deira, and who thought he ought to have
succeeded his father in kingship, went over to Penda.

The battle was fought on the Winwaed, near Leeds; the Mercians and their
allies in their confidence had incautiously put the river at their back.
Heavy rains filled it to overflow; it became a deep and boiling torrent,
cutting off retreat. The Mercians were defeated. A panic fell on them,
and as they fled they were swept away by the swollen river. Of the
thirty eorldormen who marched with Penda, hardly one survived. The King
of the East Angles and the savage old Mercian were among those who were
slain. Odilwald did not enter the battle. He was well aware that when
Bernicia had been eaten, Penda’s next mouthful would be Deira. He bore a
bitter grudge against Oswy, but for all that did not care to put the
knife into the hand of the Mercian king wherewith to have his own throat

A battle song was composed on the occasion, of which a snatch has been

        “In the river Winwaed is avenged the slaughter of Anna,
         The slaughter of Sigbert and Ecgric as well,
         The slaughter of Oswald and Edwin who fell.”

The battle was fought in 655, consequently S. Elfleda was born in 654.

Oswy faithfully kept his vow. He set apart twelve estates to be
thenceforth monastic property—six in the north and six in the south of
his double kingdom. He then surrendered the little Elfleda to be brought
up to the service of God.

Her mother was Eanfleda, daughter of Edwin, the first Christian King of
Northumbria. It was, in fact, her birth, on Easter Day, 626, which was
the occasion of the subsequent conversion of her father, and of his
subjects; and Eanfleda was the firstfruits of her nation to receive
baptism on the Whit Sunday following.

Oswy, the father of Elfleda, was a dissolute and murderous ruffian, who
in cold blood had murdered the gallant Oswin, King of Deira, the kinsman
of his own wife.

Oswy gave his daughter to S. Hilda, at Hartlepool.

In the furious and fratricidal wars which were waged in England by the
conquerors of the British, each kingdom was animated by a blind instinct
that the unity of the race should be effected somehow; but each
understood this only as by bringing the rest under subjection.

Elfleda is described by Bede as a very pious princess. She had a sister,
older than herself, Alcfleda, who had been married to Peada, son of the
ravager Penda. But Alcfleda bore no love to her husband, and had him
assassinated whilst he was celebrating Easter.

Two years after Elfleda had been placed at Hartlepool, S. Hilda obtained
a grant of land where now stands Whitby, but which was then called
Streaneshalch. She moved thither, and there constituted her famous
monastery. This was in 658.

With Hilda remained Elfleda till the death of the great abbess in 680.
On the death of Oswy in 670, ten years before, her mother Eanfleda came
there; but when Hilda died, the young Elfleda, and not her mother, was
elected to be the second abbess. As she was scarcely twenty-five, she
was guided and assisted by Trumwin, who had been Bishop of Witherne, but
had been obliged to leave his diocese by the unruly Picts, and he had
withdrawn to the monastery of Hilda to remain under her rule.

Like all the Anglo-Saxon princesses of the period who retired into the
cloister, Elfleda did not cease to take a passionate interest in the
affairs of her race and her country, and to exercise a very remarkable
influence over the princes and the people. When in 670 Oswy died he was
succeeded by his son Egfrid, as unprincipled a man as his father. In
674, at Easter, S. Cuthbert was drawn from his island and cell and was
ordained Bishop, with his seat at Lindisfarne, to rule the Northumbrian
Church, in the presence of the king, at York. It was then that Cuthbert,
knowing what was in the heart of the turbulent king, urged him to
refrain from attacking the Picts and Scots, who were not molesting the
Northumbrians. He would not, however, hearken. He had already despatched
an army under Beorf to wantonly ravage Ireland. This had, as Bede said,
“miserably wasted that harmless nation, which had always been friendly
to the English; insomuch that in their hostile rage they spared neither
churches nor monasteries.” The expedition against the Picts was
determined on against the advice of all his friends, and of the Bishop
of York, and of Cuthbert.

Elfleda was in great anxiety about her headstrong brother, and she went
to see Cuthbert concerning him. He and the abbess met, having gone by
sea to the place appointed for the interview. She threw herself at his
feet and entreated him to tell her what the issue would be—would Egfrid
have a long reign?

“I am surprised,” answered Cuthbert, “that a woman well versed, like
you, in the Scriptures, should speak to me of length of human life,
which lasts no longer than a spider’s web. How short, then, must life be
for a man who has but a year to live, and has death at his door!”

At these words Elfleda’s tears began to flow. She felt that the wise old
hermit saw that the mad as well as wicked expedition of her brother must
end fatally.

Presently, drying her tears, she continued with feminine boldness to
inquire who would be the king’s successor, since he had neither sons nor

“Say not so,” replied Cuthbert. “He shall have a successor whom you will
love, as you as a sister love Egfrid.”

“Tell me,” pursued Elfleda, “where can this successor be?”

Then he turned his eyes to the islands dotting this coast, and said:
“How many islands there be in this mighty ocean! Surely thence can God
bring a man to reign over the English.”

Elfleda then perceived that he spoke of a young man, Alcfrid, supposed
to be the son of her father Oswy by an Irish mother, and who had been a
friend of Wilfrid, and was now in Iona, probably hiding from his
brother, whom he could not trust.

The venerable Cuthbert was not out in his conjecture. On May 20th, 684,
Egfrid was drawn into a pass at Drumnechtan, in Forfar, was surrounded
by the Scots and Picts, slain, and the great bulk of his men cut to

“From that time,” says Bede, “the hopes of the English crown began to
waver and retrograde; for the Picts recovered their own lands, which had
been held by the English.”

Alcfrid at once left Iona, and was chosen king. He was a good and just
prince, much under the influence of Wilfrid and inclined to adopt Roman

It becomes necessary now to speak of a controversy that rent the unity
of the Church in England.

All Northumbria, Mercia and Essex had received the faith from Iona, the
monastic capital of the Scots, whereas Kent and Wessex had received it
from Rome.

Iona had been founded in 563 by S. Columba, an Irishman; and it was from
Iona that S. Aidan, the Apostle of Northumbria, had been sent.
Lindisfarne, the seat of the Bishops of Northumbria, was a daughter of

Now, there were certain differences between this Celtic Church and that
of Rome and Gaul.

In the first place, the Britons and Irish had been cut off from
communication with the rest of Europe by the troubles that afflicted the
Empire as it fell into ruin under the blows of the Barbarians.
Consequently they were unaware that a change had been agreed on in the
observance of Easter. It was discovered in 387 that the system of
calculating Easter was erroneous, and Pope Hilary employed one
Victorinus to frame a new cycle, which was thenceforth followed in the
Latin Church. But of this change the British and Irish Church knew
nothing; and when Augustine and his followers arrived in Kent they found
that the ancient Church of the Britons observed Easter on a different
day from themselves.

That was not all. The Celtic monks had a different tonsure or mode of
cutting of the hair from the Latin monks. Instead of shaving the top of
the head, and leaving the hair as a crown, they shaved the front of the
head from ear to ear. Now, the reason of the use of the tonsure among
the Celts was this. The cutting of the hair signified adoption, and
there is some reason to believe that every tribe or clan clipped its
hair in its own peculiar fashion. The Ecclesiastical tribe adopted the
shaving of the front of the head; and every one so shaven belonged in
the ecclesiastical clan.

When S. David settled in the valley where is now the Cathedral that
bears his name, there was an Irish Pict invader living in a camp hard
by. He had seized on that bit of Pembrokeshire. His name was Boia, and
he was a pagan. His wife was highly incensed at Christian monks settling
on their land and near at hand, and she tried to goad her husband to
murder them. But he was a good-natured man, and he absolutely refused to
do her will. Then she resolved to get her heathen gods to strike them
dead, and in order to gain the favour of the gods she must offer them a
sacrifice of one of her children. But she had none of her own; so she
called to her a little girl, a daughter of her husband by a former wife,
and told her she would cut her hair. She took the girl down into a sunny
place in a hazel grove on the slope of the hill, and there, with her
shears, cut her hair. Now, as cutting the hair was esteemed to be
adoption, by this act she had made the child her own; so she instantly
with the shears cut the girl’s throat as an offering to the gods. Now
the British clergy, by their form of cutting the hair, regarded
themselves as adopted into the family of God, or the Ecclesiastical

Augustine and the Latin clergy could not understand this. Instead of
arguing with the native Christians they denounced them. They called them
Judaisers because they observed Easter at the wrong time, which was
false; and they called the tonsure of the Celts that of Simon Magus,
which was nonsense.

There were other peculiarities. The British Church used unleavened bread
at the Eucharist, and the Latin Church at that time only such bread as
was leavened. Also, another high misdemeanour was that, instead of
employing a single collect before the Epistle and Gospel, there were
more than one said. In these two last particulars the Latin Church has
altered now her practice; in the matter of the unleavened bread, the
change took place in the tenth century.

Now, the matter of Easter was very vexing, for whilst those who followed
the Roman rule were singing Allelujah and were rejoicing, the Celtic and
Northumbrian and Mercian Christians were still keeping Lent. Precisely
the same thing occurs in Russia, where in English and Roman chaplaincies
Easter is kept whilst the Russians are still fasting.

This became a burning question when the Northumbrian kings married
princesses from the South. These had their own chaplains and kept Easter
at their time, whilst their husbands and the court and the people were
in the midst of Passion solemnities.

As to the matter of the tonsure, on which the Roman clergy made a great
noise, it was like asking a clan to change its tartan,—say the McDonalds
to be forced to adopt that of the Campbells.

Oswy had found the condition of affairs intolerable, as his own queen
followed the Roman rule, whilst he observed that of the Celtic Church.

Oswy had associated his son Alcfrid with him in the government of
Northumbria, and Alcfrid was much swayed by Wilfrid, a companion of his
age then living at the Court of Oswy, who had been to Rome, seen its
wonders and the splendours of the pontifical services in the old
basilica of S. Peter. He came back with his head full of what he had
seen, and utterly scorning everything British, even the Christianity of
his Northumbrian brethren. In his idea nothing would avail but the
conforming of the Church in Northumbria to Roman obedience and Roman

Oswy was induced to summon a council at Whitby to decide matters of
controversy. On the Scottish side were S. Colman, the Northumbrian
bishop, with his clergy; S. Hilda, followed of course by Elfleda; S.
Cedd, bishop of the East Saxons. On the Roman side was Agilbert, bishop
of the West Saxons, the Queen’s chaplain, Wilfrid, then only a priest,
one other priest, and a deacon. The King favoured the Celtic use,
Alcfrid the Latin.

Wilfrid was the chief speaker on the latter side, and he dexterously
appealed to Oswy’s fears. The Roman Church must be right, he said,
because S. Peter, its founder, held the keys of heaven. At once Oswy
quaked; he recollected his dastardly murder of Oswin. It would never do
for him not to make a friend of the doorkeeper of heaven. So he gave
way, and the Celtic bishops, deprived of his support, but unyielding and
unconvinced, withdrew.

It was now hoped that the Church would have peace, and the points of
difference would gradually disappear. S. Hilda, at Whitby, accepted the
Roman computation. But it was not so easy to satisfy a clergy and people
brought up in another school.

To make matters worse, Wilfrid was appointed Bishop of York, a man of a
violent, headstrong character, who, to begin with, refused to accept
consecration from bishops in the North with Celtic orders; but went
deliberately to Gaul to be ordained there, so as to cast a slur on the
Church of the people to rule over whom he had been called.

Wilfrid had no idea of persuasion, had not a spark of Christian love in
his composition; he could insult, browbeat, but not persuade. In his
diocese he roused revolt and provoked brawls, and was expelled from it,
not once only, but whenever he returned.

Now the new King Alcfrid had brought with him from Iona attachment to
the order of the Church of SS. Columba and Aidan. Elfleda inherited the
same reverence and love for these usages. But on the other side there
were strong political reasons which led men to think it would be well to
come to an arrangement with Canterbury and Rome. It was awkward to have
these differences, this cleavage, even in the royal palace. It was
unadvisable that the Angles of the North and of the Midlands should have
to apply to the Scots and Britons, their hereditary enemies, for their
bishops. If the Angles and Saxons could but agree in ecclesiastical
matters, they would be a more compact body to oppose Britons and Scots;
and, further still, it would be an element conducive to the much desired
unity of the English people. This ecclesiastical unity would be the
first step to the cessation of that internecine war between Northumbria,
Mercia, and Wessex, which tore the island in pieces and soaked its
fertile soil with blood.

Hoping that Wilfrid, now an aged man, would be softened by adversity, he
was suffered to return. To the new king, as well as to his sister, S.
Elfleda, Abbess of Whitby, Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury wrote, to
exhort them to receive Wilfrid with unreserved kindness. They consented,
and in 687 he reappeared at York; but it was to excite new storms in his
diocese, and he was again exiled in 691.

Alcfrid died in 705, and the Northumbrian crown passed to a prince named
Eadwulf. Wilfrid had taken advantage of the death of Alcfrid to return,
but was ordered to leave the country in six days. But Eadwulf was
dethroned, and Osred, a son of Alcfrid, aged eight, became King of
Bernicia. By some unexplained means Wilfrid was now, all at once, master
of the situation. Archbishop Berthwald of Canterbury had convoked a
synod that was to settle the disputes, and it met on the banks of the
Nidd. It was attended by the northern Bishops of York, Lindisfarne, and
Witherne, by Elfleda also, the Abbess of Whitby, and by Berchtfrid, the
regent of the kingdom during the minority of Osred. Archbishop Berthwald
read the letters of the pope on the points in dispute. But the bishops
were very unwilling to make way for so turbulent a person as Wilfrid.
Then it was that Elfleda stood forward, and in a voice which was
listened to as an utterance from heaven, she described the last illness
of her half-brother Alcfrid, and his death, and assured all that he had
then resolved to accept the papal decrees, which hitherto, when his mind
was clear, he had so vigorously rejected. “This,” said she, “was the
last will of Alcfrid the King. I attest the truth of it before Christ.”

Nevertheless the three bishops would not yield; they retired from the
assembly to confer among themselves, and with the Archbishop, and, above
all, with the sagacious Elfleda. It was due to her that a compromise was
effected. The monasteries of Ripon and Hexham were restored to Wilfrid
and with that he was to be content.

Shortly before his death, S. Cuthbert went to see Elfleda in the
neighbourhood of the great monastery of Whitby, to consecrate a church
she had built there. They dined together; and during the meal, seeing
the knife drop from the trembling hand of the old bishop, in the
abstraction of his far-away thoughts, she asked him what he thought
about, and he told her that he had had a glimpse of the future. She
urged him to eat more.

“I cannot be eating all day long,” he replied. “You must allow me a
little rest.”

On the death of Oswy, as already related, Elfleda’s mother had come to
Whitby and placed herself under the rule of her own daughter, and
Elfleda closed her eyes. She herself died in 716, at the age of
sixty-four. No account of her last illness has been transmitted to us.

Elfleda certainly played an important conciliatory part when minds were
heated with controversy. She was right undoubtedly. It was a mistake for
the Church in North England to hold to a usage that was founded on a
blunder. It was a mistake to persist in keeping Wilfrid, canonically
bishop of York, for many years out of his see. It was a political
necessity that all Englishmen should be united, at all events, in their
religious observances. That paved the way to future political unity.

              Pedigree of S. Hilda and S. Elfleda.

                            Ella, ===
                          king of  |
                          Deira,   |
                          559-588. |
                        |                           |
                        | Edwin, === S. Ethelburga  Acca === Ethelred
                  king, 616-633.  |    of Kent.           |  the
                                  |                       |  king of
                                  |                       |  Bernicia,
                                  |                       |  592-617.
                                +---+                  +----+
                                  |                       |
An Irish                          |                       |
   wife === Oswy,       === S. Eanfleda      Hereric  ===  Bregeswitha.
         |  king of      |                    d. 617.  |
         |  Bernicla,    |                             |
         |  641-670.     |                             |
         |               |                             |
         |               +---+             +-----------+------+
         |                   |             |                  |
      Alcfrid,               |             |                  |
    king, 685-704.           |             |                  |
                             |             |                  |
                        S. Elfleda,     Hereswitha,         S. Hilda
                        b. 654;           ===               b. 614,
                        Abbess Whitby   Ecgric,             d. 680.
                        680-716.        king of East Angles.

[Illustration: S. WERBURGA.]


                             _S. WERBURGA_

The words of Montalembert deserve to be transcribed and re-read, so true
are they as well as graceful.

“Nothing had more astonished the Romans than the austere chastity of the
German women; the religious respect of the men for the partners of their
labours and dangers, in peace as well as in war; and the almost divine
honours with which they surrounded the priestesses or prophetesses, who
sometimes presided at their religious rites, and sometimes led them to
combat against the violators of the national soil. When the Roman world,
undermined by corruption and imperial despotism, fell to pieces like the
arch of a _cloaca_, there is no better indication of the difference
between the debased subjects of the empire and their conquerors, than
that sanctity of conjugal and domestic ties, that energetic family
feeling, that worship of pure blood, which are founded upon the dignity
of woman, and respect for her modesty, no less than upon the proud
independence of man and the consciousness of personal dignity. It is by
this special quality that the barbarians showed themselves worthy of
instilling a new life into the West, and becoming the forerunners of the
new Christian nations to which we all owe our birth.

“Who does not recall those Cimbri whom Marius had so much trouble in
conquering, and whose women rivalled the men in boldness and heroism?
Those women, who had followed their husbands to the war, gave the Romans
a lesson in modesty and greatness of soul of which the future tools of
the tyrants and the Cæsars were not worthy. They would surrender only on
the promise of the consul that their honour should be protected, and
that they should be given as slaves to the Vestals, thus putting
themselves under the protection of those whom they regarded as virgins
and priestesses. The great beginner of democratic dictatorship refused:
upon which they killed themselves and their children, generously
preferring death to shame.

“The Anglo-Saxons came from the same districts, bathed by the waters of
the Northern Sea, which had been inhabited by the Cimbri, and showed
themselves worthy of descent from them, as much by the irresistible
onslaught of the warriors as by the indisputable power of their armies.
No trace of the old Roman spirit which put a wife _in manu_, in the hand
of her husband—that is to say, under his feet—is to be found among them.
Woman is a person, and not a thing. She lives, she speaks, she acts for
herself, guaranteed against the least outrage by severe penalties, and
protected by universal respect. She inherits, she disposes of her
possessions—sometimes even she deliberates, she fights, she governs,
like the most proud and powerful of men. The influence of women has been
nowhere more effectual, more fully recognised, or more enduring than
among the Anglo-Saxons, and nowhere was it more legitimate or more

Britain had been invaded, and subdued. From the wall of Antonine that
connected the Firth of Forth with the Clyde, to what was now to be
called the English Channel, all the east coast and centre of the island
was occupied by the conquerors from Germany. The Britons had been rolled
back into the kingdoms of Strathclyde, Rheged, Wales, and Cornwall and

The conquerors had coalesced into three great kingdoms—Northumbria,
Mercia, and Wessex.

From the island of Iona, missionaries of the Irish Church had effected
the conversion of the Northumbrians. Augustine with his handful from
Rome had introduced Christianity into the little subject Kingdom of
Kent. From Northumbria the disciples of Iona penetrated Essex and made
converts also there. But in Mercia Mid-England paganism was supreme, and
the terrible Penda made himself paramount from the Thames and Wash to
the Severn. The West Saxons were cowed.

But S. Oswald, the Northumbrian king, restored the older domination of
Northumbria, only to fall again. For thirty years Penda flung himself
with fury against the Northern kingdom, and devastated it with fire and
sword. Towards the end of his long reign he entrusted the government of
the Mid-Angles to his son Peada, who married Alcfleda, daughter of the
Northumbrian king, and at the same time received baptism from the hands
of the Celtic bishop Finan.

Thus Christianity began to infiltrate into Mid-England also from the
North and from the Celtic Church; and missionaries from Lindisfarne
followed him into his principality.

The savage old pagan Penda acquiesced—perhaps he thought it inevitable
that England should become Christian. The Britons to a man believed. All
Northumbria had submitted to the Cross; the conversion of the East
Saxons and of Wessex was in full progress. Penda raised no opposition,
but poured forth the vials of his scorn upon such as had been baptised,
and who did not live up to their baptismal promises. “Those who
despise,” said he, “the laws of the God in whom they believe, are
despicable wretches.”

But, notwithstanding the union by marriage between the families, the
rivalry between Mercia and Northumbria could not be allayed; it must be
decided on the battlefield. It was only when driven to desperation by
the encroachments and insults of Penda, that Oswy resolved to engage in
a final conflict with the man who had defeated and slain his two
predecessors, Edwin and Oswald. During the thirteen years that had
elapsed since the overthrow of Oswald, Penda had periodically subjected
Northumbria to frightful devastations. Oswy, knowing his weakness, when
the eighty-year-old pagan had got as far north as Bamborough, entreated
for peace, and sent him a present of all the jewels and treasures of
which he could dispose. Penda set them aside roughly, resolved, so it
was believed, to root out and destroy the whole Northumbrian people.
Then, in his despair, Oswy vowed—should God strengthen his hand and lead
him to victory—that he would give his infant daughter to God and endow
twelve monasteries. “Since the pagan will not take our gifts,” he said,
“let us offer them to One who will.”

The battle of Winwaed resulted in the complete rout of the Mercians and
their wholesale destruction, and Penda himself fell.

For the moment the ruin of Mercia seemed complete, and Oswy extended his
supremacy over the whole of it. For three years the Mercians endured
this foreign rule; but in 659 they surged up in revolt, drove the
Northumbrian thanes from the land, and raised Wulfhere, a younger son of
Penda, to the throne.

Under the able arm of this new king Mercia rose once more into a power
even greater than that under Penda. Oswy died in 670, and thenceforth no
Northumbrian king made any attempt to obtain the dominion over the Mid
or Southern English.

During the three years after the death of Penda, Oswy had poured
missionaries into Mercia. Peada had already brought the Irish monk Diuma
with him, and he became bishop in Mercia. He was followed by another
Irishman, Ceolach, a disciple of S. Columba. The third bishop was
Trumhere, a Northumbrian abbot, consecrated at Lindisfarne. His
successors, Jaruman and Ceadda, had also been ordained by the Scots.

In 658 Wulfhere had married Ermenilda, daughter of Ercombert, King of
Kent, and of his wife S. Sexburga. This was just before the revolt which
raised him to the throne. He does not seem to have been a Christian like
his brother Peada, but to have felt much like old Penda, his father.

By her he had four children—Werburga, Ceonred, Rufinus, and Wulfhad.

Under a pious mother, Werburga grew up in the nurture and admonition of
the Lord; and from an early age her great desire was to embrace the
religious life, and spend her days in the peace of the cloister. It was
a lawless and godless time. Men were coarse and cruel, the palace was a
scene of drunkenness and riot, from which her gentle spirit shrank. She
is described as being very lovely and sweet in manner. She daily
assisted with her mother at Divine Service, and spent much of her time
in reading and in prayer.

When she came of age to be married, her hand was sought by one Werebod,
a thane about the court, but she refused him.

Now we come to a story about which some difficulties exist. In the
twelfth century one Robert of Swaffham wrote an account of the death of
Rufinus and Wulfhad, sons of Wulfhere and brothers of S. Werburga. The
authority is late, too late to be trusted, as we do not know whence the
writer drew his narrative.

According to this story, when Rufinus and Wulfhad heard of Werebod’s
proposal, they scouted it, and told him to his face that he was not
worthy to have her. Werebod dissembled his mortification, and waited an
opportunity for revenge. The princes were then at Stone, in
Staffordshire, where Wulfhere had a palace.

One day Wulfhad was out hunting, when the stag he was pursuing brought
him to the cell of S. Ceadda or Chad, who exhorted him to receive the
faith of Christ and be baptised. Wulfhad answered that he would do so if
the stag he had been pursuing would come of its own accord, with a rope
round its neck, and present itself before him. S. Chad prayed, and the
stag bounded through the bushes to the spot, with the rope as Wulfhad
desired. S. Chad baptised the prince, and next morning communicated him.
Rufinus was led by his brother to receive holy baptism, and when Werebod
learned this, he told the king of it, and Wulfhere, in a fit of fury,
pursued his sons to the cell of S. Chad, and killed them with his own

The story as it stands is impossible. There is no early notice of it, so
that it reposes on a late tradition. Nevertheless, that there is a basis
of truth is most probable, if not certain. The Church of Kinver is
dedicated to SS. Rufinus and Wulfhad, and it stands under the Kefnvaur,
the great red sandstone ridge on which are earthworks where Wulfhere had
one of his strongholds. This is probably the site of the murder. That
the two princes in their youthful pride scouted the suit of Werebod and
insulted him is likely enough. That they had received lively impressions
of reverence for Christianity from their mother is also very probable.
That they had placed themselves under instruction by S. Chad, and had
been baptised by him, is also very likely. But that their father should
have killed them on that account is inadmissible. Werebod may have
poisoned his mind against his sons, and represented them as plotting
against him with the Northumbrian king and using Chad as an
intermediary, and he may have goaded Wulfhere into ordering their death
on that account; or there may have been a violent scene between them
which ended in the king killing them; or, more likely still, Werebod may
himself have waylaid and assassinated them whilst out hunting. It took
very little among the Anglo-Saxons to transform any one who died a
violent death into a martyr; and when two royal princes had been killed,
some excuse for regarding them as witnesses to the faith was sought and

The bodies of the princes were conveyed to Stone, so called because of a
memorial set up over them by Wulfhere, an inscribed pillar-stone; but,
moved by compunction, he founded there a religious house for women.
Wulfhere himself was baptised, and gave his consent to his daughter
retiring from the world. He also founded the great monastery of
Medehamstead, afterwards Peterborough, as some expiation for his crime.

Before this, Wulfhere had been constantly engaged in extending the power
of Mercia. He detached from Northumbria all the district south of the
Mersey, and with it got hold of Chester, of which place in later times
his daughter was to be regarded as patroness. He gained a hold on the
whole of the Severn valley and the Wye, our Herefordshire, over which he
set his brother Merewald as under-king. Then he fought the West Saxons
under Cenwalch in 661, and defeated them in a signal battle, and
extended his ravages into the heart of Wessex as far as Ashdown. Then he
turned his arms east along the Thames valley, and brought the East
Saxons and London under his sway. Still unsatisfied, he crossed the
river into Surrey, subdued it, and invaded Sussex and forced the King
Ethelwalch to submit, and to receive baptism. Werburga resolved to
retire to Ely where her great-aunt Etheldreda was abbess. Wulfhere and
his court conducted her thither, in great state.

We cannot now see Ely in anything like its ancient condition. Then the
entire district from Cambridge to the Wash was one broken sheet of water
dotted with islets. In places there were shallows where reeds grew
dense, the islands were fringed with rushes and willows. The vast mere
was a haunt of innumerable wild birds, and the water teemed with fishes.
The vast plain of the fens—which is now in summer one sea of golden
corn, in winter a black dreary fallow cut up like a chess-board into
squares by dykes—was then a tangle of meres, rank growth of waterweeds
and copses of alders and grey poplars. The rivers Cam and Nen lost
themselves in the waste of waters. Trees torn up, fallen into the water,
floated about, formed natural rafts, lodged, and diverted what little
current there was in the streams.

Here and there poles had been driven into the stiff clay that formed the
bottom of the swamp, cross-pieces had been tied to them, then platforms
erected six, ten feet above the surface of the water, and on these
platforms huts had been constructed of poles and rushes, in which lived
families, their only means of communication with each other and with the
firm land being by boat. On the water and by the water they lived,
tilling little bits of land left dry in summer but submerged in winter.

The islets were outcrops of fertile land, natural parks, covered by the
richest grass and stateliest trees, swarming with deer and roe, goat and
boar, as the water around swarmed with otter and beaver, and with fowl
of every feather and fish of every scale.

Of all these islets none could compare with Ely, not, as has been
supposed, named from the eels that were found about it, but from the
elves who were supposed to have chosen it for their own and to dance in
the moonlight on its greensward.

Better, purer beings than elves, had taken possession of this enchanted
isle—S. Etheldreda and her nuns; and it was through them that the wild
fen-dwellers, those who lived on platforms above the water, received the
rudiments of the faith, and were ministered to in their agues and
rheumatic paralysis.

Etheldreda did not found her monastery here till 673. As Wulfhere died
in 675, he can have accompanied his daughter there only very shortly
after Etheldreda’s settlement in the place. There is no stone anywhere
near, every block that has been employed on the glorious cathedral has
been brought from a distance, mostly from Barwell, in Northamptonshire.

Etheldreda constructed her monastery and church entirely of wood. Great
trunks had been split and these split logs formed the sides of her
church, and it was thatched with reeds from the marshes. The king came
by boat; the oars flashed in the sun, and the water rippled as the
vessels were driven through it to the landing stage. Werburga, eager,
stood looking forward to the lovely island that seemed to float on the
water; if, as is probable, she was born some time before Wulfhere became
king, she would then be between twenty-eight and thirty. At the
landing-stage was her great-aunt with her nuns, in black habits with
white veils; and no sooner had Werburga descended from the boat than
they struck up the _Te Deum_, and advanced, leading the way, singing, to
their wooden church.

Now followed the usual trials: Werburga was first stripped of her costly
apparel, her coronet was exchanged for a linen veil, purple and silks
were replaced by a coarse woollen habit, and she resigned herself into
the hands of her superior, her great-aunt, S. Etheldreda.

We know the form of the ceremonial, and the prayers used on such an
occasion, but we do not know who the bishop was who consecrated
Werburga.[7] She was led to the foot of the altar, after the reading of
the Gospel, and was then asked for two public engagements which were
indispensable to the validity of the act: in the first place, the
consent of her parents, and in the next her own promise of obedience to
himself and his successors. When this had been done he laid his hands
upon her to bless her and consecrate her to God. After prayers he placed
the veil on her head, saying, “Maiden, receive this veil, and mayest
thou bear it stainless to the tribunal of Christ before whom bends every
knee in heaven and on earth.”

By the rules of the Anglo-Saxon Church the taking of the irrevocable
vows was not suffered till the postulant had reached her twenty-sixth
year, but we cannot be sure that this rule prevailed so early. The
Celtic Church allowed it at the age of twelve.

When Wulfhere died, then Werburga’s mother came also to Ely, and on the
death of S. Etheldreda, in 679, her grandmother Sexburga, widow of
Ercombert, king of Kent, became abbess, and ruled till 699, when she
died, whereupon Werburga’s mother succeeded. At one time three
generations of princesses of the blood of Hengest and Odin were seen
together in the peaceful isle of Ely, wearing the same monastic habit,
and bowing in prayer in the same wooden church. Werburga lived long and
happily as a simple nun under her grandmother’s and mother’s kindly rule
and direction, till, on her mother’s death, she was summoned to take the
place of abbess.

It is very important for us to understand what was the moving principle
at this period which led to the foundation of so many religious
settlements. The Saxons and Angles had been a people living in war,
loving war, and regarding the cutting of throats and the destruction by
fire of every house and city as the highest vocation of a man. But when
they had occupied the greatest portion of Britain, and further, when
they had embraced Christianity, a change took place in their opinions.
They came to see that there was some charm in peace, and dignity in the
cultivation of the soil. But it was only after a struggle that they
could stoop to take hold of the plough and lay aside the spear. They
could be brought to this only by example, and it was this which the
monks and nuns issuing from their own princely, royal families showed

“In the monastic movement of this time,” says Mr. Green, “two strangely
contrasted impulses worked together to change the very aspect of the new
England and the new English society. The one was the passion for
solitude, the first outcome of the religious impulse given by the
conversion; a passion for communing apart with themselves and with God
which drove men into waste and woodland and desolate fen. The other was
the equally new passion for social life on the part of the nation at
large, the outcome of its settlement and well-doing on the conquered
soil, and yet more of the influence of the new religion, coming as it
did from the social civilisation of the older world, and insensibly
drawing men together by the very form of its worship and its belief. The
sanctity of the monastic settlements served in these early days of the
new religion to ensure for them peace and safety in the midst of
whatever war or social trouble might be disturbing the country about
them; and the longing for a life of quiet industry, which we see telling
from this moment upon the older English longing for war, drew men in
crowds to these so-called monasteries.”[8]

Wulfhere was succeeded in 675 by his brother Ethelred, a quiet,
unambitious king, who devoted his energies to the foundation of
monasteries, dotting them about Mercia with the object of softening and
civilising a people that had the instincts of the beasts of prey. He
entrusted his niece Werburga with a sort of general supremacy over all
the nunneries in his kingdom. She visited them, regulated them, and
brought them into order, before her mother’s death and her own
appointment to the abbacy of Ely. Thus she resided for a while at the
head of the communities of Weedon, Trentham, and Hanbury.

One incident of her story may be quoted.

It happened that a shepherd at Weedon was being brutally maltreated by
the steward. The daughter of a king flew to the spot, threw herself
between the overseer and the poor wretch he was beating and kicking, and
arrested his arm and thrust him back, and held him from his victim, till
his passion subsided, and he retired shamefaced.

Werburga died at a ripe age at Trentham, on February 3rd, 699.

Two centuries later, in order to save her remains from the Danes, they
were conveyed to Chester, where there was a collegiate church that had
been founded by her father at her request. Her body was, however, laid
in what is now the Cathedral.


                             _A PROPHETESS_

Among the most remarkable people of the twelfth century, one who stood
forth on the stage of history and exercised there a part of no little
importance, Hildegarde, is not to be passed over. Yet, when one comes to
study her, she is a person who strikes the student with perplexity. She
was, indeed, a woman possible at all times, but only possible as one of
significance in the century in which she lived.

She was one of those marvellous women who, indeed, occupied a somewhat
analogous place among the ancient pagan Germans—a seeress, a prophetess,
even a priestess, like Velleda or Ganna. She took up the same position
in the Christian Middle Ages, directed, ruled, foretold, threatened, and
was listened to in all seriousness. Popes, prelates, kings consulted
her, and all quailed at her threats and denunciations. She saw visions
and dreamed dreams; she endeavoured to throw rays of light to illumine
the past as well as the future. She thought with her inspired eye to
unveil the mysteries of creation. Uneducated, she dictated in Latin;
uninstructed, she wrote on natural history; unordained, she preached
sermons even to popes.

All kinds of people wrote to her on all kinds of subjects, and she
solved their difficulties, advised them in their perplexities, illumined
their ignorance.

She has had imitators in all after ages—Antoinette Bourgignon, Joanna
Southcott, Krüdner, and Madame Blavatski—but none achieved such success,
exercised so wide an influence, was treated with so much submission.

The Emperor, the princes, the nobility, the clergy, the people all
believed in her prophetic power, and accepted her commands without a
murmur. Her warnings and promises were received as divine revelations,
although she spared no one in her denunciations.

The cause for this unbounded respect has been a matter of dispute, but
is still inexplicable. That she was a coarse deceiver, who imposed
herself on the people as inspired, by a long-continued course of
deception, cannot for a moment be allowed by such as without prejudice
examine her writings and her conduct. She was made a tool of, and a
willing tool, by S. Bernard, to further the crusade he had at heart. But
when, in spite of prophecy and promise, that crusade ended in hideous
disaster and in dishonour as well, her influence with the people was not
in the least shaken.

At the court of Count Meginhard of Spanheim lived the knight Hildebert
of Böckelheim, his kinsman. Hildebert’s wife Mathilda bore him in 1098 a
daughter, who was named Hildegarde, on their estate a little above
Kreuznach on the Rhine. She was the tenth child, and her parents were no
little concerned how to provide for such a fry. The simple expedient in
those days was to send some of the family into monasteries and convents.
From an early date Hildegarde was destined to be a nun. She, together
with her kinswoman Chiltrude, the daughter of the count, were sent to be
reared by Jutta, the abbess of S. Disibod, a sister of Count Meginhard.
Jutta was an uneducated woman; learning was of no account in her
convent, and Hildegarde was brought up in ignorance of nearly everything
that a young woman of good family ought to have acquired even in the
twelfth century.

That Hildegarde was hysterical cannot be doubted, but hysteria is
precisely the most mysterious of all ailments. The phenomena connected
with it are the perplexity of physicians even at this day. Many and
ponderous works have been written upon it in England, France especially,
and Germany, but it remains still an unsolved puzzle.

From a very early age she saw visions, and when she spoke of them to her
playfellows, and they stared at her and did not appear to comprehend
what she said, she shrank into herself and refrained from communicating
to others the things that she saw and heard, or fancied she saw and
heard. Even at the age of five, this singular gift was noticed by her
parents, who could not understand it. Jutta made the girl learn the
Psalms in Latin, and she obtained some glimmer of an idea what the words
meant, but she did not even acquire a knowledge of the alphabet, nor
that of reading music.

Hildegarde was constantly unwell, but her aches and pains were
apparently due to hysteria and nothing else, and the suppressed desire
to be doing something, making her personality felt, which was impossible
as she was situated. When, finally, she was bidden write down her
visions, at once all her maladies left her.

“When, on one occasion, I was very much exhausted by my sickness,” says
she in her own biography of herself, “I asked the nurse who attended me
whether she saw things in any other way than with her eyes; she made me
no answer. Then I was frightened, and I dared say no more about it to
any one. But sometimes, inadvertently, when I was talking, I let slip
prophetic sentences. And when I was, so to say, full of this inner
vision, then I spoke much which was quite unintelligible to those about
me. And when the force of the ecstasy grew, and I spoke something about
it, more after the manner of a child than of a girl of my years, then I
blushed and cried, and wished heartily that I had held my tongue. But
out of dread of what would be said, I never dared to speak out openly as
to what I saw. However (Jutta) the noble lady with whom I was had
cognisance of this and consulted a monk of her acquaintance.”

To one in this condition, plenty of exercise, wholesome food, and hard
work, and her head under the pump if she gave way to her fancies, would
have been proper treatment. But in the twelfth century no one had any
conception that hysteria was a physical disorder.

Jutta died in 1136, and by unanimous vote of the sisters Hildegarde was
elected to be superior of the convent, when aged eight-and-thirty. She
had now full opportunity to give way to her desire to take that
prominent place to which she felt she was called. Two years, however,
elapsed before she had made up her mind to write her visions and
prophecies. There were difficulties in her way: she could not write, she
knew nothing of grammar, and she was perhaps dubious how the world would
accept revelations which were in shockingly bad grammar and spelling,
and displayed profound ignorance of the real meaning of Scripture.
However, she consulted one of the monks of the monastery of S. Disibod,
and he put the matter before the rest.

Now, as she was evidently sincere, and there could be no suspicion that
Hildegarde was deceiving them, they had to decide whether these visions
were from heaven or from hell. That there was a third alternative never
for an instant occurred to them: it could not, in the nature of things,
in the then condition of medical science, or rather ignorance.
Manifestly there was nothing bad in these revelations, consequently the
poor amiable monks were compelled to decide that they came from God.

The difficulty now arose how they were to be published. It was obviously
impossible to issue to the world the farrago of grammatic blunders, and
the confused nonsense of much that poured from her lips, and so she was
given secretaries to write down in decent Latin what they supposed she
meant to say. The Archbishop Henry of Mayence was called in before the
decisive step was taken. He was an amiable, peace-loving, but feeble
man, who was made archbishop in 1142. He gave his verdict in favour of
the revelations.

Hildegarde says of herself: “In 1141, when I was forty-two years old and
seven months, there came on me a dazzling light from heaven, and flashed
through my brains and heart and bosom. It was like a flame that does not
burn, but warms, just like a sunbeam. From thenceforth I had the gift of
the interpretation of the Scriptures, the Psalms, the Gospels, and the
books of the Old and New Testament. I had, however, no understanding of
the several words of the text, as to their syllables and cases and
tenses. When I have my visions—and I have had them from childhood—I am
not asleep, nor feverish, nor am I necessarily in retirement, nor do I
see with my bodily eyes, but with those of my soul.” Later she wrote: “I
am always in a fear and tremble, as I have no certainty within me. But I
lift up my hands to heaven, and allow myself to be blown about just like
a feather in the wind.”

Her first book was called by her _Scivias_; which was her contraction
for _Disce vias Domini_, “know the ways of the Lord.” Probably only the
first part of it was sent to the Archbishop of Mayence, who gravely
called his clergy into consultation over it. Then, when Pope Eugenius
III. came to Treves on his way to the Council of Rheims, he was shown it
by the archbishop; he gave it to the Bishop of Verdun and other
theologians to be examined. Afterwards, on their report, at the Council
in 1148, he read it himself to the bishops there assembled, and it was
received with applause.

S. Bernard was present, and he at once saw how much assistance he could
get in promoting his darling object, a new crusade, if he could enlist
Hildegarde in the cause; and he urged the pope to sanction and bless the
prophetess. This Eugenius did in a letter, in which he accorded her his
full permission to publish whatever was revealed to her. He could hardly
do other. These writings were well intended, purported to do good, and
that these visions and prophecies were the mere hallucinations of a
diseased mind never could have been supposed at the time.

Hildegarde now shifted her quarters. Troops of women had come to place
themselves under her direction, drawn by her fame. She settled on S.
Ruprechtsberg, near Bingen, where a suitable convent was erected for

But the good monks of S. Disibod asked a favour of her which she could
not refuse. They knew next to nothing about their founder, except that
he was one of the many Irish who had left their native isle in the fifth
century and had spread over Germany and Gaul. Would she through her
prophetic power, which looked backwards as well as forwards, write them
“by revelation” a life of their founder?

This she accordingly did, and the life she wrote was, she insists, given
her “by revelation.” It is a long and tedious work, a gush of weak and
watery verbiage. When reduced to its elementary constituents, it is
found to consist of absolutely nothing more than what was already
known—that Disibod came from Ireland, settled on the mount that bore his
name afterwards, and died there. But this was distended into a tract of
6,250 words.

Hildegarde’s “Natural History” is a very funny book. She did not pretend
to derive her knowledge of the property of things from inspiration, but
there can be little doubt that, at the time when it was issued, those
who regarded her prophecies as infallible, looked also on her
enunciation of the properties of natural objects as inspired.

She begins the book by likening the world to a human body: the earth is
the flesh, the rocks are the bones, the moisture of the stones is the
marrow, the slate rocks are the toe and finger nails, the plants are the
hair, and the dew is the perspiration. All plants are either hot or
cold; so also are all animals. This is the radical division between
them. The recipes given are profoundly silly. For a boil, house-flies
are to be taken, their heads cut off, and they are to be arranged like
herrings in a barrel round the swelling. A poultice is to cover all—but
it is the flies that bring the gathering to a head. Here is one of the
shortest of her botanical accounts—that of the meadow convolvulus. “The
herb is cold, it has not great powers nor is it of much use. But if a
man’s nails get scaly and crack, then let him grind up the convolvulus,
mix with it a little quicksilver and lay it on his nails, tie a bit of
rag round, and his nails will be lovely.”

Hildegarde wrote a commentary on the Rule of S. Benedict, another on the
Athanasian Creed. She propounded difficult questions in Scripture, and
solved them by her inner light, only making the difficulties greater,
and always missing the simple meaning of a passage.

S. Hildegarde had her troubles. She did not get on very well with the
Archbishops of Mayence. At the instigation of S. Bernard she inflamed
the minds of the people with a fever of zeal against the Saracens, and
exhorted to a crusade. This resulted in a frightful massacre of Jews at
Mayence, instigated by a monk named Badulf. The Archbishop Henry, a
mild, amiable man, did what he could to protect the unfortunate
Israelites, and opened to them his palace. But a papal legate appeared
on the scene, and the Chapter induced him to depose the archbishop. He
appealed to Rome, but the cardinals were bribed to declare against him.
He had chosen his confidential friend, Arnold of Selnhofen, to take what
money he could scrape together to Rome and plead his cause. Arnold made
the most solemn assurances of fidelity, and betrayed his trust. He used
the money entrusted to him to purchase the deposition of his friend and
his own advancement.

The people of Mayence were greatly incensed against Arnold, who was
thrust on them by the pope himself, without election by the Chapter, and
was invested by the pope the same day on which the friend was degraded
whom he had betrayed. On reaching Mayence Arnold did nothing to appease
the popular resentment; his court was magnificent, his servants were
splendidly liveried, and his table was noted for its luxury. Knowing
what a power Hildegarde was in the diocese, he wrote a hypocritical,
canting letter to her, beseeching her prayers. She replied with a sharp
admonition: “The living Light saith unto thee, Thou hast a form of zeal
only, which I hate. Cleanse restlessness from thy soul, and cease from
doing injustice to thy people. Rise up and turn to the Lord, for the
time cometh speedily.”

Seeing the ferment of men’s minds increase, Arnold resolved on leaving
Bingen, where he then was, to go into his cathedral city and put down
all resistance with a high hand. He purposed lodging the first night in
the monastery of S. James, outside the walls. Hildegarde warned him of
his danger, but he would not listen. A friend, the abbot of Erbach, also
cautioned him. “Bah!” scoffed the archbishop, “these Mainzers are dogs;
they bark, but do not bite.” When Hildegarde heard this, she said, “The
dogs have had their chains broken, and they will tear you to pieces.”

He scorned these warnings, and in June 1160 went to the monastery in
which he had purposed to lodge. But he had rushed, unwittingly, into the
jaws of the lion, for the abbot of S. James was his most deadly enemy.
The abbot at once sent tidings to the city that the archbishop was
there. A mob poured out of the city gates. The archbishop, hearing the
roar of their voices and the tramp of their feet, was paralysed with
fear; the rioters entered the abbey, rushed upon him, and a butcher
split his head with an axe. The dead body was dragged forth and cast
into a ditch, where the peasant women, coming to market, pelted it with
rotten eggs and bad cheese.

In 1150 Christian was archbishop, but he was in Italy. He was a man of
arms, who loved fighting, and had no relish for the duties of his
position. During his absence Hildegarde got into difficulties with the
administrator of the see. A certain young man had been buried in the
cemetery attached to her monastery who had incurred excommunication. An
order was sent her to dig the body up and throw it out of consecrated
ground. This she refused to do. She insisted that the young fellow had
been absolved and had received the last sacraments, and she furnished a
vision in which she had been forbidden to exhume the body. But the
administrator did not repose such confidence in her visions as to
submit. An interdict was laid on her convent, so that the sisters were
forbidden to recite their offices and to have the sacraments
administered there.

No priest in the diocese dared disobey, and the whole convent was struck
with paralysis. Hildegarde wrote, but could obtain no concession. Then
she appealed to the military bishop, who was in Italy. The administrator
sent his account of the affair, and the interdict was renewed. So time
passed. Hildegarde still obstinately, and rightly, refused to have the
body dug up and cast to the dogs. She wrote again to the archbishop, and
finally obtained a removal of the interdict. As she complained, there
had been no investigation into the facts—it had been a party move of
spite against herself.

Although in 1170 Hildegarde was aged seventy-two, her literary energy
did not fail. She still composed treatises, and continued to write
letters in answer to those she received, or to thunder against those
persons whose conduct deserved reprobation. Her correspondence extended
from Bremen and the Netherlands, to Rome, and even to Jerusalem. Her
denunciations of abuses, corruptions in the Church, were outspoken, and
she even prophesied the fall of the empire and a reformation in
religion; but the condition of affairs both in the state and in
Christendom were so bad, that it required but little foresight to tell
that such could not possibly last without a convulsion.

Her style is not without a certain amount of rude eloquence, but is
involved. Those who took down her words were clearly not always able to
make out the drift of what she said; but, indeed, she herself probably
could not wholly explain them. The words poured forth in a stream,
rolling her ideas about in confusion, and she was impatient of her
secretaries meddling over-much with her revelations and prophecies, lest
they should make sense indeed, but at the expense of their genuine

She had one of those eager, restless minds, which at the present day
would have made of her a platform oratress, a vehement writer in
magazines, and a reformer on school and hospital boards: always vehement
with purpose. Her activity, as already said, took several
directions—that of exhortation to repentance and good works, that of
deep theological research, and of Scriptural interpretation, that also
of the study of Natural History. But she did more than that: she wrote
hymns and composed melodies. She had never been taught musical science
as then understood. That was no loss to her. Her airs are as rambling
and incoherent as her prophecies.

She also pretended to speak in an unknown tongue, and to be able to
interpret this language. The study of this pretended new language is
suggestive and amusing. It has been taken in hand by Grimm, Pitra and
Roth. It presents an amusing jumble of words German, Latin, and
misunderstood Hebrew.

Hildegarde died at the age of eighty-two, in 1179. She has not been
formally canonised; she is, however, inserted as a saint in the Roman
kalendar on September 17th, the day of her death.

[Illustration: S. CLARA.]


                               _S. CLARA_

It has been often remarked how that a saint who initiates a reform, or
does some great work, has a faithful woman to assist, or carry on his
work, and complete it. What he designed for all alike, he was competent
only to apply to men, and she carried out his ideas among women. Thus S.
Bridget supplemented the achievements of S. Patrick, and S. Hilda those
of S. Aidan. Benedict’s twin sister Scholastica worked side by side with
her brother; and, as we shall now see, S. Clara was the spiritual sister
and helpmate of S. Francis. The moon, according to David, is an ever
faithful witness in heaven; and yet the moon wanes and for a time
disappears. The moon much resembles the Church.

                “The moon above, the Church below,
                    A wondrous race they run;
                 And all their radiance, all their glow,
                    Each borrows from its sun.”

As the moon wanes, so there are periods when the Church proves dull,
dark, and without much token of spiritual life; but this is for a time
only, and precedes a restoration of illumination. The period when S.
Francis appeared was one of those of darkness in the Church. The
enthusiastic faith of the barbarian kings and nobles, bred of the
self-devotion and earnestness of the first missionaries among them, had
led to their endowing the Church largely. This was done to enable her to
carry on the great work of evangelisation without care for the material
concerns of life. But it led to an unfortunate result. As the bishoprics
were wealthy, and seats of power, ambitious and greedy men of the noble
class rushed into Holy Orders for the sake of these material advantages,
and in entire disregard of the religious responsibilities attached to
such offices. And as with the prelates, so with the clergy. They seemed
to think that the things of Jesus Christ were best served by making
themselves comfortable; they were ignorant, careless, and worldly. The
great ecclesiastics made a display of their wealth, and exercised their
power tyrannically. “The Church might still seem to preach to all,” says
Dean Milman; “but it preached in a tone of lofty condescension, it
dictated rather than persuaded; but, in general, actual preaching had
fallen into disuse; it was in theory the special privilege of the
bishops, and the bishops were but few who had either the gift, the
inclination, or the leisure from their secular, judicial, or warlike
occupations to preach even in their cathedral cities; in the rest of
their dioceses their presence was but occasional—a progress or
visitation of pomp and form, rather than of popular instruction. The
only general teaching of the people was the ritual.

“But the splendid ritual, admirably as it was constituted to impress by
its words or symbolic forms the leading truths of Christianity upon the
more intelligent, or in a vague way upon the more rude and uneducated,
could be administered, and was administered, by a priesthood almost
entirely ignorant, but which had learned mechanically, not without
decency, perhaps not without devotion, to go through the stated
observances. Everywhere the bell summoned to the frequent service, the
service was performed, and the obedient flock gathered to the chapel or
the church, knelt, and either performed their orisons or heard the
customary chant and prayer. This, the only instruction which the mass of
the priesthood could convey, might for a time be sufficient to maintain
in the minds of the people a quiescent and submissive faith,
nevertheless, in itself, could not but awaken in some a desire of
knowledge, which it could not satisfy.... And just at this time the
popular mind throughout Christendom seemed to demand instruction. There
was a wide and vague awakening and yearning of the human intellect. Here
that which was heresy stepped in and seized upon the vacant mind.
Preaching in public and in private was the strength of all the
heresiarchs, of all the sects. Eloquence, popular eloquence, became a
new power which the Church had comparatively neglected or disdained,
since the time of the Crusades. The Patropassians, the Henricians, the
followers of Peter Waldo, and the wilder teachers at least, tinged with
the old Manichæan tenets of the East, met on this common ground. They
were poor and popular; they felt with the people, whether the lower
burghers of the cities, the lower vassals, or even the peasants and
serfs; they spoke the language of the people, they were of the people.
All these sects were bound together by their common aversion to the
clergy—not only the wealthy, worldly, immoral, tyrannical, but the
decent yet inert priesthood, who left the uninstructed souls of men to

It was when, apparently, the bulk of the population was hesitating
whether to break away from the Church, and when certain ardent spirits
began to question whether the Church could be the Kingdom of God,
wherein appeared so much of evil, that almost simultaneously two men
stood forth to arrest the evil. The story was told afterwards that the
pope in a dream had seen the Church under the form of a building
tottering to its fall, but that two men rushed forward and sustained it.
These men were Dominic and Francis. The former founded an order of
preachers, by which Christendom in the West was overspread with a host
of zealous, active, and devoted men, whose function was popular

Francis, seeing the universal greed after lands and money, took the vow
of poverty, made that a capital point in his institution. The grasping
after possessions should never curse his society, and he donned, and
made his disciples don, the poor, coarse dress of the common labourer,
to show that they were to be ever of the people, and for the people,
even for the lowest. And he aimed first of all to encourage piety—the
striving of the soul after God—and to show that within the Church that
flame could burn brightest and give out most heat. But he taught as
well. It was due to his great desire to bring home to the people the
truth of the Incarnation, that he devised the _crèche_ of Christmas, and
composed the first Christmas carols. And he was a preacher—fervent,
inspired, convincing. His heart so overflowed with love, that even birds
and beasts were attracted to him, and his love extended to them—“his
sisters and brothers,” as he termed them.

The story of the conversion of S. Francis, the wealthy merchant’s son,
is well known. He was a young man, just at the age when the deepest
feelings of man’s nature begin to make themselves articulate. One
evening he was revelling with his companions of the same age with
himself. When supper was over, the merry party dashed out of the hot,
lighted room into the open air. The dark indigo-blue vault of heaven
overhead was besprent with myriads of stars, and Francis suddenly
halted, looked up, and remained silent in contemplation of this wondrous

“What ails you, Francis?” asked one of the revellers.

“He is star-gazing for a wife,” joked another.

“Ah!” said Francis gravely, “for a wife past all that your imagination
can conceive.”

His soul with inarticulate cravings strained after something higher than
a merchant’s life behind a counter, a nobler life than revelling and
drunkenness. Then probably he first conceived the idea of embracing
poverty, and of devoting his whole life to his poor brothers.

The first great gathering of the Order he founded was in 1212, and that
same year saw the establishment of a sisterhood in connection with the
Society. It came about thus:—

Favorino Scefi was a man of noble family in Assisi, given to the
profession of arms, and a good swordsman; his wife, Hortulana, had
presented him with three daughters, Clara, Agnes, and Beatrix, but no

One day—it was Palm Sunday—in the before-mentioned year, when Clara was
aged eighteen, she and her mother were present when Francis preached.
The effect of his sermon on her young heart was overwhelming and
ineradicable. From this moment she resolved to leave the world and its
splendours, and the prospect of marriage, and to devote her whole life
to God and to the advancement of His kingdom.

What she was to do, what God’s designs were, all was dark before her;
only in her was the intense longing to place herself in His hands, that
He might use her as He saw fit. And it appeared to her that her desire
had been known and her self-offering accepted. As already said, it was
Palm Sunday, and the custom was for the bishop to bless the palms that
were presented him by the deacon, and to distribute them among those who
came up in single file to the altar steps. Clara, shy and retiring, hung
back. The bishop’s eye rested on her. All at once he stepped down into
the nave, the acolytes bearing their tapers before him, and carrying a
palm branch, he placed it in the hands of the shrinking maiden.

To her it was as a consecration.

In the evening she ran to the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Francis
and his disciples were installed; she fell on her knees and implored to
be received, and given work to do. In a paroxysm of devotion she plucked
off her little ornaments, and tore away her rich dress.

Francis, unable as he was unwilling to refuse her offer of herself, cast
over her a coarse habit, and she was enrolled in the ranks of the
Champions of Poverty.

But where was the young girl to be put? He had no other female
adherents. He accordingly took her to the Benedictine nunnery of S.
Paolo, where she was to remain till he had considered what to do with

The parents of Clara were indignant and annoyed when they learned what
she had done, and they endeavoured by every means to induce her to
return to them. They even employed violence. She escaped from them to
the altar, and laid hold of the cloth that covered it. They tried to
drag her away, but she clung with such tenacity as to tear the very
cloth to which she clung.

Clara now removed to another convent of Benedictins, S. Angelo di Panso,
where she spent a fortnight in prayer and silence, considering the step
she had taken.

At the end of that time her sister Agnes, two years younger than
herself, came and entreated to be allowed to remain with her. The father
was very angry, and called the members of the family together to consult
on the matter. Nothing, however, could be done; the two girls were

In the meantime S. Francis was busy preparing a dwelling for them near a
little church of S. Damian that he had restored. When this was complete
he removed them to it. Many girls and even women now joined the sisters,
and constituted a little community. Francis was appealed to for a rule
by which they might form their lives, but this he was unwilling to give.
Let them, said he, take Clara herself as their example.

Presently, little Beatrix arrived. She could not bear to be alone in the
now desolate home, she yearned to be with her sisters. She also was
accepted. After the death of her husband Hortulana also joined them, so
that mother and daughters were united again.

As the fundamental rule of Francis was absolute poverty, his brothers
were obliged to beg their bread. They went round the town and country
with sacks, asking for scraps of food; and as it would not be seemly for
the sisters of the house at S. Damian to do the same, the friars were
constrained to divide their crusts with them.

Gregory IX. very sensibly objected to the friars going in and out of the
convent, and he forbade it. “Very well,” said Clara; “if holy brothers
may not minister to us the Bread of Life, they shall not provide us with
the bread that perishes,” and she refused the crusts and broken meat
they had collected on their rounds. What was to be done? The whole
convent would starve. In a few days the Poor Clares would be dead. An
express was sent to the Pope. Gregory could defy an emperor, and that
such an one as Frederick Barbarossa; but he was no match for an
obstinate woman. He gave way.

The rule imposed on the sisterhood by S. Clara was one of dreary
penance. Their services in church were to be without music, even on the
high festivals. She would not allow those who were ignorant to learn to
read, so that to such these services were unintelligible.

In fact, extravagance marked all she did. She did not suffer the sisters
ever to interchange a word with each other without permission, and they
were all shut up in their convent, which they might not leave. It is
true that S. Francis did slightly modify some of this severity. But his
own rule of absolute poverty was a mistake. He intended it as a protest
against the money and land grabbing which prevailed, not among laymen
only, but among ecclesiastics, and also among the monks; but he went too
far. He turned his friars into mere beggars. If he had insisted that
they should be poor and work for their livelihood, that would have been
well; but to employ them as tramps, begging from door to door, and
sponging on the honest, hard-working people, was a fatal mistake, and
led to very bad results.

So also Clara, in the hope of keeping her sisters devoted only to the
service of God, dissuaded, nay, forbade, reading. In place of
cultivating the intellect—a splendid gift of God—she made those under
her direction bury their talents.

Insensibly, the Manichæan heresy had penetrated all minds, and made men
and women think that the body was evil and must be tortured and bullied,
and all that was human trampled underfoot, that the soul alone should be
cared for. The result was the production of hysterical, ecstatic beings,
who were helpless to do anything for themselves, and were, so far as
their minds went, idiots.

S. Clara’s work would have been worse than useless, positively
mischievous, had it not been for one thing. S. Francis, in order to
extend religion among the people, had instituted a third branch of his
institution, of which the second was that of the Poor Clares. This third
order comprised men and women living in the world—in fact, a great guild
of pious people, observing very simple rules, which bound all together
in the service of God, His Church, and the poor and sick. This spread
like wildfire: everywhere men and women, husbands and wives, young men
and girls, rich and poor, nobles and merchants, day-labourers and
needlewomen, joined this community, encouraged each other in good works,
and learned, by knowing each other, to lose class exclusiveness.

Inevitably the charge of the female members of the third order devolved
on the Poor Clares. Then other duties sprang up. There were plenty of
little orphan girls adrift; these had to be cared for, and the Clares
took charge of them. The devout desired to have their daughters taught
by them, and they were constrained to open schools,—and thus to
cultivate their own minds, and abandon the rule of silence, or at least
to modify it. Consequently the order of Poor Clares did a great deal of
good, but not in the way in which S. Clara desired.

The time was one of furious intestinal war in Italy between the factions
of Guelph and Ghibelline, and there were far more women than men, as the
latter had fallen. Children were left without fathers, wives lost their
husbands, girls were deprived of their natural protectors, and the
convent served as an asylum for these unfortunates, who otherwise would
have succumbed.

In 1220 occurred a scene bearing some resemblance to that of the last
meeting of S. Benedict and his sister. S. Clara felt a great desire to
be with S. Francis and to eat with him; but he constantly refused. At
length his companions, seeing how this troubled her, said to him,
“Father, it seems to us that this sternness is not in accordance with
Christian charity. Pay attention to Clara, and consent to her request.
It is but a small thing that she desires of you—just to eat with her.
Remember how that, at your preaching, she forsook all that the world

S. Francis answered, “As it is so in your eyes, so let it be. Let the
feast be held at the Church of the Portiuncula, for it was in that that
she took the vows.”

When the appointed day arrived, S. Clara went forth from her convent
with one companion, and came to the place appointed, and waited till
Francis should arrive. After awhile he appeared, and he caused their
common meal to be prepared on the grass. He seated himself beside Clara,
and one of his friars beside the nun who had attended S. Clara. Then all
the rest of the company gathered about them.

During the first course S. Francis spoke of God so sweetly, so tenderly,
that all were rapt in ecstasy, and forgetting their food, remained
wondering and thinking only of God.

When the repast was ended, Clara returned to San Damiani greatly
comforted. This was her only meeting, for other purposes than those of
ghostly counsel, with her friend and father.

S. Francis died in 1226, six years after the meeting; but Clara lived on
for more than a quarter of a century after his decease.

Concerning the austerities practised by S. Clara it is unnecessary to
write: a knowledge of them would provoke disgust; but they have probably
been vastly exaggerated, for had they been what is represented, she
could not have lived forty-two years of self-torture. As she died she
was heard murmuring that she saw our Lord surrounded with virgins
crowned with flowers, and that one, whose wreath was “like a windowed
censer,” bowed over her and kissed her.

She died in 1257.

We cannot say of S. Clara that she originated a great work of utility.
She supplemented the undertaking of S. Francis, and carried his
extravagances to a further extreme. But she was sincere, she held to her
purpose; and although her foundation was one void of common-sense and
right principles, yet, because well intended, it worked itself into one
of utility, and continues to the present day in the Latin Communion
doing good service.

[Illustration: S. THERESA.]


                              _S. THERESA_

The most beautiful and pathetic female figure that stands out in the age
of the great convulsion which rent Europe into two religious camps, is
that of Theresa of Avila: beautiful, because of her exquisitely pure and
sincere character and strength of purpose; pathetic, because all her
saintliness, all her energies, were directed in a false channel, and to
build up what crumbled to pieces almost as soon as the breath left her

S. Theresa was born at Avila, in Spain, in the province of the same name
and the kingdom of Castile, 1515. Her parents belonged to the class of
gentry, and were well connected, but not wealthy.

“To know Avila,” says Miss G. C. Graham, in her book _Santa Teresa_, “to
wander through its streets, to watch the sun rise and set over the
sombre moorlands beyond the city walls—is greatly to know Teresa. In one
of its fortress-houses, where on the shield over the gateway the
bucklers of the Davilas were quartered with the rampant lion of the
Cepedas, she was born and passed her childhood. In the cathedral which
looms over the city walls, half church, half fortress, she worshipped
and gazed with ardent eyes, and with a thrill of wonder and terror, into
the dim mysteries of its roof. In the quiet cloisters of the Encarnacion
she passed the greater part of her life of peace and contemplation.
These time-stained stones, these silent cloisters—all that remains in
outward bodily form of that strangely complex age, which produced her
and the gentle San Juan de la Cruz, so different from her in character
and tendencies, together with Philip II., the gloomy and conscientious
bigot who championed both—shaped and moulded her existence, shut in and
controlled her life. Most meet background for her whose whole life was
to be one long battle, this city of warriors and knights—their very
memory all shadowy.”

Her father was twice married, and Theresa was the eldest daughter by the
second wife, who bore him seven sons and two daughters. By his first
wife he had two sons and a daughter. She says of this family, “They were
all bound to one another by a tender love, and all resembled their
parents in virtue except myself.”

The young men for the most part went to the “Indies” to carve out
fortunes for themselves, but always looked back wistfully and with love
to the old home and the dear sisters and parents there. There was much
that was grand and full of promise in ancient Spanish life—great
domestic attachment, simplicity, integrity, and self-respect, together
with a dauntless spirit and a love of adventure. But a fatal darkness
came over it. The liberal and democratic institutions of the country
were destroyed by the King’s ambition of obtaining absolute power; and,
worst of all, the Inquisition was suffered to scotch and kill all free
intellectual life.

Theresa from an early age was full of vital, intellectual and spiritual
energies, but none of these was allowed an outlet. With her
extraordinary powers, and with her indomitable will, had her energies
been directed to expand in practical good works, she might have
transformed the position of her countrywomen.

It was, perhaps, impossible for Theresa to revolutionise the position of
women in Spain; the thought of attempting such a thing did not occur to
her. So she did the only thing that seemed possible—immure them; that
they might not gossip, nor fritter their lives in visiting and

To return to her biography.

Her favourite brother, Rodrigo, four years older than herself, was her
companion in play. Along with him she pored over an old book of the
Lives of the Saints and Martyrs. “When I saw the martyrdom which they
had suffered for God,” she wrote in after years, “it seemed to me that
they had bought the enjoyment of God very cheaply, and I longed to die
like them. Together with my brother I discoursed how it would be
possible to accomplish this. We agreed to go to the land of the Moors,
begging our way for the love of God, there to be beheaded; and it seems
to me that the Lord gave us courage even at so tender an age, if we
could have discovered a means of accomplishing what we desired. But our
parents seemed to us the great obstacle.” It is said that the two
children actually started, carrying with them provisions for the
journey. She was then only six or seven. They got out of the town and on
to the bridge, where their uncle, who was jogging into Avila on
horseback, saw them, stopped and asked what they were about, and whither
going. He at once took them home again.

After her mother’s death her father took her to the convent of the
Encarnacion. Her elder sister had been married in 1531, and there was no
one to look after her at home. In the peaceful retreat of the convent
she remained for a year and a half, till, falling ill, she was sent
home. A visit she paid during her convalescence to her sister Maria, the
wife of a Castilian gentleman who had a country house two days’ journey
from Avila, determined her vocation. Half-way lived her uncle, Pedro de
Cepeda, in an old manor-house. He was a grave, formal gentleman, without
wife and children, who attended to his estate, and read only religious
books. The young girl stayed the night in his house, and the old man
asked her to read aloud to him one of his favourite books of devotion.
Out of courtesy she concealed her distaste, and read to him in the
evening. She remained there more than one night, probably because not
strong enough to proceed upon her journey, and every evening continued
the reading. She says: “Although the days I stayed with him were few,
such was the effect the words of God I read and heard had on my heart,
and the good companionship, that I began to understand the truth—that
all was nothing, and that the world was vanity, and that everything
ended speedily.” She prosecuted her journey after this rest, but her
mind was working out the solution of her own destiny. She saw life under
a new aspect.

She made up her mind to become a nun, though without any very sincere
vocation. Her father gave his consent, and she entered the convent of
the Encarnacion as a novice.

The sisterhood was easy-going and numerous. So many men at this period
went to the New World, that women abounded, and having nowhere else to
go, settled into convents for their convenience, and not for the sake of
devotion. “The discipline,” says Miss Graham, “was not severe; in its
atmosphere of relaxation and secularism, worldly rank was as potent as
in this century: no strict, demure sisterhood that of the Encarnacion,
where nearly a hundred merry, noisy, squabbling, sometimes hungry and
chattering, women made the best of a life forced on them.”

It was a convenient, harmless sort of pension for middle-aged ladies who
were single; but, of course, not quite suited to young girls without a
vocation. The sisters went about, paid visits, received friends, just as
in an hotel. All would have been well enough had they been given
definite work—the education of poor girls, Sunday-schools, nursing the
sick, the care of orphans—but they had nothing to occupy their time or
their minds except the choir offices in Latin, which they did not

For a while Theresa fell in with this sort of life, frivolity and
religion mixed in equal proportions—frivolity bred of idleness. But it
did not satisfy her; it was not what she wanted. She was full of impulse
and had a soul desirous of better things. Not for a moment did the
thought dawn on her that these good women might be made useful in their
generation. A woman is hardly ever an innovator, and the notion of
innovation never entered the mind of Theresa. The only course that she
could take was to make the enclosure of the nuns strict, and to impose
silence on their flow of silly talk. Consequently she brooded on the
idea of a reform, and a reform in this direction.

Theresa returned to the Encarnacion after a serious catalyptic attack,
on Palm Sunday, 1537. She was then about twenty-two; and twenty-five
years of her life were spent within its walls in spiritual and physical
troubles, all produced by the same cause—having nothing worthy of her
powers to occupy her.

Through all these years this grand woman, full of practical commonsense,
with fervent devotion to God in her heart, fired with desire to do
something for Him, with a really wonderful tact and charm of manner that
was irresistible, had been chafing at her impotence.

Talking with a friend one day, she heard that certain nuns of the
Carmelite Order, to which the Encarnacion belonged, had gone back to
observance of the primitive rule. What that primitive rule was she did
not know; but the friend, a widow lady, said: “How should you like to
join me, and become barefooted nuns, and help me to found a convent of
this sort?” The idea fired the brain of Theresa, and she went to the
Superior to ask permission to start a convent of the strict rule. The
Superior and Provincial gave their consent after great hesitation, and
arranged that the new house should contain thirteen nuns, and enjoy a
fixed revenue. But here S. Theresa interposed; she positively refused to
have a revenue. The house must be founded in absolute poverty.

“As soon as our intention began to get wind in the town, there arose
such a storm of persecution as is quite indescribable. The scoffs, the
jeers, the laughter, the outcries that this was a ridiculous, fantastic
undertaking, were more than I can speak of.”

The Provincial, thinking it would not do to run counter to popular
opinion, changed his mind, and refused to permit the foundation.

“In the meantime I was in very bad odour in the house where I was,
because I wished to draw the enclosure more tight. The sisters said that
I insulted them, and that God was served well in their convent, and that
it would be far better for me to devote my energies to procuring money
for that house already existing than to found a new one. Some even
wanted to put me in prison, and there were but few who took my part.”

After about six months she persuaded her sister with great secrecy to
buy her a house in Avila. Then, delighted to have a mystery to play
with, she set to work to prepare for turning this house into a convent
of barefooted Carmelites. Happily for her she obtained the favour of the
bishop, and also a papal brief; and then very secretly, on S.
Bartholomew’s Day, 1562, she and a few intimates moved into this house.
All went on smoothly till after dinner. Theresa had lain down for her
_siesta_, when the house was disturbed by the arrival of a messenger
from the convent of the Encarnacion with peremptory orders for her
return as well as that of two of the nuns she had persuaded to follow
her. The convent was in wild excitement. She was obliged to return, but
she was able to hold her own; she had the papal brief to display.

What follows is comical. The town council and the cathedral chapter were
convulsed at the news. The mayor sent messages about to convoke a grand
assembly of the city council to decide what was to be done, and orders
to Theresa to leave the house. But she was resolute. Then, when the town
council was baffled, the mayor endeavoured to effect a compromise, being
much put out at a woman having defied all the city magnates. But she
flourished in his face the brief and an authorisation from the bishop,
and he returned defeated. The city magnates in high dudgeon appealed to
the sovereign, Philip II., and Theresa was obliged also to send a
delegate to court to plead her case. The opposition dragged on for a
year, but in the end Theresa carried her point. It was not worth the
storm in a teacup raised.

This was the beginning. Even in Spain it was felt that a change in
monastic life was necessary.

But reform assumed the direction of recurrence to severe asceticism, a
phase as out of date as could well be conceived, and which accordingly
flickered for a while, and then expired.

Theresa was delighted to enlist some earnest friars in the cause, and
they reformed the Carmelite monasteries on the same lines as those she
had pursued with the convents.

In her own account of how she founded her various establishments, she

“I lived five years in the convent of S. Joseph at Avila, after I had
founded it; and I think that they were the most quiet years of my life.
I there enjoyed the tranquillity and calmness which my soul has often
since longed for.... The number in the house was thirteen, a number
which I was resolved not to exceed. I was much delighted at living among
such pure and holy souls, for all their care was to serve and praise our
Lord. His Divine Majesty sent us everything necessary without our
asking; and whenever we were in want—and that was seldom—their joy was
all the greater. I praised the Lord for giving them such heroic virtue,
and especially for endowing them with indifference to what concerned
their bodies. I, who was their Superior, never remember to have been
troubled with any thought in this matter, because I firmly believed that
our Lord would not be wanting to those who had no other wish than how to
please Him. With regard to the virtue of obedience, I could mention many
things which I here saw in them. One at present recurs to me. One day a
few cucumbers were given to us, and we were eating them at our meal. The
cucumber that fell to my share was rotten inside. I called one of the
sisters, and to prove her obedience, bade her plant it in the garden.
She asked if she should plant it upright or sideways; I said ‘sideways,’
and she immediately did so, without the thought occurring to her that it
must decay. Her esteem for obedience was so superior to her natural
reason, that she acted as if believing that what I ordered was proper.”

In course of time, the eager, active mind of Theresa formed a new
scheme. She had now a convent of discalced nuns; she was resolved to
have also a monastery of discalced friars. The General of her Order came
to Avila from Rome; she explained to him the reform she had effected,
and her desire to extend the reform to monasteries of men. He
acquiesced, and gave her permission to form such a society if she could.
“I was now,” says she, “much consoled at having his licence, but much
troubled at having no friars ready to begin the work, nor any secular
ready to start the house. Here was I, a poor barefooted nun, without the
support of any one but our Lord, furnished with plenty of letters and
good wishes, but without the possibility of putting my wishes into

However, she wrote to the General of the Jesuits at Medina, and he and
the rest of the fathers of that Society took the matter up very warmly,
and did not desist till they had obtained from the bishop and
magistrates licence for the foundation of such a monastery as S. Theresa

“Now, though I had a licence, I had no house, nor a farthing wherewith
to buy one; and how could a poor stranger like me procure credit, had
not the Lord assisted us? He so ordered that a virtuous lady, for whom
there had been no room for admission into S. Joseph’s convent, hearing
that another house was about to be started, asked to be admitted into
it. She had some money, but not enough to buy the house with—only
sufficient for the hire of one, and to pay our travelling expenses. And
so we hired one; and without any other assistance we left Avila, two
nuns from S. Joseph’s and myself, with four from the relaxed convent of
the Incarnation, and our chaplain Julian d’Avila.”

They reached Medina del Campo on the eve of the Assumption, 1567, at
midnight, and stole on foot with great secrecy to the hired house. “It
was a great mercy of God that at such an hour we met no one, though then
was the time when the bulls were about to be shut up which were to fight
next day. I have no recollection of anything, I was in such a scare and
anxiety. Having come to the house, we entered a court, the walls of
which were much decayed. The good father who had hired the house was
short-sighted, and had not noticed how unfit the place was to be made an
abode for the Blessed Sacrament. When I saw the hall I perceived that
much rubbish would have to be removed, and the walls to be plastered.
The night was far advanced, and we had brought only a few hangings
there, I think, which was nothing for the whole length of the hall. I
knew not what was to be done, for I saw that this was not a fit place
for an altar to be erected in it. However, our Lord was willing that
this should be done immediately, for the steward of the lady had in the
house several pieces of tapestry and a piece of blue damask, and we were
allowed the use of them. When I saw such good furniture, I praised our
Lord. But we knew not what to do for nails, and that was not the time
when they could be bought. We began to search for some on the walls, and
at length procured enough. Then some of the men put up the tapestry
whilst we swept the floor; and we made such haste, that when it was
daylight the altar was ready, a bell was put up, and immediately mass
was said. This was sufficient for taking possession, but we did not rest
till the Blessed Sacrament was placed in the tabernacle, and through the
chinks of the door opposite the altar we heard mass, having no other

When daylight came S. Theresa was aghast to see how ruinous the house
was: the hall, which she had hastily converted into a chapel, was so
full of cracks that the Blessed Sacrament was exposed to the sight of
those who passed in the streets, and she saw that the repairs of the
dilapidated mansion would cost money and take time. She was much
dispirited, for she began to fear that she had undertaken what she had
not the power to carry out—her intention being to make this a convent of
nuns, and then to found, if possible, in the same town, a monastery for
reformed Carmelite friars.

“In this trouble I passed a great part of the evening, till the Rector
of the Society (of Jesus) sent a father to visit me, and he consoled me
greatly. I did not tell him all my troubles, but only that which I felt
at seeing ourselves in the street. I spoke to him of the necessity of
having another house for us, cost what it might, wherein we might dwell
till this one was repaired. I recovered courage also at seeing so many
people come to us and none of them accuse me of folly, which was a mercy
of God, for they would have done quite right to take away from us the
Blessed Sacrament. In spite of all the efforts made to obtain another
house, none could be found to be let in the old town, and this gave me
great anxiety night and day; for though I had appointed men to watch and
guard the Blessed Sacrament, yet I was fearful lest they should fall
asleep, and so I got up in the night myself to guard it at a window, and
by the clear light of the moon I could see it very plainly.

“About eight days after, a merchant, seeing our necessity, and living
himself in a very good house, told us we might have the upper part of
it, where we might live as in a private house of our own. He also had a
large hall with a gilt ceiling, and this he gave us for a church.”

Others came forward and assisted, and the upper story of the merchant’s
house was fitted up for their reception.

Shortly after she began to see her way towards obtaining friars for her
reformed Order. There was in Medina an excellent priest, named Antonio
de Heredia, who had assisted her greatly. He told her that he desired to
enter the Carthusian Order. This did not please Theresa; she entreated
him to delay a year the execution of his design, and she then confided
to him her plan. He was pleased with it, and to her great delight
offered to be the first friar of her reformed society. Shortly after,
she met S. John of the Cross, who was also at the time thinking of
joining the Carthusians. She intercepted him, and persuaded him to
become a discalced Carmelite. “He promised me he would do so if the
business did not prove too tedious. When I now saw I had two religious
to commence the work with, it seemed to me that the matter was
accomplished, although I was not entirely satisfied with the Prior; and
thus some delay was caused, as well as by our not having any place for
commencing our monastery.”

In 1568, the Lady de la Cerda, sister of the Duke of Medina Sidonia,
wrote to S. Theresa, offering to found a house of discalced Carmelite
nuns in her own town, Malagon. This lady knew Theresa well; it was with
her when left a widow that the saint had spent six months. Theresa at
once went to Malagon with some of her nuns, and took possession of the
house provided for them.

Four or five months after, whilst S. Theresa was talking to a young
gentleman of quality, he most unexpectedly offered her a house he
possessed in Valladolid, with a vineyard attached to it. She at once
accepted the offer. But when she arrived at Valladolid, she found that
the place was unhealthy, and altogether unsuitable. Indeed, all the nuns
fell ill in it, and they were obliged to move to another house given
them by the sister of the Bishop of Avila.

Shortly after this, a young gentleman of Avila hearing that S. Theresa
wished to found a monastery of discalced friars, offered her a house he
possessed in the little village of Durvello. She accepted it, and then
started to see it, with a nun and her chaplain, Father Julian d’Avila.

“Though we set off at daybreak, yet as the place was not much known, no
one could direct us; and thus we walked all that day in great trouble,
for the sun was very hot, and when we thought we were near the place, we
found that we had still a long way to go. I shall never forget the
fatigue and wanderings of that day. We arrived at the place just before
nightfall, and when we went into the house, we found it was in such a
state that we could not possibly spend the night in it, partly because
it was filthy, and partly because there were many people about. It had a
tolerable hall, two chambers with a garret, and a little kitchen: this
was the building we were to use as our friary. I thought that the hall
might be turned into a chapel, the garret into a choir for the friars,
and the two chambers into a dormitory. My companion could not endure the
thought of making a monastery of the place, and said, ‘Mother, no soul
can possibly endure such a place as this, however great the sanctity.
Speak no more about it.’ Father Julian did not oppose me when I
expressed my intentions, though he was of the same opinion as my
companion. We spent the night in the church, though, so great was our
fatigue, we stood more in need of sleep than of vigil. Having arrived at
Medina, I spoke with Father Antonio, and told him everything. He
answered: ‘I am ready to live not only in such a house as that which you
describe, but even in a pigsty.’ Father John of the Cross was of the
same mind.”

The consent of the bishop and of the provincial of the Order having been
obtained, the two fathers went off to the wretched house, and took
possession of it on the first or second Sunday in Advent, in 1568.

“The following Lent, as I was going to Toledo, I passed that way, and
came on Father Antonio sweeping the door of the church, with his usual
cheerful countenance. ‘What is this, father?’ said I; ‘what has become
of your dignity?’ ‘The time in which I received honour was time ill
spent,’ he answered.

“When I went into the church along with two merchants, friends of mine,
who had come with me from Medina, I was astonished to see how the spirit
of the Lord reigned there. So many crosses and skulls were there that
the merchants could do nothing but weep. Never shall I forget one little
cross placed over the holy water stoup, on which was fixed a paper
crucifix, and which produced more devotion than one elaborately carved.
The garret formed the choir. It was high in the middle, so that they
could stand up there to say the Hours; but to enter it they were obliged
to stoop low. They had made two little hermitages on each side of the
church, so low that they could only sit or lie down in them, filled
inside with hay because it was cold. Their heads almost touched the
roof. Two little windows commanded the altar, and two stones served them
as pillows. Here was also a store of crosses and skulls.

“They went about preaching among the ignorant people of the
neighbourhood, and soon gained such a reputation that I was greatly
consoled. They went to preach six or eight miles off, through snow and
frost, barefoot, for they wore no sandals then; afterwards they were
ordered to wear them. When they had done preaching and confessing they
returned late to their meal, but with such joy that all their sufferings
were not accounted by them. As for food, they had sufficient, for the
people of the neighbouring villages provided them with more than they

We need not follow the Saint through the course of many years,
travelling from place to place, never quiet anywhere, always on the
move, with a scheme in her head, which she obstinately determined on
carrying out in spite of obstacle and opposition.

When the boys were throwing stones at the frogs in a pond, according to
the fable, one old toad raised its head above the water and said to the
urchins, “What is fun to you is death to us.” The unfortunate women whom
S. Theresa immured, the unhappy men whom she persuaded to reduce
themselves to poverty and imbecility, might have addressed her in the
same words. She, herself, was always engaged on carrying her projects
into effect;—absolutely useless though they were, nay, worse than
useless, for they were positively mischievous. But those confined in her
convents were afforded no work to do, no reading to occupy their minds;
they were reduced to a condition of stupidity. The brain is given to man
and woman to be exercised, the will to be directed; neither to be

What was the reform to which Theresa devoted all her energies? To induce
certain men and women to kick off their shoes. She aimed at restoring
the Carmelite Order to the old severity of its rule at a time when
everywhere practical, energetic, active men and women were needed to do
good work for God and their fellow-men, instead of moping in cells,
looking at blank walls, and shivering with cold in compulsory idleness.
She deliberately engaged many hundreds of the Lord’s servants in the
work of burying their talents.

We cannot but admire her enthusiasm and her singleness of purpose,
whilst we regret that neither were aright directed. The bishops and
magistrates had sense to see that her undertakings were foolish and
unprofitable, but she was able to override their opposition, by her
strength of purpose and appeal to higher authorities who thought fit to
humour her. She was engaged on making one of her many foundations at
Burgos in 1582; but was vigorously opposed by the archbishop, who
refused to give his licence.

Sick and disgusted, she left Burgos at the end of July 1582, with Anne
of S. Bartholomew and Theresa of Jesus, her niece, and went to Palencia,
Medina del Campo, and Alba, which latter place she visited at the
request of Maria Henriquez, Duchess of Alba, who was anxious to meet
with her. There she died. The account of her death we have from the pen
of her companion at the time, the Venerable Anne of S. Bartholomew.

“Having arrived on our way at a little village, she found herself, at
night, much exhausted, and she said to me, ‘My daughter, I feel very
weak; you would do me a pleasure if you could procure me something to
eat.’ I had only some dry figs with me; I gave four reals to a person
wherewith to buy eggs at any price, but none were to be procured. Seeing
her half dead, and being in this distress, I could not contain my tears.
She said to me, with angelic patience, ‘Do not afflict yourself, my
daughter; God wills it, and I am content. The fig you have given me
suffices.’ On the morrow we arrived at Alba; our holy mother was so ill
that the doctors despaired of her recovery. I was dreadfully troubled to
lose her, and especially at her dying at Alba. I was also grieved to
think that I must survive her, for I was very fond of her, and she was
very tender towards me; her presence was my great consolation.... I was
with her for five days at Alba, in the greatest affliction. Two days
before her death, when I was alone with her in her cell, she said to me,
‘At last, my daughter, the time of my death is come.’ These words
touched me to the quick; I did not leave her for a moment, but had
everything that was needed brought to me.

“Father Antony of Jesus, one of the first Discalced Carmelites, seeing
how tired I was, said to me on the morning of her death, ‘Go and take a
little something or other.’ But when I left the room she seemed uneasy,
and looked from side to side. The father asked her if she wished me to
be recalled. She could not speak, but she made a sign of assent. I
therefore returned, and on my re-entering the room, she smiled, and
caressed me, drawing me towards her, and placed herself in my arms. I
held her thus for fourteen hours, all which time she was in the most
exalted meditation, and so full of love for her Saviour, that she seemed
as though she could not die soon enough, so greatly did she sigh for His
presence. As for me, I felt the most lively pain till I saw the good
Lord at the foot of the bed of the saint, in inexpressible majesty
accompanied by some saints, ready to conduct her happy soul to heaven.
This glorious vision lasted the space of a credo, and entirely resigned
me to the will of the Lord. I said, from the bottom of my heart, ‘O my
God, even though I should wish to retain her on earth, I would resign
her at once to Thee!’ I had scarcely said these words when she expired.”

Ribera gives the following account of her death:—“At nine o’clock on the
same evening she received, with great reverence and devotion, the
sacrament of Extreme Unction, joining with the nuns in the penitential
psalms and litany. Father Antony asked her, a little after, if she
wished her body, after her death, to be taken to Avila, or to remain at
Alba. She seemed displeased at the question, and only answered, ‘Am I to
have a will in anything? Will they deny me here a little earth for my
body?’ All that night she suffered excessive pain. Next day, at seven in
the morning, she turned herself on one side, just in the posture in
which the blessed Magdalen is commonly drawn by painters. Thus she
remained for fourteen hours, holding a crucifix firmly in her hands, so
that the nuns could not remove it till after her death. She continued in
an ecstasy, with an inflamed countenance, and great composure, like one
wholly taken up with internal contemplation. When she was now drawing
near her end, one of the nuns, viewing her more attentively, thought she
observed in her certain signs that the Saviour was talking to her, and
showing her wonderful things. Thus she remained till nine in the
evening, when she surrendered her pure soul into the hands of her
Creator. She died in the arms of Sister Anne of S. Bartholomew, on
October 4th, 1582; but the next day, on account of the reformation of
the calendar, was the fifteenth of that month, the day now appointed for
the festival. The saint was sixty-seven years old, forty-seven of which
she had passed in religion—twenty-seven in the monastery of the
Incarnation, and twenty in that of S. Joseph.”

Such was the end of this remarkable woman, whose life was so full of
energy directed to no better purpose than that of a squirrel in a
revolving cage.

That was not her fault; it was due to the age in which she lived and to
the paralysing influence of the Inquisition in the land, which allowed
no independence of thought or of action.

We have seen the utter helplessness of Spain exhibited in the War with
the United States of America. Not a token of ability, not a sign of
fresh vigour appeared—only feebleness, degeneracy, helplessness. It is
to this that the Inquisition has reduced Spain. It has destroyed the
recuperative, vital energy out of the character of the people.

The Latin races seem doomed by God to go down, and His hand is
manifestly extended to bless and lead on the great Anglo-Saxon race. But
this can only be so long as that race fulfils its high mission, as the
civilising force in the world, and it maintains the eternal principles
of Freedom, Justice, and Integrity.

[Illustration: SISTER DORA.]


                             _SISTER DORA._

In S. Hildegarde and S. Theresa we have had instances of two women of
wonderful energy and talent, yet who achieved nothing of moment, because
their powers were not directed into a channel where they might have been
of use. S. Hildegarde, indeed, by her letters, threatening, warning,
reproving, did a certain amount of good—not much; those misdoers who
received her epistles winced and went on in their old courses.
Nevertheless, she was a testimony to a worldly age of the higher life
set before it in the Gospel than that world cared to follow.

S. Theresa, with a heart on fire with love to God, and inexhaustible
energy, spent herself in founding little nunneries, in which the sisters
were, as a reform, to wear sandals instead of shoes, and in which their
natural gifts were to be reduced to a general level of incapacity, by
giving them nothing practical to do, and by forbidding them the
cultivation of their intellects.

Sister Dora, whose life I purpose sketching, strikes me as having been a
double of S. Theresa, in the same persistency, determined will,
fascination of manner, and cheerfulness. Neither could be happy until
afforded scope for the exercise of her powers—but how different were the
ends set before each!

A very charming biography of Sister Dora has been written by Miss
Lonsdale, which, whilst admirably portraying her character, has given
some umbrage by painting the people among whom she laboured in darker
colours than they conceive is justified, and by a little heightening of
the dramatic situations. She fell, moreover, into certain inaccuracies
in matters of detail, and some of her statements have been contradicted
by persons who were qualified to know particulars. What mistakes were
made in that book have in part been corrected in later editions. But I
cannot find that there was any accusation made of the authoress unduly
idealising the character of Sister Dora. On the contrary, some think
that Miss Lonsdale, in her desire not to appear a panegyrist, has given
Sister Dora a tincture of unworthy qualities that were really absent
from her character.[10]

In compiling this little notice I have taken pains to obtain information
from those who knew Sister Dora intimately, and have had Miss Lonsdale’s
book subjected to revision by such as live in Walsall or knew Walsall
when she was there; and I trust that it is free from inaccuracies and

In addition to Miss Lonsdale’s Memoir two others appeared, one in Miss
J. Chappell’s _Four Noble Women and their Work_, and another by Miss
Morton, which has been characterised in the _Walsall Observer_ as a
“caricature.” Neither of these afford any additional matter of value.

In addition again, but of very different value, is a notice by Mr. S.
Welsh, Secretary to the Hospital at Walsall, in which she worked, and
who was introduced to her the day after she arrived there, and was on
terms of intimacy with her till her death. His notice is in the _General
Baptist Magazine_ for 1889. This is the more valuable as being the
testimony of one belonging to a different religious communion, and is,
therefore, sure to be impartial. Another corrective to mistakes is
contained in _Sister Dora: a Review_, published at Walsall in 1880. I
enter into all these particulars at some length because Miss Lonsdale’s
book was qualified by the Rev. Mark Pattison, Sister Dora’s brother, as
“a romance,” and because some people have considered it to be so,
misdoubting the main facts because of the inaccuracies in detail
fastened on at the time. Mr. Mark Pattison was unqualified spiritually
for entering into and appreciating his sister’s character; and of her
life in Walsall he personally knew absolutely nothing. A cold and soured
man, wrapped up in himself, he could not appreciate the overflowing
charity and devotion of his sister.

Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison was born on the 15th January, 1832. She was the
youngest daughter, and the youngest child but one, of the Rev. Mark
Pattison, who was for many years Rector of Hauxwell, near Richmond, in
Yorkshire. She inherited from her father, who was of a Devonshire
family, that finely proportioned and graceful figure which she always
maintained; and from her mother, who was the daughter of a banker in
Richmond, those lovely features which drew forth the admiration of every
one who had the pleasure of knowing her.

Her father was a good and sincere man of the Low Church School. He was
thoroughly upright and strict. It is not a little painful to see how Mr.
Mark Pattison, his son, late Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, in his
_Memoirs_ can hardly mention his father without some acrimonious remark.
But in that sour effusion there is little of generous recognition of any
one. Even his sister, the subject of this memoir, comes in for
ill-natured comment.

Dora and her sisters, like a thousand other country parsons’ daughters,
were of the utmost use in their father’s Yorkshire parish. A French
gentleman who had lived a while in England and in the country, said to
me one day: “Your young ladies astound me. They are angels of mercy.
They wear no distinguishing habit; one does not see their wings, yet
they fly everywhere, and everywhere bring grace and love and peace,—in
my country such a thing would be impossible.”

These Pattison girls were for ever saving their pocket-money to give it
away, and they made it a rule to mend and remake their old frocks, so as
not to have to buy new ones out of their allowance for clothes, so as to
have more to give. Even their dinners they would reserve for poor
people, and content themselves with bread and cheese.

“Giving to others, instead of spending on themselves, seems to have been
the rule and delight of their lives,” says Miss Lonsdale.

A pretty story is told of her at this time. A schoolboy in the village,
who was specially attached to her, fell ill of rheumatic fever. The
boy’s one longing was to see “Miss Dora” again, but she was abroad on
the Continent. As he grew worse and worse, he constantly prayed that he
might live long enough to see her. On the day on which she was expected,
he sat up on his pillows intently listening, and at last, long before
any one else could hear a sound of wheels, he exclaimed, “There she is!”
and sank back. She went to him at once, and nursed him till he died.

Her beauty was very great: large brilliant brown eyes, full red lips, a
firm chin, and a finely cut profile. Her hair dark, and slightly
curling, waved all over her head; and the remarkable beauty and delicacy
of her colouring and complexion, added to the liveliness of her
expression, made her a fascinating creature to behold. Her father always
called her “Little Sunshine.”

But the most remarkable feature about her was to be found in her inner
being. An indomitable will, which no earthly power could subdue, enabled
her to accomplish an almost superhuman work; yet at times it was to her
a faculty that brought her into difficulties. She was twenty-nine before
she was able to find real scope for her energies, and then she took a
bold step—answered an advertisement from a clergyman at Little Woolston,
in Buckinghamshire, for a lady to take the village school. Her mother
had died in 1861, and she considered herself free from duties that bound
her to her home. Her father did not relish the step she took, but
acquiesced. She went to Woolston, and remained there three years, during
which time she won the hearts, not of the children only, but of their
parents as well. She had to live alone in a cottage, and do everything
for herself; but the people never for a moment doubted she was a real
lady, and always treated her with great respect. Not thinking a little
village school sufficient field for her energies, she resolved to join a
nursing sisterhood at Redcar, in Yorkshire. It was a foundation made by
a clergyman of private means, the Rev. J. Postlethwaite, and there were
in it no vows made except one, limited in period, of obedience to the
Superior. The life was not quite suited to her with her strong will, but
it did her good. She learned there how to make beds and to cook. “At
first she literally sat down and cried when the beds that she had just
put in order were all pulled to pieces again by some superior authority,
who did not approve of the method in which they were made.” But it was a
useful lesson for her after-life in a hospital. She was there till the
early part of 1865, and then was sent to Walsall to help at a small
cottage hospital, which had already been established there for more than
a year.[11]

Walsall, though not in the “Black Country,” is in a busy manufacturing
district, chiefly of iron. At the time when Sister Dora went there it
contained a population of 35,000 inhabitants. It is now connected with
Birmingham, by almost continuous houses and pits and furnaces, with
Wednesbury as a link.

As fresh coal and iron pits were being opened in the district round
Walsall, accidents became more frequent, and it was found impracticable
to send those injured to Birmingham, which was seven miles distant;
accordingly, in 1863, the Town Council invited the Redcar Society to
start a hospital there. When the Sister who had begun the work fell ill,
Sister Dora was sent in her place, and almost directly caught small-pox
from the out-patients. She was very ill, and even in her delirium showed
the bent of her mind by ripping her sheets into strips to serve as
bandages. She was placed in one small room, with a window looking into
the street, of which the blinds were drawn. The most absurd rumours got
about that this was the Sisters’ oratory, where they had set up an image
of the Virgin Mary; and stones and mud were thrown at the panes of
glass, and the Sisters were shouted after in the streets. The committee
of the hospital were interrogated, and denied that any religious
services were conducted in an oratory. Indeed, no formal oratory would
have been allowed; but no doubt the committee were unable to prevent the
poor Sisters from saying their prayers together in a room if they agreed
to do so, and in community life common prayer is a requisite.

A boy who had received an injury was taken to the hospital. One night,
when he was recovering, Sister Dora found him crying. She asked him what
was the matter. At last it came out: “Sister, I shouted after you in the
street, ‘Sister of _Misery_!’”

“I knew you when you came in,” she said; “I remembered your face.”

This is the true version of a story Miss Lonsdale gives.

Mr. Welsh says: “When the cottage hospital—which was the second of its
kind in England—was opened, the system of voluntary nursing was unknown;
the only voluntary nurses heard of then being those who had gone out to
the Crimea with Miss Florence Nightingale; consequently the dress of the
Sisters was uncommon, and the name of Sister strange. Therefore, a good
deal of misunderstanding was the result; but in course of time people
began to judge the institution by its results. Still, when Sister Dora
came to the hospital, there lingered doubts and suspicions that the
nurses were Romanists in disguise, come to entrap and ruin souls rather
than cure bodies. But Sister Dora, by her frank, open manner, disarmed
suspicion, while the sublime eloquence of noble deeds silenced
slanderous tongues, put all opposition to shame, and won for the
hospital the confidence of the public, and for herself the admiration
and affection of the people.”

In 1866 she had a serious illness, brought on by exposure to wet and
cold. She would come home from dressing wounds in the cottages, wet
through and hot with hurrying along the streets, to find a crowd of
out-patients awaiting her return at the hospital, and she would attend
to them in total disregard of herself, and allow her wet clothes to dry
on her.

This neglect occurred once too often; a chill settled on her, and for
three weeks she was dangerously ill. Then it was that the people of
Walsall began to realise what she was, and the door of the hospital was
besieged by poor people come to inquire how their “Sister Dora” was.

At some time previous to her going to Walsall, her faith had been
somewhat disturbed by one who ought not to have endeavoured to subvert
her trust in Christianity. This gave her inexpressible uneasiness and
unhappiness. There seems to have been always in her a keen sense of
God’s presence, and confidence in the efficacy of prayer. She now went
through this terrible inner trial. An unbelieving artisan who was once
nursed by her, and had observed her critically and suspiciously, said,
when he left, “She is a noble woman; but she would have been that
without her Christianity.” There he was mistaken. It was precisely her
fast hold, which she regained, of Christianity that made her what she

Happily she had one now of great assistance to her as a guide—a very
remarkable man, the Rev. Richard Twigg, of St. James’s, Wednesbury.
Every Sunday morning, when able, she walked over to St. James’s to Early
Communion. She found in Mr. Twigg a man of deep spiritual insight, and
with a heart overflowing with the love of God, and consumed with a
desire to win souls to Christ. He was a man with the spirit, and some of
the power, of an Apostle—a man who left his stamp on Wednesbury, that
will not soon be obliterated.

The struggle through which she had passed, the sense of _need_ in her
own soul for all that the Christian Church supplies in teaching and in
Sacraments had a great strengthening and confirming effect that never
left her; and the love of Jesus Christ became an absorbing personal
devotion that nothing could shake. It was this—the love of God—that made
her what she was, and endure what she did.

Some time after this she became deeply attached to a gentleman who was
connected with the hospital, and he was devotedly fond of her, and
proposed to her. But he was an unbeliever. Again she had to pass through
an agonising struggle. She felt, as Mr. Twigg pointed out, that to unite
her destinies with him was to jeopardise her recovered faith, and she
was convinced that to be true to her profession, above all true to her
Master, she must refuse the offer. She did so, and probably felt in the
end that peace of mind which must ensue whenever a great sacrifice has
been made for duty.

Miss Lonsdale represented Sister Dora as somewhat domineering over the
managing committee of the hospital. But this is incorrect. A
Nonconformist minister says: “The noble object (_i.e._ the hospital) had
moved men of every shade of politics, and every form of religious
belief, to the work, and there have been passages in its history not
pleasant to remember, but not one of these in the remotest degree
involved Sister Dora. On the contrary, her presence and counsel always
brought light and peace, and lifted every question into a higher sphere.
‘Ask Sister Dora,’ it used to be said. ‘Had we not better send for
Sister Dora?’ some member would exclaim out of the fog of contention.
Thereupon she would appear; and many well remember how calmly
self-possessed, and clear-sighted, she would stand—never sit down.
Indeed, there were those who worked with her fifteen years who never saw
her seated; she would stand, usually with her hand on the back of the
chair which had been placed for her, every eye directed to her; nor was
it ever many moments before she had grasped the whole question, and
given her opinion just as clearly and simply and straight to the purpose
as any opinion given to the sufferers in the wards. Nor was she ever
wrong; nor did she ever fail of her purpose with the committee. No
committee-men ever questioned or differed from Sister Dora, yet in her
was the charm of unconsciousness of power or superiority, and the
impression left was, of there being no feeling of pleasure in her, other
than the triumph of the right.”[12]

In 1867 the cottage hospital had to be abandoned, as erysipelas broke
out and would not be expelled. The wards were evidently impregnated with
malignant germs, to such an extent that the committee resolved to build
a new hospital in a better situation.

“Sister Dora’s work became more engrossing when this larger field was
opened for it; the men’s beds were constantly full, and even the women’s
ward was hardly ever entirely empty.”

Just at this period an epidemic of small-pox broke out in Walsall, and
all the energies of Sister Dora were called into play. She visited the
cottages where the patients lay, and nursed them or saw to their being
supplied with what they needed; whilst at the same time carrying on her
usual work at the hospital.

“One night she was sent for by a poor man who was dying of what she
called ‘black-pox,’ a violent form of small-pox. She went at once, and
found him in the last extremity. All his relations had fled, and a
neighbour alone was with him. When Sister Dora found that only one small
piece of candle was left in the house, she gave the woman some money,
begging her to go and buy some means of light whilst she stayed with the
man. She sat on by his bed, but the woman, who had probably spent the
money at the public-house, never returned; and after some little while
the dying man raised himself up in bed with a last effort, saying,
‘Sister, kiss me before I die.’ She took him, all covered as he was with
the loathsome disease, into her arms and kissed him, the candle going
out almost as she did so, leaving them in total darkness. He implored
her not to leave him while he lived, although he might have known she
would never do that.” So she sat through the night, till the early dawn
breaking in revealed that the man was dead.

When the bell at the head of her bed rang at night she rose at once,
saying to herself, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee!” Indeed,
she loved to think that she was ministering to her Blessed Lord in the
person of His poor and sick. Miss Lonsdale prints a letter from a former
patient in the hospital, from which only a short extract can be made: “I
had not been there above a week when Sister Dora found me a little bell,
as there was not one to my bed, and she said, ‘Enoch, you must ring this
bell when you want Sister.’ This little bell did not have much rest, for
whenever I heard her step or the tinkle of her keys in the hall I used
to ring my bell, and she would call out, ‘I’m coming, Enoch,’ which she
did, and would say, ‘What do you want?’ I often used to say, ‘I don’t
know, Sister,’ not really knowing what I did want. She’d say, ‘Do you
want your pillows shaking up, or do you want moving a little?’ which
she’d do, whatever it was, and say, ‘Do you feel quite cosy now?’ ‘Yes,
Sister.’ Then she would start to go into the other ward, but very often
before she could get through the door I’d call her back and say my
pillow wasn’t quite right, or that my leg wanted moving a little. She
would come and do it, whatever it was, and say, ‘Will that do?’ ‘Yes,
Sister.’ Then she’d go about her work, but at the very next sound of her
step my bell would ring, and as often as my bell rang Sister would come;
and some of the other patients would often remark that I should wear
that little bell out or Sister, and she’d say, ‘Never mind, for I like
to hear it, and it’s never too often.’ And it rang so often that I’ve
heard Sister say that she often dreamt she heard my little bell and
started up in a hurry to find it was a dream.”

Sister Dora said once to a friend, who was engaging a servant for the
hospital, “Tell her this is not an ordinary house, or even a hospital. I
want her to understand that all who serve here, in whatever capacity,
ought to have one rule, _love for God_, and then, I need not say, love
for their work.”

She spoke often, and with intense earnestness, on the duty, the
necessity, of prayer. It was literally true that she never touched a
wound without raising her heart to God and entreating Him to bless the
means employed. As years glided away, she became able almost to fulfil
the Apostle’s command: “Pray without ceasing.” And her prayers were
animated by the most intense faith—an absolutely unshaken conviction of
their efficacy. It may truly be said that those who pray become
increasingly more sure of the value of prayer. They find that, whatever
men may say about the reign of law and the order of Nature, earnest
prayer does bring an answer, often in a marvellous manner. The praying
man or woman is never shaken in his or her trust in the efficacy of
prayer. “She firmly held to the supernatural power, put into the hands
of men by means of the weapon of prayer; and the practical faithlessness
in this respect of the world at large was an ever-increasing source of
surprise and distress to her.”

Since her death, in commemoration of her labours at Walsall, a very
beautiful statue has been there erected to her, and on the pedestal are
bas-reliefs representing incidents in her life there. One of these
illustrates a terrible explosion that took place in the Birchett’s Iron
Works, on Friday, October 15th, 1875, whereby eleven men were so
severely burnt that only two survived. All the others died after their
admission into the hospital. It came about thus. The men were at work
when water escaped from the “twyer” and fell upon the molten iron in the
furnace and was at once resolved into steam that blew out the front of
the furnace, and also the molten iron, which fell upon the men. Some
suffered frightful agonies, but the shock to the nervous system of
others had stupefied them. The sight and the smell were terrible. Ladies
who volunteered their help could not endure it, and were forced to
withdraw, some not getting beyond the door of the ward. But Sister Dora
was with the patients incessantly till they died, giving them water,
bandaging their wounds, or cutting away the sodden clothes that adhered
to the burnt flesh. Some lingered on for ten days, but in all this time
she never deserted the fetid atmosphere of the ward, never went to bed.

She had so much to do with burns that she became specially skilful in
treating them. Children terribly burnt or scalded were constantly
brought to the hospital; often men came scalded from a boiler, or by
molten metal. She dressed their wounds herself, but, if possible, always
sent the patients to be tended at home, where she would visit them and
regularly dress their wounds, rather than have the wards tainted by the
effluvium from the burns. Her treatment of burnt children merits

“If a large surface of the body was burnt, or if the child seemed beside
itself with terror, she did not touch the wounds themselves, but only
carefully excluded the air from them by means of cotton wool and
blankets wrapped round the body. She put hot bottles and flannel to the
feet, and, if necessary, ice to the head. Then she gave her attention to
soothing and consoling the shocked nerves—a state which she considered
to be often a more immediate source of danger to the life of the child
than the actual injuries. She fed it with milk and brandy, unless it
violently refused food, when she would let it alone until it came round,
saying that force, or anything which involved even a slight further
shock to the system, was worse than useless. Sometimes, of course, the
fatal sleep of exhaustion, from which there was no awakening, would
follow; but more often than not food was successfully administered, and
after a few hours, Sister Dora, having gained the child’s confidence,
could dress the wounds without fear of exciting the frantic terror which
would have been the result of touching them at first.”

Children Sister Dora dearly loved; her heart went out to them with
infinite tenderness, and she was even known to sleep with a burnt baby
on each arm. What that means only those know who have had experience of
the sickening smell arising from burns.

Once a little girl of nine was brought into the hospital so badly burnt
that it was obvious she had not many hours to live. Sister Dora sat by
her bed talking to her of Jesus Christ and His love for little children,
and of the blessed home into which He would receive them. The child died
peacefully, and her last words were: “Sister, when you come to heaven,
I’ll meet you at the gates with a bunch of flowers.”

One of the most heroic of her many heroic acts was taking charge of the
small-pox hospital when a second epidemic broke out.

Mr. S. Welsh says:—“In the spring of 1875 there was a second visitation
of the disease, and fears were entertained that the results would be as
bad as during the former visitation. One morning Sister Dora came to me
and said, ‘Do you know, I have an idea that if some one could be got to
go to the epidemic hospital in whom the people have confidence, they
would send their friends to be nursed, the patients would be isolated,
and the disease stamped out?’” This was because a prejudice was
entertained against the new small-pox hospital, and those who had sick
concealed the fact rather than send them to it. “I said,” continues Mr.
Welsh, “‘I have long been of the opinion you have just expressed; but
where are we to get a lady, in whom the people would have confidence, to
undertake the duty?’ Her prompt reply was, ‘I will go.’ I confess the
sudden announcement of her determination rather took me by surprise, for
I had no expectation of it, and not the most remote idea that she
intended to go. ‘But,’ I said, ‘who will take charge of the hospital if
you go there?’ ‘Oh,’ she replied, ‘I can get plenty of ladies to come
there, but none will go to the epidemic. And,’ she added, by way of
reconciling me to her view, ‘it will only be for a short time.’ ‘But
what if you were to take the disease and die?’ I inquired. ‘Then,’ she
added, in her cheery way, ‘I shall have died in the path of duty, and,
you know, I could not die better.’ I knew it was no use pointing out at
length the risk she ran, for where it was a case of saving others,
_self_ with her was no consideration. I tried to dissuade her on other
grounds.... A few days later, I was in company with the doctor of our
hospital, who was also medical officer of health, and who, as such, had
charge of the epidemic hospital, near to which we were at the time. He
said, ‘Do you know where Sister Dora is?’ ‘At the hospital, I suppose,’
was my reply. ‘No,’ he rejoined, ‘she is over there!’—pointing to the
epidemic hospital.... The people, as soon as they knew Sister Dora was
in charge, had no misgiving about sending their relatives to be nursed,
and the result was as she had predicted; the cases were brought in as
soon as it was discovered that patients had the disease, and the
epidemic was speedily stamped out.”

She had, however, a hard time of it there, as she lacked assistants. Two
women were sent from the workhouse, but they proved of little use. The
porter, an old soldier, was attentive and kind in his way, but he always
went out “on a spree” on Saturday nights, and did not return till late
on Sunday evening. When the workhouse women failed her, she was
sometimes alone with her patients, and these occasionally in the
delirium of small-pox.

It was not till the middle of August, 1875, that the last small-pox
patient departed from the hospital, and she was able to return to her
original work.

One of the bas-reliefs on her monument represents Sister Dora consoling
the afflicted and the scene depicted refers to a dreadful colliery
accident that occurred on March 14th, 1872, at Pelsall, a village rather
over three miles from Walsall, by which twenty-two men were entombed,
and all perished. For several days hopes were entertained that some of
the men would be got out alive; and blankets in which to wrap them, and
restoratives, were provided, and Sister Dora was sent for to attend the
men when brought to “bank.” The following extract, from an article by a
special correspondent in a newspaper, dated December 10th, 1872, will
give some idea of Sister Dora’s connection with the event:—

“Out of doors the scene is weird and awful, and impresses the mind with
a peculiar gloom; for the intensity of the darkness is heightened by the
shades created by the artificial lights. Every object, the most minute,
stands out in bold relief against the inky darkness which surrounds the
landscape. On the crest of the mound or pit-bank, the policemen, like
sentinels, are walking their rounds. The wind is howling and whistling
through the trees which form a background to the pit-bank, and the rain
is coming hissing down in sheets. In a hovel close to the pit-shaft sit
the bereaved and disconsolate mourners, hoping against hope, and
watching for those who will never return. There, too, are the swarthy
sons of toil who have just returned from their fruitless search in the
mine for the dear missing ones, and are resting while their saturated
clothes are drying. But another form glides softly from that hovel; and
amid the pelting rain, and over the rough pit-bank, and through miry
clay—now ankle deep—takes her course to the dwellings of the mourners,
for some, spent with watching, have been induced to return to their
homes. As she plods her way amid pieces of timber, upturned waggons, and
fragments of broken machinery, which are scattered about in great
confusion, a ‘wee, wee bairn’ creeps gently to her side, and grasping
her hand, and looking wistfully into her face, which is radiant with
kindness and affection, says, ‘Oh, Sister, do see to my father when they
bring him up the pit.’ Poor child! Never again would he know a father’s
love, or share a father’s care. She smiled, and that smile seemed to
lighten the child’s load of grief, and her promise to see to his father
appeared to impart consolation to his heavy, despairing heart.

“On she glides, with a kind word or a sympathetic expression to all. One
woman, after listening to her comforting words, burst into tears—the
fountains of sorrow so long pent up seemed to have found vent. ‘Let her
weep,’ said a relative of the unfortunate woman; ‘it is the first tear
she has shed since the accident has occurred, and it will do her good to
cry.’ But who is the good Samaritan? She is the sister who for seven
years has had the management of the nursing department in the cottage
hospital at Walsall.”

This is written in too much of the “special correspondent” style to be
pleasant; nevertheless it describes what actually took place.

Mr. Samuel Welsh says: “I remember one evening I was in the hospital
when a poor man who had been dreadfully crushed in a pit was brought in.
One of his legs was so fearfully injured that it was thought it would be
necessary to amputate it. After examining the patient, the doctor came
to me in the committee-room—one door of which opened into the passage
leading to the wards, and another into the hall in the domestic portion
of the building. After telling me about the patient who had just been
brought in, he said, ‘Do you know Sister Dora is very ill? So ill,’ he
continued, ‘that I question if she will pull through this time.’ I
naturally inquired what she was suffering from, and in reply the doctor
said, ‘She will not take care of herself, and is suffering from
blood-poison.’ He left me, and I was just trying to solve the problem——
‘What shall be done? or how shall her place be supplied if she be taken
from us by death?’ when I saw a spectral-like figure gliding gently and
almost noiselessly through the room from the domestic entrance to the
door leading to the wards. The figure was rather indistinct, for it was
nearly dark; and as I gazed at the receding form, I said, ‘Sister, is it
you?’ ‘Whist!’ she said, and glided through the doorway into the wards.
In a short time she returned, and I said to her, ‘Sister, the doctor has
just been telling me how ill you are—how is it you are here?’ ‘Ah!’
replied she, ‘it is true I am very ill; but I heard the surgeons talking
about amputating that poor fellow’s limb, and I wanted to see whether or
no there was a possibility of saving it, and I believe there is; and,
knowing that, I shall rest better.’ So saying, she glided as noiselessly
out of the room as when she entered.

“On her recovery—which was retarded by her neglecting herself to attend
to others—she called me to the hall-door of the hospital, and asked me
if I thought it was going to rain. I told her I did not think it would
rain for some hours. She then told me to go and order a cab to be ready
at the hospital in half an hour. I tried to persuade her not to venture
out so soon; but it was no use—she went; and many a time I wondered
where she went to.

“About six months afterwards I happened to be at a railway station, and
saw a pointsman who had been in our hospital with an injured foot, but
who, as his friends wished to have him at home, had left before his foot
was cured. I inquired how his foot was. He replied that had it not been
for Sister Dora he would have lost his foot, if not his life. I said,
‘How did she save your foot when you were not in the hospital, and she
was ill at the time you left the hospital?’ ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘you
know my foot was far from well when I left the hospital; there was no
one at our house who could see to it properly, and it took bad ways, and
one evening I was in awful pain. Oh, how I did wish for Sister Dora to
come and dress it! I felt sure she could give me relief, but I had been
told she was very ill, so I had no hope that my earnest desire would be
realised; but while I was thinking and wishing, the bedroom door was
gently opened, and a figure just like Sister Dora glided so softly into
the room that I could not hear her, but oh! she was so pale that I began
to think it must be her spirit; but when she folded the bedclothes from
off my foot, I knew it was she. She dressed my foot, and from that hour
it began to improve.’

“A few days after this interview with the pointsman I was talking to
Sister Dora and said, ‘By the bye, Sister, I have found out where you
went with the cab that day.’ She replied with a merry twinkle in her
eye, ‘What a long time you have been finding it out!’”

Her old patients ever remembered her with gratitude. A man called Chell,
an engine-stoker, was twice in the hospital under her care, first with a
dislocated ankle, severely cut; the second time, with a leg crushed to
pieces in a railway accident. It was amputated. According to his own
account he remembered nothing of the operation, except that Sister Dora
was there, and that, “When I come to after the chloroform, she was on
her knees by my side with her arm supporting my head, and she was

               “‘They climbed the steep ascent of heaven,
                    Through peril, toil, and pain:
                 O God, to us may grace be given
                    To follow in their train.’

And all through the pain and trouble that I had afterwards, I never
forgot Sister’s voice saying those words.” When she was in the small-pox
hospital, avoided by most, this man never failed to stump away to it to
see her and inquire how she was getting on.

There were, as she herself recognised, faults in the character of Sister
Dora; and yet, without these faults, problematical as it may seem, it is
doubtful whether she could have achieved all she did.

One who knew her long and intimately writes to me: “A majestic
character, brimming over with sympathy, but, for lack of
self-discipline, this sympathy was impulsive and gushing. Her character
would have been best formed in marrying a man—either statesman,
philanthropist or author—whose character would have dominated hers, and
she would have shone subdued. Her glorious nature, physical and mental,
was marred by undisciplined impulse. Her nature found its congenial
outlet in devoted works of mercy and love to her fellow-creatures. How
far she would have done the same under authority, I fear is a little

I doubt it wholly. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest
the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it
goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John iii 8). The
truth and depth of these words are not sufficiently appreciated. They
teach that in those governed by the Spirit of God there is an apparent
capriciousness and impulsiveness which does not commend itself to
worldly wisdom or vulgar common-sense. Unquestionably, in community
life, this masterfulness in the character of Sister Dora might have been
subdued, but—would she have then done the same magnificent work? It
seems to me—but I may be mistaken—that we should suffer these strong
characters to take their course, and not endeavour to crush them into an
ordinary mould. It is precisely those who soar above the routine-bound
souls that, among men, make history—as Cæsar, Napoleon, Bismarck—and let
me add Lord Kitchener. And in the Church it is the same.

Miss Twigg, who knew her well, writes me: “She was a lovable woman, so
bright and winsome. She used to come into our rather dull and sad home
(our mother died when we were quite children) after evening service. She
would nurse one of us, big as we were then, and the others would gather
round her, while she would tell us stories of her hospital life.... She
was a _real_ woman, though with a woman’s failings.”

There is one point in Sister Dora’s life to which sufficient attention
has not been paid by her biographers. It is one which the busy workers
of the present day think of too little—namely, the writing of bright,
helpful letters to any friend who is sick, or in trouble. Somehow or
other she always found time for that, wrote one who knew her well,[13]
and who contributes the following, written to a young girl who was at
the time in a spinal hospital, and who was almost a stranger to her:—

“MY DEAR MISS J.,—I was so glad to hear from you, though I fear it must
be a trouble for you to write. I _do_ hope that you will really have
benefited by the treatment and rest. I am so glad that the doctor is
good to his ‘children.’ Such little attentions when you are sick help to
alleviate wonderfully. I wish I could come and take a peep at you. Did
Mrs. N. tell you that she had sent us _£5_ for our seaside expedition?
Was it not good of her? Oh! we shall have such a jolly time. To see all
those poor creatures drink in the sea-breezes! We have had a very busy
week of accidents and operations. It has been a regular storm.[14] My
dear, it is in such times as you are now having that the voice of Jesus
Christ can be best heard, ‘Come into a desert place awhile.’ Know you
surely that it is God’s visitation. Take home that thought, realise
it:—God _visiting you_. Elizabeth was astonished that the Mother of her
Lord should visit her. We can have our Emmanuel. I can look back on my
sicknesses as the best times of my life. Don’t fret about the future. He
carrieth our sicknesses and healeth our infirmities. You know infirmity
means weakness after sickness. Think of the cheering lines of our hymn:
‘His touch has still its ancient power.’ When I arose up from my
sick-bed they told me I should never be able to enter a hospital or do
work again. I was fretting over this when a good friend came to me, and
told me only to take a day’s burden and not look forward, and it was
such a help. I got up every day feeling sure I should have strength and
grace for the day’s trial. May it be said of you, dear, ‘They took
knowledge of her that she had been with Jesus.’ May He reveal Himself in
all His beauty is the prayer of

                         “Your sincere friend,
                                  “SISTER DORA.”

It does not truly represent Sister Dora to dwell on her outer life, and
not look as well into that which is within, as it was the very
mainspring of all her actions, as it, in fact, made her what she was.

The same writer to the _Guardian_ gives some sentences from other

“Take your cross day by day, dearie, and with Jesus Christ bearing the
other end it will not be _too_ heavy.” “If we would find Jesus, it must
be on the mountain, not in the plains or smooth places. ‘He went up into
a mountain and taught them, saying,’ etc. It is only on a mountain-side
that we shall see the Cross. It was only after Zacchæus had _climbed_
the tree he could see Jesus. I have been thinking much of this lately.
It is not in the smooth places we shall see Jesus, it is in the rough,
in the storm, or by the sick-couch.” “A Christian is one whose object is
Christ.” “I am rejoiced that you are enjoying Faber’s hymns; they always
_warm_ me up. Oh! my dear, is it not sad that we prefer to live in the
shade when we might have the glorious sunshine?”

It was during the winter of 1876-7 that Sister Dora felt the first
approach of the terrible disease that was to cause her death, and then
it was rather by diminution of strength than by actual pain. She
consulted a doctor in Birmingham, in whom she placed confidence, and he
told her the plain truth, that her days in this world were numbered. She
exacted from him a pledge of secrecy, and then went on with her work as

“She was suddenly brought,” says Miss Lonsdale, “as it were, face to
face with death—distant, perhaps, but inevitable: she, who was full of
such exuberant life and spirits, that the very word ‘death’ seemed a
contradiction when applied to her. Even her doctor, as he looked at her
blooming appearance, and measured with his eye her finely made form, was
almost inclined to believe the evidence of his outward senses against
his sober judgment.... She could not endure pity. She, to whom everybody
had learnt instinctively to turn for help and consolation, on whom
others leant for support, must she now come down to ask of them sympathy
and comfort? The pride of life was still surging up in her, that pride
which had made her glory in her physical strength for its own sake, as
well as for its manifold uses in the service of her Master. True, she
had been long living two lives inseparably blended: the outward life,
one of hard, unceasing toil; the inner, a constant communion with the
unseen world, the existence of which she realised to an extent which not
even those who saw the most of her could appreciate. To all the poor
ignorant beings whose souls she tried to reach by means of their maimed
bodies, she was, indeed, the personification of all that they could
conceive as lovable, holy and merciful in the Saviour. At the same time
she judged her own self with strict impartiality. She knew her own
faults, her unbending will—her pride and glory in her work seemed to her
even a fault; and, in place of looking on herself as perfect, she was
bowed down with a sense of her own shortcomings. At the same time—with
death before her, she hungered for more work for her Master. His words
were continually on her lips: ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me
while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work.’”

At last, in the month of August, 1878, typhoid fever having broken out
in the temporary hospital, it was found necessary to close it, and
hasten on the work of the construction of another. This gave her an
opportunity for a holiday and a complete change. She went to the Isle of
Man, to London, and to Paris.

But the disorder was making rapid strides, and was causing her intense
suffering, and she craved to be back at Walsall. She got as far as
Birmingham, and was then in such a critical state, that it was feared
she would die. But her earnest entreaty was to be taken to Walsall: “Let
me die,” she pleaded, “among my own people.”

Mr. Welsh says:—“On calling at the Queen’s Hotel, Birmingham [where she
was lying ill], I was told the doctor of the hospital (Dr. Maclachlan)
was with her, and thinking they were probably arranging matters
connected with the hospital, I did not go to her room, but proceeded to
the train. I had scarcely got seated when the doctor called me out, and
we entered a compartment where we were alone. He asked me when it was
intended to open the hospital. I replied, ‘On the 4th November.’ ‘Then,’
he said, ‘that will just be about the time Sister Dora will die.’

“The announcement was to me a shock of no ordinary kind, for I had not
heard of her being ill, and no one could have imagined, from the
cheerful tone of a letter I had received from her a week or so before,
that there was anything the matter with her. Not being able to fully
realise the true state of affairs, I asked him if he were jesting. He
replied he was not, and that he thought it best to let me know at once,
so that arrangements might be made for getting some one to take her
place when the hospital was opened. I said, ‘I suppose she is going to
Yorkshire?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘and that is another thing I wish to speak
to you about. She wishes to die in Walsall, and she must be removed

“On Sunday [the day following] I saw the chairman and vice-chairman of
the hospital. On Sunday evening I returned with Dr. Maclachlan to the
Queen’s Hotel, where he found his patient very weak. On Monday morning,
a house was taken, and the furniture she had in her rooms at the
hospital removed to it. Her old servant, who had gone to The Potteries,
was telegraphed for, and arrived in a few hours, and by midday the house
was ready for her reception. My daughter, knowing Sister Dora’s fondness
for flowers, had procured and placed on the table in the parlour a very
choice bouquet; and when all was ready, Dr. Maclachlan drove over to
Birmingham, and brought her to Walsall in his private carriage.

“The disease was now making steady progress, and it was evident that
every day she was becoming weaker; but she never lost her cheerfulness,
and any one to have seen her might have thought she was only suffering
from some slight ailment, instead of an incurable and painful disease.”

“A few hours before her death,” writes Mr. S. Welsh, “she called me to
her bedside and said, ‘I want you to promise that you will not, when I
am gone, write anything about me; _quietly I came among you, and quietly
I wish to go away._’” And this desire of hers would have been faithfully
complied with had not misrepresentations fired the gentleman to whom the
request was made to take up his pen, not in defence of her, but in the
correction of statements that affected certain persons who were alive. I
must refer the reader for the detailed account of her last hours to Miss
Lonsdale’s book. One remarkable fact must not be omitted.

Among the members of the Basilian Order in the Eastern Church, it is the
rule, as soon as one of the brothers or sisters is dying, that all
should leave the room. The last office performed is to screw an ikon or
representation of the Saviour to the foot of the bed, that the dying may
in the supreme moment not think of any earthly tie, any earthly comfort,
but look only to the Rock of his Salvation. Of this, Sister Dora knew
nothing. In her last sickness she had a large crucifix hung where she
could constantly gaze at it, and when she found her end approaching, she
insisted on every one leaving the room,—it was her wish to die alone.
And as she persisted, so was it, only one nurse standing by the door
held ajar, and watching till she knew by the change of attitude, and a
certain fixed look in the countenance, that Sister Dora had entered into
her rest.[15]

Mr. Welsh says: “It was Christmas Eve when she passed away, and a dense
fog, like a funeral pall, hung over the town and obscured every object a
few feet from the ground. Under this strange canopy the market was being
held, and people were busy buying and selling, and making preparations
for the great Christmas Festival on the following day; but when the deep
boom of the passing bell announced the melancholy intelligence that
Sister Dora had entered into her rest, a thrill of horror ran through
the people, who, with blanched cheeks and bated breath, whispered, ‘Can
it be true?’ Although for eleven weeks the process of dissolution had
been going on before their eyes, they could not realise the fact that
she whom they loved and revered was no more.”

The funeral took place on Saturday, the 28th of December. “The day was
dark and dismal, the streets, covered with slush and sludge caused by
the melted snow, were thronged with spectators.... There was general
mourning in the town; and although it was market day nearly every shop
was closed during the time of the funeral, and all the blinds along the
route of the procession were drawn.... On reaching the cemetery it was
found that four other funerals had arrived from the workhouse; and as
these coffins had been taken into the chapel there was no room for
Sister Dora’s, which had consequently to be placed in the porch. This
was as Sister Dora would have wished had she had the ordering of the
arrangements; for she always gave preference to the poor, to whom she
was attached in life, and from whom she would not have desired to be
separated in death.”

True to her thought of others, in the midst of her last sufferings she
had made arrangements for a Christmas dinner to be given to a number of
her old patients, in accordance with a custom of hers in previous years;
but on this occasion the festive proceedings were shorn of their
gladness. All thought of her who in her pain and on her deathbed had
thought of them. Every one tried, but ineffectually, to cheer and
comfort the other, but the task was hopeless. One young lady, after the
meal, and while the Christmas tree was being lighted, commenced singing
that pretty little piece, “Far Away,”—but when she came to the words,

                   “Some are gone from us for ever,
                    Longer here they could not stay,”

she burst into tears; and the women present sobbed, and tears were seen
stealing down the cheeks of bearded men.

The Walsall writer of _A Review_ concludes his paper thus:—

“She is no idol to us, but we worship her memory as the most saintly
thing that was ever given to us. Her name is immortalized, both by her
own surpassing goodness, and by the love of a whole people for her—a
love that will survive through generations, and give a magic and a music
to those simple words, ‘Sister Dora,’ long after we shall have passed
away. There was little we could ever do—there was nothing she would let
us do—to relieve the self-imposed rigours of her life; but we love her
in all sincerity, and now in our helplessness we find a serene joy in
the knowledge that to her, as surely as to any human soul, will be
spoken the Divine words: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of
these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’”

In Sister Dora, surely we have the highest type of the Christian life,
the inner and hidden life of the soul, the life that is hid with Christ
in God, combined with that outer life devoted to the doing of good to
suffering and needy humanity. In the cloistered nun we see only the
first, and that tends to become self-centred and morbid; it is redeemed
from this vice by an active life of self-sacrifice.

I cannot do better than, in conclusion, quote from the last letter ever
penned by Sister Dora:—

“It is 2.30 a.m., and I cannot sleep, so I am going to write to you. I
was anything but ‘forbearing,’ dear; I was overbearing, and I am truly
sorry for it now. I look back on my life, and see ‘nothing but leaves.’
Oh, my darling, let me speak to you from my deathbed, and say, Watch in
all you do that you have a single aim—_God’s_ honour and glory. ‘I came
not to work My own work, but the works of Him that sent Me.’ Look upon
working as a privilege. Do not look upon nursing in the way they do so
much now-a-days, as an art or science, but as work done for Christ. As
you touch each patient, think it is Christ Himself, and then virtue will
come out of the touch to yourself. I have felt that myself, when I have
had a particularly loathsome patient. Be full of the Glad Tidings, and
you will tell others. You cannot give what you have not got.”


    _Printed by Hazell, Watson, & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury._


Footnote 1:

  Rom. Sott. ii. 125.

Footnote 2:

  “Lectures on the Eastern Church,” 1869, p. 218.

Footnote 3:

  Montalembert: _Monks of the West_, Book iv. c. 1.

Footnote 4:

  Adams, “Chronicles of Cornish Saints,” in the _Journal of the Royal
  Institution of Cornwall_, 1873.

Footnote 5:

  _Notes on the History of S. Bega and S. Hild._ (Hartlepool, 1844.) By
  D. H. Haigh.

Footnote 6:

  _Monks of the West_, 1868, vol. v., pp. 219-21.

Footnote 7:

  Probably Seaxwulf, the Mercian bishop.

Footnote 8:

  Green, _The Making of England_; _ed._ 1897, ii. p. 111.

Footnote 9:

  _Latin Christianity_, 1867, vol. vi., pp. 1 seq.

Footnote 10:

  The Rev. E. M. Fitzgerald, who was Vicar of Walsall at the time when
  Sister Dora was there, writes: “No Walsall friend of Sister Dora ever
  thought that the book exaggerated her virtues or her achievements. We
  found fault because it did her injustice in attributing to her some
  mean faults of which she was incapable.”

Footnote 11:

  Miss Lonsdale says that when her father was dangerously ill Sister
  Dora asked leave to go to him, and was refused and sent down into
  Devonshire. This has been denied, and I think there has been a
  misapprehension somewhere. Mr. Welsh says: “The story about Sister
  Dora not being allowed to visit her father on his death-bed is very
  sensational, but—is fiction.”

Footnote 12:

  _Sister Dora: a Review_, p. 14 (Walsall, 1880).

Footnote 13:

  H. M. J., in a letter to the Guardian, May 12th, 1880.

Footnote 14:

  A Yorkshire expression for heavy work.

Footnote 15:

  This has been denied. Her old and devoted servant said: “Do you think
  I would let my darling die alone?” But it appears to me that Sister
  Dora’s desire was one to be expected in such a spiritual nature; and
  in the statement above given it is not said that she was actually left
  in solitude.


                           TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE

Footnotes have been renumbered and moved to the back of the main text.

Punctuation has been normalized. Variations in hyphenation have been
retained as they were in the original publication. The following changes
have been made:

    and made peparations —> preparations {page 123}
    he could insult, browbreat, —> browbeat {page 247}
    to to the Bishop of Verdun —> to the Bishop of Verdun {page 285}
    two religous to commence the work —> religious {page 336}
    a choir for the frairs —> friars {page 337}
    distin-tinguishing habit —> distinguishing {page 356}
    the commitee were unable —> committee {page 360}
    againt the inky darkness —> against {page 377}

Italicized phrases are presented by surrounding the text with

Bold phrases are presented by surrounding the text with =equal signs=.

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