Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio,
LES MIRACLES DE NOTRE DAME
Umile ed alta piu che creatura,
Termine fisso d'eterno consiglio,
Tu sei colei che l'umana natura
Nobilitasti si, che il suo fattore
Non disdegno di farsi sua fattura....
La tua benignita non pur soccorre
A chi dimanda, ma molte fiate
Liberamente al dimandar precorre.
In te misericordia, in te pietate,
In te magnificenza, in te s'aduna
Quantunque in creatura e di bontate.
Vergine bella, che di sol vestita,
Coronata di stelle, al sommo sole
Piacesti si che'n te sua luce ascose;
Amor mi spinge a dir di te parole;
Ma non so 'ncominciar senza tu aita,
E di colui ch'amando in te si pose.
Invoco lei che ben sempre rispose
Chi la chiamo con fede.
Vergine, s'a mercede
Miseria estrema dell' umane cose
Giammai ti volse, al mio prego t'inchina!
Soccorri alia mia guerra,
Bench'i sia terra, e tu del del regina!
Dante composed one of these prayers; Petrarch the other. Chaucer
translated Dante's prayer in the "Second Nonnes Tale." He who will
may undertake to translate either;--not I! The Virgin, in whom is
united whatever goodness is in created being, might possibly, in her
infinite grace, forgive the sacrilege; but her power has limits, if
not her grace; and the whole Trinity, with the Virgin to aid, had
not the power to pardon him who should translate Dante and Petrarch.
The prayers come in here, not merely for their beauty,--although the
Virgin knows how beautiful they are, whether man knows it or not;
but chiefly to show the good faith, the depth of feeling, the
intensity of conviction, with which society adored its ideal of
The Virgin filled so enormous a space in the life and thought of the
time that one stands now helpless before the mass of testimony to
her direct action and constant presence in every moment and form of
the illusion which men thought they thought their existence. The
twelfth and thirteenth centuries believed in the supernatural, and
might almost be said to have contracted a miracle-habit, as morbid
as any other form of artificial stimulant; they stood, like
children, in an attitude of gaping wonder before the miracle of
miracles which they felt in their own consciousness; but one can see
in this emotion, which is, after all, not exclusively infantile, no
special reason why they should have so passionately flung themselves
at the feet of the Woman rather than of the Man. Dante wrote in
1300, after the height of this emotion had passed; and Petrarch
wrote half a century later still; but so slowly did the vision fade,
and so often did it revive, that, to this day, it remains the
strongest symbol with which the Church can conjure.
Men were, after all, not wholly inconsequent; their attachment to
Mary rested on an instinct of self-preservation. They knew their own
peril. If there was to be a future life, Mary was their only hope.
She alone represented Love. The Trinity were, or was, One, and
could, by the nature of its essence, administer justice alone. Only
childlike illusion could expect a personal favour from Christ. Turn
the dogma as one would, to this it must logically come. Call the
three Godheads by what names one liked, still they must remain One;
must administer one justice; must admit only one law. In that law,
no human weakness or error could exist; by its essence it was
infinite, eternal, immutable. There was no crack and no cranny in
the system, through which human frailty could hope for escape. One
was forced from corner to corner by a remorseless logic until one
fell helpless at Mary's feet.
Without Mary, man had no hope except in atheism, and for atheism the
world was not ready. Hemmed back on that side, men rushed like sheep
to escape the butcher, and were driven to Mary; only too happy in
finding protection and hope in a being who could understand the
language they talked, and the excuses they had to offer. How
passionately they worshipped Mary, the Cathedral of Chartres shows;
and how this worship elevated the whole sex, all the literature and
history of the time proclaim. If you need more proof, you can read
more Petrarch; but still one cannot realize how actual Mary was, to
the men and women of the Middle Ages, and how she was present, as a
matter of course, whether by way of miracle or as a habit of life,
throughout their daily existence. The surest measure of her reality
is the enormous money value they put on her assistance, and the art
that was lavished on her gratification, but an almost equally
certain sign is the casual allusion, the chance reference to her,
which assumes her presence.
The earliest prose writer in the French language, who gave a picture
of actual French life, was Joinville; and although he wrote after
the death of Saint Louis and of William of Lorris and Adam de la
Halle, in the full decadence of Philip the Fair, toward 1300, he had
been a vassal of Thibaut and an intimate friend of Louis, and his
memories went back to the France of Blanche's regency. Born in 1224,
he must have seen in his youth the struggles of Thibaut against the
enemies of Blanche, and in fact his memoirs contain Blanche's
emphatic letter forbidding Thibaut to marry Yolande of Brittany. He
knew Pierre de Dreux well, and when they were captured by the
Saracens at Damietta, and thrown into the hold of a galley, "I had
my feet right on the face of the Count Pierre de Bretagne, whose
feet, in turn, were by my face." Joinville is almost twelfth-century
in feeling. He was neither feminine nor sceptical, but simple. He
showed no concern for poetry, but he put up a glass window to the
Virgin. His religion belonged to the "Chanson de Roland." When Saint
Louis, who had a pleasant sense of humour put to him his favourite
religious conundrums, Joinville affected not the least hypocrisy.
"Would you rather be a leper or commit a mortal sin?" asked the
King. "I would rather commit thirty mortal sins than be a leper,"
answered Joinville. "Do you wash the feet of the poor on Holy
Thursday?" asked the King. "God forbid!" replied Joinville; "never
will I wash the feet of such creatures!" Saint Louis mildly
corrected his, or rather Thibaut's, seneschal, for these impieties,
but he was no doubt used to them, for the soldier was never a
churchman. If one asks Joinville what he thinks of the Virgin, he
answers with the same frankness:--
Ung jour moi estant devant le roi lui demanday congie d'aller en
pelerinage a nostre Dame de Tourtouze [Tortosa in Syria] qui estoit
ung veage tres fort requis. Et y avoit grant quantite de pelerins
par chacun jour pour ce que c'est le premier autel qui onques fust
fait en l'onneur de la Mere de Dieu ainsi qu'on disoit lors. Et y
faisoit nostre Dame de grans miracles a merveilles. Entre lesquelz
elle en fist ung d'un pouvre homme qui estoit hors de son sens et
demoniacle. Car il avoit le maling esperit dedans le corps. Et
advint par ung jour qu'il fut amene a icelui autel de nostre Dame de
Tourtouze. Et ainsi que ses amys qui l'avoient la amene prioient a
nostre Dame qu'elle lui voulsist recouvrer sante et guerison le
diable que la pouvre creature avoit ou corps respondit: "Nostre Dame
n'est pas ici; elle est en Egipte pour aider au Roi de France et aux
Chrestiens qui aujourdhui arrivent en la Terre sainte centre toute
paiennie qui sont a cheval." Et fut mis en escript le jour que le
deable profera ces motz et fut apporte au legat qui estoit avecques
le roi de France; lequel me dist depuis que a celui jour nous estion
arrivez en la terre d'Egipte. Et suis bien certain que la bonne Dame
Marie nous y eut bien besoin.
This happened in Syria, after the total failure of the crusade in
Egypt. The ordinary man, even if he were a priest or a soldier,
needed a miraculous faith to persuade him that Our Lady or any other
divine power, had helped the crusades of Saint Louis. Few of the
usual fictions on which society rested had ever required such
defiance of facts; but, at least for a time, society held firm. The
thirteenth century could not afford to admit a doubt. Society had
staked its existence, in this world and the next, on the reality and
power of the Virgin; it had invested in her care nearly its whole
capital, spiritual, artistic, intellectual, and economical, even to
the bulk of its real and personal estate; and her overthrow would
have been the most appalling disaster the Western world had ever
known. Without her, the Trinity itself could not stand; the Church
must fall; the future world must dissolve. Not even the collapse of
the Roman Empire compared with a calamity so serious; for that had
created, not destroyed, a faith.
If sceptics there were, they kept silence. Men disputed and doubted
about the Trinity, but about the Virgin the satirists Rutebeuf and
Adam de la Halle wrote in the same spirit as Saint Bernard and
Abelard, Adam de Saint-Victor and the pious monk Gaultier de Coincy.
In the midst of violent disputes on other points of doctrine, the
disputants united in devotion to Mary; and it was the single
redeeming quality about them. The monarchs believed almost more
implicitly than their subjects, and maintained the belief to the
last. Doubtless the death of Queen Blanche marked the flood-tide at
its height; but an authority so established as that of the Virgin,
founded on instincts so deep, logic so rigorous, and, above all, on
wealth so vast, declined slowly. Saint Louis died in 1270. Two
hundred long and dismal years followed, in the midst of wars,
decline of faith, dissolution of the old ties and interests, until,
toward 1470, Louis XI succeeded in restoring some semblance of
solidity to the State; and Louis XI divided his time and his money
impartially between the Virgin of Chartres and the Virgin of Paris.
In that respect, one can see no difference between him and Saint
Louis, nor much between Philippe de Commines and Joinville. After
Louis XI, another fantastic century passed, filled with the foulest
horrors of history--religious wars; assassinations; Saint
Bartholomews; sieges of Chartres; Huguenot leagues and sweeping
destruction of religious monuments; Catholic leagues and fanatical
reprisals on friends and foes,--the actual dissolution of society in
a mass of horrors compared with which even the Albigensian crusade
was a local accident, all ending in the reign of the last Valois,
Henry III, the weirdest, most fascinating, most repulsive, most
pathetic and most pitiable of the whole picturesque series of French
kings. If you look into the Journal of Pierre de l'Estoile, under
date of January 26,1582, you can read the entry:--
The King and the Queen [Louise de Lorraine], separately, and each
accompanied by a good troop [of companions] went on foot from Paris
to Chartres on a pilgrimage [voyage] to Notre-Dame-de-dessous-Terre
[Our Lady of the Crypt], where a neuvaine was celebrated at the last
mass at which the King and Queen assisted, and offered a silver-gilt
statue of Notre Dame which weighed a hundred marks [eight hundred
ounces], with the object of having lineage which might succeed to
In the dead of winter, in robes of penitents, over the roughest
roads, on foot, the King and Queen, then seven years married, walked
fifty miles to Chartres to supplicate the Virgin for children, and
back again; and this they did year after year until Jacques Clement
put an end to it with his dagger, in 1589, although the Virgin never
chose to perform that miracle; but, instead, allowed the House of
Valois to die out and sat on her throne in patience while the House
of Bourbon was anointed in their place. The only French King ever
crowned in the presence of Our Lady of Chartres was Henry IV--a
The year 1589, which was so decisive for Henry IV in France, marked
in England the rise of Shakespeare as a sort of stage-monarch. While
in France the Virgin still held such power that kings and queens
asked her for favours, almost as instinctively as they had done five
hundred years before, in England Shakespeare set all human nature
and all human history on the stage, with hardly an allusion to the
Virgin's name, unless as an oath. The exceptions are worth noting as
a matter of curious Shakespearean criticism, for they are but two,
and both are lines in the "First Part of Henry VI," spoken by the
Maid of Orleans:--
Christ's mother helps me, else I were too weak!
Whether the "First Part of Henry VI" was written by Shakespeare at
all has been a doubt much discussed, and too deep for tourists; but
that this line was written by a Roman Catholic is the more likely
because no such religious thought recurs in all the rest of
Shakespeare's works, dramatic or lyric, unless it is implied in
Gaunt's allusion to "the world's ransom, blessed Mary's Son." Thus,
while three hundred years caused in England the disappearance of the
great divinity on whom the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had
lavished all their hopes, and during these three centuries every
earthly throne had been repeatedly shaken or shattered, the Church
had been broken in halves, faith had been lost, and philosophies
overthrown, the Virgin still remained and remains the most intensely
and the most widely and the most personally felt, of all characters,
divine or human or imaginary, that ever existed among men. Nothing
has even remotely taken her place. The only possible exception is
the Buddha, Sakya Muni; but to the Western mind, a figure like the
Buddha stood much farther away than the Virgin. That of the Christ
even to Saint Bernard stood not so near as that of his mother.
Abelard expressed the fact in its logical necessity even more
strongly than Saint Bernard did:--
Te requirunt vota fidelium,
Ad te corda suspirant omnium,
Tu spes nostra post Deum unica,
Advocata nobis es posita.
Ad judicis matrem confugiunt,
Qui judicis iram effugiunt,
Quae praecari pro eis cogitur,
Quae pro reis mater efficitur.
"After the Trinity, you are our ONLY hope"; spes nostra unica; "you
are placed there as our advocate; all of us who fear the wrath of
the Judge, fly to the Judge's mother, who is logically compelled to
sue for us, and stands in the place of a mother to the guilty."
Abelard's logic was always ruthless, and the "cogitur" is a stronger
word than one would like to use now, with a priest in hearing. We
need not insist on it; but what one must insist on, is the good
faith of the whole people,--kings, queens, princes of all sorts,
philosophers, poets, soldiers, artists, as well as of the commoners
like ourselves, and the poor,--for the good faith of the priests is
not important to the understanding, since any class which is
sufficiently interested in believing will always believe. In order
to feel Gothic architecture in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries,
one must feel first and last, around and above and beneath it, the
good faith of the public, excepting only Jews and atheists,
permeating every portion of it with the conviction of an immediate
alternative between heaven and hell, with Mary as the ONLY court in
equity capable of overruling strict law.
The Virgin was a real person, whose tastes, wishes, instincts,
passions, were intimately known. Enough of the Virgin's literature
survives to show her character, and the course of her daily life. We
know more about her habits and thoughts than about those of earthly
queens. The "Miracles de la Vierge" make a large part, and not the
poorest part, of the enormous literature of these two centuries,
although the works of Albertus Magnus fill twenty-one folio volumes
and those of Thomas Aquinas fill more, while the "Chansons de Geste"
and the "Romans," published or unpublished, are a special branch of
literature with libraries to themselves. The collection of the
Virgin's miracles put in verse by Gaultier de Coincy, monk, prior,
and poet, between 1214 and 1233--the precise moment of the Chartres
sculpture and glass--contains thirty thousand lines. Another great
collection, narrating especially the miracles of the Virgin of
Chartres, was made by a priest of Chartres Cathedral about 1240.
Separate series, or single tales, have appeared and are appearing
constantly, but no general collection has ever been made, although
the whole poetic literature of the Virgin could be printed in the
space of two or three volumes of scholastic philosophy, and if the
Church had cared half as truly for the Virgin as it has for Thomas
Aquinas, every miracle might have been collected and published a
score of times. The miracles themselves, indeed, are not very
numerous. In Gaultier de Coincy's collection they number only about
fifty. The Chartres collection relates chiefly to the horrible
outbreak of what was called leprosy--the "mal ardent,"--which
ravaged the north of France during the crusades, and added intensity
to the feelings which brought all society to the Virgin's feet.
Recent scholars are cataloguing and classifying the miracles, as far
as they survive, and have reduced the number within very moderate
limits. As poetry, Gaultier de Coincy's are the best.
Of Gaultier de Coincy and his poetry, Gaston Paris has something to
say which is worth quoting:--
It is the most curious, and often the most singular monument of the
infantile piety of the Middle Ages. Devotion to Mary is presented in
it as a kind of infallible guarantee not only against every sort of
evil, but also against the most legitimate consequences of sin and
even of crime. In these stories which have revolted the most
rational piety, as well as the philosophy of modern times, one must
still admit a gentle and penetrating charm; a naivete; a tenderness
and a simplicity of heart, which touch, while they raise a smile.
There, for instance, one sees a sick monk cured by the milk that Our
Lady herself comes to invite him to draw from her "douce mamelle"; a
robber who is in the habit of recommending himself to the Virgin
whenever he is going to "embler," is held up by her white hands for
three days on the gibbet where he is hung, until the miracle becomes
evident, and procures his pardon; an ignorant monk who knows only
his Ave Maria, and is despised on that account, when dead reveals
his sanctity by five roses which come out of his mouth in honour of
the five letters of the name Maria; a nun, who has quitted her
convent to lead a life of sin, returns after long years, and finds
that the Holy Virgin, to whom, in spite of all, she has never ceased
to offer every day her prayer, has, during all this time, filled her
place as sacristine, so that no one has perceived her absence.
Gaston Paris inclined to apologize to his "bons bourgeois de Paris"
for reintroducing to them a character so doubtful as the Virgin
Mary, but, for our studies, the professor's elementary morality is
eloquent. Clearly, M. Paris, the highest academic authority in the
world, thought that the Virgin could hardly, in his time, say the
year 1900, be received into good society in the Latin Quarter. Our
own English ancestors, known as Puritans, held the same opinion, and
excluded her from their society some four hundred years earlier, for
the same reasons which affected M. Gaston Paris. These reasons were
just, and showed the respectability of the citizens who held them.
In no well-regulated community, under a proper system of police,
could the Virgin feel at home, and the same thing may be said of
most other saints as well as sinners. Her conduct was at times
undignified, as M. Paris complained, She condescended to do domestic
service, in order to help her friends, and she would use her needle,
if she were in the mood, for the same object. The "Golden Legend"
A certain priest, who celebrated every day a mass in honour of the
Holy Virgin, was brought up before Saint Thomas of Canterbury who
suspended him from his charge, judging him to be short-witted and
irresponsible. Now Saint Thomas had occasion to mend his hair-cloth
shirt, and while waiting for an opportunity to do so, had hidden it
under his bed; so the Virgin appeared to the priest and said to him:
"Go find the archbishop and tell him that she, for love of whom you
celebrated masses, has herself mended his shirt for him which is
under his bed; and tell him that she sends you to him that he may
take off the interdict he has imposed on you." And Saint Thomas
found that his shirt had in fact been mended. He relieved the
priest, begging him to keep the secret of his wearing a hair-shirt.
Mary did some exceedingly unconventional things, and among them the
darning Thomas A'Becket's hair-shirt, and the supporting a robber on
the gibbet, were not the most singular, yet they seem not to have
shocked Queen Blanche or Saint Francis or Saint Thomas Aquinas so
much as they shocked M. Gaston Paris and M. Prudhomme. You have
still to visit the cathedral at Le Mans for the sake of its twelfth-
century glass, and there, in the lower panel of the beautiful, and
very early, window of Saint Protais, you will see the full-length
figure of a man, lying in bed, under a handsome blanket, watching,
with staring eyes, the Virgin, in a green tunic, wearing her royal
crown, who is striking him on the head with a heavy hammer and with
both hands. The miracle belongs to local history, and is amusing
only to show how little the Virgin cared for criticism of her
manners or acts. She was above criticism. She made manners. Her acts
were laws. No one thought of criticizing, in the style of a normal
school, the will of such a queen; but one might treat her with a
degree of familiarity, under great provocation, which would startle
easier critics than the French, Here is an instance:--
A widow had an only child whom she tenderly loved. On hearing that
this son had been taken by the enemy, chained, and put in prison,
she burst into tears, and addressing herself to the Virgin, to whom
she was especially devoted, she asked her with obstinacy for the
release of her son; but when she saw at last that her prayers
remained unanswered, she went to the church where there was a
sculptured image of Mary, and there, before the image, she said:
"Holy Virgin, I have begged you to deliver my son, and you have not
been willing to help an unhappy mother! I've implored your patronage
for my son, and you have refused it! Very good! just as my son has
been taken away from me, so I am going to take away yours, and keep
him as a hostage!" Saying this, she approached, took the statue
child on the Virgin's breast, carried it home, wrapped it in
spotless linen, and locked it up in a box, happy to have such a
hostage for her son's return. Now, the following night, the Virgin
appeared to the young man, opened his prison doors, and said: "Tell
your mother, my child, to return me my Son now that I have returned
hers!" The young man came home to his mother and told her of his
miraculous deliverance; and she, overjoyed, hastened to go with the
little Jesus to the Virgin, saying to her: "I thank you, heavenly
lady, for restoring me my child, and in return I restore yours!"
For the exactness of this story in all its details, Bishop James of
Voragio could not have vouched, nor did it greatly matter. What he
could vouch for was the relation of intimacy and confidence between
his people and the Queen of Heaven. The fact, conspicuous above all
other historical certainties about religion, that the Virgin was by
essence illogical, unreasonable and feminine, is the only fact of
any ultimate value worth studying, and starts a number of questions
that history has shown itself clearly afraid to touch. Protestant
and Catholic differ little in that respect. No one has ventured to
explain why the Virgin wielded exclusive power over poor and rich,
sinners and saints, alike. Why were all the Protestant churches cold
failures without her help? Why could not the Holy Ghost--the spirit
of Love and Grace--equally answer their prayers? Why was the Son
powerless? Why was Chartres Cathedral in the thirteenth century--
like Lourdes to-day--the expression of what is in substance a
separate religion? Why did the gentle and gracious Virgin Mother so
exasperate the Pilgrim Father? Why was the Woman struck out of the
Church and ignored in the State? These questions are not antiquarian
or trifling in historical value; they tug at the very heart-strings
of all that makes whatever order is in the cosmos. If a Unity
exists, in which and toward which all energies centre, it must
explain and include Duality, Diversity, Infinity--Sex!
Although certain to be contradicted by every pious churchman, a
heretic must insist on thinking that the Mater Dolorosa was the
logical Virgin of the Church, and that the Trinity would never have
raised her from the foot of the Cross, had not the Virgin of Majesty
been imposed, by necessity and public unanimity, on a creed which
was meant to be complete without her. The true feeling of the Church
was best expressed by the Virgin herself in one of her attested
miracles: "A clerk, trusting more in the Mother than in the Son,
never stopped repeating the angelic salutation for his only prayer.
Once as he said again the 'Ave Maria,' the Lord appeared to him, and
said to him: 'My Mother thanks you much for all the Salutations that
you make her; but still you should not forget to salute me also:
tamen et me salutare memento.'" The Trinity feared absorption in
her, but was compelled to accept, and even to invite her aid,
because the Trinity was a court of strict law, and, as in the old
customary law, no process of equity could be introduced except by
direct appeal to a higher power. She was imposed unanimously by all
classes, because what man wanted most in the Middle Ages was not
merely law or equity, but also and particularly favour. Strict
justice, either on earth or in heaven, was the last thing that
society cared to face. All men were sinners, and had, at least, the
merit of feeling that, if they got their deserts, not one would
escape worse than whipping. The instinct of individuality went down
through all classes, from the count at the top, to the jugleors and
menestreus at the bottom. The individual rebelled against restraint;
society wanted to do what it pleased; all disliked the laws which
Church and State were trying to fasten on them. They longed for a
power above law,--or above the contorted mass of ignorance and
absurdity bearing the name of law; but the power which they longed
for was not human, for humanity they knew to be corrupt and
incompetent from the day of Adam's creation to the day of the Last
Judgment. They were all criminals; if not, they would have had no
use for the Church and very little for the State; but they had at
least the merit of their faults; they knew what they were, and, like
children, they yearned for protection, pardon, and love. This was
what the Trinity, though omnipotent, could not give. Whatever the
heretic or mystic might try to persuade himself, God could not be
Love. God was Justice, Order, Unity, Perfection; He could not be
human and imperfect, nor could the Son or the Holy Ghost be other
than the Father. The Mother alone was human, imperfect, and could
love; she alone was Favour, Duality, Diversity. Under any
conceivable form of religion, this duality must find embodiment
somewhere, and the Middle Ages logically insisted that, as it could
not be in the Trinity, either separately or together, it must be in
the Mother. If the Trinity was in its essence Unity, the Mother
alone could represent whatever was not Unity; whatever was
irregular, exceptional, outlawed; and this was the whole human race.
The saints alone were safe, after they were sainted. Every one else
was criminal, and men differed so little in degree of sin that, in
Mary's eyes, all were subjects for her pity and help.
This general rule of favour, apart from law, or the reverse of law,
was the mark of Mary's activity in human affairs. Take, for an
example, an entire class of her miracles, applying to the discipline
of the Church! A bishop ejected an ignorant and corrupt priest from
his living, as all bishops constantly had to do. The priest had
taken the precaution to make himself Mary's MAN; he had devoted
himself to her service and her worship. Mary instantly interfered,--
just as Queen Eleanor or Queen Blanche would have done,--most
unreasonably, and never was a poor bishop more roughly scolded by an
orthodox queen! "Moult airieement," very airily or angrily, she said
to him (Bartsch, 1887, p. 363):--
The story-teller--himself a priest and prior--caught the lofty trick
of manner which belonged to the great ladies of the court, and was
inherited by them, even in England, down to the time of Queen
Elizabeth, who treated her bishops also like domestic servants;--
"matinet bien main!" To the public, as to us, the justice of the
rebuke was nothing to the point; but that a friend should exist on
earth or in heaven, who dared to browbeat a bishop, caused the
keenest personal delight. The legends are clearer on this point than
on any other. The people loved Mary because she trampled on
conventions; not merely because she could do it, but because she
liked to do what shocked every well-regulated authority. Her pity
had no limit.
One of the Chartres miracles expresses the same motive in language
almost plainer still. A good-for-nothing clerk, vicious, proud,
vain, rude, and altogether worthless, but devoted to the Virgin,
died, and with general approval his body was thrown into a ditch
(Bartsch, 1887, p. 369):--
Mais cele ou sort tote pities
Ce saches tu certainement
Se tu li matinet bien main
Ne rapeles mon chapelain
A son servise et a s'enor,
L'ame de toi a desenor
Ains trente jors departira
Et es dolors d'infer ira.
Now know you this for sure and true,|
Unless to-morrow this you do,
--And do it very early too,--
Restore my chaplain to his due,
A much worse fate remains for you!
Within a month your soul shall go
To suffer in the flames below.
Tote douceurs tote amisties
Et qui les siens onques n'oublie
SON PECHEOR n'oblia mie.
"HER sinner!" Mary would not have been a true queen unless she had
protected her own. The whole morality of the Middle Ages stood in
the obligation of every master to protect his dependent. The
herdsmen of Count Garin of Beaucaire were the superiors of their
damoiseau Aucassins, while they felt sure of the Count. Mary was the
highest of all the feudal ladies, and was the example for all in
loyalty to her own, when she had to humiliate her own Bishop of
Chartres for the sake of a worthless brute. "Do you suppose it
doesn't annoy me," she said, "to see my friend buried in a common
ditch? Take him out at once! I command! tell the clergy it is my
order, and that I will never forgive them unless to-morrow morning
without delay, they bury my friend in the best place in the
Cuidies vos donc qu'il ne m'enuit
Quant vos l'aves si adosse
Que mis l'aves en un fosse?
Metes Ten fors je le comant!
Di le clergie que je li mant!
Ne me puet mi repaier
Se le matin sans delayer
A grant heneur n'est mis amis
Ou plus beau leu de l'aitre mis.
Naturally, her order was instantly obeyed. In the feudal regime,
disobedience to an order was treason--or even hesitation to obey--
when the order was serious; very much as in a modern army,
disobedience is not regarded as conceivable. Mary's wish was
absolute law, on earth as in heaven. For her, other laws were not
made. Intensely human, but always Queen, she upset, at her pleasure,
the decisions of every court and the orders of every authority,
human or divine; interfered directly in the ordeal; altered the
processes of nature; abolished space; annihilated time. Like other
queens, she had many of the failings and prejudices of her humanity.
In spite of her own origin, she disliked Jews, and rarely neglected
a chance to maltreat them. She was not in the least a prude. To her,
sin was simply humanity, and she seemed often on the point of
defending her arbitrary acts of mercy, by frankly telling the
Trinity that if the Creator meant to punish man, He should not have
made him. The people, who always in their hearts protested against
bearing the responsibility for the Creator's arbitrary creations,
delighted to see her upset the law, and reverse the rulings of the
Trinity. They idolized her for being strong, physically and in will,
so that she feared nothing, and was as helpful to the knight in the
melee of battle as to the young mother in child-bed. The only
character in which they seemed slow to recognize Mary was that of
bourgeoise. The bourgeoisie courted her favour at great expense, but
she seemed to be at home on the farm, rather than in the shop. She
had very rudimentary knowledge, indeed, of the principles of
political economy as we understand them, and her views on the
subject of money-lending or banking were so feminine as to rouse in
that powerful class a vindictive enmity which helped to overthrow
her throne. On the other hand, she showed a marked weakness for
chivalry, and one of her prettiest and most twelfth-century miracles
is that of the knight who heard mass while Mary took his place in
the lists. It is much too charming to lose (Bartsch, 1895, p. 311):-
The accent of truth still lingers in this remonstrance of the
squire, who must, from all time, have lost his temper on finding his
chevalier addicted to "papelardie" when he should have been
fighting; but the priest had the advantage of telling the story and
pointing the moral. This advantage the priest neglected rarely, but
in this case he used it with such refinement and so much literary
skill that even the squire might have been patient. With the
invariable gentle courtesy of the true knight, the chevalier replied
only by soft words:--
"Amis!" ce dist li chevalier,
Un chevalier courtois et sages,
Hardis et de grant vasselages,
Nus mieudres en chevalerie,
Moult amoit la vierge Marie.
Pour son barnage demener
Et son franc cors d'armes pener,
Aloit a son tournoiement
Garnis de son contentement.
Au dieu plaisir ainsi avint
Que quant le jour du tournoi vint
Il se hastoit de chevauchier,
Bien vousist estre en champ premier.
D'une eglise qui pres estoit
Oi les sains que l'on sonnoit
Pour la sainte messe chanter.
Le chevalier sans arrester
S'en est ale droit a l'eglise
Pour escouter le dieu servise.
L'en chantoit tantost hautement
Une messe devotement
De la sainte Vierge Marie;
Puis a on autre comencie.
Le chevalier vien l'escouta,
De bon cuer la dame pria,
Et quant la messe fut finee
La tierce fu recomenciee
Tantost en ce meisme lieu.
"Sire, pour la sainte char dieu!"
Ce li a dit son escuier,
"L'heure passe de tournoier,
Et vous que demourez ici?
Venez vous en, je vous en pri!
Volez vous devenir hermite
Ou papelart ou ypocrite?
Alons en a nostre mestier!"
A knight both courteous and wise|
And brave and bold in enterprise.
No better knight was ever seen,
Greatly loved the Virgin Queen.
Once, to contest the tourney's prize
And keep his strength in exercise,
He rode out to the listed field
Armed at all points with lance and shield;
But it pleased God that when the day
Of tourney came, and on his way
He pressed his charger's speed apace
To reach, before his friends, the place,
He saw a church hard by the road
And heard the church-bells sounding loud
To celebrate the holy mass.
Without a thought the church to pass
The knight drew rein, and entered there
To seek the aid of God in prayer.
High and dear they chanted then
A solemn mass to Mary Queen;
Then afresh began again.
Lost in his prayers the good knight stayed;
With all his heart to Mary prayed;
And, when the second one was done,
Straightway the third mass was begun,
Right there upon the self-same place.
"Sire, for mercy of God's grace!"
Whispered his squire in his ear;
"The hour of tournament is near;
Why do you want to linger here?
Is it a hermit to become,
Or hypocrite, or priest of Rome?
Come on, at once! despatch your prayer!
Let us be off to our affair!"
"Cil tournoie moult noblement
Qui le servise dieu entent."
In one of Milton's sonnets is a famous line which is commonly
classed among the noblest verses of the English language:--
"They also serve, who only stand and wait."
Fine as it is, with the simplicity of the grand style, like the
"Chanson de Roland" the verse of Milton does not quite destroy the
charm of thirteenth-century diction:--
"Friend!" said to him the chevalier,
"He tourneys very nobly too,
Who only hears God's service through!"
No doubt the verses lack the singular power of the eleventh century;
it is not worth while to pretend that any verse written in the
thirteenth century wholly holds its own against "Roland":--
"Sire cumpain! faites le vus de gred?
Ja est co Rollanz ki tant vos soelt amer!"
The courtesy of Roland has the serious solidity of the Romanesque
arch, and that of Lancelot and Aucassins has the grace of a
legendary window; but one may love it, all the same; and one may
even love the knight,--papelard though he were,--as he turned back
to the altar and remained in prayer until the last mass was ended.
Then they mounted and rode on toward the field, and of course you
foresee what had happened. In itself the story is bald enough, but
it is told with such skill that one never tires of it. As the
chevalier and the squire approached the lists, they met the other
knights returning, for the jousts were over; but, to the
astonishment of the chevalier, he was greeted by all who passed him
with shouts of applause for his marvellous triumph in the lists,
where he had taken all the prizes and all the prisoners:--
The moral of the tale belongs to the best feudal times. The knight
at once recognized that he had become the liege-man of the Queen,
and henceforth must render his service entirely to her. So he called
his "barons," or tenants, together, and after telling them what had
happened, took leave of them and the "siecle":--
Les chevaliers ont encontrez,
Qui du tournois sont retournes,
Qui du tout en tout est feru.
S'en avoit tout le pris eu
Le chevalier qui reperoit
Des messes qu' oies avoit.
Les autres qui s'en reperoient
Le saluent et le conjoient
Et distrent bien que onques mes
Nul chevalier ne prist tel fes
D'armes com il ot fet ce jour;
A tousjours en avroit l'onnour.
Moult en i ot qui se rendoient
A lui prisonier, et disoient
"Nous somes vostre prisonier,
Ne nous ne pourrions nier,
Ne nous aiez par armes pris."
Lors ne fu plus cil esbahis,
Car il a entendu tantost
Que cele fu pour lui en l'ost
Pour qui il fu en la chapelle.
His friends, returning from the fight,|
On the way there met the knight,
For the jousts were wholly run,
And all the prizes had been won
By the knight who had not stirred
From the masses he had heard.
All the knights, as they came by,
Saluted him and gave him joy,
And frankly said that never yet
Had any knight performed such feat,
Nor ever honour won so great
As he had done in arms that day;
While many of them stopped to say
That they all his prisoners were:
"In truth, your prisoners we are:
We cannot but admit it true:
Taken we were in arms by you!"
Then the truth dawned on him there,
And all at once he saw the light,
That She, by whom he stood in prayer,
--The Virgin,--stood by him in fight!
Observe that in this case Mary exacted no service! Usually the
legends are told, as in this instance, by priests, though they were
told in the same spirit by laymen, as you can see in the poems of
Rutebeuf, and they would not have been told very differently by
soldiers, if one may judge from Joinville; but commonly the Virgin
herself prescribed the kind of service she wished. Especially to the
young knight who had, of his own accord, chosen her for his liege,
she showed herself as exacting as other great ladies showed
themselves toward their Lancelots and Tristans. When she chose, she
could even indulge in more or less coquetry, else she could never
have appealed to the sympathies of the thirteenth-century knight-
errant. One of her miracles told how she disciplined the young men
who were too much in the habit of assuming her service in order to
obtain selfish objects. A youthful chevalier, much given to
tournaments and the other worldly diversions of the siecle, fell in
love, after the rigorous obligation of his class, as you know from
your Dulcinea del Toboso, with a lady who, as was also prescribed by
the rules of courteous love, declined to listen to him. An abbot of
his acquaintance, sympathizing with his distress, suggested to him
the happy idea of appealing for help to the Queen of Heaven. He
followed the advice, and for an entire year shut himself up, and
prayed to Mary, in her chapel, that she would soften the heart of
his beloved, and bring her to listen to his prayer. At the end of
the twelvemonth, fixed as a natural and sufficient proof of his
earnestness in devotion, he felt himself entitled to indulge again
in innocent worldly pleasures, and on the first morning after his
release, he started out on horseback for a day's hunting. Probably
thousands of young knights and squires were always doing more or
less the same thing, and it was quite usual that, as they rode
through the fields or forests, they should happen on a solitary
chapel or shrine, as this knight did. He stopped long enough to
kneel in it and renew his prayer to the Queen:--
"Moult est ciest tournoiement beaux
Ou ele a pour moi tournoie;
Mes trop l'avroit mal emploie
Se pour lui je ne tournoioie!
Fox seroie se retournoie
A la mondaine vanite.
A dieu promet en verite
Que james ne tournoierai
Fors devant le juge verai
Qui conoit le bon chevalier
Et selonc le fet set jutgier."
Lors prent congie piteusement,
Et maint en plorent tenrement.
D'euls se part, en une abaie
Servi puis la vierge Marie.
"Glorious has the tourney been|
Where for me has fought the Queen;
But a disgrace for me it were
If I tourneyed not for her.
Traitor to her should I be,
Returned to worldly vanity.
I promise truly, by God's grace,
Never again the lists to see,
Except before that Judge's face,
Who knows the true knight from the base,
And gives to each his final place."
Then piteously he takes his leave
While in tears his barons grieve.
So he parts, and in an abbey
Serves henceforth the Virgin Mary.
One is at a loss to imagine what a young gentleman could do, in such
a situation, except to obey, with the fewest words possible, the
suggestion so gracefully intended. Queen's favours might be fatal
gifts, but they were much more fatal to reject than to accept.
Whatever might be the preferences of the knight, he had invited his
own fate, and in consequence was fortunate to be allowed the option
of dying and going to heaven, or dying without going to heaven. Mary
was not always so gentle with young men who deserted or neglected
her for an earthly rival;--the offence which irritated her most, and
occasionally caused her to use language which hardly bears
translation into modern English. Without meaning to assert that the
Queen of Heaven was jealous as Queen Blanche herself, one must still
admit that she was very severe on lovers who showed willingness to
leave her service, and take service with any other lady. One of her
admirers, educated for the priesthood but not yet in full orders,
was obliged by reasons of family interest to quit his career in
order to marry. An insult like this was more than Mary could endure,
and she gave the young man a lesson he never forgot:--
La mere dieu qui maint chetif
A retrait de chetivete
Par sa grant debonnairte
Par sa courtoise courtoisie
Au las qui tant l'apele et prie
Ignelement s'est demonstree,
D'une coronne corronnee
Plaine de pierres precieuses
Si flamboianz si precieuses
Pour pou li euil ne li esluisent.
Si netement ainsi reluisent
Et resplendissent com la raie
Qui en este au matin raie.
Tant par a bel et cler le vis
Que buer fu mez, ce li est vis,
Qui s'i puest assez mirer.
"Cele qui te fait soupirer
Et en si grant erreur t'a mis,"
Fait nostre dame, "biau douz amis,
Est ele plus bele que moi?"
Li chevaliers a tel effroi
De la clarte, ne sai que face;
Ses mains giete devant sa face;
Tel hide a et tel freeur
Chaoir se laisse de freeur;
Mais cele en qui pitie est toute
Li dist: "Amis, or n'aies doute!
Je suis cele, n'en doute mie,
Qui te doi faire avoir t'amie.
Or prens garde que tu feras.
Cele que tu miex ameras
De nous ii auras a amie."
God's Mother who to many a wretch|
Has brought relief from wretchedness.
By her infinite goodness,
By her courteous courteousness,
To her suppliant in distress
Came from heaven quickly down;
On her head she bore the crown,
Full of precious stones and gems
Darting splendour, flashing flames,
Till the eye near lost its sight
In the keenness of the light,
As the summer morning's sun
Blinds the eyes it shines upon.
So beautiful and bright her face,
Only to look on her is grace.
"She who has caused you thus to sigh,
And has brought you to this end,"--
Said Our Lady,--"Tell me, friend,
Is she handsomer than I?"
Scared by her brilliancy, the knight
Knows not what to do for fright;
He clasps his hands before his face,
And in his shame and his disgrace
Falls prostrate on the ground with fear;
But she with pity ever near
Tells him:--"Friend, be not afraid!
Doubt not that I am she whose aid
Shall surely bring your love to you;
But take good care what you shall do!
She you shall love most faithfully
Of us two, shall your mistress be."
A mistress who loved in this manner was not to be gainsaid. No
earthly love had a chance of holding its own against this unfair
combination of heaven and hell, and Mary was as unscrupulous as any
other great lady in abusing all her advantages in order to save HER
souls. Frenchmen never found fault with abuses of power for what
they thought a serious object. The more tyrannical Mary was, the
more her adorers adored, and they wholly approved, both in love and
in law, the rule that any man who changed his allegiance without
permission, did so at his own peril. His life and property were
forfeit. Mary showed him too much grace in giving him an option.
Even in anger Mary always remained a great lady, and in the ordinary
relations of society her manners were exquisite, as they were,
according to Joinville, in the court of Saint Louis, when tempers
were not overwrought. The very brutality of the brutal compelled the
courteous to exaggerate courtesy, and some of the royal family were
as coarse as the king was delicate in manners. In heaven the manners
were perfect, and almost as stately as those of Roland and Oliver.
On one occasion Saint Peter found himself embarrassed by an affair
which the public opinion of the Court of Heaven, although not by any
means puritanic, thought more objectionable--in fact, more frankly
discreditable--than an honest corrupt job ought to be; and even his
influence, though certainly considerable, wholly failed to carry it
through the law-court. The case, as reported by Gaultier de Coincy,
was this: A very worthless creature of Saint Peter's--a monk of
Cologne--who had led a scandalous life, and "ne cremoit dieu, ordre
ne roule," died, and in due course of law was tried, convicted, and
dragged off by the devils to undergo his term of punishment. Saint
Peter could not desert his sinner, though much ashamed of him, and
accordingly made formal application to the Trinity for a pardon. The
Trinity, somewhat severely, refused. Finding his own interest
insufficient, Saint Peter tried to strengthen it by asking the
archangels to help him; but the case was too much for them also, and
they declined. The brother apostles were appealed to, with the same
result; and finally even the saints, though they had so obvious
interest in keeping friendly relations with Peter, found public
opinion too strong to defy. The case was desperate. The Trinity
were--or was--emphatic, and--what was rare in the Middle Ages--every
member of the feudal hierarchy sustained its decision. Nothing more
could be done in the regular way. Saint Peter was obliged to divest
himself of authority, and place himself and his dignity in the hands
of the Virgin. Accordingly he asked for an audience, and stated the
case to Our Lady. With the utmost grace, she instantly responded:--
Ireement li prent a dire
La mere au roi de paradis:
"Di moi, di moi, tu que jadis
M'amoies tant de tout ton coeur.
Pourquoi m'as tu jete puer?
Di moi, di moi, ou est donc cele
Qui plus de moi bone est et bele?...
Pourquoi, pourquoi, las durfeus,
Las engignez, las deceuz,
Me lais pour une lasse fame,
Qui suis du del Royne et Dame?
Enne fais tu trop mauvais change
Qui tu por une fame estrange
Me laisses qui par amors t'amoie
Et ja ou ciel t'apareilloie
En mes chambres un riche lit
Por couchier t'ame a grand delit?
Trop par as faites grant merveilles
S'autrement tost ne te conseilles
Ou ciel serra tes lits deffais<
Et en la flamme d'enfer faiz!"
With anger flashing in her eyes|
Answers the Queen of Paradise:
"Tell me, tell me! you of old
Loved me once with love untold;
Why now throw me aside?
Tell me, tell me! where a bride
Kinder or fairer have you won?...
Wherefore, wherefore, wretched one,
Deceived, betrayed, misled, undone,
Leave me for a creature mean,
Me, who am of Heaven the Queen?
Can you make a worse exchange,
You that for a woman strange,
Leave me who, with perfect love,
Waiting you in heaven above,
Had in my chamber richly dressed
A bed of bliss your soul to rest?
Terrible is your mistake!
Unless you better council take,
In heaven your bed shall be unmade,
And in the flames of hell be spread."
One can see Queen Blanche going to beg--or command--a favour of her
son, King Louis, and the stately dignity of their address, while
Saint Peter and the virgins remain in the antechamber; but, as for
Saint Peter's lost soul, the request was a mere form, and the doors
of paradise were instantly opened to it, after such brief
formalities as should tend to preserve the technical record of the
law-court. We tread here on very delicate ground. Gaultier de
Coincy, being a priest and a prior, could take liberties which we
cannot or ought not to take. The doctrines of the Church are too
serious and too ancient to be wilfully misstated, and the doctrines
of what is called Mariolatry were never even doctrines of the
Church. Yet it is true that, in the hearts of Mary's servants, the
Church and its doctrines were at the mercy of Mary's will. Gaultier
de Coincy claimed that Mary exasperated the devils by exercising a
wholly arbitrary and illegitimate power. Gaultier not merely
admitted, but frankly asserted, that this was the fact:--
"Pierre, Pierre," dit Nostre Dame,
"En moult grand poine et por ceste ame
De mon douz filz me fierai
Tant que pour toi l'en prierai."
La Mere Dieu lors s'est levee,
Devant son filz s'en est alee
Et ses virges toutes apres.
De lui si tint Pierre pres,
Quar sanz doutance bien savoit
Que sa besoigne faite avoit
Puisque cele l'avoit en prise
Ou forme humaine avoit prise.
Quant sa Mere vit li douz Sire
Qui de son doit daigna escrire
Qu'en honourant et pere et mere
En contre lui a chere clere
Se leva moult festivement
Et si li dist moult doucement;
"Bien veigniez vous, ma douce mere,"
Comme douz filz, comme douz pere.
Doucement l'a par la main prise
Et doucement lez lui assise;
Lors li a dit:--"A douce chiere,
Que veus ma douce mere chiere,
Mes amies et mes sereurs?"
"Pierre, Pierre," our Lady said,|
"With all my heart I'll give you aid,
And to my gentle Son I'll sue
Until I beg that soul for you."
God's Mother then arose straightway,
And sought her Son without delay;
All her virgins followed her,
And Saint Peter kept him near,
For he knew his task was done
And his prize already won,
Since it was hers, in whom began
The life of God in form of Man.
When our dear Lord, who deigned to write
With his own hand that in his sight
Those in his kingdom held most dear
Father and mother honoured here,--
When He saw His Mother's face
He rose and said with gentle grace:
"Well are you come, my heart's desire!"
Like loving son, like gracious sire;
Took her hand gently in His own;
Gently placed her on His throne,
Wishing her graciously good cheer:--
"What brings my gentle Mother here,
My sister, and my dearest friend?"
If the Virgin took the feelings of the Trinity into consideration,
or recognized its existence except as her Son, the case has not been
reported, or, at all events, has been somewhat carefully kept out of
sight by the Virgin's poets. The devils were emphatic in denouncing
Mary for absorbing the whole Trinity. In one sharply disputed case
in regard to a villain, or labourer, whose soul the Virgin claimed
because he had learned the "Ave Maria," the devils became very
angry, indeed, and protested vehemently:--
Font li deables:--"de cest plait,
Mal por mal, assez miex nous plest
Que nous aillons au jugement
Li haut jugeur qui ne ment.
C'au plait n'au jugement sa mere
De droit jugier est trop avere;
Mais dieu nous juge si adroit,
Plainement nous lest notre droit.
Sa mere juge en tel maniere
Qu'elle nous met touz jors arriere
Quant nous cuidons estre devant.
. . . . . . .
En ciel et en terre est plus Dame
Par un petit que Diex ne soit.
Il l'aimme tant et tant la croit,
N'est riens qu'elle face ne die
Qu'il desveile ne contredie.
Quant qu'elle veut li fait acroire,
S'elle disoit la pie est noire
Et l'eue trouble est toute clere:
Si diroit il voir dit ma mere!"
"In this law-suit," say the devils,|
"Since it is a choice of evils,
We had best appeal on high
To the Judge Who does not lie.
What is law to any other,
'T is no use pleading with His Mother;
But God judges us so true
That He leaves us all our due.
His Mother judges us so short
That she throws us out of court
When we ought to win our cause.
. . . . . . . .
In heaven and earth she makes more laws
By far, than God Himself can do,
He loves her so, and trusts her so,
There's nothing she can do or say
That He'll refuse, or say her nay.
Whatever she may want is right,
Though she say that black is white,
And dirty water clear as snow:--
My Mother says it, and it's so!"
As regards Mary of Chartres, these charges seem to have been
literally true, except so far as concerned the "laid maufe" Pierre
de Dreux. Gaultier de Coincy saw no impropriety in accepting, as
sufficiently exact, the allegations of the devils against the
Virgin's abuse of power. Down to the death of Queen Blanche, which
is all that concerns us, the public saw no more impropriety in it
than Gaultier did. The ugly, envious devils, notorious as students
of the Latin Quarter, were perpetually making the same charges
against Queen Blanche and her son, without disturbing her authority.
No one could conceive that the Virgin held less influence in heaven
than the queen mother on earth. Nevertheless there were points in
the royal policy and conduct of Mary which thoughtful men even then
hesitated to approve. The Church itself never liked to be dragged
too far under feminine influence, although the moment it discarded
feminine influence it lost nearly everything of any value to it or
to the world, except its philosophy. Mary's tastes were too popular;
some of the uglier devils said they were too low; many ladies and
gentlemen of the "siecle" thought them disreputable, though they
dared not say so, or dared say so only by proxy, as in "Aucassins."
As usual, one must go to the devils for the exact truth, and in
spite of their outcry, the devils admitted that they had no reason
to complain of Mary's administration:--
Li lait maufe, li rechinie
Adonc ont ris et eschinie.
C'en font il:--"Merveillans merveille!
Por ce vilain plate oreille
Aprent vo Dame a saluer,
Se nous vorro trestous tuer
Se regarder osons vers s'ame.
De tout le monde vieut estre Dame!
Ains nule dame ne fu tiez.
II est avis qu'ele soit Diex
Ou qu'ele ait Diex en main bornie.
Nul besoigne n'est fournie,
Ne terrienne ne celestre,
Que toute Dame ne veille estre.
Il est avis que tout soit suen;
Dieu ne deable n'i ont rien."
The ugly demons laugh outright|
And grind their teeth with envious spite;
Because that flat-eared ploughman there
Learned to make your Dame a prayer,
She would like to kill us all
Just for looking toward his soul.
All the world she wants to rule!
No such Dame was ever seen!
She thinks that she is God, I ween,
Or holds Him in her hollow hand.
Not a judgment or command
Or an order can be given
Here on earth or there in heaven,
That she does not want control.
She thinks that she ordains the whole,
And keeps it all for her own profit.
God nor Devil share not of it."
True it was, although one should not say it jestingly, that the
Virgin embarrassed the Trinity; and perhaps this was the reason,
behind all the other excellent reasons, why men loved and adored her
with a passion such as no other deity has ever inspired: and why we,
although utter strangers to her, are not far from getting down on
our knees and praying to her still. Mary concentrated in herself the
whole rebellion of man against fate; the whole protest against
divine law; the whole contempt for human law as its outcome; the
whole unutterable fury of human nature beating itself against the
walls of its prison-house, and suddenly seized by a hope that in the
Virgin man had found a door of escape. She was above law; she took
feminine pleasure in turning hell into an ornament; she delighted in
trampling on every social distinction in this world and the next.
She knew that the universe was as unintelligible to her, on any
theory of morals, as it was to her worshippers, and she felt, like
them, no sure conviction that it was any more intelligible to the
Creator of it. To her, every suppliant was a universe in itself, to
be judged apart, on his own merits, by his love for her,--by no
means on his orthodoxy, or his conventional standing in the Church,
or according to his correctness in defining the nature of the
Trinity. The convulsive hold which Mary to this day maintains over
human imagination--as you can see at Lourdes--was due much less to
her power of saving soul or body than to her sympathy with people
who suffered under law,--divine or human,--justly or unjustly, by
accident or design, by decree of God or by guile of Devil. She cared
not a straw for conventional morality, and she had no notion of
letting her friends be punished, to the tenth or any other
generation, for the sins of their ancestors or the peccadilloes of
So Mary filled heaven with a sort of persons little to the taste of
any respectable middle-class society, which has trouble enough in
making this world decent and pay its bills, without having to
continue the effort in another. Mary stood in a Church of her own,
so independent that the Trinity might have perished without much
affecting her position; but, on the other hand, the Trinity could
look on and see her dethroned with almost a breath of relief.
Aucassins and the devils of Gaultier de Coincy foresaw her danger.
Mary's treatment of respectable and law-abiding people who had no
favours to ask, and were reasonably confident of getting to heaven
by the regular judgment, without expense, rankled so deeply that
three hundred years later the Puritan reformers were not satisfied
with abolishing her, but sought to abolish the woman altogether as
the cause of all evil in heaven and on earth. The Puritans abandoned
the New Testament and the Virgin in order to go back to the
beginning, and renew the quarrel with Eve. This is the Church's
affair, not ours, and the women are competent to settle it with
Church or State, without help from outside; but honest tourists are
seriously interested in putting the feeling back into the dead
architecture where it belongs.
Mary was rarely harsh to any suppliant or servant, and she took no
special interest in humiliating the rich or the learned or the wise.
For them, law was made; by them, law was administered; and with
their doings Mary never arbitrarily interfered; but occasionally she
could not resist the temptation to intimate her opinion of the
manner in which the Trinity allowed their--the regular--Church to be
administered. She was a queen, and never for an instant forgot it,
but she took little thought about her divine rights, if she had
any,--and in fact Saint Bernard preferred her without them,--while
she was scandalized at the greed of officials in her Son's Court.
One day a rich usurer and a very poor old woman happened to be dying
in the same town. Gaultier de Coincy did not say, as an accurate
historian should, that he was present, nor did he mention names or
dates, although it was one of his longest and best stories. Mary
never loved bankers, and had no reason for taking interest in this
one, or for doing him injury; but it happened that the parish priest
was summoned to both death-beds at the same time, and neglected the
old pauper in the hope of securing a bequest for his church from the
banker. This was the sort of fault that most annoyed Mary in the
Church of the Trinity, which, in her opinion, was not cared for as
it should be, and she felt it her duty to intimate as much.
Although the priest refused to come at the old woman's summons, his
young clerk, who seems to have acted as vicar though not in orders,
took pity on her, and went alone with the sacrament to her hut,
which was the poorest of poor hovels even for that age:--
"Les beles dames de grant pris
Qui traynant vont ver et gris,
Roys, roynes, dus et contesses, En enfer vienent a granz presses;
Mais ou ciel vont pres tout a fait
Tort et bocu et contrefait.
Ou ciel va toute la ringaille;
Le grain avons et diex la paille."
"All the great dames and ladies fair|
Who costly robes and ermine wear,
Kings, queens, and countesses and lords
Come down to hell in endless hordes;
While up to heaven go the lamed,
The dwarfs, the humpbacks, and the maimed;
To heaven goes the whole riff-raff;
We get the grain and God the chaff."
There the beggar lay, already insensible or at the last gasp, on
coarse thatch, on the ground, covered by an old hempen sack. The
picture represented the extremest poverty of the thirteenth century;
a hovel without even a feather bed or bedstead, as Aucassins'
ploughman described his mother's want; and the old woman alone,
dying, as the clerk appeared at the opening:--
Close de piex et de serciaus
Comme une viez souz a porciaus.
Roof of hoops, and wall of logs,|
Like a wretched stye for hogs.
The clerk, in terror, hesitated whether to turn and run away, but
Our Lady beckoned him to the bed, while all rose and kneeled
devoutly to the sacrament. Then she said to the trembling clerk:--
"Friend, be not afraid!
Li clers qui fu moult bien apris
Le cors Nostre Seigneur a pris
A l'ostel a la povre fame
S'en vient touz seus mes n'i treuve ame.
Si grant clarte y a veue
Que grant peeur en a eue.
Ou povre lit a la vieillete
Qui couvers iert d'une nateite
Assises voit XII puceles
Si avenans et si tres beles
N'est nus tant penser i seust
Qui raconter le vout peust.
A coutee voist Nostre Dame
Sus le chevez la povre fame
Qui por la mort sue et travaille.
La Mere Dieu d'une tovaille
Qui blanche est plus que fleur de lis
La grant sueur d'entor le vis
A ses blanches mains li essuie.
The clerk, well in these duties taught,|
The body of our Saviour brought
Where she lay upon her bed
Without a soul to give her aid.
But such brightness there he saw
As filled his mind with fear and awe.
Covered with a mat of straw
The woman lay; but round and near
A dozen maidens sat, so fair
No mortal man could dream such light,
No mortal tongue describe the sight.
Then he saw that next the bed,
By the poor old woman's head,
As she gasped and strained for breath
In the agony of death,
Sat Our Lady,--bending low,--
While, with napkin white as snow,
She dried the death-sweat on the brow.
But seat yourself, to give us aid,
Beside these maidens, on the bed."
And when the clerk had obeyed, she continued--
After the sacrament came a touch of realism that recalls the simple
death-scenes that Walter Scott described in his grand twelfth-
century manner. The old woman lingered pitiably in her agony:--
"Or tost, amis!" fait Nostre Dame,
"Confessies ceste bone fame
Et puis apres tout sans freeur
Recevra tost son sauveeur
Qui char et sanc vout en moi prendre."
"Come quickly, friend!" Our Lady says,|
"This good old woman now confess
And afterwards without distress
She will at once receive her God
Who deigned in me take flesh and blood."
The rest of the story concerned the usurer, whose death-bed was of a
different character, but Mary's interest in death-beds of that kind
was small. The fate of the usurer mattered the less because she knew
too well how easily the banker, in good credit, could arrange with
the officials of the Trinity to open the doors of paradise for him.
The administration of heaven was very like the administration of
France; the Queen Mother saw many things of which she could not
wholly approve; but her nature was pity, not justice, and she shut
her eyes to much that she could not change. Her miracles, therefore,
were for the most part mere evidence of her pity for those who
needed it most, and these were rarely the well-to-do people of the
siecle, but more commonly the helpless. Every saint performed
miracles, and these are standard, not peculiar to any one
intermediator; and every saint protected his own friends; but beyond
these exhibitions of power, which are more or less common to the
whole hierarchy below the Trinity, Mary was the mother of pity and
the only hope of despair. One might go on for a volume, studying the
character of Mary and the changes that time made in it, from the
earliest Byzantine legends down to the daily recorded miracles at
Lourdes; no character in history has had so long or varied a
development, and none so sympathetic; but the greatest poets long
ago plundered that mine of rich motives, and have stolen what was
most dramatic for popular use. The Virgin's most famous early
miracle seems to have been that of the monk Theophilus, which was
what one might call her salvation of Faust. Another Byzantine
miracle was an original version of Shylock. Shakespeare and his
fellow dramatists plundered the Church legends as freely as their
masters plundered the Church treasuries, yet left a mass of dramatic
material untouched. Let us pray the Virgin that it may remain
untouched, for, although a good miracle was in its day worth much
money--so much that the rival shrines stole each other's miracles
without decency--one does not care to see one's Virgin put to money-
making for Jew theatre-managers. One's two-hundred and fifty million
arithmetical ancestors shrink.
For mere amusement, too, the miracle is worth reading of the little
Jew child who ignorantly joined in the Christian communion, and was
thrown into a furnace by his father in consequence; but when the
furnace was opened, the Virgin appeared seated in the midst of the
flames, with the little child unharmed in her lap. Better is that
called the "Tombeor de Notre Dame," only recently printed; told by
some unknown poet of the thirteenth century, and told as well as any
of Gaultier de Coincy's. Indeed the "Tombeor de Notre Dame" has had
more success in our time than it ever had in its own, as far as one
knows, for it appeals to a quiet sense of humour that pleases modern
French taste as much as it pleased the Virgin. One fears only to
spoil it by translation, but if a translation be merely used as a
glossary or footnote, it need not do fatal harm.
The story is that of a tumbler--tombeor, street-acrobat--who was
disgusted with the world, as his class has had a reputation for
becoming, and who was fortunate enough to obtain admission into the
famous monastery of Clairvaux, where Saint Bernard may have formerly
been blessed by the Virgin's presence. Ignorant at best, and
especially ignorant of letters, music, and the offices of a
religious society, he found himself unable to join in the services:-
Lors dit une des demoiselles
A madame sainte Marie:
"Encore, dame, n'istra mie
Si com moi semble du cors l'ame."
"Bele fille," fait Nostre Dame,
"Traveiller lais un peu le cors,
Aincois que l'ame en isse hors,
Si que puree soil et nete
Aincois qu'en Paradis la mete.
N'est or mestier qui soions plus,
Ralon nous en ou ciel lassus,
Quant tens en iert bien reviendronsv
En paradis l'ame emmerrons."
A maiden said to Saint Marie,|
"My lady, still it seems to me
The soul will not the body fly."
"Fair child!" Our Lady made reply,
"Still let awhile the body fight
Before the soul shall leave it quite.
So that it pure may be, and cleansed
When it to Paradise ascends.
No longer need we here remain;
We can go back to heaven again;
We will return before she dies,
And take the soul to paradise."
Tormented by the sense of his uselessness to the society whose bread
he ate without giving a return in service, and afraid of being
expelled as a useless member, one day while the bells were calling
to mass he hid in the crypt, and in despair began to soliloquize
before the Virgin's altar, at the same spot, one hopes, where the
Virgin had shown herself, or might have shown herself, in her
infinite bounty, to Saint Bernard, a hundred years before:--
Car n'ot vescu fors de tumer
Et d'espringier et de baler.
Treper, saillir, ice savoit;
Ne d'autre rien il ne savoit;
Car ne savoit autre lecon
Ne "pater noster" ne chancon
Ne le "credo" ne le salu
Ne rien qui fust a son salu.
For he had learned no other thing|
Than to tumble, dance and spring:
Leaping and vaulting, that he knew,
But nothing better could he do.
He could not say his prayers by rote;
Not "Pater noster", not a note,
Not "Ave Mary," nor the creed;
Nothing to help his soul in need.
In his earnestness he exerted himself until, at the end of his
strength, he lay exhausted and unconscious on the altar steps.
Pleased with his own exhibition, and satisfied that the Virgin was
equally pleased, he continued these devotions every day, until at
last his constant and singular absence from the regular services
attracted the curiosity of a monk, who kept watch on him and
reported his eccentric exercise to the Abbot.
The mediaeval monasteries seem to have been gently administered.
Indeed, this has been made the chief reproach on them, and the
excuse for robbing them for the benefit of a more energetic crown
and nobility who tolerated no beggars or idleness but their own; at
least, it is safe to say that few well-regulated and economically
administered modern charities would have the patience of the Abbot
of Clairvaux, who, instead of calling up the weak-minded tombeor and
sending him back to the world to earn a living by his profession,
went with his informant to the crypt, to see for himself what the
strange report meant. We have seen at Chartres what a crypt may be,
and how easily one might hide in its shadows while mass is said at
the altars. The Abbot and his informant hid themselves behind a
column in the shadow, and watched the whole performance to its end
when the exhausted tumbler dropped unconscious and drenched with
perspiration on the steps of the altar, with the words:--
"Hai," fait il, "con suis trais!
Or dira ja cascuns sa laisse
Et jo suis ci i hues en laisse
Qui ne fas ci fors que broster
Et viandes por nient gaster.
Si ne dirai ne ne ferai?
Par la mere deu, si ferai!
Ja n'en serai ore repris;
Jo ferai ce que j'ai apris;
Si servirai de men mestier
La mere deu en son mostier;
Li autre servent de canter
Et jo servirai de tumer."
Sa cape oste, si se despoille,
Deles l'autel met sa despoille,
Mais por sa char que ne soit nue
Une cotele a retenue
Qui moult estait tenre et alise,
Petit vaut miex d'une chemise,
Si est en pur le cors remes.
Il s'est bien chains et acesmes,
Sa cote caint et bien s'atorne,
Devers l'ymage se retorne
Mout humblement et si l'esgarde:
"Dame," fait il, "en vostre garde
Comant jo et mon cors et m'ame.
Douce reine, douce dame,
Ne despisies ce que jo sai
Car jo me voil metre a l'asai
De vos servir en bone foi
Se dex m'ait sans nul desroi.
Jo ne sai canter ne lire
Mais certes jo vos voil eslire
Tos mes biax gieus a eslicon.
Or soie al fuer de taurecon
Qui trepe et saut devant sa mere.
Dame, qui n'estes mie amere
A cels qui vos servent a droit,
Quelsque jo soie, por vos soit!"
Lors li commence a faire saus
Bas et petits et grans et haus
Primes deseur et puis desos,
Puis se remet sor ses genols,
Devers l'ymage, et si l'encline:
"He!" fait il, "tres douce reine
Par vo pitie, par vo francise,
Ne despisies pas mon servise!"
"Ha!" said he, "how I am ashamed!|
To sing his part goes now each priest,
And I stand here, a tethered beast,
Who nothing do but browse and feed
And waste the food that others need.
Shall I say nothing, and stand still?
No! by God's mother, but I will!
She shall not think me here for naught;
At least I'll do what I've been taught!
At least I'll serve in my own way
God's mother in her church to-day.
The others serve to pray and sing;
I will serve to leap and spring."
Then he strips him of his gown,
Lays it on the altar down;
But for himself he takes good care
Not to show his body bare,
But keeps a jacket, soft and thin,
Almost a shirt, to tumble in.
Clothed in this supple woof of maille
His strength and health and form showed well.
And when his belt is buckled fast,
Toward the Virgin turns at last:
Very humbly makes his prayer;
"Lady!" says he, "to your care
I commit my soul and frame.
Gentle Virgin, gentle dame,
Do not despise what I shall do,
For I ask only to please you,
To serve you like an honest man,
So help me God, the best I can.
I cannot chant, nor can I read,
But I can show you here instead,
All my best tricks to make you laugh,
And so shall be as though a calf
Should leap and jump before its dam.
Lady, who never yet could blame
Those who serve you well and true,
All that I am, I am for you."
Then he begins to jump about,
High and low, and in and out,
Straining hard with might and main;
Then, falling on his knees again,
Before the image bows his face:
"By your pity! by your grace!"
Says he, "Ha! my gentle queen,
Do not despise my offering!"
You can imagine the dim crypt; the tumbler lying unconscious beneath
the image of the Virgin; the Abbot peering out from the shadow of
the column, and wondering what sort of discipline he could inflict
for this unforeseen infraction of rule; when suddenly, before he
could decide what next to do, the vault above the altar, of its own
"Dame!" fait il, "ne puis plus ore;
Mais voire je reviendrai encore."
"Lady!" says he, "no more I can,|
But truly I'll come back again!"
Beyond this we need not care to go. If you cannot feel the colour
and quality--the union of naivete and art, the refinement, the
infinite delicacy and tenderness--of this little poem, then nothing
will matter much to you; and if you can feel it, you can feel,
without more assistance, the majesty of Chartres.
L'abes esgarde sans atendre
Et vit de la volte descendre
Une dame si gloriouse
Ains nus ne vit si preciouse
Ni si ricement conreee,
N'onques tant bele ne fu nee.
Ses vesteures sont bien chieres
D'or et de precieuses pieres.
Avec li estoient li angle
Del ciel amont, et li arcangle,
Qui entor le menestrel vienent,
Si le solacent et sostienent.
Quant entor lui sont arengie
S'ot tot son cuer asoagie.
Dont s'aprestent de lui servir
Por ce qu'ils volrent deservir
La servise que fait la dame
Qui tant est precieuse geme.
Et la douce reine france
Tenoit une touaille blance,
S'en avente son menestrel
Mout doucement devant l'autel.
La franc dame debonnaire
Le col, le cors, et le viaire
Li avente por refroidier;
Bien s'entremet de lui aidier;
La dame bien s'i abandone;
Li bons hom garde ne s'en done,
Car il ne voit, si ne set mie
Qu'il ait si bele compaignie.
The Abbot strains his eyes to see,|
And, from the vaulting, suddenly,
A lady steps,--so glorious,--
Beyond all thought so precious,--
Her robes so rich, so nobly worn,--
So rare the gems the robes adorn,--
As never yet so fair was born.
Along with her the angels were,
Archangels stood beside her there;
Round about the tumbler group
To give him solace, bring him hope;
And when round him in ranks they stood,
His whole heart felt its strength renewed.
So they haste to give him aid
Because their wills are only made
To serve the service of their Queen,
Most precious gem the earth has seen.
And the lady, gentle, true,
Holds in her hand a towel new;
Fans him with her hand divine
Where he lies before the shrine.
The kind lady, full of grace,
Fans his neck, his breast, his face!
Fans him herself to give him air!
Labours, herself, to help him there!
The lady gives herself to it;
The poor man takes no heed of it;
For he knows not and cannot see
That he has such fair company.