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man who bear him company, doing great and hard penance for the sins that I have committed.” Then, said they,
Friend, is there any house here where our lady could rest for two or three days ?” Beltenebros answered, “Here is a little cabin in which I lodge : if the hermit pleases, you shall have it, and I will sleep abroad in the fields, as I often use to do.” Doolin of Mayence, while engaged in hunting, having caused inadvertently the death of a hermit, as a suitable penance resolves to occupy the cell of the deceased for the remainder of his days. Sir Perceval meets in a forest a procession of penitents, three of whom are knights; he is so affected at the sight, that he goes to confess his sins to a neighbouring hermit, who proves to be his uncle, the brother of King Pecheur.
The most extraordinary instance in romance is the penance of King Don Rodrigo. “ When the king had escaped after the fatal battle, he rode on for days and nights, till he came to a hermitage near the sea, where there was a good man who had dwelt there, serving God, for full forty years; and the king said his prayers before the crucifix, and confessed to the old hermit, who said that he must die in three days, but that the king should abide there alone for a year, and keep a rule of penance, and take the food which should come to him : and the old man died, and the king buried him ; and the devil came in disguise of an old hermit, and tempted him to break the rule, and to eat dainty fare ; and the king withstood him, and continued to pray, and to eat only the black bread and water which a shepherd brought every Friday : and one day, between midnight and dawn, the false hermit came again in a younger form ; and he called at the door, and the king looked who it might be, and saw that he was habited like a servant of God, and he opened the door forthwith; and the false hermit tempted the king to break his rule, and to hear him say mass ; for the old man had told him he should hear none for a year ; and the king withstood him : and again, one day about sun-setting, the devil came in the likeness of Count Don Julian, calling upon him to return and avenge Spain ; and again in that of La Cava, the count's daughter, and he overcame the temptation ;
1 Amadis de Gaul, ii. 9.
and the king abode in the hermitage a whole year and twelve days ; and the last day he saw above him the cloud of which he had been told in a vision, that it should guide him to the place where he was to end his penance : and when he had ended his prayer, he saw that the cloud moved, and so he rose and followed it; and as the night closed, it came to a hermitage in which lived a good hermit, and it stopped, and then the king rested ; and he was barefoot, and his feet were swollen ; and an hour after night the hermit gave him a loaf, full small, which was made of rye, and there were ashes kneaded with it; and when they had eaten, they said prayers, and lay down to sleep, and rose at midnight to say their hours. And the cloud moved not, and the king stayed and confessed, and
The cloud began to move, and the king and the hermit embraced, weeping, and entreated each the other that he would remember him in his prayers ; and the king pursued his way, though his feet were swollen, and he came to a convent of black monks, and the cloud stopped, and the abbot took the king to his cell, and asked him if he would eat as he was wont to do, or like the other monks; and the king said that he would do as he should direct him: and the abbot ordered a loaf and a jar of water, and on the other side he placed food such as the monks used; and the king would only eat of the pannick bread, and he drank of the water; and when he had eaten, the abbot asked of him if he would remain that night to rest ; and the king looked out on the cloud, and it moved, and he departed at the hour of vespers ; and the king came to a church which was solitary, and then the cloud stopped, and he abode there that night; and in the church there was a lamp burning, and the king said his hours ; the morrow the cloud moved, and after two days he came to a place which, where it is, or what it is called, is not said, save that it is the place of his burial ; and then the cloud stopped over a hermitage, and the hermit knew it was the king; and the cloud was seen no more, and the king knew that there he must perform his penance, and gave many thanks to God, and was full joyful, and he confessed, groaning for his sins; and the hermit was told in a vision that the king must go to a fountain below the hermitage, and lift up a smooth stone, and under it he should
find three little serpents, one with two heads; and this one he must take and put it into a jar, and keep it till it was so great, that it had made three turns within the jar and put its head out ; and then he must take it and put it in a tomb and lie down with it naked in the tomb; and the hermit was amazed at the penance, and the king was full joyful, for that he should now complete his penance, and save his soul; and he lifted up the stone, and he found the three serpents, and took the one with two heads and put it in a jar; and when it waxed so great as to make three turns and put its head out, he placed it in a tomb, and stripped himself naked, and lay down with it in the tomb ; and the hermit covered him with a stone, and he besought him to pray God to strengthen him, and receive his soul to glory; and the hermit said mass, and with many tears besought God to have mercy upon the King Don Rodrigo ; and he asked the king how he fared, and he answered, 'Well,' for the serpent had not touched him : and the king lay there three days, and on the third day the serpent rose from his side, and with both heads began to eat him ; and the hermit came to the tomb, and asked him how he fared, and he said, Well, thanks to God, for now the, serpent had begun to eat.' And the hermit departed, and prayed and wept ; and the king endured from an hour before night till it was past the middle of the day ; and the serpent broke through the web of the heart, and ate no farther; and incontinently the king gave up his spirit to our Lord, who by his holy mercy took him into his glory: and at that hour when he expired, all the bells of the place rang of themselves as if men rung them, and then the hermit knew that the king was dead, and his soul saved.” So ends this celebrated passage of romance, which can hardly be surpassed for wild and awful sublimity.
Nothing can mark in stronger colours the tone of deep religious feeling which was to be the foundation and essence of chivalry, than the custom of keeping vigils in a church, previous to being admitted to the order of knighthood, and afterwards upon different occasions, which the circumstances or inclinations of individuals might require. “ It was the custom of the English,” says Ingulphus, "that he who was to be consecrated a knight, on the eve of his consecration should confess all his sins with contrition to
a bishop, or abbot, or monk, or priest ; and being absolved, should devote himself to prayer, and piety, and affliction, and should spend the night in a church; the next morning, at mass, he should offer his sword on the altar, and after the Gospel, the priest should place the blessed sword on the neck of the warrior ; who having communicated in the sacred mysteries of Christ at the same mass, then became a legitimate knight.” The same ceremonies were observed in all Christian states, with the exception of Normandy, where the Danish and more military form prevailed. The reader will find, upon reference to St. Palaye or Busching, that nights passed in prayer and fasting, in a church, a confession of sins, the sacrament received with devotion, attention to the sermon, in which the priest explained the articles of faith and Christian morality, were generally the preliminary steps for obtaining the honour of knighthood. “ The night before any one was to assume the spurs,” says an old writer, “it behoved him to be armed cap-a-pee, and so armed to repair unto the church, and to stand there on his feet, or kneel in prayer, all the live-long night.” The Partidas, quoted by the author of Roderick, give very particular directions. The squire shall be taken to the church, where he is to labour in watching and beseeching mercy of God, that he will forgive him his sins, and guide him, so that he may demean himself well in that order which he is about to receive; to the end that he may defend his law, and do all other things according as it behoveth him, and that he would be his defender and keeper in all danger and in all difficulties. And he ought to bear in mind how God is powerful above all things, and can shew his power in them when he listeth, and especially in affairs of arms. For in his hand are life and death, to give and to take away, and to make the weak strong, and the strong weak. And when he is making this prayer, he must be with his knees bent, and all the rest of the time on foot, as long as he can bear it. For the vigil of knights was not ordained to be a sport, nor for any thing else, except that they, and those who go there, should pray to God to protect them, and direct them in the right way and support them, as men who are entering upon the way of death.” But it was not merely upon the first entrance in the profession of arms that this prac
tice was enjoined. The King St. Louis used to spend whole nights in his private chapel in the castle of Vincennes. Theodoret relates, that the Emperor Theodosius the Great, before his second battle in Pannonia, shut himself up one night in a church to pray, and falling asleep, saw in a vision two men in white, on white horses, who promised him that they would assist him. These were St. Philip and St. John. With respect to the vigils held by the primitive Church before the great festivals, we may learn by looking into Eusebius. In the Anglo-Saxon church it was held a part of penance “to watch during the night in a church.” In the Book of Heroes we have a fanciful instance of this discipline. Wolfdieterich, the redoubted champion, had become a monk in the monastery of Tuskal.
Strictly Sir Wolfdieterich kept his holy state,
Sir Thomas More used to spend whole nights in his private chapel at Chelsea. King Alfred used to rise at the first dawn of day, and privately visit churches and their shrines, for the sake of prayer. And Asser expressly says “ he was accustomed to hear divine service, especially the mass, every day, and to repeat psalms and prayers, and the devotions for the hours of the day and for night; and he often frequented churches alone, without his state, in the night-time, for the sake of praying.”. Camoëns introduces this sublime practice into the Lusiad. Gama thus describes the eve of his expedition :