Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

opposite side of the river, hesitated to cross on account of a crocodile which had posted himself on the bank, and was, with some reason, suspected to be lying in wait for the holy man. Saint Helenus immediately went in quest of the crocodile, and commanded the animal to ferry him over on his back to the other side of the river, where he found the priest; but could not persuade this man of little faith to embark with him on the crocodile. He accordingly repassed alone, but being in very bad humour at the ultimate failure of his expedition, he commanded the crocodile to expire without farther delay, an injunction which the monster fulfilled with due expedition and humility.

St Florentin finding that the solitude to which he had withdrawn was more than he could endure, begged some solace from heaven. One day, accordingly, after prayer in the fields, he found at his return a bear stationed at the entrance to his cell. On the approach of St Florentin the bear made his obeisance, and so far from exhibiting any symptoms of a natural moroseness, he testified, as well as his imperfect education permitted, that he stood there for the service of the holy man. Our saint, however, received so much pleasure from his company, that he feared incurring a violation of his oaths of penance: he therefore resolved to

abstain from the society of the bear during the greater part of the day. As there were five or six sheep in his cavern, which no one led out to pasture, the idea struck the saint of having them tended by the bear. This flock at first showed some repugnance; but, encouraged by the assurances of the saint, and mild demeanour of the shepherd, they followed him pleasantly to the fold. St Florentin usually enjoined his bear to bring them back at six, but on days of great fasting and prayer, he commanded him not to return till nine. The bear was punctual to his time, and whether his master appointed six or nine, this exemplary animal never confounded the hours, nor mistook one for the other !

This miracle continued for some years, but at length the demon, envious of the proficiency of the bear, prompted certain evil-disposed monks in the vicinity, who at his instigation laid snares and slew him. The saint could do no more than curse the unknown perpetrators of this act, who in consequence all died next day of putrid disorders.

Perhaps one cause of the popularity of these legends was the frequent details concerning the sexual temptations to which the saints were exposed. The holy men were usually triumphant, and almost the only example to the contrary is

that of Saint Macarius. This saint, when far advanced in life, resolved to retire from the world, leaving his wife and family to shift for themselves. The angel Raphael pointed out to him a frightful solitude, where he chose as his residence a cavern inhabited by two young lions which had been exposed by their mother. After he had lived here many years, the demon became envious of his virtue, and seduced him under form of a beautiful female, a figure which he assumes with great facility. St Macarius somehow instantly perceived the full extent of the iniquity into which he had been ensnared, and was, as may be believed, in the utmost consternation. The lions, though not aware of the whole calamity, were so much scandalized at his conduct, that they forsook the cavern. They returned, however, soon after, and dug a ditch the length of a human body. The repentant sinner, conceiving this to be the species of penance which these animals considered most suitable to his transgression, lay down in the hole, where the lions, with much solemnity and lamentation, covered him with earth, except head and arms. In this position he remained three years, subsisting on the herbs which grew within arms length. At the end of this period, who should reappear but the two lions, who dug out their old master with the same gravity they had employed at his interment. This was accepted by the saint as a sign that his sins were forgiven, a conjecture which was confirmed by the appearance of our Saviour at the entrance of the cavern. Henceforth Macarius distrusted every woman ; and indeed the continence of the saints must have been wonderfully aided by their knowledge of the demon's power to assume this fascinating figure, as they would constantly dread being thus entrapped into the embraces of the common enemy of mankind.

The legends resembling those above mentioned, which were chiefly of Latin invention, were probably little countenanced under the more mild and rational institutions of St Benedict, the first founder of the monastic orders ; but were subsequently drawn from obscurity, to support the system of the ascetic followers of St Francis.

Besides the Latin legends, many forgeries by the monks of the Greek church were from time to time imported into France and Italy. To such writers the oriental fictions and mode of fabling were familiar, and hence we find that from imitation the western legends of the saints frequently resemble a romance, both in the structure and decorations of the story. Even the more early

Latin lives had been carried to Constantinople, where they were translated into Greek, with new embellishments of eastern imagination. These being returned to Europe, were restored to their native language, and superseded the more simple originals. Other Latin legends, of still later composition, acquired their decorations from the Arabian fictions, which had at length become current in Europe.

Such romantic inventions were admirably suited to serve the purposes of superstition. Many extravagant conceptions, too, were likely to arise spontaneously in the visionary minds of the authors. A believing and ignorant age, also, received as truth, what in the lives of the saints was sometimes only intended as allegory. The malignant spirit, so troublesome at bed and board to the monks and anchorites, might only have signified, that even in the desert we in vain seek for tranquillity, that temptations ever pursue, and that our passions assail us as strongly in the gloom of solitude, as in the revelry of the world. Imitators, whose penetration was inferior to their credulity, quickly invented similar relations, from which no instruction could be drawn, nor allegory deduced.

The grand repertory of pious fiction seems to have been the Legenda Aurea of Jacobus de Vo

« ZurückWeiter »