Christmas in Legend and Story
Elva S. Smith
Part 2 out of 4
shone purple and grass-green and rose. The noise was of their wings, for
though the birds were beautiful they were voiceless and dumb as flowers.
At the edge of the pool stood two figures, whom He knew to be of the
angelic world because of their beauty, but who had on them the illusion of
mortality so that the child did not know them. But He saw that one was
beautiful as Night, and one beautiful as Morning.
He drew near.
"I have lived seven years," He said, "and I wish to send peace to the far
ends of the world."
"Tell your secret to the birds," said one.
"Tell your secret to the birds," said the
So Jesus called to the birds.
"Come," He cried; and they came.
Seven came flying from the left, from the side of the angel beautiful as
Night. Seven came flying from the right, from the side of the angel
beautiful as Morning.
To the first He said: "Look into my heart."
But they wheeled about Him, and with newfound voices mocked, crying, "How
could we see into your heart that is hidden" ... and mocked and derided,
crying, "What is Peace! ... Leave us alone! Leave us alone!"
So Christ said to them:
"I know you for the birds of Ahriman, who is not beautiful but is Evil.
Henceforth ye shall be black as night, and be children of the winds."
To the seven other birds which circled about Him, voiceless, and brushing
their wings against His arms, He cried:
"Look into my heart."
And they swerved and hung before Him in a maze of wings, and looked into
His pure heart: and, as they looked, a soft murmurous sound came from
them, drowsy-sweet, full of peace: and as they hung there like a breath in
frost they became white as snow.
"Ye are the Doves of the Spirit," said Christ, "and to you I will commit
that which ye have seen. Henceforth shall your plumage be white and your
voices be the voices of peace."
The young Christ turned, for He heard Mary calling to the sheep and goats,
and knew that dayset was come and that in the valleys the gloaming was
already rising like smoke from the urns of the twilight. When He looked
back He saw by the pool neither the Son of Joy nor the Son of Sorrow, but
seven white doves were in the cedar beyond the pool, cooing in low ecstasy
of peace and awaiting through sleep and dreams the rose-red pathways of
the dawn. Down the long grey reaches of the ebbing day He saw seven birds
rising and falling on the wind, black as black water in caves, black as
the darkness of night in old pathless woods.
And that is how the first doves became white, and how the first crows
became black and were called by a name that means the clan of darkness,
the children of the wind.
THE CHILD JESUS IN THE GARDEN
Cold was the day, when in a garden bare,
Walked the Child Jesus, wrapt in holy thought;
His brow seemed clouded with a weight of care;
Calmness and rest from worldly things he sought.
Soon was his presence missed within his home;
His mother gently marked his every way;
Forth then she came to seek where he did roam.
Full of sweet words his trouble to allay.
Through chilling snow she toiled to reach his side,
Forcing her way mid branches brown and sere,
Hastening that she his sorrows might divide,
Share all his woe, or calm his gloomy fear.
Sweet was her face, as o'er his head she bent,
Longing to melt his look of saddest grief.
With lifted eyes, his ear to her he lent;
Her kindly solace brought his soul relief.
Then did he smile--a smile of love so deep,
Winter himself grew warm beneath its glow;
From drooping branches scented blossoms peep;
Up springs the grass; the sealed fountains flow.
Summer and spring did with each other vie,
Offering to Him the fragrance of their store;
Chanting sweet notes, the birds around him fly,
Wondering why earth had checkered so her floor.
THE MYSTIC THORN
ADAPTED FROM TRADITIONAL SOURCES
"Three hawthornes also that groweth in Werall
Do burge and bere grene leaves at Christmas
As fresshe as other in May."
It was Christmas day in the year 63. The autumn colors of red and gold had
long since faded from the hills, and the trees which covered the island
valley of Glastonbury, the Avalon or Apple-tree isle of the early Britons,
were bare and leafless. The spreading, glass-like waters encircling it
round about gleamed faintly in the pale afternoon light of the winter's
day. The light fell also on the silver stems of the willows and on the
tall flags and bending reeds and osiers which bordered the marsh island.
Westward the long ranges of hills running seaward were purple in the
distance and their tops were partly hidden by the misty white clouds which
rested lightly upon them. To the south rose sharply and abruptly a high,
pointed hill, the tor of Glastonbury.
It was nearing the sunset hour when a little band of men in pilgrim garb,
approaching from the west and climbing the long, hilly ridge, came within
sight of this "isle of rest." Twelve pilgrims there were in all, in dress
and appearance very unlike the fair-haired Britons who at that time dwelt
in the land. One, he who led the way, was an old man. His hair was white
and his long, white beard fell upon his breast, but he was tall and erect
and bore no other signs of age. In his hand he carried a stout hawthorn
The men were climbing slowly up the hill, for they were all weary with
long travelling. And here at the summit of the ridge they stopped to look
out over the wooded hills, the wide-spreading waters and the grassy island
with its leafless thickets of oak and alder. Sitting down to rest, they
spoke one to another of their long journeying from the far-distant land of
Palestine and of their hope that here their pilgrimage might have end.
Those who were with him called their leader Joseph of Arimathea. He it was
who had been known among the Jews many years before as a counsellor, "a
good man, and a just," and who, when the Saviour was crucified on Calvary,
had given his sepulchre to receive the body of the Lord.
From this tomb upon the third day came the risen Saviour; but the people,
thinking that Joseph had stolen away the body, seized and imprisoned him
in a chamber where there was no window. They fastened the door and put a
seal upon the lock and placed men before the door to guard it. Then the
priests and the Levites contrived to what death they should put him; but
when they sent for Joseph to be brought forth he could not be found,
though the seal was still upon the lock and the guard before the door.
The disciples of Joseph as they gathered about their fire of an evening
often told how, at night, as he prayed, the prison chamber had been filled
with a light brighter than that of the sun, and Jesus himself had appeared
to him and had led him forth unharmed to his own house in Arimathea.
And sometimes they told how, again imprisoned, he had been fed from the
Holy Cup from which the Saviour had drunk at the "last sad supper with his
own" and in which Joseph had caught the blood of his Master when he was on
the cross, and how he had been blest with such heavenly visions that the
years passed and seemed to him as naught.
Now after a certain time he had been released from prison; but there were
people who still doubted him and so with his friends, Lazarus and Mary
Magdalene and Philip and others, he had been driven away from Jerusalem.
The small vessel, without oars, rudder or sail, in which they had been
cast adrift on the Mediterranean, had come at last in safety to the coast
of Gaul. And for many years since then had Joseph wandered through the
land carrying ever with him two precious relics, the Holy Grail and "that
same spear wherewith the Roman pierced the side of Christ." Now at last
with a chosen band of disciples he had reached the little-known island of
Landing from their little boat in the early morn on this unknown coast,
they had knelt upon the shore while Joseph "gave blessing to the God of
heaven in a lowly chanted prayer." Then, "over the brow of the seaward
hill" they had passed, led by an invisible hand and singing as they went.
All day through dark forests and over reedy swamps they had made their way
and now at nightfall, tired and wayworn, they rested on the ridgy hill
which has ever since been known by the name of Wearyall.
During the long day's march they had seen but few of the people of the
land and these had held aloof.
Now, suddenly, the silence was broken by loud cries and shouts, and groups
of the native Britons, wild and uncouth in appearance, their half-naked
bodies stained blue with woad, were seen coming from different directions
up the hill. They were armed with spears, hatchets of bronze, and other
rude weapons of olden warfare and, as they came rapidly nearer, their
threatening aspect and menacing cries startled the pilgrim band. Rising
hastily, as though they would flee, the men looked in terror, one toward
another. Joseph alone showed no trace of fear and, obedient to a sign from
him, they all knelt in prayer upon the hillside.
Then, thrusting his thorny staff into the ground beside him and raising
both hands toward heaven, Joseph claimed possession of this new land in
the name of his Master, Christ.
"'This staff hath borne me long and well,'
Then spake that saint divine,
'Over mountain and over plain,
On quest of the Promise-sign;
For aye let it stand in this western land,
And God do no more to me
If there ring not out from this realm about,
_Tibi gloria, Domine._'"
His voice ceased and the men rose from their knees, looking expectantly
for the heavenly sign, but ready, if need be, to meet with courage the
But stillness had again settled over the hill. Only a few rods distant the
Britons had stopped and grouped closely together were gazing in awestruck
silence upon the dry and withered staff, which had so often aided Joseph
in his wanderings from the Holy Land. Following their gaze, Joseph and his
companions turned toward it and even as they did so, behold! A miracle!
The staff took root and grew and, as they watched, they saw it put forth
branches and green leaves, fair buds and milk-white blossoms which filled
the air with their sweet odor.
For a moment, awed and amazed, all stood silent. Wondrously had Joseph's
prayer been answered! This was indeed the heavenly token which had been
foretold! Then with tears of joy all cried out as with one voice, "Our God
is with us! Jesus is with us!"
Marvelling much at the strange things they had just seen and heard, the
Britons dropped their weapons and fled in haste from the hill.
Then did Joseph and his disciples go down across the marsh into the valley
and there they rested undisturbed.
Word of the miracle which had thus been wrought on Wearyall Hill was
brought soon to Arviragus, the heathen king of the time, and he welcomed
gladly the holy men and gave them the beautiful vale of Avalon whereon to
live. There they built "a little lonely church," with roof of rushes and
walls of woven twigs and "wattles from the marsh," the first Christian
church which had ever been built in Britain.
There they dwelt for many years, serving God, fasting and praying, and
there Joseph taught the half-barbarous Britons, who gathered to listen to
him, the faith of Christ.
* * * * *
Time passed and the little, low, wattled church became a great and
beautiful abbey. Many pilgrims there were who came to worship at the
shrine of St. Joseph; to drink from the holy well which sprang from the
foot of Chalice Hill where the Holy Cup lay buried; and to watch the
budding of the mystic thorn, which, year after year, when the snows of
Christmas covered the hills, put forth its holy blossoms, "a symbol of
God's promise, care and love."
Now long, long afterward there came a time when there was war in the land
and one day a rough soldier who recked not of its heavenly origin cut down
the sacred tree. Only a flat stone now marks the place where it once stood
and where Joseph's staff burst into bloom. But there were other trees
which had been grown from slips of the miraculous thorn and these,
"mindful of our Lord" still keep the sacred birthday and blossom each year
on Christmas Day.
THE BLOOMING OF THE WHITE THORN
EDITH MATILDA THOMAS
God shield ye, comrades of the road!
And while our way we hold,
List while I tell how it first befell
In the wondrous days of old.
* * * * *
From off the sea, the pilgrims came,
With sea-toil wracked and worn;
The air blew keen, and the frost was sheen,
Upon that wintry morn.
Through Glastonbury street went they;
And ever on, and on,
Till they pass the well of the fairy spell,
And the oak of Avalon.
They hear the rustling leaves and few,
That linger on the bough;
But still they fare through the bitter air,
And climb a hill-slope now.
On Weary-All-Hill their feet they stay
(Full well that Hill ye know);
There may they rest, by toil oppressed,
While round them drops the snow.
And one--far gone in age was he--
As snow, his locks were white--
The staff of thorn which he had borne,
Did plant upon that height.
A thorn-stick dry, that pilgrim staff,
He set it in the ground:
And, swift as sight, with blossoms white
The branching staff was crowned!
Each year since then (if sooth men say)
Upon this Blessed Morn,
Who climbs that Hill, may see at will
The flower upon the thorn!
Howe'er the wind may drive the sleet,
That thorn will blooming be;
And some have seen a fair Child lean
From out that blossomed tree!
One moment only--then, apace,
Both flower and leaf are shorn;
And, gaunt and chill, on Weary-All-Hill,
There stands an ancient thorn!
God shield ye, comrades of the road--
With grace your spirits fill,
That ye may see the White-thorn tree
A-bloom on Weary-All-Hill!
LEGEND OF ST. CHRISTOPHER
ADAPTED FROM THE GOLDEN LEGEND
There was a mighty man of old who dwelt in the land of Canaan. Large was
he and tall of stature and stronger than any man whom the world had ever
seen. Therefore was he called Offero, or, "The Bearer." Now he served the
king of Canaan, but he was proud of his great strength and upon a time it
came in his mind that he would seek the greatest king who then reigned and
him only would he serve and obey.
So he travelled from one country to another until at length he came to one
where ruled a powerful king whose fame was great in all the land.
"Thou art the conqueror of nations?" asked Offero.
"I am," replied the king.
"Then take me into your service, for I will serve none but the mightiest
"That then am I," returned the king, "for truly I fear none."
So the king received Offero into his service and made him to dwell in his
But once at eventide a minstrel sang before the king a merry song in which
he named oft the evil one. And every time that the king heard the name of
Satan he grew pale and hastily made the sign of the cross upon his
forehead. Offero marvelled thereat and demanded of the king the meaning of
the sign and wherefore he thus crossed himself. And because the king would
not tell him Offero said, "If thou tell me not, I shall no longer dwell
with thee." Then the king answered, saying, "Always when I hear Satan
named, I fear that he may have power over me and therefore I make this
sign that he harm me not."
"Who is Satan?" asked Offero.
"He is a wicked monarch," replied the king, "wicked but powerful."
"More powerful than thou art?"
"And fearest thou that he hurt thee?"
"That do I, and so do all."
"Then," cried Offero, "is he more mighty and greater than thou art. I will
go seek him. Henceforth he shall be my master for I would fain serve the
mightiest and the greatest lord of all the world."
So Offero departed from the king and sought Satan. Everywhere he met
people who had given themselves over to his rule and at last one day as he
was crossing a wide desert he saw a great company of knights approaching.
One of them, mounted upon a great black horse, came to him and demanded
whither he went, and Offero made answer, "I seek Satan, for he is mighty,
and I would fain serve him."
Then returned the knight, "I am he whom thou seekest."
When Offero heard these words he was right glad and took Satan to be his
lord and master.
This king was indeed powerful and a long time did Offero serve him, but it
chanced one day as they were journeying together they came to a place
where four roads met and in the midst of the space stood a little cross.
As soon as Satan saw the cross he was afraid and turned quickly aside and
fled toward the desert. Offero followed him marvelling much at the sight.
And after, when they had come back to the highway they had left, he
inquired of Satan why he was thus troubled and had gone so far out of his
way to avoid the cross. But Satan answered him not a word.
Then Offero said to him, "If thou wilt not tell me, I shall depart from
thee straightway and shall serve thee no more."
"Know then," said Satan, "there was a man called Christ who suffered on
the cross and whenever I see his sign I am sore afraid and flee from it,
lest he destroy me."
"If then thou art afraid of his sign," cried Offero, "he is greater and
more mighty than thou, and I see well that I have labored in vain, for I
have not found the greatest lord of the world. I will serve thee no
longer. Go thy way alone, for I will go to seek Christ."
And when he had long sought and demanded where he should find Him, he came
at length into a great desert where dwelt a hermit, a servant of the
Christ. The hermit told him of the Master whom he was seeking and said to
him, "This king whom thou dost wish to serve is not an earthly ruler and
he requireth that thou oft fast and make many prayers."
But Offero understood not the meaning of worship and prayer and he
answered, "Require of me some other thing and I shall do it, but I know
naught of this which thou requirest."
Then the hermit said to him, "Knowest thou the river, a day's journey from
here, where there is neither ford nor bridge and many perish and are lost?
Thou art large and strong. Therefore go thou and dwell by this river and
bear over all who desire to cross its waters. That is a service which will
be well pleasing to the Christ whom thou desirest to serve, and sometime,
if I mistake not, he whom thou seekest will come to thee."
Offero was right joyful at these words and answered, "This service may I
So he hastened to the river and upon its banks he built himself a little
hut of reeds. He bare a great pole in his hand to sustain him in the water
and many weary wayfarers did he help to cross the turbulent stream. So he
lived a long time, bearing over all manner of people without ceasing, and
still he saw nothing of the Christ.
Now it happened one night that a storm was raging and the river was very
high. Tired with his labors, Offero had just flung himself down on his
rude bed to sleep when he heard the voice of a child which called him and
said, "Offero, Offero, come out and bear me over."
Offero arose and went out from his cabin, but in the darkness he could see
no one. And when he was again in the house, he heard the same voice and he
ran out again and found no one. A third time he heard the call and going
out once more into the storm, there upon the river bank he found a fair
young child who besought him in pleading tones, "Wilt thou not carry me
over the river this night, Offero?"
The strong man gently lifted the child on his shoulders, took his staff
and stepped into the stream. And the water of the river arose and swelled
more and more and the child was heavy as lead. And alway as he went
farther, higher and higher swelled the waters and the child more and more
waxed heavy, insomuch that he feared that they would both be drowned.
Already his strength was nearly gone, but he thought of his Master whom he
had not yet seen, and staying his footsteps with his palm staff struggled
with all his might to reach the opposite shore. As at last he climbed the
steep bank, suddenly the storm ceased and the waters calmed.
He set the child down upon the shore, saying, "Child, thou hast put me in
great peril. Had I carried the whole world on my shoulders, the weight had
not been greater. I might bear no greater burden."
"Offero," answered the child, "Marvel not, but rejoice; for thou hast
borne not only all the world upon thee, but thou hast borne him that
created and made all the world upon thy shoulders. I am Christ the king
whom thou servest in this work. And for a token, that thou mayst know what
I say to be the truth, set thy staff in the earth by thy house and thou
shalt see in the morning that it shall bear flowers and fruit." With these
words the child vanished from Offero's sight.
But Offero did even as he was bidden and set his staff in the earth and
when he arose on the morrow, he found it like a palm-tree bearing flowers
and leaves and clusters of dates. Then he knew that it was indeed Christ
whom he had borne through the waters and he rejoiced that he had found his
Master. From that day he served Christ faithfully and was no more called
Offero, but Christopher, the Christ bearer.
ST. CHRISTOPHER OF THE GAEL
Behind the wattle-woven house
Nial the Mighty gently crept
From out a screen of ashtree boughs
To where a captive white-robe slept.
Lightly he moved, as though ashamed;
To right and left he glanced his fears.
Nial the Mighty was he named
Though but an untried youth in years--
But tall he was, as tall as he,
White Dermid of the magic sword,
Or Torcall of the Hebrid Sea
Or great Cuhoolin of the Ford;
Strong as the strongest, too, he was:
As Balor of the Evil Eye;
As Fionn who kept the Ulster Pass
From dawn till blood-flusht sunset sky.
Much had he pondered all that day
The mystery of the men who died
On crosses raised along the way,
And perished singing side by side.
Modred the chief had sailed the Moyle,
Had reached Iona's guardless-shore,
Had seized the monks when at their toil
And carried northward, bound, a score.
Some he had thrust into the deep,
To see if magic fins would rise:
Some from high rocks he forced to leap,
To see wings fall from out the skies:
Some he had pinned upon tall spears,
Some tossed on shields with brazen clang,
To see if through their blood and tears
Their god would hear the hymns they sang.
But when his oarsmen flung their oars,
And laughed to see across the foam
The glimmer of the highland shores
And smoke-wreaths of the hidden home,
Modred was weary of his sport.
All day he brooded as he strode
Betwixt the reef-encircled port
And the oak-grove of the Sacred Road.
At night he bade his warriors raise
Seven crosses where the foamswept strand
Lay still and white beyond the blaze
Of the hundred camp-fires of the land.
The women milked the late-come kye,
The children raced in laughing glee;
Like sheep from out the fold of the sky
Stars leapt and stared at earth and sea.
At times a wild and plaintive air
Made delicate music far away:
A hill-fox barked before its lair:
The white owl hawked its shadowy prey.
But at the rising of the moon
The druids came from grove and glen,
And to the chanting of a rune
Crucified St. Columba's men.
They died in silence side by side,
But first they sang the evening hymn:
By midnight all but one had died,
At dawn he too was grey and grim.
One monk alone had Modred kept,
A youth with hair of golden-red,
Who never once had sighed or wept,
Not once had bowed his proud young head.
Broken he lay, and bound with thongs.
Thus had he seen his brothers toss
Like crows transfixed upon great prongs,
Till death crept up each silent cross.
Night grew to dawn, to scarlet morn;
Day waned to firelit, star-lit night:
But still with eyes of passionate scorn
He dared the worst of Modred's might.
When from the wattle-woven house
Nial the Mighty softly stepped,
And peered beneath the ashtree boughs
To where he thought the white-robe slept,
He heard the monk's words rise in prayer.
He heard a hymn's ascending breath--
"Christ, Son of God, to Thee I fare
This night upon the wings of death."
Nial the Mighty crossed the space,
He waited till the monk had ceased;
Then, leaning o'er the foam-white face,
He stared upon the dauntless priest.
"Speak low," he said, "and tell me this:
Who is the king you hold so great?--
Your eyes are dauntless flames of bliss
Though Modred taunts you with his hate:--
"This god or king, is He more strong
Than Modred is? And does He sleep
That thus your death-in-life is long,
And bonds your aching body keep?"
The monk's eyes stared in Nial's eyes:
"Young giant with a child's white heart,
I see a cross take shape and rise,
And thou upon it nailed art!"
Nial looked back: no cross he saw
Looming from out the dreadful night:
Yet all his soul was filled with awe,
A thundercloud with heart of light.
"Tell me thy name," he said, "and why
Thou waitest thus the druid knife,
And carest not to live or die?
Monk, hast thou little care of life?"
"Great care of that I have," he said,
And looked at Nial with eyes of fire:
"My life begins when I am dead,
There only is my heart's desire."
Nial the Mighty sighed. "Thy words
Are as the idle froth of foam,
Or clashing of triumphant swords
When Modred brings the foray home.
"My name is Nial: Nial the Strong:
A lad in years, but as you see
More great than heroes of old song
Or any lordly men that be.
"To Modred have I come from far,
O'er many a hill and strath and stream.
To be a mighty sword in war,
And this because I dreamed a dream:
"My dream was that my strength so great
Should serve the greatest king there is:
Modred the Pict thus all men rate,
And so I sought this far-off Liss.
"But if there be a greater yet,
A king or god whom he doth fear,
My service he shall no more get,
My strength shall rust no longer here."
The monk's face gladdened. "Go, now, go;
To Modred go: he sitteth dumb,
And broods on what he fain would know:
And say, '_O King, the Cross is come_!'
"Then shall the king arise in wrath,
And bid you go from out his sight,
For if he meet you on his path
He'll leave you stark and still and white.
"Thus shall he show, great king and all,
He fears the glorious Cross of Christ,
And dreads to hear slain voices call
For vengeance on the sacrificed.
"But, Nial, come not here again:
Long before dawn my soul shall be
Beyond the reach of any pain
That Modred dreams to prove on me.
"Go forth thyself at dawn, and say
'This is Christ's holy natal morn,
My king is He from forth this day
When He to save mankind was born':
"Go forth and seek a lonely place
Where a great river fills the wild;
There bide, and let thy strength be grace,
And wait the Coming of a Child.
"A wondrous thing shall then befall:
And when thou seek'st if it be true,
Green leaves along thy staff shall crawl,
With, flowers of every lovely hue."
The monk's face whitened, like sea-foam:
Seaward he stared, and sighed "I go--
Farewell--my Lord Christ calls me home!"
Nial stooped and saw death's final throe.
An hour before the dawn he rose
And sought out Modred, brooding, dumb;
"O King," he said, "my bond I close,
King Christ I seek: the Cross is come!"
Swift as a stag's leap from a height
King Modred drew his dreadful sword:
Then as a snow-wraith, silent, white,
He stared and passed without a word.
Before the flush of dawn was red
A druid came to Nial the Great:
"The doom of death hath Modred said,
Yet fears this Christ's mysterious hate:
"So get you hence, you giant-thewed man:
Go your own way: come not again:
No more are you of Modred's clan:
Go now, forthwith, lest you be slain."
Nial went forth with gladsome face;
No more of Modred's clan he was:
"Now, now," he cried, "Christ's trail I'll trace,
And nowhere turn, and nowhere pause."
He laughed to think how Modred feared
The wrath of Christ, the monk's white king:
"A greater than Modred hath appeared,
To Him my sword and strength I bring."
All day, all night, he walked afar:
He saw the moon rise white and still:
The evening and the morning star:
The sunrise burn upon the hill.
He heard the moaning of the seas,
The vast sigh of the sunswept plain,
The myriad surge of forest-trees;
Saw dusk and night return again.
At falling of the dusk he stood
Upon a wild and desert land:
Dark fruit he gathered for his food,
Drank water from his hollowed hand,
Cut from an ash a mighty bough
And trimmed and shaped it to the half:
"Safe in the desert am I now,
With sword," he said, "and with this staff."
The stars came out: Arcturus hung
His ice-blue fire far down the sky:
The Great Bear through the darkness swung:
The Seven Watchers rose on high.
A great moon flooded all the west.
Silence came out of earth and sea
And lay upon the husht world's breast,
And breathed mysteriously.
Three hours Nial walked, three hours and more:
Then halted when beyond the plain
He stood upon that river's shore
The dying monk had bid him gain.
A little house he saw: clay-wrought,
Of wattle woven through and through:
Then, all his weariness forgot,
The joy of drowning-sleep he knew.
Three hours he slept, and then he heard
A voice--and yet a voice so low
It might have been a dreaming bird
Safe-nested by the rushing flow.
Almost he slept once more: then, _Hush_!
Once more he heard above the noise
And tempest of the river's rush
The thin faint words of a child's voice.
"Good Sir, awake from sleep and dream,
Good Sir, come out and carry me
Across this dark and raging stream
Till safe on the other side I be."
Great Nial shivered on his bed:
"No human creature calls this night,
It is a wild fetch of the dead,"
He thought, and shrunk, and shook with fright.
Once more he heard that infant-cry:
"Come out, Good Sir, or else I drown--
Come out, Good Sir, or else I die
And you, too, lose a golden crown."
"A golden crown"--so Nial thought--
"No--no--not thus shall I be ta'en!
Keep, ghost-of-the-night, your crown gold-wrought--
Of sleep and peace I am full fain!"
Once more the windy dark was filled
With lonely cry, with sobbing plaint:
Nial's heart grew sore, its fear was stilled,
King Christ, he knew, would scorn him faint.
"Up, up thou coward, thou sluggard, thou,"
He cried, and sprang from off his bed--
"No crown thou seekest for thy brow,
But help for one in pain and dread!"
Out in the wide and lonely dark
No fetch he saw, no shape, no child:
Almost he turned again--but _hark_!
A song rose o'er the waters wild:
A king am I
Tho' a little Child,
Son of God am I,
Meek and mild,
Because God hath said
Let my cup be full
Of wine and bread.
Come to me
I will not flee.
Is thy heart
O shaken heart!
Stoop to my Cup,
Drink of the wine:
The wine and the bread,
My Flesh and my Blood!
Throw thy sword in the flood:
Come, shaken heart:
Fearful thou art!
Have no more fear--
Lo, I am here,
The little One,
Thy Lord and thy King.
It is I who sing:
Christ, your King....
Be not afraid:
Look, I am Light,
A great star
Seen from afar
In the darkness of night:
I am Light,
Be not afraid ...
Into the deep flood!
Think of the Bread,
The Wine and the Bread
That are my Flesh and Blood,
Cross, cross the Flood,
Sure is the goal ...
Be not afraid
Be not afraid!
Nial's heart was filled with joy and pain:
"This is my king, my king indeed:
To think that drown'd in sleep I've lain
When Christ the Child-God crieth in need!"
Swift from his wattled hut he strode,
Stumbling among the grass and bent,
And, seeking where the river flowed,
Far o'er the dark flood peered and leant:
Then suddenly beside him saw
A little Child all clad in white:
He bowed his head in love and awe,
Then lifted high his burthen light.
High on his shoulders sat the Child,
While with strong limbs he fared among
The rushing waters black and wild
And where the fiercest currents swung.
The waters rose more high, more high,
Higher and higher every yard ...
Nial stumbled on with sob and sigh,
Christ heard him panting sore and hard.
"O Child," Nial cried, "forbear, forbear!
Hark you not how these waters whirled!
The weight of all the earth I bear,
The weary weight of all the world!"
"_Christopher_!" ... low above the noise,
The rush, the darkness, Nial heard
The far-off music of a Voice
That said all things in saying one word--
"Christopher ... this thy name shall be!
Christ-bearer is thy name, even so
Because of service done to me
Heavy with weight of the world's woe."
With breaking sobs, with panting breath
Christopher grasped a bent-held dune,
Then with flung staff and as in death
Forward he fell in a heavy swoon.
All night he lay in silence there,
But safe from reach of surging tide:
White angels had him in their care,
Christ healed and watched him side by side.
When all the silver wings of dawn
Had waved above the rose-flusht east,
Christopher woke ... his dream was gone.
The angelic songs had ceased.
Was it a dream in very deed,
He wondered, broken, trembling, dazed?
His staff he lifted from the mead
And as an upright sapling raised.
Lo, it was as the monk had said--
If he would prove the vision true,
His staff would blossom to its head
With flowers of every lovely hue.
Christopher bowed: before his eyes
Christ's love fulfilled the holy hour....
A south-wind blew, green leaves did rise
And the staff bloomed a myriad flower!
Christopher bowed in holy prayer,
While Christ's love fell like healing dew:
God's father-hand was on him there:
The peace of perfect peace he knew.
THE CROSS OF THE DUMB
_A Christmas on Iona, Long, Long Ago_
One eve, when St. Columba strode
In solemn mood along the shore,
He met an angel on the road
Who but a poor man's semblance bore.
He wondered much, the holy saint,
What stranger sought the lonely isle,
But seeing him weary and wan and faint
St. Colum hailed him with a smile.
"Remote our lone Iona lies
Here in the grey and windswept sea,
And few are they whom my old eyes
Behold as pilgrims bowing the knee....
"But welcome ... welcome ... stranger-guest,
And come with me and you shall find
A warm and deer-skinn'd cell for rest
And at our board a welcome kind....
"Yet tell me ere the dune we cross
How came you to this lonely land?
No curraghs in the tideway toss
And none is beached upon the strand!"
The weary pilgrim raised his head
And looked and smiled and said, "From far,
My wandering feet have here been led
By the glory of a shining star...."
St. Colum gravely bowed, and said,
"Enough, my friend, I ask no more;
Doubtless some silence-vow was laid
Upon thee, ere thou sought'st this shore:
"Now, come: and doff this raiment sad
And those rough sandals from thy feet:
The holy brethren will be glad
To haven thee in our retreat."
Together past the praying cells
And past the wattle-woven dome
Whence rang the tremulous vesper bells
St. Colum brought the stranger home.
From thyme-sweet pastures grey with dews
The milch-cows came with swinging tails:
And whirling high the wailing mews
Screamed o'er the brothers at their pails.
A single spire of smoke arose,
And hung, a phantom, in the cold:
Three younger monks set forth to close
The ewes and lambs within the fold.
The purple twilight stole above
The grey-green dunes, the furrowed leas:
And Dusk, with breast as of a dove,
Brooded: and everywhere was peace.
Within the low refectory sate
The little clan of holy folk:
Then, while the brothers mused and ate,
The wayfarer arose and spoke....
"O Colum of Iona-Isle,
And ye who dwell in God's quiet place,
Before I crossed your narrow kyle
I looked in Heaven upon Christ's face."
Thereat St. Colum's startled glance
Swept o'er the man so poorly clad,
And all the brethren looked askance
In fear the pilgrim-guest was mad.
"And, Colum of God's Church i' the sea
And all ye Brothers of the Rood,
The Lord Christ gave a dream to me
And bade me bring it ye as food.
"Lift to the wandering cloud your eyes
And let them scan the wandering Deep....
Hark ye not there the wandering sighs
Of brethren ye as outcasts keep?"
Thereat the stranger bowed, and blessed;
Then, grave and silent, sought his cell:
St. Colum mused upon his guest,
Dumb wonder on the others fell.
At dead of night the Abbot came
To where the weary wayfarer slept:
"Tell me," he said, "thy holy name..."
--No more, for on bowed knees he wept....
Great awe and wonder fell on him;
His mind was like a lonely wild
When suddenly is heard a hymn
Sung by a little innocent child.
For now he knew their guest to be
No man as he and his, but one
Who in the Courts of Ecstasy
Worships, flame-winged, the Eternal Son.
The poor bare cell was filled with light,
That came from the swung moons the Seven
Seraphim swing day and night
Adown the infinite walls of Heaven.
But on the fern-wove mattress lay
No weary guest. St. Colum kneeled,
And found no trace; but, ashen-grey,
Far off he heard glad anthems pealed.
At sunrise when the matins-bell
Made a cold silvery music fall
Through silence of each lonely cell
And over every fold and stall,
St. Colum called his monks to come
And follow him to where his hands
Would raise the Great Cross of the Dumb
Upon the Holy Island's sands....
"For I shall call from out the Deep
And from the grey fields of the skies,
The brethren we as outcasts keep,
Our kindred of the dumb wild eyes....
"Behold, on this Christ's natal morn,
God wills the widening of His laws,
Another miracle to be born--
_For lo, our guest an Angel was_!...
"His Dream the Lord Christ gave to him
To bring to us as Christ-Day food,
That Dream shall rise a holy hymn
And hang like a flower upon the Rood!..."
Thereat, while all with wonder stared
St. Colum raised the Holy Tree:
Then all with Christ-Day singing fared
To where the last sands lipped the sea.
St. Colum raised his arms on high ...
"O ye, all creatures of the wing,
Come here from out the fields o' the sky,
Come, here and learn a wondrous thing!"
At that the wild clans of the air
Came sweeping in a mist of wings--
Ospreys and fierce solanders there,
Sea-swallows wheeling mazy rings,
The foam-white mew, the green-black scart,
The famishing hawk, the wailing tern,
All birds from the sand-building mart
To lonely bittern and heron....
St. Colum raised beseeching hands
And blessed the pastures of the sea:
"Come, all ye creatures, to the sands,
Come and behold the Sacred Tree!"
At that the cold clans of the wave
With spray and surge and splash appeared:
Up from each wrack-strewn, lightless cave
Dim day-struck eyes affrighted peered.
The pollacks came with rushing haste,
The great sea-cod, the speckled bass;
Along the foaming tideway raced
The herring-tribes like shimmering glass:
The mackerel and the dog-fish ran,
The whiting, haddock, in their wake:
The great sea-flounders upward span,
The fierce-eyed conger and the hake:
The greatest and the least of these
From hidden pools and tidal ways
Surged in their myriads from the seas
And stared at St. Columba's face.
"Hearken," he cried, with solemn voice--
"Hearken! ye people of the Deep,
Ye people of the skies, Rejoice!
No more your soulless terror keep!
"For lo, an Angel from the Lord
Hath shown us that wherein we sin--
But now we humbly do His Word
And call you, Brothers, kith and kin....
"No more we claim the world as ours
And everything that therein is--
To-day, Christ's Day, the infinite powers
Decree a common share of bliss.
"I know not if the new-waked soul
That stirs in every heart I see
Has yet to reach the far-off goal
Whose symbol is this Cross-shaped Tree....
"But, O dumb kindred of the skies,
O kinsfolk of the pathless seas,
All scorn and hate I exorcise,
And wish you nought but Love and Peace!"
* * * * *
Thus, on that Christmas-day of old
St. Colum broke the ancient spell.
A thousand years away have rolled,
'Tis now ... "a baseless miracle."
O fellow-kinsmen of the Deep,
O kindred of the wind and cloud,
God's children too ... how He must weep
Who on that day was glad and proud!
THE CHRISTMAS SONG OF CAEDMON
About the year 650, among the servants in the ancient Abbey of
Streonschall, there was a cowherd whose name was Caedmon. The habits of
the people of that age were simple and rude; their houses were comfortless
huts, their dress was made from the skins of their flocks, or from animals
taken in the chase; they had no books, and their literature was limited to
the Latin manuscripts of the Church, which few of the monks even were
learned enough to read, and fewer still to translate. Amid such
influences, the life of a cowherd could scarcely be lifted above that of
the beasts he cared for; if his hunger and thirst were satisfied, he would
ask no more than a pleasant, daisied meadow in summer, and a warm nook in
the winter. But Caedmon had a sensitive nature, that craved something
nobler. When the minstrels struck their harps, and sung the wild
traditions and fierce conflicts of their tribes and the guests followed
with boisterous jest in their uncouth ballads, Caedmon sat silent and
One evening, as the harp, passing from one to another, drew nearer him,
dreading the oft-repeated taunts of his fellows, he crept away in the
shadows, and went to his only bed,--a truss of straw.
After a while he slept, and in his sleep some one of lofty stature, and
with kindly-beaming eyes, stood beside him, and commanded him to sing. "I
cannot," replied Caedmon, despondingly.
"Sing!" was the uncompromising answer.
"What shall I sing?"
"The origin of all things."
Immediately before his quickened sense swept a vision of Creation, and to
his glad surprise he described it all in song. The next morning he
remembered, and repeated it; and the monks, hearing of it, took him into
the monastery, and taught him scenes and sentences from the Bible, which
he rendered into verse, and so became the first of the long line of sacred
It was Christmas Eve, and the great hall of the Abbey was decked with the
Druids' sacred mistletoe with its pearly fruitage, the bright green of the
ivy, and branches of holly, with scarlet, shining berries. Great logs were
heaped on the broad stones in the middle of the hall, and jets of flame
leaped up to brighten the low, smoke-stained ceiling, and restless shadows
flitted along the wall, while the smoke escaped through the opening in the
roof, for chimneys were then, and for many centuries after, unknown. The
unglazed windows were closed at nightfall by wooden shutters, and rude
comfort cheered the inmates. A robin, who had fluttered in at dusk, and
found Christmas cheer on the holly boughs and warmth for his numbed little
feet, trilled a song of gratitude that winter had made such speed to be
Two nights before, a company of pilgrims from the convents of Palestine,
had come to the monastery. They had been many months on their way, eagerly
welcomed wherever they stopped, for journeying was both difficult and
dangerous, and travellers from such a remote region were rarely met. Their
dark complexions, hair and beards; their bright, mobile expression; their
manners toned by the graces of Eastern civilization, were a strange
contrast to the shaggy, elfish, ruddy-faced throng about them. This
Christmas Eve they were telling the monks wonderful stories of the Holy
Land; its beautiful, vine-clad hills; its tropical, luscious fruits; its
towering, plumy palms and hoary cedars; the long lines of caravans that
wound over the silent, pathless deserts to bring to its cities the riches
of Oriental commerce; the palaces and heathen temples of those cities, and
the traditional glory of _the_ Temple, with its magnificence of gold, and
precious stones, and woods and ivory. On the table were huge platters of
smoking meats, and serving men brought in flagons and tankards of ale, and
feasting, stories and minstrelsy held the hours till the midnight bell
called to the first mass and ushered in Christmas Day. Caedmon, coming
back from the frosty chapel, saw the stars shining in the brilliance of
winter skies. His heart was suffused with all he had heard the pilgrims
repeat; for the first time it entered his mind that the same stars that he
saw twinkling, held their course at that glad time when "the morning-stars
sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy,"--a prelude to
this other song of "the great multitude of the heavenly host." He entered
the hall, and when the company reassembled, he took his harp, and sang
with power and pathos of the slumbering flocks on Judea's upland pastures;
the faithful, watching shepherds; the loneliness and silence of the night;
the sudden, startling brightness that shone about them, and enveloped
their angel visitant, who kindly soothed their alarm with "Fear not;" and
the outburst of angelic song, unheard by the ears dulled with sleep, but
overpowering these astonished men. "O happy shepherds! who alone among
men, were ever privileged to hear the songs of heaven."
His audience was thrilled. Never had the monks heard Caedmon, or any other
minstrel, sing with such fire; the intervening centuries fled before his
song. They, too, went to the lowly manger, and saw the Divine Infant
hushed on the happy breast of his young Mother and felt Mary's awe when
the shepherds told her what they that night had seen and heard. While
Caedmon sang they saw the caravan winding over an unmarked way and the
wise men of the Orient following ever the strange star, till, after weeks
of travel, it stood over the place where the young Child lay. They saw,
too, the aged, bearded Melchior, Gaspar, young and fresh, and Balthazar
the Moor, descend from their kneeling camels with their kingly offerings
of gold, frankincense and myrrh and prostrate themselves in reverence
before the Holy Babe.
"'Twas ages, ages long ago," and Caedmon and his hymns are nigh forgotten,
but with each returning Christmas-tide may be heard again, as Caedmon
heard of yore, the angels' song of joy: "Glory to God in the highest, and
on earth peace, good will toward men."
GOOD KING WENCESLAS
JOHN MASON NEALE
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep, and crisp, and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gath'ring winter fuel.
"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If thou know'st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine,
Bring me pine-logs hither;
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Through the rude wind's wild lament
And the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, good my page;
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourselves find blessing.
THE CHRISTMAS AT GRECCIO: A
STORY OF ST. FRANCIS
"The beautiful Mother is bending
Low where her Baby lies
Helpless and frail, for her tending;
But she knows the glorious eyes.
"The Mother smiles and rejoices
While the Baby laughs in the hay;
She listens to heavenly voices:
'The child shall be King, one day.'
"O dear little Christ in the manger,
Let me make merry with Thee.
O King, in my hour of danger,
Wilt Thou be strong for me?"
--Adapted from the Latin of Jacopone da Todi.
One night in December ... Brother Francis, with one companion, was walking
through the beautiful valley of the Velino River, toward Rieti, a little
city where he came often on his way from Assisi to Rome. To-night he had
turned somewhat aside from the main road, for he wished to spend Christmas
with his friend, Sir John of Greccio. Greccio is a tiny village, lying
where the foothills begin, on the western side of the valley. The very
feet of Brother Francis knew the road so well that he could have walked
safely in the darkness, but it was not dark. The full moon floated over
the valley, making the narrow river and the sharp outlines of the
snow-covered mountains shine like silver. The plain and the lower hills
were pasture land, and, not far from the road, on a grassy slope, the
Brothers saw the red glow of an almost spent shepherds' fire. "Let us
stop and visit our brothers, the shepherds," said Francis, and they
turned toward the fading fire.
There was no sense of winter in the air, scarcely a touch of frost, and
the only snow was that on the silver peaks against the sky. The shepherds,
three men and one boy, lay sleeping soundly on the bare ground, with their
sheepskin coats drawn closely around them. All about them the sheep were
sleeping, too, but the solemn white sheep dogs were wide awake. If a
stranger's foot had trod the grass never so softly, every dog would have
barked, and every shepherd would have been on his feet in an instant. But
the dogs trotted silently up to the Grey Brothers and rubbed against them,
as if they said, "We are glad to see you again," for they knew the
friendly feet of the Little Poor Man, and they had more than once helped
him to eat the bread that was his only dinner. Followed by the dogs,
Francis walked about among the shepherds, but they slept on, as only men
who live out of doors can sleep, and Francis could not find it in his
heart to waken them. The sheep lay huddled together in groups for more
warmth. Around one small square of grass a net was stretched, and, inside
it, were the mother sheep who had little lambs. There was no sound except
the faint cry, now and then, of a baby lamb. The coals over which the
shepherds had cooked their supper paled from dull red to grey, and there
was only a thin column of smoke, white in the moonlight. Francis sat down
on a stone, and the largest of the white dogs pressed up against his knee.
Another went dutifully back to his post beside the fold where the mothers
and babies slept. The Italian hillside seemed to Francis to change to that
of Bethlehem, which he had seen, perhaps, on his Eastern journey; the
clear December night seemed like that of the first Christmas Eve. "How
these shepherds sleep!" he thought; "how they would awaken if they heard
the 'Peace on earth' of the angels' song!" Then he remembered sadly how
the armies that called themselves Christian had, year after year, battled
with the Saracens over the cradle and the tomb of the Prince of Peace. The
moonlight grew misty about him, the silver heights of the mountains and
the silver line of the river faded, for the eyes of Brother Francis were
full of tears.
As the two Brothers went on their way, Francis grew light of heart again.
The sight of the shepherds sleeping on the grass had given him a new idea,
and he was planning a surprise for his friends at Greccio. For at Greccio
all were his friends, from Sir John, his host, down to the babies in the
street. In the valley of Rieti he was almost as well known and as dearly
loved as in his own valley of Assisi. The children of Greccio had never
heard of Christmas trees, nor, perhaps, of Christmas presents. I am not
sure that, in the thirteenth century, Italians had the beautiful custom
which they now have of giving presents at Twelfth Night, in memory of the
coming of the three kings with their gifts to the Christ Child; but in the
thirteenth century, even as now, Christmas was the happiest festival of
the year. This year all the folk of Greccio, big and little, were happier
than usual because their beloved Brother Francis was to help them keep
their Christmas-tide. Next day Francis confided his plan to his friend,
Sir John, who promised that all should be ready on Christmas Eve.
On the day before Christmas, the people came from all the country around
to see and hear Brother Francis. Men, women and children, dressed in their
holiday clothes, walking, riding on donkeys, crowding into little carts
drawn by great white oxen, from everywhere and in every fashion, the
country folk came toward Greccio. Many came from far away, and the early
winter darkness fell long before they could reach the town. The light of
their torches might be seen on the open road, and the sound of their
singing reached the gates of Greccio before them. That night the little
town was almost as crowded as was Bethlehem on the eve of the first
Christmas. The crowds were poor folk, for the most part, peasants from the
fields, charcoal burners from the mountains, shepherds in their sheepskin
coats and trousers, made with the wool outside, so that the wearers looked
like strange, two-legged animals. The four shepherds who had slept so
soundly a few nights before were of the company, but they knew nothing of
their midnight visitors. The white dogs knew, but they could keep a
secret. The shepherds were almost as quiet as their dogs. They always
talked and sang less than other people, having grown used to long silences
among their sheep.
Gathered at last into the square before the church, by the light of
flaring torches, for the moon would rise late, the people saw with wonder
and delight the surprise which Brother Francis and Sir John had prepared
for them. They looked into a real stable. There was the manger full of
hay, there were a live ox and a live ass. Even by torchlight their breath
showed in the frosty air. And there, on the hay, lay a real baby, wrapped
from the cold, asleep and smiling. It looked as sweet and innocent as the
Christ Child Himself. The people shouted with delight. They clapped their
hands and waved their torches.
Then there was silence, for Brother Francis stood before them, and the
voice they loved so well, and had come so far to hear, began to read the
old story of the birth of the Child Jesus, of the shepherds in the fields,
and of the angels' song. When the reading was ended, Brother Francis
talked to them as a father might speak to his children. He told of the
love that is gentle as a little child, that is willing to be poor and
humble as the Baby who was laid in a manger among the cattle. He begged
his listeners to put anger and hatred and envy out of their hearts this
Christmas Eve, and to think only thoughts of peace and good will. All
listened eagerly while Brother Francis spoke, but the moment he finished
the great crowd broke into singing. From the church tower the bells rang
loud; the torches waved wildly, while voices here and there shouted for
Brother Francis and for the Blessed Little Christ. Never before had such
glorious hymns nor such joyous shouting been heard in the town of Greccio.
Only the mothers, with babies in their arms, and the shepherds, in their
woolly coats, looked on silently and thought: "We are in Bethlehem."
THE SIN OF THE PRINCE BISHOP
The Prince Bishop Evrard stood gazing at his marvellous Cathedral; and as
he let his eyes wander in delight over the three deep sculptured portals
and the double gallery above them, and the great rose window, and the
ringers' gallery, and so up to the massive western towers, he felt as
though his heart were clapping hands for joy within him. And he thought to
himself, "Surely in all the world God has no more beautiful house than
this which I have built with such long labor and at so princely an outlay
of my treasure." And thus the Prince Bishop fell into the sin of
vainglory, and, though he was a holy man, he did not perceive that he had
fallen, so filled with gladness was he at the sight of his completed work.
In the double gallery of the west front there were many great statues with
crowns and sceptres, but a niche over the central portal was empty and
this the Prince Bishop intended to fill with a statue of himself. It was
to be a very small simple statue, as became one who prized lowliness of
heart, but as he looked up at the vacant place it gave him pleasure to
think that hundreds of years after he was dead people would pause before
his effigy and praise him and his work. And this, too, was vainglory.
As the Prince Bishop lay asleep that night a mighty six-winged Angel stood
beside him and bade him rise. "Come," he said, "and I will show thee some
of those who have worked with thee in building the great church, and whose
service in God's eyes has been more worthy than thine." And the Angel led
him past the Cathedral and down the steep street of the ancient city, and
though it was midday, the people going to and fro did not seem to see
them. Beyond the gates they followed the shelving road till they came to
green level fields, and there in the middle of the road, between grassy
banks covered white with cherry blossom, two great white oxen, yoked to a
huge block of stone, stood resting before they began the toilsome ascent.
"Look!" said the Angel; and the Prince Bishop saw a little blue-winged
bird which perched on the stout yoke beam fastened to the horns of the
oxen, and sang such a heavenly song of rest and contentment that the big
shaggy creatures ceased to blow stormily through their nostrils, and drew
long tranquil breaths instead.
"Look again!" said the Angel. And from a hut of wattles and clay a little
peasant girl came with a bundle of hay in her arms, and gave first one of
the oxen and then the other a wisp. Then she stroked their black muzzles,
and laid her rosy face against their white cheeks. Then the Prince Bishop
saw the rude teamster rise from his rest on the bank and cry to his
cattle, and the oxen strained against the beam and the thick ropes
tightened, and the huge block of stone was once more set in motion.
And when the Prince Bishop saw that it was these fellow-workers whose
service was more worthy in God's eyes than his own, he was abashed and
sorrowful for his sin, and the tears of his own weeping awoke him. So he
sent for the master of the sculptors and bade him fill the little niche
over the middle portal, not with his own effigy but with an image of the
child; and he bade him make two colossal figures of the white oxen; and to
the great wonderment of the people these were set up high in the tower so
that men could see them against the blue sky. "And as for me," he said,
"let my body be buried, with my face downward, outside the great church,
in front of the middle entrance, that men may trample on my vainglory and
that I may serve them as a stepping-stone to the house of God; and the
little child shall look on me when I lie in the dust."
Now the little girl in the niche was carved with wisps of hay in her
hands, but the child who had fed the oxen knew nothing of this, and as she
grew up she forgot her childish service, so that when she had grown to
womanhood and chanced to see this statue over the portal she did not know
it was her own self in stone. But what she had done was not forgotten in
And as for the oxen, one of them looked east and one looked west across
the wide fruitful country about the foot of the hill-city. And one caught
the first grey gleam, and the first rosy flush, and the first golden
splendor of the sunrise; and the other was lit with the color of the
sunset long after the lowlands had faded away in the blue mist of the
twilight. Weary men and worn women looking up at them felt that a gladness
and a glory and a deep peace had fallen on the life of toil. And then,
when people began to understand, they said it was well that these mighty
laborers, who had helped to build the house, should still find a place of
service and honor in the house; and they remembered that the Master of the
house had once been a Babe warmed in a manger by the breath of kine. And
at the thought of this men grew more pitiful to their cattle, and to the
beasts in servitude, and to all dumb animals. And that was one good fruit
which sprang from the Prince Bishop's repentance.
Now over the colossal stone oxen hung the bells of the Cathedral. On
Christmas Eve the ringers, according to the old custom, ascended to their
gallery to ring in the birth of the Babe Divine. At the moment of midnight
the master ringer gave the word, and the great bells began to swing in
joyful sequence. Down below in the crowded church lay the image of the
new-born Child on the cold straw, and at His haloed head stood the images
of the ox and the ass. Far out across the snow-roofed city, far away over
the white glistening country rang the glad music of the tower. People who
went to their doors to listen cried in astonishment: "Hark! what strange
music is that? It sounds as if the lowing of cattle were mingled with the
chimes of the bells." In truth it was so. And in every byre the oxen and
the kine answered the strange sweet cadences with their lowing, and the
great stone oxen lowed back to their kin of the meadow through the deep
notes of the joy-peal.
In the fulness of time the Prince Bishop Evrard died and was buried as he
had willed, with his face humbly turned to the earth; and to this day the
weather-wasted figure of the little girl looks down on him from her niche,
and the slab over his grave serves as a stepping-stone to pious feet.
Taken by permission of E.P. Dutton and Company from "A Child's Book of
Saints," by William Canton, Everyman's Library.
EARL SIGURD'S CHRISTMAS EVE
HJALMAR HJORTH BOYESEN
Earl Sigurd, he rides o'er the foam-crested brine,
And he heeds not the billowy brawl,
For he yearns to behold gentle Swanwhite, the maid
Who abides in Sir Burislav's hall.
"Earl Sigurd, the viking, he comes, he is near!
Earl Sigurd, the scourge of the sea;
Among the wild rovers who dwell on the deep,
There is none that is dreaded as he.
"Oh, hie ye, ye maidens, and hide where ye can,
Ere the clang of his war-ax ye hear,
For the wolf of the woods has more pity than he,
And his heart is as grim as his spear."
Thus rang the dread tidings, from castle to hut,
Through the length of Sir Burislav's land,
As they spied the red pennon unfurled to the breeze,
And the galleys that steered for the strand.
But with menacing brow, looming high in his prow
Stood Earl Sigurd, and fair to behold
Was his bright, yellow hair, as it waved in the air,
'Neath the glittering helmet of gold.
"Up, my comrades, and stand with your broadswords in hand,
For the war is great Odin's delight;
And the Thunderer proud, how he laughs in his cloud
When the Norsemen prepare for the fight!"
And the light galleys bore the fierce crew to the shore,
And naught good did their coming forebode,
And a wail rose on high to the storm-riven sky
As to Burislav's castle they strode.
Then the stout-hearted men of Sir Burislav's train
To the gate-way came thronging full fast
And the battle-blade rang with a murderous clang,
Borne aloft on the wings of the blast.
And they hewed and they thrust, till each man bit the dust,
Their fierce valor availing them naught.
But the Thunderer proud, how he laughed in his cloud,
When he saw how the Norsemen had fought!
Then came Burislav forth; to the men of the North
Thus in quivering accents spake he:
"O, ye warriors, name me the ransom ye claim,
Or in gold, or in robes, or in fee."
"Oh, what reck I thy gold?" quoth Earl Sigurd, the bold;
"Has not Thor laid it all in my hand?
Give me Swanwhite, the fair, and by Balder I swear
I shall never revisit thy land.
"For my vengeance speeds fast, and I come like the blast
Of the night o'er the billowy brine;
I forget not thy scorn and thy laugh on that morn
When I wooed me the maid that was mine."
Then the chief, sore afraid, brought the lily-white maid
To the edge of the blood-sprinkled field,
And they bore her aloft o'er the sward of the croft
On the vault of the glittering shield.
But amain in their path, in a whirlwind of wrath
Came young Harold, Sir Burislav's son;
With a great voice he cried, while the echoes replied:
"Lo, my vengeance, it cometh anon!"
Hark ye, Norsemen, hear great tidings:
Odin, Thor, and Frey are dead,
And white Christ, the strong and gentle,
standeth peace-crowned in their stead.
Lo, the blood-stained day of vengeance to the
ancient night is hurled,
And the dawn of Christ is beaming blessings
o'er the new-born world.
"See the Cross in splendor gleaming far and
wide o'er pine-clad heath,
While the flaming blade of battle slumbers in
its golden sheath.
And before the lowly Savior, e'en the rider of
Sigurd, tamer of the billow, he hath bent the
Now at Yule-tide sat he feasting on the shore
of Drontheim fiord,
And his stalwart swains about him watched
the bidding of their lord.
Huge his strength was, but his visage, it was
mild and fair to see;
Ne'er old Norway, heroes' mother, bore a
mightier son than he.
With her maids sat gentle Swanwhite 'neath a
roof of gleaming shields,
As the rarer lily blossoms 'mid the green herbs
of the fields;
To and fro their merry words flew lightly
through the torch-lit room,
Like a shuttle deftly skipping through the
mazes of the loom.
And the scalds with nimble fingers o'er the
sounding harp-strings swept;
Now the strain in laughter rippled, now with
hidden woe it wept,
For they sang of Time's beginning, ere the sun
the day brought forth--
Sang as sing the ocean breezes through the
pine-woods of the North.
Bolder beat the breasts of Norsemen--when
amid the tuneful din
Open sprang the heavy hall-doors, and a
stranger entered in.
Tall his growth, though low he bended o'er a
twisted staff of oak,
And his stalwart shape was folded in a dun,
Straight the Earl his voice uplifted: "Hail
to thee, my guest austere!
Drain with me this cup of welcome: thou shalt
share our Yule-tide cheer.
Thou shalt sit next to my high-seat e'en
though lowly be thy birth,
For to-night our Lord, the Savior, came a
stranger to his earth."
Up then rose the gentle Swanwhite, and her
eyes with fear grew bright;
Down the dusky hall she drifted, as a shadow
drifts by night.
"If my lord would hold me worthy," low she
spake, "then grant me leave
To abide between the stranger and my lord,
this Christmas eve."
"Strange, O guest, is women's counsel, still
their folly is the staff
Upon which our wisdom leaneth," and he
laughed a burly laugh;
Lifted up her lissome body with a husband's
Kissed her brow, and placed her gently in the
high-seat at his side.
But the guest stood pale and quivered, where
the red flames roofward rose,
And he clenched the brimming goblet in his
fingers, fierce and close,
Then he spake: "All hail, Earl Sigurd,
mightiest of the Norsemen, hail!
Ere I name to thee my tidings, I will taste thy
flesh and ale."
Quoth the merry Earl with fervor: "Courteous
is thy speech and free:
While thy worn soul thou refreshest, I will
sing a song to thee;
For beneath that dusky garment thou mayst
hide a hero's heart,
And my hand, though stiff, hath scarcely yet
unlearned the singer's art."
Then the arms so tightly folded round his neck
the Earl unclasped,
And his heart was stirred within him as the
silvern strings he grasped,
But with eyes of meek entreaty, closely to his
side she clung,
While his mighty soul rose upward on the
billows of the song.
For he sang, in tones impassioned, of the death
of Aesir bright,
Sang the song of Christ the glorious, who was
born a babe to-night,
How the hosts of heaven victorious joined the
anthem of his birth,
Of the kings the starlight guided from the far
lands of the earth.
And anon, with bodeful glamour fraught, the
hurrying strain sped on,
As he sang the law of vengeance and the wrath
Sang of gods with murder sated, who had laid
the fair earth waste,
Who had whetted swords of Norsemen,
plunged them into Norsemen's breast.
But he shook a shower of music, rippling from
the silver strings,
And bright visions rose of angels and of fair
and shining things
As he sang of heaven's rejoicing at the mild
and bloodless reign
Of the gentle Christ who bringeth peace and
good-will unto men!
But the guest sat dumb and hearkened, staring
at the brimming bowl,
While the lay with mighty wing-beats swept
the darkness of his soul.
For the Christ who worketh wonders as of old,
so e'en to-day
Sent his angel downward gliding on the ladder
of the lay.
As the host his song had ended with a last
And within the harp's dumb chambers
murmurous echoes faintly rang,
Up then sprang the guest, and straightway
downward rolled his garment dun--
There stood Harold, the avenger, Burislav's
High he loomed above the feasters in the
torchlight dim and weird,
From his eyes hot tears were streaming,
sparkling in his tawny beard;
Shining in his sea-blue mantle stood he, 'mid
that wondering throng,
And each maiden thought him fairest, and each
warrior vowed him strong.
Swift he bared his blade of battle, flung it
quivering on the board:
"Lo!" he cried, "I came to bid thee baleful
greeting with my sword;
Thou hast dulled the edge that never shrank
from battle's fiercest test--
Now I come, as comes a brother, swordless unto
"With three hundred men I landed in the
gloaming at thy shore--
Dost thou hear their axes clanking on their
shields without thy door?
But a yearning woke within me my sweet sister's
voice to hear,
To behold her face and whisper words of
warning in her ear.
"But I knew not of the new-born king, who
holds the earth in sway,
And whose voice like fragrance blended in the
soarings of thy lay.
This my vengeance now, O brother: foes as
friends shall hands unite;
Teach me, thou, the wondrous tidings, and the
law of Christ the white."
Touched as by an angel's glory, strangely
shone Earl Sigurd's face,
As he locked his foe, his brother, in a brotherly
And each warrior upward leaping, swung his
horn with gold bedight:
"Hail to Sigurd, hail to Harold, three times
hail to Christ the white!"
A CHRISTMAS LEGEND
It was Christmas Eve. The night was very dark and the snow falling fast,
as Hermann, the charcoal-burner, drew his cloak tighter around him, and
the wind whistled fiercely through the trees of the Black Forest. He had
been to carry a load to a castle near, and was now hastening home to his
little hut. Although he worked very hard, he was poor, gaining barely
enough for the wants of his wife and his four little children. He was
thinking of them, when he heard a faint wailing. Guided by the sound, he
groped about and found a little child, scantily clothed, shivering and
sobbing by itself in the snow.
"Why, little one, have they left thee here all alone to face this cruel
The child answered nothing, but looked piteously up in the
"Well, I cannot leave thee here. Thou would'st be dead before the
So saying, Hermann raised it in his arms, wrapping it in his cloak and
warming its little cold hands in his bosom. When he arrived at his hut, he
put down the child and tapped at the door, which was immediately thrown
open, and the children rushed to meet him.
"Here, wife, is a guest to our Christmas Eve supper," said he, leading in
the little one, who held timidly to his finger with its tiny hand.
"And welcome he is," said the wife. "Now let him come and warm himself by
The children all pressed round to welcome and gaze at the little
new-comer. They showed him their pretty fir-tree, decorated with bright,
colored lamps in honor of Christmas Eve, which the good mother had
endeavored to make a _fete_ for the children.
Then they sat down to supper, each child contributing of its portion for
the guest, looking with admiration at its clear, blue eyes and golden
hair, which shone so as to shed a brighter light in the little room; and
as they gazed, it grew into a sort of halo round his head, and his eyes
beamed with a heavenly luster. Soon two white wings appeared at his
shoulders, and he seemed to grow larger and larger, and then the beautiful
vision vanished, spreading out his hands as in benediction over them.
Hermann and his wife fell on their knees, exclaiming, in awe-struck
voices: "The holy Christ-child!" and then embraced their wondering
children in joy and thankfulness that they had entertained the Heavenly
The next morning, as Hermann passed by the place where he had found the
fair child, he saw a cluster of lovely white flowers, with dark green
leaves, looking as though the snow itself had blossomed. Hermann plucked
some, and carried them reverently home to his wife and children, who
treasured the fair blossoms and tended them carefully in remembrance of
that wonderful Christmas Eve, calling them Chrysanthemums; and every year,
as the time came round, they put aside a portion of their feast and gave
it to some poor little child, according to the words of the Christ:
"Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me."
THE LEGEND OF THE CHRISTMAS ROSE
Robber Mother, who lived in Robbers' Cave up in Goeinge forest, went down
to the village one day on a begging tour. Robber Father, who was an
outlawed man, did not dare to leave the forest, but had to content himself
with lying in wait for the wayfarers who ventured within its borders. But
at that time travellers were not very plentiful in Southern Skane. If it
so happened that the man had had a few weeks of ill luck with his hunt,
his wife would take to the road. She took with her five youngsters, and
each youngster wore a ragged leathern suit and birch-bark shoes and bore a
sack on his back as long as himself. When Robber Mother stepped inside the
door of a cabin, no one dared refuse to give her whatever she demanded;
for she was not above coming back the following night and setting fire to
the house if she had not been well received. Robber Mother and her brood
were worse than a pack of wolves, and many a man felt like running a spear
through them; but it was never done, because they all knew that the man
stayed up in the forest, and he would have known how to wreak vengeance if
anything had happened to the children or the old woman.
Now that Robber Mother went from house to house and begged, she came one
day to Oevid, which at that time was a cloister. She rang the bell of the
cloister gate and asked for food. The watchman let down a small wicket in
the gate and handed her six round bread cakes--one for herself and one for
each of the five children.
While the mother was standing quietly at the gate, her youngsters were
running about. And now one of them came and pulled at her skirt, as a
signal that he had discovered something which she ought to come and see,
and Robber Mother followed him promptly.
The entire cloister was surrounded by a high and strong wall, but the
youngster had managed to find a little back gate which stood ajar. When
Robber Mother got there, she pushed the gate open and walked inside
without asking leave, as it was her custom to do.
Oevid Cloister was managed at that time by Abbot Hans, who knew all about
herbs. Just within the cloister wall he had planted a little herb garden,
and it was into this that the old woman had forced her way.
At first glance Robber Mother was so astonished that she paused at the
gate. It was high summertide, and Abbot Hans' garden was so full of
flowers that the eyes were fairly dazzled by the blues, reds, and yellows,
as one looked into it. But presently an indulgent smile spread over her
features, and she started to walk up a narrow path that lay between many
In the garden a lay brother walked about, pulling up weeds. It was he who
had left the door in the wall open, that he might throw the weeds and
tares on the rubbish heap outside.
When he saw Robber Mother coming in, with all five youngsters in tow, he
ran toward her at once and ordered them away. But the beggar woman walked
right on as before. She cast her eyes up and down, looking now at the
stiff white lilies which spread near the ground, then on the ivy climbing
high upon the cloister wall, and took no notice whatever of the lay
He thought she had not understood him, and wanted to take her by the arm
and turn her toward the gate. But when the robber woman saw his purpose,
she gave him a look that sent him reeling backward. She had been walking
with back bent under her beggar's pack, but now she straightened herself
to her full height. "I am Robber Mother from Goeinge forest; so touch me if
you dare!" And it was obvious that she was as certain she would be left in
peace as if she had announced that she was the Queen of Denmark.
And yet the lay brother dared to oppose her, although now, when he knew
who she was, he spoke reasonably to her. "You must know, Robber Mother,
that this is a monks' cloister, and no woman in the land is allowed within
these walls. If you do not go away, the monks will be angry with me
because I forgot to close the gate, and perhaps they will drive me away
from the cloister and the herb garden."
But such prayers were wasted on Robber Mother. She walked straight ahead
among the little flower-beds and looked at the hyssop with its magenta
blossoms, and at the honeysuckles, which were full of deep orange-colored
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