Read THE VENGEANCE OF THE MONKS OF BARDENEY of Legends of the Saxon Saints , free online book, by Aubrey de Vere, on

Osthryda, Queen of Mercia, translates the relics of her uncle, Oswald of Northumberland, to the Abbey of Bardeney. The monks refuse them admittance because King Oswald had conquered and kept for one year Lindsay, a province of Mercia. Though hourly expecting the destruction of their Abbey, they will yield neither to threats nor to supplications, nor even to celestial signs and wonders. At last, being convinced by the reasoning of a devout man, they repent of their anger.

Silent, with gloomy brows in conclave sat
The monks of Bardeney, nigh the eastern sea;
Rumour, that still outruns the steps of ill,
Smote on their gates with news: ’Osthryda comes
To bury here her royal uncle’s bones,
Northumbrian Oswald.’ Oswald was a Saint;
Had loosed from Pagan bonds that Christian land
His own by right. But Oswald had subdued
Lindsay, a Mercian province; and the monks
Were sons of Mercia leal and true. Osthryda,
Northumbrian born, had wedded Mercia’s King;
Therefore the monks of Bardeney pondered thus:
’This Mercian Queen spurns her adopted country!
Must Mercia therefore build her conqueror’s tomb?
Though earth and hell cried “Ay,” it should not be!’
Thus mused the brethren till the sun went down:
Then lo! beyond a vista in the woods
Drew nigh a Bier, black-plumed, with funeral train:
Thereon the stern monks gazed, and gave command
To close the Abbey’s gate. Beside that gate
Tent-roofed that Bier remained.
Before them soon
Stood up the royal herald. Thus he spake:
’Ye sacred monks of Bardeney’s Abbey, hail!
Osthryda, wife of Ethelred our King,
Prays that God’s peace may keep this House forever.
The Queen has hither brought, by help of God,
King Oswald’s bones, and sues for them a grave
Within this hallowed precinct.’ Answer came:
’King Oswald, living, was Northumbria’s King;
King Oswald, by the pride of life seduced,
Wrested from Mercia’s sceptre Lindsay’s soil;
Therefore in Lindsay’s soil King Oswald, dead,
May never find repose.’
Before them next
Three earls advanced full-armed, and spake loud-voiced:
’Our Queen is consort of the Mercian King;
Ye, monks, are Mercian subjects! Sirs, beware!
Our King and Queen have loved you well till now,
And ranked your abbey highest in their realm:
But hearts ingrate can sour the mood of love;
And Ethelred, though mild as summer skies
When mildly used, once angered Answer came:
’We know it, and await our doom, content:
If Mercia’s King contemns his realm, more need
That Mercia’s priests her confessors should die:
In Bardeney’s church King Oswald ne’er shall rest:
Ye have your answer, Earls!’
Through that dim hall
Ere long a gentler embassage made way,
Three priests; arrived, they knelt, and, reverent, spake:
’Fathers and brethren, Oswald was a Saint!
He loosed his native land from pagan thrall:
Churches and convents everywhere he built:
His relics, year by year, grow glorious more
Through miracles and signs. Fathers revered,
Within this sanctuary beloved of God
Vouchsafe his dust interment!’ They replied:
’We know that Oswald is a Saint with God:
We know he freed his realm from pagan thrall;
We know that churches everywhere he built;
We know that from his relics Grace proceeds
As light from sun and moon. In heaven a crown
Rests on Saint Oswald’s head: yet here on earth
King Oswald’s foot profaned our Mercian bound:
Therefore in Mercian earth he finds not grave.’
Silent those priests withdrew. An hour well-nigh
Went by in silence. Then with forehead crowned
And mourner’s veil, and step of one that mourns,
The Queen advanced, a lady at each side,
And ’mid the circle stood, and thus implored:
’Not as your Sovereign come I, holy Sirs,
Since all are equal in the House of God;
Nor stand I here a stranger. Many a day
In this your church, I knelt, while yet a child;
Then too, as now, within my breast there lived
The tenderest of its ardours and the best,
Zeal for my kinsman’s fame. That time how oft
I heard my Father, Oswy, cry aloud,
“O Brother, had I walked but in thy ways
My foot had never erred!” In maiden youth
I met with one who shared my loyal zeal,
Mercian himself: ’twas thus he won my heart:
My royal husband shared it; shares this hour
My trust that ’mid the altars reared by us
To grace this chiefest Minster of our realm
May rest the relics of our household Saint
To spurn them from your threshold were to shame.’
She spake: benign and soft the answering voice:
’Entreat us not, thou mourner true and kind,
Lest we, by pity from the straight path drawn,
Sin more than thou. Thou know’st what thing love is,
Thus loving one who died before thy birth!
Up to the measure of high love and fit
Thou lov’st him for this cause, because thy heart
Hath never rested on base love and bad:
Lady, a sterner severance monks have made:
Not base and bad alone do they reject,
But lesser good for better and for best:
Therefore what yet remains they love indeed:
A single earthly love is theirs unblamed,
Their Country! Lo, the wild-bird loves her nest,
Lions their caves: to us God gave a Country.
What heart of man but loves that mother-land
Whose omnipresent arms are round him still
In vale and plain; whose voice in every stream;
Whose breath his forehead cools; whose eyes with joy
Regard her offspring issuing forth each morn
On duteous tasks; to rest each eve returning?
And who that loves her but must hate her foes?
Lady, accept God’s Will, nor strive by prayer
To change it. In our guest-house rest this night,
Thou, and thy train.’

Severe the Queen replied:
’Yea, in thy guest-house I will lodge this night,
Unvanquished, undiscouraged, not to cease
From prayer: of that be sure. I make henceforth
My prayer to God, not man. To Him I pray,
That Lord of all, Who changes at His will
The stony heart to flesh.’
She spake: then turned
On those old faces, keenlier than before,
Her large slow eyes; and instant in her face
The sadness deepened: but the wrath was gone.
That sadness said, ’Love then as deep as mine,
And grief like mine, in other breasts may spring
From source how different!’ Long she gazed, like child
That knows not she is seen to gaze, with looks
As though she took that hoary-headed band
Into her sorrowing heart. Silent she sighed;
Then passed into the guest-house with her train:
There prayed all night for him, that Saint in heaven
Ill-honoured upon earth.
Within their church
Meantime the monks the ‘Dies Irae’ sang,
The yellow tapers ranged as round a corse,
And Penitential Psalms in order due.
Their rite was for the living: ere the time
They sang the obsequies of sentenced men,
Foreboding wrath to come. Sad Fancy heard
The flames up-rushing o’er their convent home,
The ruin of their church late-built, the wreck
It might be of their Order. Fierce they knew
That Mercian royal House! Against their King
They hurled no ban: venial they deemed his crime:
’He moves within the limits of his right,
Though wrongly measuring right. He sees but this,
His subjects break his laws. Some sin of youth
It may be hides from him a right more high:
Thus spake they in their hearts.
While rival thus
The brethren and the Queen sent up their prayer,
And sacred night hung midway in her course,
Behold, there fell from God tempest and storm
Buffeting that abbey’s walls. The woods around,
Devastated by stress of blast on blast,
Howled like the howling of wild beasts when fire
Invests their ambush, and their cubs late-born
Blaze in red flame. Trembling, the strong-built towers
Echoed the woodland moans. All night the Queen,
Propped by those two fair Seraphs, Faith and Love,
Prayed on in hope, or hearing not that storm,
Or mindful that where danger most abounds
There God is nearest still. Meantime the Tent
Covering that royal Bier, unshaken stood
Beside the unyielding abbey-gates close-barred,
Like something shielded by a heavenly charm:
When morning came, shattered all round it lay
Both trunk and bough; but in the rising sun
The storm-drop shook not on that snowy shrine.

Things wondrous more that Legend old records:
An hour past sunrise from the meads and moors
Came wide-eyed herdsmen thronging, with demand,
’What means this marvel? All the long still night,
While heaven and earth were dark, and peaceful sleep
Closed in her arms the wearied race of men,
Keeping our herds on meads and moorlands chill,
We saw a glittering Tent beside your gates:
Above it, and not far, a pillar stood,
All light, and high as heaven!’ The abbot answered,
’Fair Sirs, ye dreamed a dream; and sound your sleep
Untroubled by the terror of the storm
Whereof those woodland fragments witness still,
And many a forest patriarch prostrate laid:
There rose no pillar by our gates: yon Tent
Stood there, and stood alone.’ In two hours’ space
Shepherds arrived, from hills remoter sped,
Making the same demand. With eye ill pleased
Thus answered brief the prior: ‘Friends, ye jest!’
And they in wrath departed. Once again
Came foresters from Lindsay’s utmost bound,
On horses blown, and spake: ’O’er yonder Tent,
Through all the courses of the long still night,
Behold, a shining pillar hovering stood:
It rained a glory on your convent walls:
It flung a trail of splendour o’er your woods:
We watched it hour by hour. Like Oswald’s Cross
On Heaven-Field planted in the days of old,
It waxed in height: the stars were quenched.’ Replied
With reddening brows the youngest of those monks,
’Sirs, ye have had your bribe, and told your tale:
Depart!’ and they departed great in scorn.

Long time the brethren sat; discoursed long time
Each with his neighbour. ’Craft of man would force
Dishonest deed on this our holy House,
By miracles suborned;’ thus spake the first:
The second answered, ’Ay, confederates they!
The good Queen knew not of it:’ then the third,
’Not so! these men are simple folks, I ween:
Nor time for fraud had they. What sail is yon
So weather-worn that nears the headland?’ Soon
A pilot stood before them; at his side
A priest, long years an inmate of their House,
But late a pilgrim in the Holy Land.
Their greetings over, greetings warm and kind,
Thus spake the Pilgrim: ’Brothers mine, rejoice;
Our God is with us! For our House I prayed
Three times with forehead on the Tomb of Christ;
Last night there came to me, in visible form,
An answer to that prayer. All day our ship,
Before a great wind rushed t’ward Mercian shores:
To them I turned not: on the East I gazed:
“O happy East,” I mused, “O Land, true home
Of every Christian heart! The Saviour’s feet
Thy streets, thy cornfields trod! With these compared
Our country’s self seems nothing!” In my heart
Imaged successive, rose once more those sites
Capernaum, Nain, Bethsaida, Bethlehem
Where’er my feet had strayed. At midnight, cries
Of wonder rang around me, and I turned:
I saw once more our convent on its hill:
I saw beside its gate a Tent snow-white;
I saw a glittering pillar o’er that Tent
’Twixt heaven and earth suspense! Serene it shone,
Such pillar as led forth the Chosen Race
By night from Egypt’s coasts. From wave to wave
Moon-like it paved a path! I cried, “Thank God!
For who shall stay yon splendour till it reach
That Syrian shore? England,” I said, “my country,
Shall lay upon Christ’s Tomb a hand all light,
Whatever tempest shakes the world of men,
Thenceforth His servant vowed!"’
When ceased that voice
There fell upon the monks a crisis strange;
And where that Pilgrim looked for joy, behold,
Doubt, wrath, and anguish! Faces old long since
Grew older, stricken as by hectic spasm,
So fierce a pang had clutched them by the throat;
While drops of sweat on many a wrinkled brow
Hung large like dewy beads condensed from mist
On cliffs by torrents shaken. Mute they sat;
Then sudden rose, uplifting helpless hands,
As when from distant rock sore-wounded men,
Who all day long have watched some dreadful fight,
Behold it lost, or else foresee it lost,
And with it lost their country’s hearths and homes,
And yet can bring no succour. Thus with them
They knew themselves defeated; deemed the stars
Of heaven had fought against them in their course;
Yet still believed, and could not but believe
Their cause the cause of Justice, and its wreck
The wreck of priestly honour, patriot faith:
At last the youngest of the brethren spake:
‘Come what come may, God’s monks must guard the Right.’
Death-like a silence on that conclave fell
Then rose a monk white-headed, well-nigh blind,
Esteemed a Saint, who had not uttered speech
Since came the tidings of the Queen’s resolve:
Low-voiced he spake, with eyes upon the ground
And inward smile that dimly reached his lips:
’Brethren, be wary lest ye strive with God
Through wrath, that blind incontinence of age,
For what He wills He works. By passion warped
Ye deem this trial strange, this conflict new,
Yourselves doomed men that stand between two Fates,
On one side right, on one side miracles!
Brethren, the chief of miracles is this,
That knowing what ye know ye know no more:
Ye know long since that Oswald is a Saint:
Ye know the sins of Saints are sins forgiven:
What then? Shall man revenge where God forgives?
Be wroth with those He loves? Ye, seeing much,
See not the sun at noontide! God last night
Sent you in love a miracle of love
To quell in you a miracle of wrath:
Discern its import true!
Sum up the past!
Thus much is sure: we heard those thunder peals
Unheard by hind or shepherd, near or far:
’Tis sure not less that light the shepherds saw
We saw not; neither we nor yet the Queen
What then? Is God not potent to divulge
The thing He wills, or hide it? Brethren, God
Shrouding from us that beam far dwellers saw
Admonished us perchance that far is near;
That ofttimes distance makes intelligible
What, nigh at hand, is veiled. This too He taught,
That when Northumbrian foot our Mercia spurned
The men who saw that ruin saw not all:
The light of Christ drew near us in that hour;
His pillar o’er us stood, and in our midst:
The pang, the shame, were transient. See the whole!’
The old man paused a space, and then resumed:
’Brethren, that day our country suffered wrong:
One day she may inflict it. Years may bring
The aggressor of past time a penitent grief;
The wronged may meet her penitence with scorn
Guiltier through malice than her foe’s worst rage:
Were it not well to leave that time unborn
Magnanimous ensample? Hard it were
To lay in Mercian earth the unforgiven:
Wholly to pardon that I deem not hard.
My voice is this: forgive we Oswald’s sin,
And lay his relics in our costliest shrine!’
Thus spake the aged man. That self-same eve,
The western sun descending, while the church,
Grey shaft transfigured by the glow divine,
Grey wall in flame of light pacific washed,
Shone out all golden like that flower all gold
Which shoots through sunset airs an arrowy beam,
In charity perfected moved the monks,
No longer sad, a long procession forth,
With foreheads smoothed as by the kiss of death
And eyes like eyes of Saints from death new risen,
Bearing the relics of Northumbria’s King,
Oswald, the man of God. Behind them paced
Warriors and chiefs; Osthryda last, the Queen,
With face whereon that great miraculous light,
By her all night unseen, appeared to rest,
And foot that might have trod the ocean waves
Unwetted save its palm. A shrine gem-wrought
Received the royal relics. O’er them drooped
Northumbria’s standard, guest of Mercian airs
Through which it once had sailed, a portent dire:
And whosoe’er in after centuries knelt
On Oswald’s grave, and, praying, wooed his prayer,
Departed, in his heart the peace of God,
Passions corrupt expelled, and demon snares,
Irreverent love, and anger past its bound.