Authors: G.M. Dyrek
Clearing Outside of Disibodenberg Monastery Before Compline
Volmar sunk his hands into the sleeves of his robe and stood alone in the clearing under the old yew tree. His mind wandered back to Hildegard's words and now agreed that people's minds do create their own realities. The world is so much more than what he could experience.
After Terce, he'd looked in on Sophie and found her clearly agitated by an apparent encounter with Saint Peter. He had listened and concluded with her that she had seen a man, not the revered Saint, who had used the secret tunnel behind the altar. Her description could describe any one of the seventy monks at the monastery and that didn't include the fifty-odd male attendants that worked at the monastery and lived in Staudernheim. The conversation fascinated Sophie and lifted her spirits. She had spoken animatedly of other secret passages she'd seen in various churches she and her Grandfather had visited. She'd also given him the message from Hildegard.
In it, Volmar had read what he already had heard from gossip amongst the brothers. Jutta's mother had fallen ill, and their party had to return to Sponheim immediately. However, it was gratifying to read that Hildegard regretted having to leave him without saying goodbye. She had also enclosed a secret code, a message only he could read. It ended up being an alphabet. Hildegard wrote that they could use it to communicate about Brother Arnoul, in a way no one else would be able to decipher. Volmar had folded it away and kept this secret even from Sophie.
In the clearing, Volmar held his oil lamp high into the air. Its light danced back and forth in the restless chilly wind. It was an unusual gray twilight, caused by the reflection of the moon on the barks of the trees surrounding him. “Brother Arnoul, I didn't find the book in our library,” Volmar said aloud, listening for a moment to any reply from the spiritual world. “Our Librarian,” he went on, “Brother Cormac, remembers you and Judas, and is convinced that your murderer left the monastery for Rome. I am not so sure. I sense that the Devil is still
afoot within the monastery's walls.” He paused, kicking at the rocks at his feet, trying to piece together all the known facts. “We're making progress, though. Sophie met a man returning to the monastery late, using your secret tunnel. Hildegard and I had taken his lantern from the tunnel and he could not change back into his robes.”
Volmar touched the back of his neck. Was it the cold presence of a dead monk or merely a chilled wind? He went on. It was indeed difficult to address someone he could not see. “There is no monk in the Benedictine order here at Disibodenberg who goes by the name of Judas. Perhaps, Cormac has it right and he has left for another monastery. However, I do not think so. I am suspicious that someone still uses the secret tunnel to come and go as they please.” He paused and concluded, “Brother Arnoul, I will not give up until justice is served and your good name is restored.”
Cemetery Near St. Michael's Chapel
of October, Saturday morning, shortly after day-break, the Year of Our Lord 1111
There were blackbirds everywhere. Their strong beaks pecked hungrily in the fallow fields surrounding the cemetery. One blackbird, set apart from the others, stood guard as it watched over the burial proceedings from the stone steeple of Saint Michael's Chapel.
A watery sun shone fitfully through the gathering rain clouds. A cold, weak light streamed down on a small group as they stood around the grave. Hot tears streamed down Sophie's cheeks. Behind her stood Thomas, who had surprisingly put down his tools and crossed the pasture to attend the ceremony, without saying a word. Volmar and Brother Paulus stood on either side of her like great stone pillars. There was no money to afford a coffin. Her grandfather's body was wrapped in a simple shroud. Several monks stood across from her and sang a tuneless psalm as the body was lowered into the grave.
Sophie straightened her back and lifted her head as the scoops of dirt toppled onto her grandfather's dead stiff body. She was so stricken by her grief, she could not even bring herself to respond to Brother Volmar's or Brother Paulus's caring gazes. She knew now that she was completely alone.
Abbott Burchard concluded the simple funeral service and sprinkled holy water from a silver aspersorium
. As the other monks and Thomas left to continue their work for the day, the Abbot knelt beside Sophie, admiring her handiwork. She'd spent the last several days chiseling a plaque for her Grandda's headstone. On it he read aloud the perfectly inscribed words: “
Vale in Christo semper memor nostri amen
Silas of Cologne, 1053â1111. Do you know Latin, my child?”
Sophie collected herself with an effort, hesitated and asked plainly, “Would it make a difference if I said yes or no?”
“I suppose not, though it is highly unusual for a girl to know how to write and understand Latin.”
“I've lived all my days in the hallowed grounds of cathedrals and have listened daily to the monks reciting their prayers. Grandda taught me all that he knew, so I could make my own way in this world when he was gone.”
“He was a wise man, your grandfather.” The Abbot cleared his voice, clearly uncomfortable with what needed to be said. He searched and found the eyes of Volmar and Paulus lingering at the gate of the cemetery, watching respectfully from the distance. Both of the monks nodded to him, and he continued. “Err, I and another wise man, our Brother Paulus, have had a lengthy consultation on what to do with you here, Sophie. What he asks is contrary to our usual practices, but I do see the logic in the arrangement. Sophie, Brother Paulus requires many precise instruments to use in his healing practice and would like your help in creating these tools. In exchange, of course, you would receive room and boarding in the Women's Guest House. I told him I would ask you if this arrangement suits your plans for the near future.”
Sophie dropped her head into her hands and murmured a prayer.
The Abbot inclined his head, and spoke hurriedly. “Evidently, I've offended you. I beg your pardon. It is an unusual request, my dear child, and made to you at such a delicate time. If you need time to consider our proposition . . .”
“Oh no, Father,” Sophie blurted out, barely able to contain her excitement.
“No?” the Abbot repeated, shaking his head dismally towards Brother Paulus and Volmar.
“Wait, I mean, yes. The arrangement to work for Brother Paulus suits my plans and my promise to God, perfectly. Thank you so much!” She hugged the Abbot, flagrantly disregarding his esteemed status and his blushing discomfort towards such an outward display of gratitude.
Abbot Burchard's Private Quarters
One year on, Feast of All Saints, 1
of November, Friday, the Year of Our Lord 1112
ll ages are troubled,” Volmar said, crossing his arms and warming his hands between the folds of his cassock's sleeves. “. . . and ours is certainly no exception.” He nodded in disgust at his last entry in the monastery's register.
The last year had brought many changes. Sophie now assisted Brother Paulus in the Infirmary, and Volmar had been given the honor of assisting Abbot Burchard in his correspondence and recording of Disibodenberg's activities. Volmar was grateful for this position, because it gave him a perspective on the outside world that few of the other brothers at the monastery shared. For one who had just turned seventeen years of age, it was an impressive yet daunting duty.
“We cannot change the world overnight, my son,” the Abbot answered as he busied himself with his cincture
in front of his full-length mirror and frowned. “I just don't understand. No matter how I tie it, it still makes me look fat. How can I be gaining weight in the winter when we're only allowed one meal?”
Volmar persisted, unwilling to change the subject. “Father, we live in a time of outright corruption. King Henry the Fifth treats our Pope as a mere commoner, throwing him into prison when the Pope refuses to give in to the King's requests to appoint the bishops he wants instead of the ones the church selects. Not only that, but just last month the Pope went back on his word and now the King has been excommunicated from the church!”
“I wish I could say that all of this was unexpected, my son. Such bickering is in part how equally powerful institutions come to terms with each other. Eventually you'll see that the church will settle a truce with the King. If you want my advice, son, hold your tongue around the Bishop when he gets here. From what I've gathered, he's a shrewd politician and has been a staunch supporter of the Emperor, not the papacy.”
“All of this is as foolish as trying to build a tower to reach heaven. How did we stray so far from the church's original mandate to spread love and forgiveness, the very tenets of Christianity?”
“Brother Volmar, you listen too much with your heart. We are only temporary travelers in this world. History is tension; in it we find the roots of our problems, our anguish, and yes, perhaps if we are fortunate, we even find the sleeping seeds of our salvation.”
“And then there's Jutta of Sponheim,” Volmar said, waving the parchment the Abbot had asked him to prepare for the evening's ceremony. “Why must we allow an anchoress to live at Disibodenberg, and one who is a professed ascetic
? Does the church now condone self-inflicted mutilation? It is an archaic ritual. We're living in the 12th century, not the 3rd!”
“You read yourself the edict from the Bishop. Jutta of Sponheim is well-connected. She comes to us from a wealthy family of upper nobility. Furthermore, she served her three years as a novitiate under the tutelage of her mother Sophia and another widow woman, Uda, both by all accounts devout.” The Abbot went to his wine cupboard and pulled out a bottle, checking the date on its label. “Last December when her mother died,” he continued, putting the bottle back and selecting another. “Jutta wanted to make a dangerous pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Her brother, Count Meinhard, understandably intervened and arranged instead with the Bishop that she come to reside here with us at Disibodenberg as our Anchoress. Just between you and me, her brother is hoping this will be a passing fancy of hers and that after a short while she will be more willing to accept one of the many marriage proposals she has been given.” The Abbot, satisfied with the third bottle he selected, placed it on the table and went for the goblets. “You may remember,” he added, “Jutta and her young ward, Hildegard, were here last year. Apparently, they both left with a favorable impression of our modest monastery.”
Volmar of course remembered. It was a rare moment of warmth in his life. How could he forget? It was a stormy day when he'd met Hildegard in the clearing, and now the dark clouds were gathering for this storm. Hildegard was the very reason why he protested this ceremony. He did not want her to be locked away with the Anchoress.
“Do you think the Bishop will be traveling with more than two companions?” the Abbot asked, breaking Volmar's ruminations, as he surveyed his modest collection of tarnished silver goblets. He selected one and began polishing it with his stole
“I think in his letter he mentioned two young men would be accompanying him.”
The Abbot placed four silver goblets on the table next to the wine bottle and returned the fifth one, making a mental note that he'd have the Cellarer
use the mixture of ashes and soap to polish them for next time. “Volmar, you may stop frowning at me, I had nothing to do with this. The decision for this enclosure ceremony is out of my hands.”
“Father, I was just thinking about something else . . .” Volmar hesitated, remembering his promise to Hildegard and Brother Arnoul. Deciding against caution, he blurted outright, “Do you recall a novitiate who lived at the monastery nearly eleven years ago named Judas?”
The Abbot was used to Volmar's peculiar conversational habits and thought nothing of the abrupt changes in their topic. He took a horse hair brush and used it to dust off the chairs. “Judas, you say? Hmm, the only Judas I remember was a young novitiate who left for Rome. I did not find in him a âworthy vessel of God.'”
“You declined his desire to become a monk?” Volmar was both impressed and curious.
“I did. Not everyone who begins the novitiate should become a fully professed monk. His attitudes provoked criticism and hostility from within our community. Come, come, Volmar, why would you be interested in such a person?”
“No reason in particular, just something I heard.”
“Well then,” the Abbot sighed, settling into his chair and appreciating the warmth from the roaring fire, “as for Jutta and her decision, I too think it is radical of her to go from an ordinary pilgrimage to a life as an âexile.' Though, I must say, I admire her willingness to live the austere life as an Anchoress. Christianity warns us often that when one has all one cares to have, there is little need to think of an afterlife. Don't get me wrong, wealth is a great blessing and a means of doing good. However, it can be a serious distraction in faith.”
“Father, don't you think it is a shame when the church is guilty of such a distraction?”
The Abbot sighed. “Volmar, this arrangement isn't all about these young women's dowries. Besides, you know as well as I do, the additional land will allow us to plant more vineyards, and the extra monies will go a long way towards adding more wings to our library. These are all blessings. We can't always come to expect funds from our anonymous giver.”
“I know,” Volmar said, “and yet . . .” he stubbornly asserted, “I can't help but feel the church is being mercenary.”