Our Little Saxon Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

The Abbey

The Prior Theodore met Wulstan and his party as they drew rein at the abbey door. He greeted Wulstan warmly, and laid a protecting hand upon the shoulder of Turgar.

"He shall be to me like an own son," he said, looking into Turgar's face approvingly. "It is well for him to study, and in the stress and uncertainty of the times I trust that he will be safer here—though the Danes stop not for the cross," he added in a low voice, speaking more to himself than to his friends.

At the earnest invitation of the prior, Wulstan and Withgar remained overnight at the abbey, while the soldiers and thralls of their company made themselves comfortable in the court.

At the call to prayer they all went with the monks to the chapel. The service was in Latin, so none of them understood the words, but the reverent attitude of the monks, and the sweet face and voice of the prior, impressed them strangely, and Turgar felt rather than understood the contrast between the atmosphere of the monastery and that of the turbulent, restless life outside.

He enjoyed the singing of the monks, accompanied by the playing of pipes. The singing was different from any that he had heard. He was accustomed to the free, bold songs of Withgar and his friends when they sang in praise of great battles, or in honor of some brave warrior. Often, too, they sang the older Saxon songs of the heroes of Asgard, of the Viking ships and their dauntless crews; although such songs were beginning to be looked upon with disfavor by those who were devoted to the church. But Turgar loved the wild freedom of their music, and when he heard such singing he often exclaimed, half in fun and yet half in earnest, "The blood of the Sea Kings runs wild in my veins,"—for was it not literally true, although he no longer worshiped the mighty Thor?

But he liked, too, this strangely monotonous music of the monks, this chanting of psalms, for the voices of the men rolled forth with a solemn musical cadence that rose and fell, and seemed to bear him along with it into unknown spaces.

The music ceased, the prior arose and stretched forth his hands in benediction, and Turgar reverently bowed his head, though the Latin words held no meaning for his ears.

After the service, Wulstan and his sons were shown through the chapel and the abbey by the priest Joly, whom the prior summoned.

All the rich treasures of the abbey were displayed, and Turgar wondered at the enormous wealth, the priceless gifts, which had been brought or sent to the monastery by devoted Catholics of the land. There were gold and silver vessels for the service of the chapel; the vestments for the priests were richly embroidered and heavy with fringes of gold. There were robes of the most costly materials, and golden chains, and candlesticks, and crosses, the latter several feet in height.

It was a new and wonderful sight to Turgar, and even to Wulstan and Withgar, for although this was not their first visit to a monastery, the Abbey of Crowland was unusually rich in treasures.

But, as they went from one wonder to another, Turgar watched the face of the monk Joly quite as much as he did the golden candle-sticks, or the rich robes. There was something about this priest which attracted and fascinated him. He remembered that Wulstan had said that he was a soldier as well as a priest, and although that seems to us a strange combination, the conditions in Saxon England were such that even the priests were at times called upon to fight, and Friar Joly had been a leader of the monks in more than one scrimmage upon the field of battle. And so it was to this soldier-priest that Turgar was especially drawn, for he seemed to him to combine the elements of his own old life and the new one upon which he was just entering.

He felt sure that he would find a father in the Prior Theodore, and he knew already that it would be easy to love him; but in Friar Joly he saw a companion and friend whom he could meet upon a more familiar level.

And the monk responded to the boy's eager interest, and told many strange stories connected with the various gifts, and with the people who had bestowed them.

"You may be interested in the story of this cup," he said, as he handed a heavy golden goblet to Wulstan. "It has long been in the abbey, but it is said to have belonged at one time to King Arthur who, with his Knights of the Round Table, fought so valiantly against our Saxon forefathers. He was a King of whom the Britons had a right to be proud, for he was strong, and daring, and powerful. He fought giants and wild beasts single-handed and overcame them. And he was kind and chivalrous, as well as strong, and his Knights loved him, and would have died for him."

"And yet he was not a Saxon?" asked Turgar in surprise, for the story was a new one to him.

"No, indeed," replied the friar, with a laugh. "He probably had the same feeling toward the Saxons that we now have toward the Danes."

Turgar's eyes opened wide.

"The early Saxons, you remember," continued the friar, "came from much the same stock that the Danes do. They were wild and fierce rovers of the sea, and they fought the Britons, over whom King Arthur ruled, much as the Danes fight us."

Even Withgar was surprised at such a statement as this.

"It is quite true," said Friar Joly. "We worshiped Thor and Woden, as you know some of our people do to this day." The older men nodded in assent.

"But when our forefathers had overcome the Britons," he continued, "they gave up the sea and settled down to till the soil and become permanent residents of the land. That helped to change their character and habits, but the one thing that changed them most completely was their giving up the worship of heathen gods and accepting Christianity. The religion of Christ has in it no place for cruelty or lust or revenge, even though men are forced sometimes to fight for the protection of their homes, their families, or the church."

Friar Joly's stories had awakened the keenest interest on the part of Turgar, and had aroused in him a great desire to read, and so to learn for himself the early history of his land and his people. He wanted to know more about this King Arthur and his Knights. And so when the time came for Wulstan and Withgar to return, he was quite willing to remain at the abbey, for with Friar Joly as a companion he felt sure that the days would not be dull.