Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St. Gudula's Lantern

St Gudula, patron Saint of Brussels, was born in the eighth century, of a saintly house indeed, for her mother was St Amalaberga, her brother St Emenbert, her sisters were St Pharaildis and St Rainelda, and her aunt was St Gertrude, Abbess of the Convent of Nivelle.

Of St Gertrude it may be said here, by the way, that it is she who presides over the inn which harbours the souls of the departed on the first night after their death, as they start on their three days' journey to Heaven. Their second night is passed with St Gabriel—by the third they have arrived in Paradise.

Well may the bewildered and shivering spirits be grateful for hospitality on that first night when, bared of mortal vestments, stripped of all the familiar human surroundings and ties, they fare forth upon their new adventures.

Kindest and most comforting of hostesses, St Gertrude makes room for and gives welcome to all, the rich and the poor, the great and the small, in her capacious hostel, and on the morrow sends forth her guests cheered and heartened to undertake the next stage of their pilgrimage.

But about St Gudula.

As well as saintly, her house was noble in Brabant, her father was Count Witger, and his castle and estates were rich and great.

St Gudula was educated in the convent of St Gertrude, after whose death she returned to her father's house and dedicated herself to a life of prayer and of service to the poor. All that she had she gave them; her revenues were divided among them, and her days were spent in caring for the sick and the afflicted. This left her small leisure for the devotions which her soul craved. Perforce must she, therefore, repair to the Mass celebrated at midnight at the Church of St Morgele, or Moorsel, some miles distant from her father's castle.

With one maid as escort, she used faithfully to make this difficult and dangerous journey, herself carrying the lantern that lighted the path through a thicket, past a ravine, and round deceptive swampy stretches.

But Satan, ever envious of kindly and pious souls, was enraged at the influence which the lovely Saint was daily gaining over the hearts and minds of the people, so nightly he sought to lead her astray, repeatedly he attempted to entrap her. His method was simple: he contrived to blow out her lantern, hoping that groping in the darkness she might lose her way in the forest or in the quagmire, or miss her footing at the edge of the precipice, and never reach the church portal, or that, the long miles in the blackness seeming to her too fearsome, she would surrender in discouragement and return to the cheerful shelter of home.

But Gudula was not to be thus circumvented. Her method of defence was as simple as Satan's mode of attack: as often as he blew out her taper, just so often by fervent and luminous prayers she relighted it—and she and her maid continued safe on their way.

Good St Gudula! If we blind and faltering souls could only remember her effectual plan of campaign against the devil of darkness and doubt, against imminent danger and despair when our little taper has flickered and gone out—and without further loss of time or energy could simply fall to praying with a stout and confident heart—and so rekindle that lantern of hope which we all carry—and continue blithe upon our journey!