Stories of the Saints - Grace Hall

St Raymond's Boat

Raymond Pennaforte, adviser and confessor of James of Aragon, had been bidden to follow the King from his capital to the Island of Majorca. He had obeyed the royal summons somewhat reluctantly, for he felt that he might by remaining in Spain have accomplished better and greater works in the service of the Church and of the Dominican Order, in the conversion of Moors and Jews, more than 10,000 of whom he had already brought to the fold of Christ.

He had at first demurred against the King's command that he follow him, and had only consented to accompany him upon the King's promising with an unprecedented degree of docility to leave behind him all the pomp and circumstance, all the diversions and feasting, all the excesses and sinful enterprises for which his court was notorious. He promised, in short, "to be good," if only his confessor would come with him, his confessor for whom he had the regard of a true friend, who appeared to him as the most interesting and stimulating companion with whom he could supply himself during the month of enforced stay on affairs of state in his Island of Majorca.

It happened one day some time after their arrival, when they had settled down to the rather dull routine of life in the little provincial court, that Raymond, coming suddenly upon the King seated on a stone bench in an umbrageous alley of the palace gardens, during the sleep-inducing hours of the early afternoon, beheld him deep in interested conversation with a young page. The page had evidently just brought the King a cooling draught of sparkling wine, for the day was sultry and quivers of heat trembled up from the sun-saturated paths and hedges. Raymond approached noiselessly over the silent sand of the alley, his eyes fixed with suddenly awakened interest on the clear profile of the lad outlined sharply against the cypress wall. The face was familiar to him. To be sure when last he had seen either it or its prototype it had been crowned with waving locks under a coif all sparkling with gems; the figure which now stood arrayed in doublet and hose had been draped in sweeping flaming velvet and silk, but surely—yes, without shadow of doubt, it was the same face, the same form, whose beauty he had beheld flaunted at court revels.

If any question remained in his mind it was dispelled at sight of what now followed, for at a laughing and evidently saucy remark from the boy, the King drew him down and, laying hold of his firm, round chin, kissed him with deliberation.

Neither doubt nor hesitation remained to the confessor. With unhurried step he approached the two.

"Thy word, my son, was pledged to me that if I accompanied thee thither I was to have been thy sole companion; that God was to grant me this opportunity to bring thy still unregenerate soul to Him, without the rivalry of woman, of revelry, of all the snares of Satan which thou didst promise to forswear. Now hast thou attempted to make of me thy dupe. Under the guise of a page hast thou brought here, or permitted to follow thee, this woman from whom it was my wish and my duty to separate thee. I will not consent to be a party to thy sin, nor will I absolve thee from it; therefore can I remain here no longer. Give me leave and means to return to Barcelona without delay, I entreat thee."

At these words the King at first laughed the uneasy laughter of one detected in fault, as did also the disguised damsel, whose wine had made the King rash, but upon the Saint's insistence that to Barcelona he both must and would return without an hour's delay, the King cried angrily:

"Here thou art and here thou shalt remain, and any pilot, sailor, or owner of a boat who against my command shall take thee to land shall straightway die!"

"To Barcelona I now none the less take my way," answered Raymond.

"The coast of Spain is far, my father," said the King, derisively, "and unless thou art strong to swim the distance, thou shalt scarcely reach it alive."

Without reply, the Saint turned on his heel, unheeding of the mockery that rang after him. Without pause he walked to the shore. The sea lay like a solid floor of blue enamel before him. For a space he stood in prayer at the water's edge, his head bowed over his joined hands; then, taking off his long cloak, he laid it upon the water; stepping on to it he raised one corner of it high and propped it up on his staff. A fresh breeze rose from the south-east and filled the cloak as it might fill a sail.

Raymond, kneeling, waved a farewell and a blessing to the astounded folk who had gathered on the shore and had beheld this extraordinary embarkation.

These were no more bewildered than were those who, standing on the Mole of Barcelona, saw the Saint arrive a few hours later. Still kneeling on his cloak he approached swiftly; he landed, drew up his dry cloak from the water, wrapped himself in it, and walked away, leaving five hundred round-eyed witnesses of his return to Spain.

King James, it is said, was never the same individual after this day. His confessor's power to draw upon the assistance of the Almighty in overcoming obstacles and controlling his own fate so overawed the monarch that he mended his ways without delay: his manners and his morals became so exemplary that Raymond Pennaforte again consented (after much persuasion) to become his spiritual adviser and confessor.

The Saint died at the ripe age of a complete rounded century.