Vignettes of the Middle Ages – Aachen, Germany 823 AD

by Debra Dian

Just to pass the time, Rhen chewed on a shred of wheat stalk while he sat in the shade to rest. He had eaten a handful of wheat kernels, a small return for his hard work at wheat harvest that morning.  He reminisced about his days at the Monastery on the Inde River.1 At times he missed the long walks along the river, the quiet days of prayer and reciting the Psalms at vigils. Not that he no longer prayed or read the Psalms, he had learned to pray even while working in the fields, or even when rocking one of his crying babies to sleep.

But, he remembered with deep gratitude, being rescued as a young boy, an orphan, who had lost all his family during the Viking raids in England. Then after a year of being tossed about, from home to home, from monastery to monastery he had been brought to Germany along with some monks traveling back home.

The monks at the monastery treated him like family and gave him a good education. Education had been a supreme endeavor by Emperor Charlemagne and continued by his son, King Louis. Also, pursuit of uniformity in church services and education of the monks became a command, a capitulary adhered to in the empire. Therefore, Abbot Witiza, established the Benedictine Rule for all the monasteries under the authority of King Louis. 2

In addition to his native English language, Rehn had learned Latin and trained to scribe, a valuable skill taught to him by the other monks–copying the scriptures for distribution. Manuscripts that could be studied by monks at other monasteries opening up all across Germany and France.

It was by study of the scriptures that he came to know the way of Salvation, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As he worked copying the scriptures, he progressed in knowledge, able to discern truth from error, to recognize false ideas. Fortunately, he was able to keep a copy of the scriptures when he had left the monastery.

With all the reminiscing he never regretted leaving the monastery or giving up being an ordained priest. After all, he had taken on new vows and he dearly loved his wife, Mendie and their precious children.

Rhen’s thoughts returned to the present upon seeing the other harvesters returning from their breaks. He rejoined them, overwhelmed with the expanse of fields still yet to work. Together they heaved quiet sighs as they took their scythes in hand.

It was a dry, hot day with clouds to soften the heat beating down upon them. Rhen thanked God again for the cooling clouds and he thanked God for his new friends, peasants like himself, who worked the fields for the landowner. His friends called him Priest instead of Rhen because he often talked about God’s creation and the Savior while he worked with them. Yet he remained humble and meek with his near heathen friends. And to defend his integrity, immediately set the record straight the first time one of his friends joked about Rhen’s pretty wife, Mendie, being a good reason to stop being a monk.

Solemnly Rhen had explained. “Before I met Mendie, I had already left the monastery in my heart, but while waiting for God’s directive on where to go, he brought her into my life. We had a proper betrothal. Her father accepted my proposal of marriage and gave us a parcel of his land. He helped me build our house. We married. I began my share of the work in the fields. We had children. My love and faithfulness to my Savior has never waned. I believe God has called me to a life as a peasant, a husband and father,” and with a chuckle he had added, “and to teach the truth of the holy scriptures to heathen like you.”

Then he had invited Dolph and his family for dinner and scripture study following Sunday’s church service. Dolph, although having been embarrassed by his comment about Mendie, had accepted the invitation, but for several weeks had put off coming to dinner, coming up with excuses each week. He had explained that his mother-in-law who lived with his family had become ill and was perhaps dying. Finally, he humbly asked Rhen if he would come and speak with her after the church service on Sunday. She seemed concerned about dying and often cried, confused about heavenly things.

Wheat harvest wound down by week’s end around mid-afternoon on Saturday. Rhen, Dolph and the other workers, although tired, felt elated to have completed the cutting. Proudly they looked over the sheaves standing in rows, patted each other on the back for work well done, parting till next week when they would return to do the threshing.

Rhen turned toward Dolph to speak privately with him. “How is your mother-in-law? Should I come after church service tomorrow to visit her?”

“About the same. She is weak…remains in bed most of the time. Still confused about some things. But, if you would come and speak with her about God and heaven and such…it may help her…my wife and I would appreciate it.”

With caring eyes and soft smile, Rhen offered to help. “It will be a privilege…since she is needing her rest and quiet, I will have dinner with my family at home after church and then come by later in the afternoon. Would that befit you and your family?”

Dolph smiled and bowed in humble appreciation, both parting till Sunday.

Rhen slowly walked the cobbled stone path to his cottage on the hill about a half-mile away. His two sons, five-year-old, Emeric and three-year-old Johan were out playing in the grass and upon seeing their papa they came running to greet him.

“Papa…papa…we have roasted chicken…grandpapa brought it…and honey too for the bread…”

Rhen ruffled their hair, picked up little Johan to carry, while clasping onto Emeric’s hand, then they took a shortcut together through the wildflowers to the house. Mendie had been watching the boys from the doorway but now came out to hug them all. Everyone was in a mood for celebrating. Even baby Edana, who while sitting on a blanket on the floor, looked up and laughed, clanging two tin cups together, adding her jubilation.

Rhen laughed for joy at being home. “We have roasted chicken?”

Mendie grinned, put on her apron and began to set the table. “Yes, from grandpapa. He said it’s a ‘hungry-man-after-the-harvest kind of roast chicken’…whatever that means.”

“He must have selected the fattest chicken in his coop, that’s what…”

Everyone laughed again. Rhen retreated to the bedroom to wash and change clothes, bringing back with him to the table the book of Apostle Matthew to read during the meal. He sat down and nibbled on some bread while Mendie finished setting the table and tending to baby Edana.

Emeric and Johan settled down and took their seats, then Emeric offered honey to dad for his bread.

Rhen dipped a spoonful on his bread then licked a drip of honey off his finger. “Thank you…uhm…what a special treat…is this from grandpapa’s beehive?”

Johan quickly answered for Emeric. “Yes! Said he harrrrbusted it just for us.”

Harvested,” Rhen gently corrected.

Johan repeated it correctly then grinned, “Harrrrvest.”

After Mendie joined everyone at the table, Rhen bowed his head to pray. “Our Father in heaven, thank you for your bountiful mercy and grace. Bless the reading of your word for our spiritual nourishment and bless this meal for our strength as we live to honor you. Amen.”

Rhen proceeded to read a portion of scripture while Mendie filled their plates with chicken, fresh vegetables from the garden and freshly baked bread. Quietly, they nibbled the food on their plates while listening to dad read.

Interrupted by a brisk knock on the door, Rhen stopped reading, and opened the door to see Dolph with a worried look on his face. “Sorry to intrude upon your dinner time…mother-in-law is worse…my wife said she will not eat or drink anything and barely conscious…moaning at times…could you come and try to speak with her…we think…well she may not…could be that…well she may not have much more time…”

Rhen looked at Mendie who now stood beside him. “Go ahead Rhen…we will save your dinner for later…” Then Mendie smiled caringly at Dolph, “We will pray for your family tonight…hope your mother is well soon.”

Dolph smiled and bowed. “Appreciate your kindness.”

Rhen had already been praying to God for wisdom and guidance about speaking with Dolph’s mother-in-law. To comfort her about whatever was troubling her. Now as he sat in a chair at her bedside he would trust God’s presence for help. Dolph’s wife, Frieda was seated on the other side of her mother’s bed, holding her hand, gently speaking to her, letting her know they had a visitor, a priest, and a friend of the family. She was trying to awaken her.

Rhen began to speak gently to her too. “Ms. Greta, I am…I’m a friend of Dolph’s…we work together in the wheat fields…before I married I was a priest…if you have questions about the Savior…I will listen and try to help…I brought my book of Apostle Matthew along with me…” Greta moved her head slightly and softly moaned.

Rhen looked at Frieda and whispered. “Is it alright with you if I read some scriptures to Greta?”

Frieda nodded approval and Rhen began softly reading.

When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.’”

Suddenly, the scripture Rhen had just read, inspired by the Holy Spirit within, urged him to pray in faith. “Lord Jesus, from your throne in heaven, just as you did when here on Earth, speak a word of healing to Ms. Greta…and Ms. Greta, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, receive the healing touch of Jesus…”

Greta’s eyes fluttered a few seconds, then slowly her eyes opened and seeing her daughter Frieda, she softly smiled then closed her eyes again as if sleeping. Rhen closed his eyes and continued to pray. After a few minutes, Greta opened her eyes again and asked for water.

Frieda almost laughed with joy while she went for a cup of water. She helped Ms. Greta raise her head to sip the water while Rhen introduced himself again seeing that she had noticed his presence and looked surprised.

Ms. Greta felt strengthened, strong enough to sit up in bed. Frieda helped prop the pillow behind her back. Greta glowed with peaceful joy. She thanked Frieda and then she turned toward Rhen and thanked him for coming. “Did you pray for me or was I dreaming…seemed like the Lord was by my side…he touched my forehead and then I woke up…”

Rhen became wide-eyed and radiant with joy. “I was reading from the scriptures about Jesus healing Apostle Peter’s mother-in-law and then I prayed that he would heal you too…and he did!”

Tears filled Greta’s eyes and trickled down her cheeks. “Then…then, Jesus does love me…he did forgive me…I was so worried…so worried I would die and not go to heaven…because…because I…well you know…because I sinned…”

Greta looked down, downcast with shame upon remembering her sin.

“Ms. Greta, sounds like you already confessed your sins to Jesus…if you did, then God is faithful to forgive. Apostle John wrote about that in one of his letters to the Church…and if you believe the Lord Jesus Christ’s death has paid the penalty for your sin…and if you believe in his resurrection then you have new life and he is waiting for you in heaven…you will always be with the Lord!”

Greta smiled through tears of joy. “I believe…I believe…just what you said…I believe!”

Overjoyed, Frieda hugged her mother and then hugged Rhen too.

Greta wiped the tears from her eyes. “I do feel well again…even hungry…think I could walk to the front room and make my dinner.”

Dolph, upon hearing the commotion, had come to the doorway and had heard Ms. Greta saying she felt well again. Astounded with joy he said, “Mother Greta, you stay in bed now…I will bring a tray with bread and butter to you…”

Rhen returned home, weary, but full of joy at seeing a miracle of God. It was not until the next morning that he realized he had forgotten his book of Apostle Matthew and had left it on the table in Ms. Greta’s room.

Epilogue:

News of the miracle of Greta’s healing quickly spread throughout the small village near Aachen. Somehow the miracle became associated with the book of Apostle Matthew that Rhen had left in Greta’s room. The book was passed around from cottage to cottage and whoever happened to be ill was immediately healed while reading it or even by just touching it. Then, mysteriously, the book disappeared.3

###

This story is a fictionalization. Although, historical events, people and places are used fictitiously, details of the time period have been portrayed as accurately as possible for authenticity. All characters are fictional unless otherwise noted. If an actual historical character is mentioned an endnote with citation will be included.

1.Britannica. AachenFrench Aix-la-Chappell, North Rhine-Westphalia Land, Germany. <www.britannica.com/place/Aachen> Boundaries on the west with Belgium and the Netherlands. Home of the royal residence of emperor Charlemagne, and place of coronation of Holy Roman emperors and of German kings. The Palatine Chapel is within the Aachen Cathedral.

Schaff, Philip. History of the Christian Church. Charlemagne. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2006.

Ibid., Vol. 4, pp. 236-256

Britannica. The Carolingian Renaissance and its Aftermath. <www.britannica.com/topic/education/The-Carolingian-renaissance-and-its-aftermath> Charlemagne promoted ecclesiastical and educational reform providing clerics and layman a more advanced religious and academic training.

2. Encyclopedia.com. St. Benedict of Aniane. <www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/benedict-aniane-st> Witiza, known as the second St. Benedict, appointed Abbot at Inde, near Aachen, Germany in 814 AD. Here he established uniformity for the monastic life under the Benedictine Rule already previously written by St. Benedict in 530 AD. And under the authority of King Louis the Pious, established Benedictine Rule in most monasteries in France and Germany. He also, added more liturgies from the Psalms and perhaps is responsible for adding the Devine Office for the dead.

3. Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Penguin Random House, 1995. Although this story is a fictional account of a venerated relic, Bede has written many accounts of relics, venerated remains, being treasured by Christians during the middle ages. Especially, legends of relics thought to convey the power of healing or treasured because of the original owner.

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