Vignettes of the Middle Ages

Prologue:

The Church in the first five centuries flourished despite an all-out assault by Satan to crush it. Christians continued to believe God and the Messiah Jesus, whom he had sent, even when rejected by family, hunted like animals, killed, tortured, starved, imprisoned, or deprived of basic necessities, expanding into new territory, further west, east, north and south.

When the Roman Empire, conquered by barbarians, failed to provide peaceful sanctuary, missionary monks scattered. Most often, they no longer had the convenience of established city states with commerce, law and order. Instead, like pilgrims, they found themselves starting from scratch, even developing language, alphabet and grammar among the English, German and Slavic people.

The establishment of a monastery in new territory became refuge for missionary monks as well as a place of outreach to the poor, the sick and even a place of rest for weary travelers. All in response to our Lord’s command:

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

Despite tremendous struggle the Church blossomed and like a mustard seed, from very small beginnings, became a great multitude. Even when Satan entices the Church to mingle with the world, divides the Church with power struggles, infiltrates with false teaching, corrupts Church doctrine –

a faithful remnant emerges,

rising above it all,

by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

*******

Jarrow, England – St. Paul’s Monastery – June 793 AD

Steven dropped his hoe to the ground and stood erect to rest his back, placing his hands on the back of his hips while surveying progress for the morning. He and his fellow monks had been tilling the cabbage field since after the mid-morning vigil. Lately, the weather had been dry, but they believed God would send rain, having been inspired that morning when singing from the Psalter:

You care for the land and water it; you enrich it abundantly, the streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain…you drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops…

Soon it would be time to return to the church for the midday vigil, but Steven’s heart could not wait till then. His heart overflowed with quiet thanksgiving and praise to God for bringing him to such a beautiful monastery, a respite surrounded by hills, terraced with wheat and vineyards and a small village of good people, cozy in cottages nestled within canopies of trees. God had taken good care of Steven and his brother monks who had come from various places, all family united by common faith in Jesus the Christ.

There at St. Paul’s, along the River Tyne1, the Venerable Bede had faithfully served the Lord in teaching, prayers and translation of the scriptures more than fifty years prior2. Here, the Abbot and the monks adhered to The Rule of Saint Benedict written in 530 AD. Rules for living a holy, reverent life according to the scriptures. Scheduled vigils for the Devine Office, scripture reading, praise in song, and prayers. Rules for daily manual labor, kitchen duty, silence, no private ownership, sleeping arrangements, caring for the sick, traveling guests, with everything done according to schedule and in a timely manner with punishments for breaking the rules.3

At first, the rules seemed harsh or confining, but instead the divine directives provided a sense of security and harmony.

Later, after the midafternoon vigil, while enjoying a light meal in the dining room, travelers arrived from Lindisfarne, frantic with news. News of raids by Vikings. Horrible news of priests killed. And the monastery had been plundered.4

Great sorrow fell upon everyone and the heavy weight of gloom, as Abbot Thaddeus announced the heartbreaking news. He requested postponement of the remaining work in the fields in order to have a special vigil of prayer and fasting till dawn. The Abbot and Brother Basil would see to the lodging for their guests, share a meal with them and then all planned to join the monks later at the church for evening vespers.

Reverently, they expressed their sorrow and their concern. Would the Vikings be coming south to Jarrow? Quietly, the monks, one by one, ten in all, finished their meal, then silently walked over to the church…mourning…praying from the Psalms… 

Just before dawn rain began falling. Gentle showers, followed by darker clouds with thunder, lightning and then heavier rain.

God had answered their prayers! Joy dispelled the heavy gloom as hearts were lifted to God in adoring praise!

Rain, not only nourished their fields, but would perhaps slow down the advance of the Vikings to Jarrow, which is less than seventy miles south of Lindisfarne; or perhaps the Vikings would go another way. For now they were comforted and at peace, reciting from the Psalter that evening before retiring:

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

Epilogue:

Later, the following year, in 794, the Vikings plundered St. Paul’s Monastery, but the Saxon villagers beat back the Vikings to the sea where they and their ships were destroyed by a storm.5

###

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. English Heritage – History. The History of St. Paul’s Monastery, Jarrow. <www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/st-pauls-monastery-jarrow/history/>

2. Christianity Today – Christian History. The Venerable Bede.<www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/scholarsandscientists/venerable-bede>

3. RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1981, 2019. Ibid., pp. 10, 15, 17, 20-21

4. English Heritage – History. The Viking Raid on Lindisfarne. <www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/lindisfarne-priory/History/viking-raid/> Raid on Lindisfarne by Vikings in June of 793. Priests at St. Cuthbert’s Church were killed and the monastery plundered.

5. Heritage Gateway. Historic England Research Records: Raid on Jarrow 794.  <www. heritagegateway.org.uk>

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