The Abbess Cured [21]

By Philippe De Laon.

_Of an abbess who was ill for want of--you know what--but would not have

it done, fearing to be reproached by her nuns, but they all agreed to do

the same and most willingly did so._

In Normandy there is a fair nunnery, the Abbess of which was young,

fair, and well-made. It chanced that she fell ill. The good sisters who

were charitable and devout, hastened
to visit her, and tried to comfort

her, and do all that lay in their power. And when they found she was

getting no better, they commanded one of the sisters to go to Rouen, and

take her water to a renowned doctor of that place.

So the next day one of the nuns started on this errand, and when she

arrived there she showed the water to the physician, and described at

great length the illness of the Lady Abbess, how she slept, ate, drank,


The learned doctor understood the case, both from his examination of

the water, and the information given by the nun, and then he gave his


Now I know that it is the custom in many cases to give a prescription in

writing, nevertheless this time he gave it by word of mouth, and said to

the nun;

"Fair sister, for the abbess to recover her health there is but one

remedy, and that is that she must have company with a man; otherwise in

a short time she will grew so bad that death will be the only remedy."

Our nun was much astonished to hear such sad news, and said,

"Alas! Master John! is there no other method by which our abbess can

recover her health?"

"Certainly not," he replied; "there is no other, and moreover, you must

make haste to do as I have bid you, for if the disease is not stopped

and takes its course, there is no man living who could cure it."

The good nun, though much disconcerted, made haste to announce the news

to the Abbess, and by the aid of her stout cob, and the great desire she

had to be at home, made such speed that the abbess was astonished to see

her returned.

"What says the doctor, my dear?" cried the abbess. "Is there any fear of


"You will be soon in good health if God so wills, madam," said the

messenger. "Be of good cheer, and take heart."

"What! has not the doctor ordered me any medicine?" said the Abbess.

"Yes," was the reply, and then the nun related how the doctor had looked

at her water, and asked her age, and how she ate and slept, etc. "And

then in conclusion he ordered that you must have, somehow or other,

carnal connection with some man, or otherwise you will shortly be dead,

for there is no other remedy for your complaint."

"Connection with a man!" cried the lady. "I would rather die a thousand

times if it were possible." And then she went on, "Since it is thus, and

my illness is incurable and deadly unless I take such a remedy, let

God be praised! I will die willingly. Call together quickly all the


The bell was rung, and all the nuns flocked round the Abbess, and, when

they were all in the chamber, the Abbess, who still had the use of her

tongue, however ill she was, began a long speech concerning the state of

the church, and in what condition she had found it and how she left it,

and then went on to speak of her illness, which was mortal and incurable

as she well knew and felt, and as such and such a physician had also


"And so, my dear sisters, I recommend to you our church, and that you

pray for my poor soul."

At these words, tears in great abundance welled from all eyes, and the

heart's fountain of the convent was moved. This weeping lasted long, and

none of the company spoke.

After some time, the Prioress, who was wise and good, spoke for all the

convent, and said;

"Madam, your illness--what it is, God, from whom nothing is hidden,

alone knows--vexes us greatly, and there is not one of us who would not

do all in her power to aid your recovery. We therefore pray you to spare

nothing, not even the goods of the Church, for it would be better for us

to lose the greater part of our temporal goods than be deprived of the

spiritual profit which your presence gives us."

"My good sister," said the Abbess, "I have not deserved your kind offer,

but I thank you as much as I can, and again advise and beg of you to

take care of the Church--as I have already said--for it is a matter

which concerns me closely, God knows; and pray also for my poor soul,

which hath great need of your prayers."

"Alas, madam," said the Prioress, "is it not possible that by great

care, or the diligent attention of some physician, that you might be

restored to health?"

"No, no, my good sister," replied the Abbess. "You must number me among

the dead--for I am hardly alive now, though I can still talk to you."

Then stepped forth the nun who had carried the water to Rouen, and said;

"Madam, there is a remedy if you would but try it." "I do not choose

to," replied the Abbess. "Here is sister Joan, who has returned from

Rouen, and has shown my water, and related my symptoms, to such and such

a physician, who has declared that I shall die unless I suffer some man

to approach me and have connection with me. By this means he hopes, and

his books informed him, that I should escape death; but if I did not do

as he bade me, there was no help for me. But as for me, I thank God that

He has deigned to call me, though I have sinned much. I yield myself to

His will, and my body is prepared for death, let it come when it may."

"What, madam!" said the infirmary nun, "would you murder yourself? It

is in your power to save yourself, and you have but to put forth your

hand and ask for aid, and you will find it ready! That is not right; and

I even venture to tell you that you are imperilling your soul if you die

in that condition."

"My dear sister," said the Abbess, "how many times have I told you that

it is better for a person to die than commit a deadly sin. You know that

I cannot avoid death except by committing a deadly sin. Also I feel sure

that even by prolonging my life by this means, I should be dishonoured

for ever, and a reproach to all. Folks would say of me, 'There is the

lady who ----'.

"All of you,--however you may advise me--would cease to reverence and

love me, for I should seem--and with good cause--unworthy to preside

over and govern you."

"You must neither say nor think that," said the Treasurer. "There is

nothing that we should not attempt to avoid death. Does not our good

father, St. Augustine, say that it is not permissible to anyone to take

his own life, nor to cut off one of his limbs? And are you not acting in

direct opposition to his teaching, if you allow yourself to die when you

could easily prevent it?"

"She says well!" cried all the sisters in chorus. "Madam, for God's sake

obey the physician, and be not so obstinate in your own opinion as to

lose both your body and soul, and leave desolate, and deprived of your

care, the convent where you are so much loved."

"My dear sisters," replied the Abbess, "I much prefer to bow my head to

death than to live dishonoured. And would you not all say--'There is the

woman who did so and so'."

"Do not worry yourself with what people would say: you would never be

reproached by good and respectable people."

"Yes, I should be," replied the Abbess.

The nuns were greatly moved, and retired and held a meeting, and passed

a resolution, which the Prioress was charged to deliver to the Abbess,

which she did in the following words.

"Madam, the nuns are greatly grieved,--for never was any convent more

troubled than this is, and you are the cause. We believe that you are

ill-advised in allowing yourself to die when we are sure you could

avoid it. And, in order that you should comprehend our loyal and

single-hearted love for you, we have decided and concluded in a general

assembly, to save you and ourselves, and if you have connection secretly

with some respectable man, we will do the same, in order that you may

not think or imagine that in time to come you can be reproached by any

of us. Is it not so, my sisters?"

"Yes," they all shouted most willingly.

The Abbess heard the speech, and was much moved by the testimony of the

love the sisters bore her, and consented, though with much regret, that

the doctor's advice should be carried out. Monks, priests, and clerks

were sent for, and they found plenty of work to do, and they worked

so well that the Abbess was soon cured, at which the nuns were right