The Abbess Cured 
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
"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
"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