The Women Who Paid Tithe
By Monseigneur De Villiers.
_Of the Cordeliers of Ostelleria in Catalonia, who took tithe from the
women of the town, and how it was known, and the punishment the lord of
that place and his subjects inflicted on the monks, as you shall learn
In order that I may not be excluded from the number of fortunate and
meritorious writers who have worked to increase the numbe
in this book, I will briefly relate a new story, which will serve as a
substitute for the tale previously required of me.
It is a well-known fact that in the town of Hostelleria, in Catalonia,
(*) there arrived some minor friars of the order of Observance, (**) who
had been driven out of the kingdom of Spain.
(*) Hostalrich, a town of Catalonia, some 28 miles from
(**) One of the principal branches of the order of
They managed to worm themselves into the good graces of the Lord of that
town, who was an old man, so that he built for them a fair church and a
large convent, and maintained and supported them all his life as best he
could. And after him came his eldest son, who did quite as much for them
as his worthy father had done.
In fact they prospered so, that, in a few years they had everything that
a convent of mendicant friars could desire. Nor were they idle during
all the time they were acquiring these riches; they preached both in the
town and in the neighbouring villages, and had such influence over the
people that there was not a good christian who did not confess to them,
they had such great renown for pointing out faults to sinners.
But of all who praised them and held them in esteem, the women were
foremost, such saints did they deem them on account of their charity and
Now listen to the wickedness, deception, and horrible treason which
these false hypocrites practised on the men and women who every day gave
them so many good gifts. They made it known to all the women in the town
that they were to give to God a tenth of all their goods.
"You render to your Lord such and such a thing; to your parish and
priest such and such a thing; and to us you must render and deliver the
tithe of the number of times that you have carnal connection with your
husband. We will take no other tithe from you, for, as you know, we
carry no money--for the temporal and transitory things of this world are
nothing to us. We ask and demand only spiritual goods. The tithes
which we ask and which you owe us are not temporal goods; as the Holy
Sacrament, which you receive, is a divine and holy thing, so no one may
receive the tithe but us, who are monks of the order of the Observance."
The poor simple women, who believed the good friars were more like
angels than terrestrial beings, did not refuse to pay the tithe. There
was not one who did not pay in her turn, from the highest to the lowest,
even the wife of the Lord was not excused.
Thus were all the women of the town parcelled out amongst these rascally
monks, and there was not a monk who did not have fifteen or sixteen
women to pay tithes to him, and God knows what other presents they had
from the women, and all under cover of devotion.
This state of affairs lasted long without its ever coming to the
knowledge of those who were most concerned in the payment of the new
tithe; but at last it was discovered in the following manner.
A young man who was newly married, was invited to supper at the house of
one of his relations--he and his wife--and as they were returning home,
and passing the church of the above-mentioned good Cordeliers, suddenly
the bell rang out the _Ave Maria_, and the young man bowed to the ground
to say his prayers.
His wife said, "I would willingly enter this church."
"What would you do in there at this hour?" asked her husband. "You can
easily come again when it is daylight; to-morrow, or some other time."
"I beg of you," she said, "to let me go: I will soon return."
"By Our Lady!" said he, "you shall not go in now."
"By my oath!" she replied, "it is compulsory. I must go in, but I will
not stay. If you are in a hurry to get home, go on, and I will follow
"Get on! get forward!" he said, "you have nothing to do here. If you
want to say a _Pater noster_, or an _Ave Maria_, there is plenty of room
at home, and it is quite as good to say it there as in this monastery,
which is now as dark as pitch."
"Marry!" said she, "you may say what you like, but by my oath, it is
necessary that I should enter here for a little while."
"Why?" said he. "Do you want to sleep with any of the brothers."
She imagined that her husband knew that she paid the tithe, and replied;
"No, I do not want to sleep with him; I only want to pay."
"Pay what?" said he.
"You know very well," she answered; "Why do you ask?"
"What do I know well?" he asked, "I never meddle with your debts."
"At least," she said, "you know very well that I must pay the tithe."
"Marry!" she replied. "It always has to be paid;--the tithe for our
nights together. You are lucky--I have to pay for us both."
"And to whom do you pay?" he asked.
"To brother Eustace," she replied. "You go on home, and let me go in and
discharge my debt. It is a great sin not to pay, and I am never at ease
in my mind when I owe him anything."
"It is too late to-night," said he, "he has gone to bed an hour ago."
"By my oath," said she, "I have been this year later than this. If one
wants to pay one can go in at any hour."
"Come along! come along!" he said. "One night makes no such great
So they returned home; both husband and wife vexed and displeased--the
wife because she was not allowed to pay her tithe, and the husband
because he had learned how he had been deceived, and was filled with
anger and thoughts of vengeance, rendered doubly bitter by the fact that
he did not dare to show his anger.
A little later they went to bed together, and the husband, who was
cunning enough, questioned his wife indirectly, and asked if the other
women of the town paid tithes as she did?
"By my faith they do," she replied. "What privilege should they have
more than me? There are sixteen to twenty of us who pay brother Eustace.
Ah, he is so devout. And he has so much patience. Brother Bartholomew
has as many or more, and amongst others my lady (*) is of the number.
Brother Jacques also has many; Brother Anthony also--there is not one of
them who has not a number."
(*) The wife of the Seigneur.
"St. John!" said the husband, "they do not do their work by halves. Now
I understand well that they are more holy than I thought them; and truly
I will invite them all to my house, one after the other, to feast them
and hear their good words. And since Brother Eustace receives your
tithes, he shall be the first. See that we have a good dinner to-morrow,
and I will bring him."
"Most willingly," she replied, "for then at all events I shall not have
to go to his chamber to pay him; he can receive it when he comes here."
"Well said," he replied; "give it him here;" but as you may imagine he
was on his guard, and instead of sleeping all night, thought over at his
leisure the plan he intended to carry out on the morrow.
The dinner arrived, and Brother Eustace, who did not know his host's
intentions stuffed a good meal under his hood. And when he had well
eaten, he rolled his eyes on his hostess, and did not spare to press her
foot under the table--all of which the host saw, though he pretended not
to, however much to his prejudice it was.
After the meal was over and grace was said, he called Brother Eustace
and told him that he wanted to show him an image of Our Lady that he had
in his chamber, and the monk replied that he would willingly come.
They both entered the chamber, and the host closed the door so that
he could not leave, and then laying hold of a big axe, said to the
"By God's death, father! you shall never go out of this room--unless it
be feet foremost--if you do not confess the truth."
"Alas, my host, I beg for mercy. What is it you, would ask of me?"
"I ask," said he, "the tithe of the tithe you have received from my
When the Cordelier heard the word tithes, he began to think that he was
in a fix, and did not know what to reply except to beg for mercy, and to
excuse himself as well as he could.
"Now tell me," said the husband, "what tithe it is that you take from my
wife and the others?"
The poor Cordelier was so frightened that he could not speak, and
answered never a word.
"Tell me all about it," said the young man, "and I swear to you I will
let you go and do you no harm;--but if you do not confess I will kill
you stone dead."
When the other felt convinced that he had better confess his sin and
that of his companions and escape, than conceal the facts and be in
danger of losing his life, he said;
"My host, I beg for mercy, and I will tell you the truth. It is true
that my companions and I have made all the women of this town believe
that they owe us tithes for all the times their husbands sleep with
them. They believed us, and they all pay--young and old--when once they
are married. There is not one that is excused--my lady even pays like
the others--her two nieces also--and in general there is no one that is
"Marry!" said the other, "since my lord and other great folks pay it, I
ought not to be dissatisfied, however much I may dislike it. Well! you
may go, worthy father, on this condition--that you do not attempt to
collect the tithe that my wife owes you."
The other was never so joyous as when he found himself outside the
house, and said to himself that he would never ask for anything of the
kind again, nor did he, as you will hear.
When the host of the Cordelier was informed by his wife of this new
tithe, he went to his Lord and told him all about the tax and how it
concerned him. You may imagine that he was much astonished, and said;
"Ah, cursed wretches that they are! Cursed be the hour that ever my
father--whom may God pardon--received them! And now they take our spoils
and dishonour us, and ere long they may do worse. What is to be done?"
"By my faith, Monseigneur" said the other, "if it please you and seem
good to you, you should assemble all your subjects in this town, for
the matter touches them as much as you. Inform them of this affair, and
consult with them what remedy can be devised before it is too late."
Monseigneur approved, and ordered all his married subjects to come to
him, and in the great hall of his castle, he showed them at full length
why he had called them together.
If my lord had been astonished and surprised when he heard the news,
so also were all the good people who were there assembled. Some of them
said, "We ought to kill them," others "They should be hanged!" others
"Drown them!" Others said they could not believe it was true--the monks
were so devout and led such holy lives. One said one thing, another said
"I will tell you," said the Seigneur, "what we will do. We will bring
our wives hither, and Master John, or some other, shall preach a little
sermon in which he will take care to make allusion to tithes, and ask
the women, in the name of all of us, whether they discharge their debts,
as we are anxious they should be paid, and we shall hear their reply."
After some discussion they all agreed to the Seigneur's proposal. So
orders were issued to all the married women of the town, and they all
came to the great hall, where their husbands were assembled. My lord
even brought my lady, who was quite astonished to see so many persons.
An usher of my lord's commanded silence, and Master John, who was
slightly raised above the other people, began the address which follows;
"Mesdames and mesdemoiselles, I am charged by my lord and those of his
council to explain briefly the reason why you are called together. It
is true that my lord, his council, and all his people who are here met
together, desire to make a public examination of their conscience,--the
cause being that that they wish (God willing) to make ere long a holy
procession in praise of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and His Glorious Mother,
and from the present moment to be in such a devout frame of mind that
they may the better praise him in their prayers, and that all the works
which they do may be most agreeable to God. You know that there have
been no wars in our time, and that our neighbours have been terribly
afflicted both by pestilence and famine. Whilst others have been cast
down, we have nothing to complain of, and we must own that God has
preserved us. There is good reason that we should acknowledge that this
is not due to our own virtues, but to the great and liberal mercy of
our Blessed Redeemer, who cries, calls, and invites us to put up in our
parish church, devout prayers, to which we are to add great faith and
firm devotion. The holy convent of the Cordeliers in this town has
greatly aided, and still aids us in preserving the above-mentioned
benefits. Moreover, we wish to know if you women also perform that
which you have undertaken, and whether you sufficiently remember the
obligation you owe the Church, and therefore it will be advisable that,
by way of precaution, I should mention the principal points. Four times
a year,--that is to say at the four Natales (*) you must confess to some
priest or monk having the power of absolution, and if at each festival
you receive your Creator that will be well done, but twice, or at least
once a year, you ought to receive the Communion. Bring an offering every
Sunday to each Mass; those who are able should freely give tithes to
God--as fruit, poultry, lambs, pigs, and other accustomed gifts. You owe
also another tithe to the holy monks of the convent of St. Francis, and
which we earnestly desire to see paid. It greatly concerns us, and we
desire it to be continued, nevertheless there are many of you who
have not acted properly in this respect, and who by negligence, or
backwardness, have neglected to pay in advance. You know that the good
monks cannot come to your houses to seek their tithes;--that would
disturb and trouble them too much; it is quite enough if they take the
trouble to receive it. It is important that this should be mentioned--it
remains to see who have paid, and who still owe."
(*) The four principal festivals in the life of Christ--
Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, and Ascension.
Master John had no sooner finished his discourse, than more than twenty
women began to cry at the same time, "I have paid!" "I have paid!"
"I owe nothing!" "Nor I," "Nor I." A hundred other voices chimed
in--generally to say that they owed nothing--and four or six pretty
young women were even heard to declare that they had paid well in
advance, one four times; one, six; and another, ten.
There were also I know not how many old women who said not a word, and
Master John asked them if they had paid their tithe, and they replied
that they had made an arrangement with the Cordeliers.
"What!" said he, "you do not pay? You ought to advise and persuade the
others to do their duty, and you yourselves are in default!"
"Marry!" said one of them, "I am not to blame. I have been several times
to perform my duty, but my confessor would not listen to me: he always
says he is too busy."
"St. John!" said the other old women, "we have compounded with the monks
to pay them the tithe we owe them in linen, cloth, cushions, quilts,
pillow-cases and such other trifles; and that by their own instructions
and desire, for we should prefer to pay like the others."
"By Our Lady!" said Master John, "there is no harm done; it is quite
"I suppose they can go away now; can they not?" said the Seigneur to
"Yes!" said he, "but let them be sure and not forget to pay the tithe."
When they had all left the hall, the door was closed, and every man
present looked hard at his neighbour.
"Well!" said the Seigneur. "What is to be done? We know for certain what
these ribald monks have done to us, by the confession of one of them,
and by our wives; we need no further witness."
After many and various opinions, it was resolved to set the convent on
fire, and burn both monks and monastery.
They went to the bottom of the town, and came to the monastery, and took
away the _Corpus Domini_ and all the relics and sent them to the parish
church. Then without more ado, they set fire to the convent in several
places, and did not leave till all was consumed--monks, convent, church,
dormitory, and all the other buildings, of which there were plenty. So
the poor Cordeliers had to pay very dearly for the new tithe they had
levied. Even God could do nothing, but had His house burned down.