The Sacristan Didn’t Light the Lamps – University of Copenhagen

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17 November 2017

The Sacristan Didn’t Light the Lamps

Miracle of the Week

Each week we will publish one miracle from the collection of Marian miracles preserved in the manuscript AM 634-635 4to - one of the largest collections of miracles in a European vernacular language. In the final instalment of Miracle of the Week. A sacristan learns that being frugal can have consequences.

Sacrista kveikti ekki lampa” (The sacristan didn’t light the lamps) marks the beginning of this week's miracle. (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

The time has come for the final instalment of Miracle of the Week, and we leave you with a miracle of unknown origin, which is found only in our manuscript. Ole Widding gave it the name Karrig klosterbroder (Frugal monk), while Irene Kupferschmied calls it “Sakristan geizt mit Lampenöl” (The sacristan spares the lamp-oil). It tells of a young sacristan who, in order to save oil, which was in short supply, decides to break with custom and not light the lamps on the alters in the church dedicated to the Virgin Mary – with, for the monk, rather unfortunate results. The story breaks off before the end owing to a lacuna in the manuscript, but one definitely gets the feeling that things do not end well.

It is found in our manuscript, AM 635 4to, pp. 341-345, where it has the rubric “Sacrista kveikti ekki lampa” (The sacristan didn’t light the lamps). The text, in normalised orthography, reads as follows:

Her ses teksten i en faksimiletransskription, dvs. at man bogstav for bogstav gengiver håndskriftets tekst uden nogen ændringer. (Klik på billedet for en større version.)

Sá var einn ungr bróðir í nokkuru klaustri, siðlátr ok góðs lifnaðar um marga hluti, en þat starf hafði hann at hann var sacrista. Í þeirri sömu kirkju váru þrjár eða fjórar líkneskjur várar frú, Guðs móður Maríe, fagrliga búnar með gull ok gervar með miklum hagleik, sem hún hafi sér í faðmi várn lausnara. Var yfir sínu altari hver skriptin. Sá siðr var í þeirri kirkju at á hinum hæstum hátíðum, er þar váru haldnar nær fimmtán á hverju ári, skyldi brenna ljós í lampa fyrir várar frú skript, frá því er heilagt var á messu aptaninn ok nóttina ok sjálfan daginn allt til kvelds, at gera svá ljósa ok bjarta alla kirkjuna. Þat bar til á dǫgum þessa sacriste at eigi mátti fá oleum at kaupa í því héraði. Fékksk þat lítið en nærr ekki fluttisk til, ok því at hann ørvæntir at þat megi fásk, vill hann spara sem mest ok geyma þat oleum sem hann hefir ok vill þar láta helzt missa at brenni í kirkjunni sem honum þykkir minnst þurfa, ok því tendrar hann ekki þessa lampa á helga þórsdag ok hvítasunnu, er vanir váru at brenna nótt ok dag á fyrsǫgðum hátíðum. Munkrinn fékk þegar skjóta pínu, því at á týrsdaginn í helgu víku tók hann skjótliga svá ákafliga febres, at hann hélt varla sínu viti, en áðr sýndisk hann vera vel heill. Hann andaðisk mánadaginn í trínitatis víku, en laugardags morgininn áðr sem hann var mjǫk at kominn dauða, sýnisk honum dróttning englanna, hin mildasta Guðs móðir María, sem sitjandi í ofanverðu riði nokkuru því sem var nærr einni af fyrsǫgðum líkneskjum. Hann þóttisk þá kalla sem minnandisk síns háska ok krankleika: “Heilǫg María, miskunna mér.” Munkinum sýnisk hún svá bjǫrt, at hann mátti varla í mót sjá. Hún lítr til hans nokkut með reiði ok sagði: “Þú tók<st> á brott ljós þat, sem mér var til heiðrs á jarðríki, ok því skal ek taka frá þér æfinliga ljós þessa lífs.” Bróðirinn varð ákafliga hræddr við þessa ógurligu heitan, sem eigi var undarligt, ok fellr til fóta vári frú með hǫrmuligum grát ok bað hana fyrirláta sér þat sem hann hafði misgert við hana, heitandi at bœta við hana ok gera aldri síðan þat sama. En því at hennar heitan ok ógn fylgir jafnan miskunn, sér hún til hans miklu blíðligar en fyrir ok vísandi honum með hendinni til þess stigs sem var fyrir fótum hennar ok segir: “Sit hér.” Hann settisk niðr fyrir fœtr henni skjálfandi af mikilli hræðslu. Hún hvarf þegar brott. Sem hann hvarf aptr til sjálfs síns, kallar hann saman brœðrna ok segir þeim greiniliga vitranina. Um daginn eftir biðr hann með miklum grát at þeir láti brenna ǫll fyrsǫgð ljósker um nóttina ok daginn eftir, því sem vant var á þvílíkri hátíð. Hann hét því ok Guði at ef hann fengi sína heilsu sem hann girntisk skyldi hann til heiðrs eilífri jungfrú ok móðr hins sanna ljóss halda fornum vana um ljós fyrir hennar líkneskjum ok auka sem hann mátti. En því at sá dómr er móðir sannleiksins hafði dictat ok framsagt með sínum sannorða munni mátti eigi bregðask, andask hann á þriðja degi síðan hún hafði honum vitrask. Var þat á mánadaginn eftir festum trínitatis, sem hann hafði nokkut upphafit yfirbót sinnar syndar í, því at á fyrsagðri hátíð heilagrar Guðs þrenningar brunnu ljós, sem at fornu var, fyrir líkneskjum várar frú. Einn bróðir siðlátr ok heilagr, sá er leiddr var ór sínum líkama á langafrjádag, hverjum er hinn helgi Nikolás biskup sýndi bæði píslastaði ok svo dýrð góðra manna, sá þenna bróðr þá enn í píslum, mest sakir þess at hann vanrækti optliga margt þat, sem hans stétt ok vígslu heyrði til, einkanliga um þjónustu í he[...]. 

Which, in an English translation, would read:

There was a young brother in a certain monastery, decent and proper in many ways, whose job it was to be sacristan. In this church there were three or four statues of Our Lady, God’s Mother Mary, beautifully adorned with gold and fashioned with great skill, holding our saviour in her arms. Each of the images was above its own altar. It was the custom in this church that on the most important celebrations, of which there were held almost fifteen every year, a light should burn in the lamp in front every of image of our lady, from the sacred mass in the evening and during the night and all of the day itself until evening, so as to make the whole church illuminated and bright in this way. It happened in the days of this sacristan that oil could not be bought in that region. Little could be had and hardly any was imported, and fearing that none could be acquired, he wanted to save as much as possible and be careful with the oil he had and would rather not have it burn there in the church where he thought it was least necessary, and therefore he did not kindle these lamps on Holy Thursday and Pentecost, when it was the custom that they should burn night and day during these feasts. The monk received a swift punishment, as on the Thursday of Holy Week he suddenly became so feverish that he barely kept his wits, whereas before that he had seemed quite healthy. He died on Monday in Trinity week, but on the Saturday morning before that, as he was very near to death, he had a vision of the queen of angels, the most merciful mother of God, Mary, who appeared to be sitting on the uppermost of some steps close to one of the statues mentioned previously. It seem to him that he called, as if to mention his peril and sickness, “Holy Mary, have mercy on me.” It seemed to the monk that she was so bright that he could barely look at her. She looked upon him with some anger and said: “You took away the light which was in my honour here on earth, and because of this I will take from you the eternal light of this life.” The monk was greatly alarmed by this dreadful threat, which was not surprising, and fell to the feet of Our Lady with a desperate cry, asking her to forgive him for his offence against her, promising to make it up to her and never to do it again. But because her threats and terrors are always attended by mercy, she looked at him more blithely than before, and gestured with her hand toward the step beneath her feet and said: "Sit here." He sat down at her feet, trembling with great trepidation, whereupon she vanished. When he returned to his senses, he called the brothers together and told them in detail of his vision. The following day he entreated them with many tears that they let all the aforementioned lamps burn during the night and the following day, as was the custom for these feasts. He vowed to God that if he regained his health as he hoped, he would, in honour of the eternal Virgin and mother of the true light, maintain the old customs concerning the lamps before her statues and increase them as best he could. But because the judgment that the mother of truth had dictated and delivered with her veracious mouth could not be altered, he died on the third day after she had appeared to him. That was on the Monday after the feast of Trinity, when he had begun somewhat to atone for his sins, in that on the aforementioned feast of God's holy Trinity, lamps were lit as they had been before in front of the statues of Our Lady. A certain well-mannered and pious monk who was led out of his body on Good Friday, to whom Saint Nicholas the bishop had showed both the places of torment and then the glory of good men, saw this brother still in torment, mostly because he often neglected many of the things that pertained to his position and ordination, especially regarding the service in the ho[ly …]

Thus - somewhat abruptly ends our story, and thus ends our series Miracle of the Week. The manuscript AM 634-635 4to contains many more marian miracles, and the four young researchers from the summer school Master Class intend to keep working on bringing them to a wider audience. So there's every reason to check back once in a while to see what miraculous occurrences there may be.