Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Monks, Angels, Demons, and the Philosopher’s Stone

Head of St. Martin of Hinojosa, Cloister of Huerta.
My Medieval Bodies and Spaces class has me reading the Menology again to look at how monks used the cloister. Along the way, there are the usual sorts of stories that do not fit easily with the well-heeled religion of the 21st century.  Two stories from the readings for the last few days from the great French abbey of Morimond and from Huerta, one of its Spanish granddaughters, demonstrate the easy Medieval blending of the pious, the grotesque, the fabulous.

Blessed Peter of Morimond

At Morimond, Blessed Peter, Abbot.  In his youth he was beguiled by the demon’s arts, who visibly appeared to him, and gave him it seems, a mysterious stone imparting knowledge and intelligence.  But, later on, he fell ill, died, apparently, and experienced many severe torments.  Delivered by God’s goodness and mercy, he so changed his life that, like all those restored from death to life, he was never seen to smile.  Parting with the world and self, he dedicated himself to God in Morimond Monastery, the nursing Mother of Saints, and lived as a perfect monk in constant tears and severe discipline.  The brethren unanimously chose him to the their abbot.  He directed them some years piously and successfully, and then resigned.  When his two successors died, he was forced to resume the burden, governed his monastery fourteen years more, and died a very saintly death.

Cloister of Huerta.
I assume that this entry refers to Peter I of Morimond, whose abbacy began in 1183.  It would seem to imply, comparing apocryphal source to apocryphal, that a Cistercian found and discarded the philosopher’s stone several generations before Albertus Magnus.  Pity the poor Dominicans, who were always trumpeting something as a new discovery that monks had long ago grown tired of.

St. Martin of Hinojosa, also known as San Sacerdote

At Huerta, Spain, St. Martin, or Serdot (Sacerdos), who, from his childhood, gave presages of the perfection which he was to arrive at. Notwithstanding his youth, he soon became Abbot of this Monastery. Twenty years later, he was forced to leave his beloved Abbey for the Bishopric of Siguenza. After seven years of a pastorate fruitful in holy and excellent works, he resigned his See and returned to Huerta, leading therein a life truly angelic up to his seventy-third year. He expired at the hour he had foretold. An Angel severed the head from the body, took it to the Canons of Siguenza, and fixed his Feast for May 5th, when we honour his memory.

The refectory at Huerta.
A Castilian from a noble family, St. Martin founded Santa Maria de la Huerta in 1164 and became bishop of the nearby see of Siguenza in 1185. There are many stories of saints appearing to the priests of another place begging for them to take their bodies from some other monastery or church to give them their due veneration.  Here, the canons of Siguenza deny all involvement in the pilfering of St. Martin’s head, claiming an angel did it and ordered a feast day to boot.

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Morimond was secularized at the French Revolution and largely fell into ruin. Huerta, a fine example of Cistercian architecture, was secularized in 1835, but resettled by the Trappists in 1930. Wikimedia has more than 100 images from Huerta, including those used in this post.