The Second Nun's Tale

This bright Cecilia, as her story's told, 120 Was born in Rome from blood of noble kind And, from the cradle up, raised in the fold Of Christ, and bore his gospel in her mind. She never ceased, as in the book I find, To say her prayers and God to love and dread, 125 Beseeching that he guard her maidenhead. And when this maiden to a certain man Had come to be betrothed--he was a lad Quite young in years, his name Valerian-- So humble and devout a heart she had 130 That on the day of marriage she was clad (Beneath her golden robe so lovely) in A shirt of haircloth right next to her skin. And while the organs played, her heart inside To God above was singing silently: 135 "Lord, to my soul and body too be guide, Keep me unstained, lest I confounded be." For love of him who died upon a tree, Each second day and third she spent in fast, Each day in fervent prayer from first to last. 140 Then came the wedding night, when to the bed With her new husband she would have to go; And privately at once to him she said, "Sweet husband whom I love, and dearly so, There is a secret I would have you know, 145 And gladly I will tell you here and now If you will not betray it, by your vow." Valerian at once began to swear That in no case, no matter what it be, Would he betray what secret she'd declare; 150 And then she told her husband finally, "I have an angel watching over me With such great love that, though I sleep or wake, My body he protects, will not forsake. "And if he senses, out of doubt or dread, 155 You'd touch me or would love in carnal ways, At once he'll leave you numbered with the dead, He'll slay you while still in your youthful days. If in pure love you lead me, though, with praise He'll love you, too, for your clean righteousness, 160 And with his joy and brightness he will bless." Forewarned as God desired, Valerian Said, "If I'm to believe you, let me see With my own eyes this angel if I can; And if true angel he turns out to be, 165 Then I will do as you have asked of me; But if you love another, by my oath This sword of mine I'll take and slay you both." Cecilia then immediately advised, "If you desire, this angel you will see, 170 That you'll believe in Christ and be baptized. Go to the Appian Way, which is," said she, "Not far from town, in miles it numbers three; And to the poor folks who are dwelling there You'll speak directly as I'll now declare. 175 "Tell them that by Cecilia you are sent To see good Urban, who's now very old, In private need and with the best intent. And when this good Saint Urban you behold, Tell him the words that by me you'll be told; 180 And when from sin he's purged you in your heart, This angel you will see ere you depart." Valerian went straight out to the place And, just as he'd been told, he met inside The catacombs Saint Urban face-to-face, 185 Among the tombs where Urban had to hide. Valerian at once set to confide His message; and when finished, in reply For joy Saint Urban raised his hands up high. As Urban from his eyes the tears let fall, 190 "Almighty God, O Jesus Christ," said he, "Who sows chaste counsel, Shepherd of us all, The fruit of that same seed of chastity That thou hast sown in her, take unto thee! Lo, busy as a bee, without a guile, 195 Thy sweet handmaiden serves thee all the while. "To thee this very spouse she newly took, One fierce as any lion, she sends here As meek as any lamb could ever look!" And with that word there started to appear 200 An aged man, in white clothes bright and clear, Who with a book gold-lettered in his hand Came there before Valerian to stand. Valerian fell down then as if dead, So fearful at the sight; but by the hand 205 He helped him up, then in his book he read: "One Lord, one faith, one God, no others stand, One Christendom, one Father in command, None else above, he governs everywhere." And all in gold these words were written there. 210 And when he'd read, then said this aged man, "Do you believe or not? Say yea or nay." "All I believe," replied Valerian, "For nothing truer under heaven's sway Might anyone believe, I dare to say." 215 The old man disappeared, he knew not where, And then Pope Urban christened him right there. When he went home, he found inside her room An angel standing at Cecilia's side. Of roses and of lilies in their bloom 220 This angel held two chaplets sanctified; The angel gave the first crown to the bride, Then, as I find this legend to relate, He gave the second chaplet to her mate. "With body clean and with unblemished thought 225 Keep always these two chaplets," then said he. "For to you I from paradise have brought Them, they shall never withered be Nor lose their lovely fragrance, trust in me; And on them not one person will lay eyes 230 Unless he's chaste, hates wickedness and lies. "And you, Valerian, who have so soon Accepted righteous counsel, now you can Ask what you wish and you will have your boon." "I have a brother," said Valerian, 235 "One whom I cherish as no other man. I pray you'll to my brother grant the grace To know the truth, as I do in this place." The angel said, "God's pleased with your request; You both, bearing the palm of martyrdom, 240 Shall come into his feast among the blest." With that his brother Tiburce there had come, And when he caught the savor, all and some, The scent of rose and lily in the air, Amazement filled his heart right then and there. 245 "From where, I wonder, at this time of year Could there be coming such sweet scent," said he, "Of rose and lily that I'm smelling here. Though in my own two hands they were to be, The scent could not go deeper into me; 250 The sweet perfume that in my heart I find Has changed me all into some other kind." Valerian replied, "Two crowns have we, Snow white and rosy red, both shining clear, Although these crowns your eyes have yet to see. 255 And now as through my prayers you've smelt them here, You also shall behold them, brother dear, If only you will now without ado Believe aright and know the good and true." Tiburce replied, "You're saying this to me 260 In truth, or in a dream I'm hearing this?" Valerian then answered, "Certainly We've dreamt till now, my brother; now we've bliss, For finally in truth our dwelling is." "You know this to be true?" asked Tiburce. "How?" 265 Valerian replied, "I'll tell you now. "The angel of the Lord this truth has taught To me, which you will see if from the spell Of idols you'll be cleansed, or else see naught." The miracle of these two crowns as well 270 Saint Ambrose in his preface likes to tell; This dear and noble doctor solemnly Commends it, as he speaks accordingly: "That martyr's palm by her might thus be gained, Had Saint Cecilia, by God's gift so blest, 275 From world as well as marriage bed abstained; Valerian and Tiburce then confessed Their sins, upon which God, by kind behest, Two crowns of flowers, sweet as flowers grow, Sent by his angel to them there below. 280 "This maiden brought these men to highest bliss; The world now knows it's worthy to refrain, Devoted to chaste love, be sure of this." And then Cecilia showed him, made it plain To Tiburce, that all idols are in vain 285 (They cannot speak, nor can they hear a sound), And from his idols bade him turn around. "Whoever won't believe it," he confessed, "Is but a beast and that is not a lie." And when she heard these words, she kissed his breast, 290 So glad that he the truth could well espy. "This day I take you as my own ally," Then said this blessed maiden, fair and dear; And after that she spoke as you will hear: "Behold, just as the love of Christ," said she, 295 "Made me your brother's wife, in such a way I take you now as an ally to me, Since you despise your idols as you say. Go with your brother, be baptized today And so be cleansed, that you may then behold 300 The angel's face of which your brother told." Then Tiburce answered, saying, "Brother dear, Tell me where I'm to go, and to what man." "To whom?" said he. "Now come, be of good cheer, I'll lead you to Pope Urban as I can." 305 "To Urban?" Tiburce asked. "Valerian, My brother, that's to whom now you would lead? I think I'll have to wonder at the deed. "That Urban," then said Tiburce, "can you mean Who's been condemned to be among the dead, 310 Who walks about in hiding, can't be seen, Into the daylight dares not stick his head? They'd burn him in a fire, one flaming red, If he were found, if seen where he may hide; They'd burn us, too, if found there by his side. 315 "And while we seek that same eternal state That's hidden up in heaven secretly, They'll burn us up down here at any rate!" To this Cecilia said courageously, "It's well and good that men might fearfully 320 Lose this their earthly life, my own dear brother, If this were all of life, there were no other. "But there's a better life some other place That never shall be lost--no doubt be brought-- Of which God's Son has told us through his grace. 325 It's through the Father's Son that all is wrought, And all the creatures blest with gift of thought The Holy Ghost, which from the Father springs, Endows with souls. There's no doubt of these things. "By miracle and word the Father's Son, 330 When he was in the world, informed us here That there's another life that's to be won." And Tiburce then replied, "O sister dear, Did you not just advise and make it clear That there is but one God, and truthfully? 335 How, then, can you bear witness now to three?" "That I shall tell," said she, "before I go. The mind of man is threefold: memory, Imagination, intellect. Just so, Within one Being of divinity 340 Three personages very well may be." And of Christ's birth she then began to preach To him with vigor, all his pains to teach, With much about his passion; how God's Son Was in this world below, in flesh's hold, 345 To grant full pardon for what man had done While bound in sin and care so dark and cold; These are the things that she to Tiburce told. And Tiburce, after this, in good intent With his dear brother to Pope Urban went, 350 Who, thanking God and with heart glad and light, Then baptized him and made him in that place One perfect in his learning, heaven's knight. And Tiburce after this was blest with grace Till every day he saw in time and space 355 The angel of the Lord; and every boon He asked of God was granted to him soon. It would be very hard here to explain How many wonders Jesus for them wrought; But finally, to tell it short and plain, 360 By officers of Rome they soon were caught And to the prefect Almachius brought, Who questioned them and, knowing their intent, Before the Jovian image had them sent. "Chop off the heads of those," was his command, 365 "Who will not sacrifice to Jupiter." At once these martyrs then were in the hand Of Maximus, the prefect's officer; But when these saints to whom I here refer Were being led away in summary fashion, 370 This Maximus shed tears in his compassion. When he had heard what these saints had to say, He asked the executioners for leave To take them to his home by straightest way; And there with preaching, before it was eve, 375 They made the executioners believe; And Maximus and his whole family, too, From false faith turned to that one God who's true. Cecilia came, when it was fall of night, With priests, and all were baptized without fear; 380 And afterward, when broke the morning light, Cecilia said with her unfailing cheer, "You now are knights of Christ, you're loved and dear; Cast off the works of darkness, all their harm, In armor of God's brightness now to arm. 385 "The good fight you have fought, your race is through, And truthfully your faith you have preserved. So claim the crown of life laid up for you; The Judge of righteousness whom you have served Will give it as reward, as you've deserved." 390 And when these words as I relate were said, Toward the shrine these two by men were led. But when they had been brought before the thing, To tell you briefly how it all turned out, They burnt no incense, made no offering, 395 But down upon their knees they knelt about With humble hearts, each to the last devout, For which they were beheaded in that place. Their souls departed to the King of grace. This Maximus, when he had witnessed this, 400 At once with tears described what had occurred: He'd seen their souls ascend to heaven's bliss, With angels full of clearest light. So heard, He soon converted many with his word, For which the prefect then by thongs with lead 405 Had him so whipped that soon the man was dead. Cecilia took his corpse and, quickly gone, By Tiburce and Valerian would she Inter him gently underneath the stone. Then Almachius ordered hastily 410 His officers to go fetch openly Cecilia, that he then might witness her Make proper sacrifice to Jupiter. But they, too, were converted by her lore And sorely wept, for they with faithfulness 415 Believed her word, and cried out all the more, "Christ Jesus, Son of God, is nothing less Than truly God--and that's what we profess-- And has so good a servant, one to cherish. We say this in one voice, though we perish!" 420 The prefect heard of this, and to his hall Bade she be brought, this creature he would see; And here is what he asked her first of all: "What kind of woman are you?" To which she Then answered, "One born of nobility." 425 "I ask," said he, "though it cause you to grieve, What is your faith and what do you believe?" "You have begun your questions foolishly," She said, "for you expect two answers by One question asked; you question stupidly." 430 To such a comment he responded, "Why, From where could come so churlish a reply?" "From where?" she answered, and then she explained, "From conscience and good faith that is unfeigned." "You pay no heed," then Almachius said, 435 "To all my might?" She answered in this way: "Your power's such a little thing to dread. For every mortal's power, all his sway, Is like a wind-filled bladder, safe to say. For all its pride, when it's blown up and thick, 440 Can be laid low with just a needle's prick." "How wrongfully have you begun," said he, "And still persist in wrong, will not refrain. Our mighty princes, have they generously By order and by law not made it plain 445 That every Christian shall be brought to pain Who won't renounce his Christian faith, but he, If only he'll repent, may then go free?" "Your princes err just as your nobles do," She said, "for by some crazy ordinance 450 You make us guilty when it isn't true. For even though you know our innocence, Because we Christians offer reverence To Christ, and as we bear the Christian name, Of crime we are accused, we get the blame. 455 "But as we know that name so virtuous, That we should then renounce it cannot be." "Choose one of two," the prefect said, "show us A sacrifice or spurn Christianity, For that way you'll escape and now be free." 460 This holy blessed maiden laughed instead, And to this prefect here is what she said: "O judge confused in folly, you would now Have me renounce, deny my innocence, And make myself a sinner? Look, see how 465 This man dissembles while in audience! He stares and rages, hardly making sense." Then Almachius said, "Unhappy wretch, Do you not know how far my might can stretch? "Did not our mighty princes to me give 470 The power, yea, and the authority To say which folk shall die and which shall live? Why do you speak so proudly, then, to me?" "I only spoke steadfastly," answered she, "Not proudly, for, in speaking for my side, 475 We Christians hate that deadly sin of pride. "And if to hear the truth you do not fear, By right I'll show now in an open way How great a lie it is you've uttered here. Your princes gave to you the might to slay 480 Or give a person life, that's what you say; But you can only take life and destroy, You have no other power to enjoy. "Though you indeed may say your princes made You minister of death (that's not a lie), 485 Your lack of other power bare is laid." "Now quit your brazenness," was his reply, "To our gods sacrifice before you die! Insult me, I don't care what you infer, That I can bear like a philsopher; 490 "But those same insults I will not abide Against our gods, you've spoken blasphemy." "You foolish thing!" Cecilia then replied, "So far you haven't said one word to me That hasn't shown me your stupidity 495 And that in every way you are and were A worthless judge, an ignorant officer. "You're blind to everything that meets your eye; For something that is seen here by us all To be a stone--as men may well espy-- 500 That very stone a god you choose to call. I tell you, let your hand upon it fall And test it well and stone is what you'll find, Since you can't see it with your eyes so blind. "The people will so scorn you, what a shame, 505 They'll laugh at all your folly, for well nigh Among all men the knowledge is the same, That mighty God is in his heavens high; These images, as you should well espy, Can't help you or themselves, however slight, 510 For in effect they are not worth a mite.'' Those words she said, and more of like degree, And he, enraged, then ordered men to lead Her to her house, and "Burn her there," said he, "Inside a flaming bath." As he decreed, 515 So right away these men performed the deed; They put her in a bath and shut it tight, And built great fire beneath it day and night. But all that night, and through the day that sprang, For all the fire, the heat that was so rife, 520 She coolly sat and never felt a pang Nor shed one drop of sweat, had not a strife. But in that bath she was to lose her life, For Almachius, wicked his intent, To slay her in the bath his lackey sent. 525 Three strokes into her neck he was to hew, This executioner, but in no way Did he succeed in chopping it in two; And as there was a law back in that day That no one such a penalty should pay 530 As to receive a fourth blow, hard or light, He didn't dare another blow to smite. And so half dead he left her lying there, Her neck cut open; on his way he went. The Christians there around her then took care 535 To stop her bleeding using sheets. She spent Her final three days then in much torment, But never ceased the Christian faith to teach To those she had converted; she would preach, And gave them all her goods, each little thing, 540 To take to Urban, with this word also: "This one request I made of heaven's King, That I might have three days, no more, just so To recommend to you, before I go, These souls, and that my house I might commence 545 To build into a church of permanence." Saint Urban with his deacons secretly The body fetched, and buried it by night Among his other saints, and fittingly. As Saint Cecilia's Church her house by right 550 Is known (Saint Urban blest it, well he might), In which today men give in noblest ways To Jesus and his saints their servants' praise.

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