Medieval Sermon Tales
Original Electronic Texts at the Internet Medieval Sourcebook web site.

The following tales are taken from sermons by Jacques de Vitry, Etienne de Bourbon, and Caesar of Heisterbach. The introduction below is by Paul Halsall, editor of the Medieval Internet Sourcebook.

Jacques de Vitry was born probably before 1180, studied theology at Paris, and was ordained priest in 1210. He preached first in 1213 in favor. of the crusade against the Albigenses. The following year he led a large army of crusaders to the siege of Toulouse. He next preached a crusade against the Saracens. In 1214 he was elected bishop of Acre, was approved by the Pope in 1215, and was consecrated 1216. He took a prominent part in the crusade of 1218-1221. In the winter of 1219-1220 he wrote his well known historical work. In 1226 or 1227 he resigned his bishopric, and devoted himself again to preaching the crusade against the Albigenses. In1228 he was made a cardinal, and bishop of Tusculum. In 1239, probably, he was elected patriarch of Jerusalem. He died about 1240. The anecdotes quoted are taken from the exempla in the sermones vulgares, ad status or ad omne hominum genus, 74 in number. These exempla have been edited with great learning by Thomas Frederick Crane, M. A., under the title The Exempla of Jacques de Vitry, for the Folk Lore Society, 1890. This is the best work on the subject.

Étienne de Bourbon, a Dominican, was born towards the end of the twelfth century and died about 1261. In his youth be passed some years in the schools of the church of Saint-Vincent at Macon. Later be studied at the University of Paris. In his writings there are a number of interesting anecdotes concerning student-life in his days. As an inquisitor he acquired much information about, the heretics, which he incorporated in his writings. Although he was zealous in his work he was prudent, and rejected many fables current about the heretics. He wrote sermons which were popular and widely used. The title shows his purpose, Tractatus de diversis materiis praedicabilibus. The tales used in this pamphlet are from Anecdotes Historiques, Légendes et Apolologues tirés du recueil inédit d'Etienne de Bourbon, dominicain du xiiie siècle, publés pour la Société de l'Histoire de France, par A. Lecoy de la Marche, Paris, 1877.

Caesar of Heisterbach was born about 1180, possibly in Cologne, and died before 1250. He was " master of the novices " and prior in the monastery at Heisterbach. His Dialogue was one of the commonest sources for sermon-stories. The best edition of his work is Caesarii Heisterbacensis monachi ordinis Cisterciensis Dialogus Miraculroum, edited by Strange, 2 Vols., Paris, 1851. The biographical facts given above are taken mainly from the introductions to the editions cited.

The object of these sermon-stories was to arouse interest and to convey moral truths. Jacques de Vitry said, " It is necessary to employ a great many proverbs, historical stories and anecdotes, especially when the audience is tired and begins to get sleepy." Etienne de Bourbon said that Jacques owed his great success to this practice. The use of anecdotes spread rapidly and widely, and many collections have been preserved. For bibliographies and examples see… Hauréau: Notices et Extraits de quelques manuscrits latins de la Bibliothéque nationale, 6 vols., Paris, 1890-93.



Jacques de Vitry, CCLXXXII. (pp. 117, ff.)

A certain very religious man told me that this happened in a place where he had been living. A virtuous and pious matron came frequently to the church and served God most devoutly, day and night. Also a certain monk, the guardian and treasurer of the monastery, had a great reputation for piety, and truly he was devout. When, however, the two frequently conversed together in the church concerning religious matters, the devil, envying their virtue and fame, tempted them sorely so that the spiritual love was changed to carnal. Accordingly they made an agreement and fixed upon a night in which the monk was to leave his monastery, taking the treasures of the church, and the matron was to leave her home, with a sum of money which she should secretly steal from her husband.

After they had left and fled, the monks on rising in the morning saw that the receptacles were broken and the treasures of the church stolen and not finding the monk, they quickly pursued him. Likewise the woman's husband, seeing his chest open and the money gone, pursued his wife. Seizing the monk and the woman with the treasure and money, they brought them back and threw them into prison. Moreover so great was the scandal through all that part of the country and so much were all religious persons reviled that the damage from the infamy and scandal was far greater than from the sin itself.

Then the monk restored to his senses, began with many tears to pray to the blessed Virgin, whom from infancy he had always served, and never before had any such misfortune happened to him. Likewise the matron began urgently to implore the aid of the blessed Virgin whom, frequently, day and night, she had been accustomed to salute and before whose image she had been wont to kneel in prayer. At length the blessed Virgin appeared before them in great anger and after she had upbraided them severely, she said, "I am able to obtain pardon for your sins from my son, but what can I do about such an awful scandal? For you have so befouled the name of religious persons before all the people, that in the future no one will trust them. This is an almost irremediable injury."

At length the pious Virgin, overcome by their prayers, summoned the demons who had caused the deed and enjoined upon them that, as they had caused the scandal to religion, they must bring the infamy to an end. Since, indeed, they were not able to resist her commands, after much anxiety and various conferences they found a way to remove infamy. In the night they placed the monk in the church and repairing the broken receptacle as it had been before, they placed the treasure in it. Also they closed and locked the chest which the matron had opened and replaced the money in it. And they set the woman in her room and in the place where she was accustomed to pray by night.

When, moreover, the monks found the treasure of their house and monk, who was praying to God just as he had been accustomed to do; and the husband found his wife and the treasure; and they found the money just as it had been before, they began to be amazed and to wonder. Rushing to the prison they saw the monk and the woman in fetters just as they had left them. For one of the demons was seen by them transformed into the figure of a monk and another into the shape of a woman. When the whole city had come together to see the miracle, the demons said in the hearing of all, "Let us go, for long enough have we deceived these people and caused ill to be thought of religious persons." And having said this they vanished. Moreover all fell down at the feet of the monk and of the woman and demanded pardon.

Behold how great infamy and scandal and how inestimable damage the devil would have wrought against religious persons, if the blessed Virgin had not aided them.


Caesar of Heisterbach, Distinctio VII, Cap. XXXIV. (Vol. II, pp. 42-43.)

Not many years ago, in a certain monastery of nuns, of which I do not know the name, there lived a virgin named Beatrix. She was beautiful in form, devout in mind, and most fervent in the service of the mother of God. As often as she could offer secretly to the Virgin special prayers and supplications, she held them for her dearest delight Indeed, having been made custodian, she did this more devoutly because more freely.

A certain clerk, seeing and lusting after her, began to tempt her. When she spurned the words of lust, and on that account he insisted the more strenuously, the old serpent enkindled her breast so vehemently that she could not bear the flames of love. Therefore coming to the altar of the blessed Virgin, the patroness of the oratory, she spoke thus: "Mistress, I have served thee as devoutly as I could; behold, I resign thy keys to thee, I cannot longer withstand the temptations of the flesh." And, having placed the keys on the altar, she secretly followed the clerk.

When that wretched man had corrupted her, he abandoned her after a few days. Since she had no means of living and was ashamed to return to the convent, she became a harlot. After she had continued in that vice publicly for fifteen years, she came one day in a lay habit to the door of the monastery. She said to the doorkeeper, "Did you know Beatrix, formerly custodian of this oratory?" When the latter replied, it I knew her very well. For she is an honest and holy woman, and from infancy even to the present day she has remained in this monastery without fault." When she hearing, the man's words, but not understanding them, wished to go away, the mother of mercy appeared in her well-known image and said to her, "During the fifteen years of thy absence, I have performed thy task; now return to thy place and do penance; for no one knows of thy departure." In fact, in the form and dress of that woman, the mother of God had performed the duties of custodian. Beatrix entered at once and returned thanks as long as she lived, revealing through confession what had been done for her.


Caesar of Heisterbach, Distinctio VII, Cap. XLV. (Vol. II, pp. 62-63.)

In the chapel of the castle of Veldenz there is a certain ancient image of the blessed Virgin holding her son in her bosom. This image is, indeed, not very well made, but is endowed with great virtue. A certain matron of this castle, which is situated in the diocese of Trier,

standing in the chapel one day looked at the image and despising the workmanship, said, "Why does this old rubbish stand here?'"

The blessed Mary, the mother of mercy, not as I think, complaining to her son of the woman who spoke so foolishly, but predicting the future penalty for the crime to a certain other matron, said "Because that lady," designating her by name, "called me old rubbish, she shall wretched as long as she lives."

After a few days that lady was driven out by her own son from all her possessions and property, and up to the present day she begs wretchedly enough, suffering the punishment for her foolish speech. Behold how the blessed Virgin loves and honors those who love her, and punishes and humbles those who despise her.


Étienne de Bourbon, No. 133. (p. 113)

Also near Cluny, as I have heard from many, it happened recently, namely, in the year of our Lord 1246, when I was there, that a certain tavern keeper on the Saturday before Advent, in selling wine and taking his pay, blasphemed Christ during the whole day. But when about the ninth hour, in the presence of a multitude of men, he had sworn by the tongue of the blessed Virgin, by blaspheming her he lost the use of his tongue, and by speaking basely of her, suddenly stricken in the presence of the multitude, he fell dead.


Étienne de Bourbon, No. 119. (p. 103)

Also we read that a certain robber had this much of good in him, that he always fasted on bread and water on the vigils of the blessed Mary, and, when he went forth to steal, he always said, "Ave Maria", asking her not to permit him to die in that sin. When moreover he was captured and hung, he remained there three days and could not die. When he called out to the passers by, that they should summon a priest to him, and when the priest had come and the prefect and others, he was removed from the gallows, and said that a most beautiful virgin had held him up by the feet during the three days. Promising reform, he was let go free.


Étienne de Bourbon, No. 129. (p. 110)

Also it is related that there was a certain knight, lord of a castle in Auvergne, whom the devil served in human form for twelve years, as he wanted to carry the knight off on account of his sins, if he should find him at any time unfortified. When this was revealed to a certain holy man, he approached the castle, saying that he wished to speak with the servants. When, moreover, the devil seeing the holy man, wanted to run away and hide, the latter had him summoned and adjured him to say what he wanted and who he was. He replied that he was the devil and that for twelve years he had been waiting for a chance to carry off that lord; but he was not able to do so, because seven times each day the lord with bent knees was accustom the blessed Virgin, and to say the "Pater noster" seven times. Adjured in the name of the blessed Virgin he left the foul corpse in which he was and fled.

From University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 2-7



Jacques de Vitry, CXII. (p. 52.)

Moreover, although poverty and other tribulations are advantageous, yet certain ones abuse them. Accordingly we read that when the body St. Martin was borne in procession it healed all the infirm who met blind, Now there were near the church two wandering beggars, one began to converse together and said, "See, the body of St. Martin is now being borne in procession, and if it catches us we shall be healed immediately, and no one in the future will give us any aims, but we shall have to work and labor with our own hands.', Then the blind man said to the lame, "Get up on my shoulders because I am strong, and you who see well can guide me." The y did this; but when they wished to escape, the procession overtook them; and since, on account of the throng, they were not able to get away, they were healed against their will.


Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. VIII, Cap. LIII. (Vol II, pp. 125-26)

Not long ago a certain merchant of our country, crossing the sea, saw the arm of St. John the Baptist in his hospital, and desired it. Knowing that the custodian of the relics was following a certain woman, and knowing that there is nothing which women of that class cannot extort from men, he approached her and said, " If you will procure for me the relics of St. John the Baptist of which your lover has the charge, I will give you a hundred and forty pounds of silver." She, craving the sum offered,' refused to consent to the hospitaler until he obtained the sacred arm. This she immediately delivered to the merchant and received the promised weight of silver.

Do you perceive how great a mockery? just as formerly the head of St. John was delivered by Herod to a lascivious girl as a reward for dancing, and by her was given to an adulterous mother, so at this time, the hospitaler, no less wicked than Herod, gave the arm of the same saint to a base woman as the price of fornication, and by her it was sold to the merchant.

The latter, not consigning it to the ground like Herodias, but wrapping it in purple, fled almost to the extremities of the earth and arrived at the city of Gröningen, which is situated at the entrance to Frisia. There he built a house and, hiding the arm in one of the columns, began to grow exceedingly wealthy. One day when he was sitting in his shop, some one said to him, '- The city is burning and the fire is now approaching your house." He replied, "I do not fear for my house, I have left a good guardian there." Nevertheless he arose and, entered his house. When he saw the column unmoved he returned to his shop. All wondered what was the cause of so great confidence.

When questioned about the guardian of his house, he replied ambiguously; but when he realized that his fellow-citizens noted it, fearing lest they might employ violence against him, he took out the arm and delivered it into the care of a certain hermitess. She, unable to keep the secret, told a man of her charge, and he told the citizens. They immediately took the relics and carried them to the church. When the merchant tearfully requested his relics, they replied harshly. When they asked him of what saint these were the relics, he not wishing to betray the facts said he did not know. Nevertheless in grief he deserted the city and, falling into poverty, he became very ill not long after. When he feared death, he disclosed to his confessor what the relics were and how he had obtained them.

When the citizens learned this, they made a receptacle in the form an arm, of silver and gilt, adorned with precious stones, and placed the relics in it. I saw the same arm two years ago and it is covered with skin and flesh. I also saw there among the relics a small gold cross of Frederick the Emperor, which had been given to the above mentioned merchant at the same time as the arm.

NOVICE: Since no one of the saints is believed to be greater than St. John the Baptist, why is it that we do not read of any miracle in his life ?

MONK: So that God may show that holiness does not consist in miracles, but in right living. For after death he was illustrious by innumerable and great miracles. The aforesaid citizens, in truth, fearing for the relics of St. John, built of planks a very strong little house behind the altar, and by night they had a priest sleep in the top of it. The house was so shaken under him on the first night that he felt no slight horror. In the second night truly it struck him when asleep and hurled him onto the pavement. When one of the rulers of the city fell sick, at his request Theodoric, the priest of the church, carried the arm to his house and unwrapped it. He found the arm, as well as the purple in which it was wrapped, covered with fresh blood, He told me this with his own mouth. A priest cut off a small piece of flesh from the same arm, and when he carried it off secretly in his hand, he felt as much heat from it as if he had been carrying burning coal. Many miracles and hearings indeed were wrought in that city b the same relics through the merits of St. John the Baptist.


Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. VIII, Cap. LXX. (Vol. II p. 140)

A certain knight loved most ardently the above-mentioned martyr, St. Thomas of Canterbury, and sought everywhere to obtain some relic of him. When a certain wily priest, in whose house he was staying, heard of this he said to him, "I have by me a bridle which St. Thomas used for a long time, and I have often experienced its virtues." When the knight heard this, and believed it, he joyfully paid the priest the money which the latter demanded and received the bridle with great devotion.

God truly, to whom nothing is impossible, wishing to reward the faith of the knight and for the honor of his martyr, deigned to work many miracles through the same bridle. The knight seeing this founded a church in honor of the martyr and in it he placed as a relic the bridle of that most wicked priest.

University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 11-14



Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. IX, Cap. XXVIII. (Vol. II p. 186,)

In Himmerode an aged priest, Henry by name, died a few years ago. He was a holy and just man, and had been for very many years sacristan in that monastery. When he was reading the mass one day at the altar of St. John the Baptist, in the choir of the lay-brethren, a certain one of the lay-brethren standing near, saw, in the hands of the priest, the Saviour in the form of a man. Nevertheless the priest himself did not see it. This was told to me by one of the elders in that convent.


Ceasar of Heisterbach, Dist. IX, Cap. IX. (Vol II, pp. 173-74.)

On the same island a maiden, not a nun, whom I saw there, was possessed. When the devil was asked by a priest why he had so long and so cruelly tortured Hartdyfa de Cogheme, he replied through the mouth of the girl. "Why? She has most certainly deserved it. She scattered the Most High upon her vegetables."

Since he did not at all understand the saying and the devil was unwilling to explain, the priest went to the woman and told her what the devil had said about her, advising her not to deny if she under. stood. She immediately confessed her guilt, saying, " I understand the saying well, although I have never told any man of it. When I was a young girl and had a garden to cultivate, I received a wandering woman as a guest one night. When I told her of the losses in my garden, saying that all the vegetables were being devoured by caterpillars, she replied, "I will tell you a good remedy. Receive the body of the Lord, break it in pieces, scatter it over your vegetables, and the plague will cease at once." I, wretched one! who cared more for my garden than for the sacrament, when I had received the body of our Lord at Easter, took it out of my mouth and did with it as I had been taught. What I had intended as a remedy for my vegetables, became a source of torment to me, as the devil is my witness."

NOVICE: This woman was more cruel than the attendants of Pilate, who spared Jesus after His death and did not break His bones.

MONK: Therefore, up to the present day she atones for that heinous sin and suffers unheard-of tortures. Let those who employ the divine sacrament for temporal gain, or what is more execrable, for evil-doing, give heed to this punishment, even if they do not consider the sinfulness. Also if vermin neglect the reverence due to this sacrament, they sometimes suffer punishment.


Étienne de Bourbon, No. 317. (pp. 266-67.)

For I have heard that a certain rustic, wishing to become wealthy and having many hives of bees, asked certain evil men how he could get rich and increase the number of his bees. He was told by some that if he should retain the sacred communion on Easter and place it in one of his hives, he would entice away all of his neighbor's bees, which leaving their own hives, would come to the place where body of our Lord was and there would make honey. He did this.

Then all the bees came to the hive where the body of Christ was, and just as if they had felt compassion for the irreverence done to it, by their labor they began to construct a little church and to erect foundations and bases and columns and an altar with like labor, and with the greatest reverence they placed the body of our Lord upon the Altar. And within that little beehive they formed that little church with wonderful and the most beautiful workmanship. The bees of the vicinity leaving their hives came together at that one; and over that structure they sang in their own manner certain wonderful melodies hymns.

The rustic hearing this, wondered. But waiting until the fitting time for collecting the swarm of bees and the honey-comb, he found nothing in his hives in which the bees had been accustomed to make honey; finding himself impoverished through the means by which he had believed that he would be enriched; he went to that one where he had placed the host, where he saw the bees had come together. But when he approached, just as if they had wanted to vindicate the insult to our Saviour, the bees rushed upon the rustic and stung him so severely that he escaped with difficulty, and suffering greatly. Going to the priest , related all that he had done and what the bees had done. The priest, by the advice of his bishop, collected his parishioners and went in procession to the place. Then the bees, leaving the hive, rose into the air, making sweet melody. Raising the hive they found within the noble structure of that little church and the body of our Lord placed upon the altar. Then returning thanks they bore to their own church that little church of the bees constructed with such skill and elegance and with praises placed it on the altar.

By this deed those who do not reverence but offer insult instead to the sacred body of Christ or the sacred place where it is, ought to be put to great confusion.

University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 18-20



Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. III, Cap. II. (Vol. I, pp 112-13.)

A certain soldier dwelt in a certain village with whose wife the priest of the same village committed adultery. The soldier was told that the priest was carrying on an intrigue with his wife. He, since he was a prudent man and did not readily believe the story, wished to say nothing about it to his wife or the priest, but to learn the truth more fully. But he was not without some suspicion. There happened to be in another village, not far distant from the one in which the soldier lived, a possessed person, in whom there was such a wicked demon that in the presence of bystanders she revealed sins which were not cloaked by a true confession. When the soldier learned this from common report he asked the priest, whom he suspected, to go to a certain meeting with him. And the priest promised.

When they had reached the village where the possessed one was, the priest, conscious of his guilt, began to suspect the soldier, because he was not ignorant that one possessed by so wicked a demon dwelt there. And, fearing for his life if he was betrayed by the demon, feigning some necessity, he entered a stable and throwing himself at the feet of a servant of the soldier, said, I ask you in the name of the Lord to hear my confession." The servant greatly terrified raised him up and heard what he had to say. After the confession had been made, the priest asked that a penance should be inflicted upon him; and the servant replied very prudently, saying, "Whatever you would enjoin on another priest for such a crime, shall be your atonement."

And so going forth now in greater security, the priest came with the soldier to the church. There meeting the possessed one, the soldier "Do you know anything about me?" For he did this on purpose to take away any suspicion that the priest might have. When demon made some reply to him which I do not know, he added "What do you know about that master?" The demon replied, "I know nothing about that one." And after he had said this in German, he immediately added in Latin, "He was justified in the stable." No clerk was present at the time.

NOVICE: I am sure that the devil did not speak Latin of his own free will at that time.

MONK: He was not allowed to speak German, lest the knight would understand what be said and learn the truth; and he was not permitted to be silent, in order that he might show to the priest the virtue of confession.

NOVICE: Great is the virtue of confession which blotted out the me of adultery from the devil's memory and liberated a man from imminent peril.

MONK: I heard also the fruit of this confession. The priest, not mindful of the benefit conferred upon him, deserted the world and became a monk in a certain monastery of our order. He is believed to be still living, as I have learned from a certain abbot of the Cistercian order.

NOVICE: The prophecy of that impudent demon was the cause of great salvation for him.


Étienne de Bourbon, No. 176. (pp. 155-156.)

The manifold inconveniences and losses which our enemies suffer from the confession of our sins ought to incite us to confession…

It destroys the devil's records. And note how, when a certain clerk was leading a most holy life so that the devil envied him, the devil by tempting the clerk caused him to fall into grievous sin. When moreover the devil wished to confound him, and having assumed human for had accused him before his bishop, and a day had been fixed on which the devil was to prove his charges, by bringing before the judge his, accounts in which were recorded the place, the time, and the persons to whose knowledge the clerk had sinned, the latter, seeing that he was in hard straits, confessed all, grieving and purpling not to return to sin. When moreover they were in the presence of the judge and the devil said he had much against the clerk which he could prove by writing and witnesses, he unrolled his records and found all that had been in them erased. He said, "All that I had against this man was certainly written here this very day and I do not know who has destroyed it all." Having thus spoken, he vanished. The clerk, moreover, narrated all of these things to the bishop, in the secrecy of confession.


Étienne de Bourbon, No. 177. (p. 156.)

Also it is related that when a certain holy father was at one time engaged with the brethren in some work and had forgotten, on account of his occupation, to say the none at the right time, he saw the devil passing before him, bearing on his shoulders a very large book in the shape of a roll which looked as large as a tower. He adjured the devil in the name of the Lord to drop that book, and when he unrolled the book, he found written on one page that he himself had not said the none on the day and at the hour when he ought to have said it. Moreover, prostrating himself at once at the feet of his companions, he confessed his negligence, and immediately looking again in the devil's roll, he found that what had been written there before was erased, and thereby he knew the efficacy of confession.


Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. III, Cap. XVII. (Vol. II p. 133-34)

In the same city, namely Argentina which is Strasbourg, ten heretics were seized. When they denied their guilt, they were convicted by the ordeal of red-hot iron and were condemned to be burnt. When on the appointed day they were being led to the fire, one of the attendants said to one of them, "Wretched one, you are condemned. Now do penance and confess your sins, lest after the burning of the body, which is only momentary, hell-fire burns your soul eternally." When man replied, "I certainly think that I have been mistaken, but I fear repentance in so great straits is by no means acceptable to God." The former replied, "Only confess from your heart. God is merciful and will receive the penitent."

Wonderful fact ! For as soon as the man confessed his perfidy, his hand was fully healed. While he delayed in confession, the judge summoned him to the punishment. His confessor replied to the judge " It is not just that an innocent man should be condemned unjustly.'' Since no trace of a burn was found on his hand, he was dismissed.

The man had a wife living not far from the city entirely ignorant of these things which have been related. When he came to her rejoicing , and said, "Blessed be God who has liberated me today from the destruction of body and soul !" and explained to her the cause; she replied, "What have you done, most wretched man, what have you done? Why have you withdrawn from your holy and sacred faith for fear of momentary pain? You ought rather, if it were possible, expose your body a hundred times to the flames than once to withdraw from a faith so well proven."

Whom does not the voice of the serpent seduce? That man, unmindful of the favor divinely conferred upon him, unmindful of the so manifest miracle, followed his wife's advice and returned to his former error. God, not unmindful truly of the crime, in return for so great ingratitude, tortured the hand of each one. The burn was renewed in the hand of the heretic and, because his wife was the cause of his returning to his error, she was made his companion in the renewed pain. So vehement was the burn that it penetrated to the bones. And since they did not dare in the village to utter the cries which the violence of the pain extorted, they fled into the nearest woods, howling e like wolves. Why protract my words? They were betrayed, led into to the city, and together cast into the fire, which was not yet fully extinguished, and were burnt to ashes.

NOVICE: "They were justly punished."

University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 14-17



Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. V, Cap. XI. (Vol. I, p. 291)

When our abbot was celebrating mass last year on the Mount of the Holy Saviour near Aachen, a possessed woman was brought to him after the mass. When he had read the gospel lesson concerning the Ascension over her head and at these words, "They shall lay hands on sick and they shall recover," had placed his hand upon her head, the devil gave such a terrible roar that we were all terrified. Adjured depart, he replied, "The Most High does not wish it yet." When asked in what manner he entered, he did not reply nor did he permit the woman to reply. Afterward she confessed that when her husband in anger said, "Go to the devil 1" she felt the latter enter through her ear. Moreover that woman was from the province of Aachen and very well known.


Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. VIII, Cap. LIX. (Vol.II, p.131ff)

In a village which is called Holenbach there lived a certain knight named Gerard. His grandsons are still living, and hardly a man can found in that village who does not know the miracle which I am king to tell about him. He loved St. Thomas the Apostle so ardently and honored him so especially above the other saints that he never refused any pauper seeking alms in the name of that one. Moreover he was accustomed to offer to the saint Many private services, such as prayers, fasts and the celebration of masses.

One day, by the permission of God, the devil, the enemy of all good men, knocking at the knight's gate, in the form and dress of a pilgrim, sought hospitality in the name of St. Thomas. He was admitted with all haste and, since it was chilly and he pretended to be catching cold, Gerard gave to him his own fur cape, which was not badly worn, to cover himself with when he went to bed. When the next morning he who had seemed a pilgrim did not appear, and the cape was sought and not found, his wife in anger said to the knight, " You have often been deceived by wanderers of this kind and yet You persist in your superstitions But he replied calmly, "Do not be disturbed, St. Thomas will certainly make good this loss to us." The devil did this in order to provoke the knight to impatience on account of the loss of his cape, and to extinguish in his heart his love for the Apostle. But what the devil had prepared for his destruction redounded to the glory of the knight; by it the latter was incited the more strongly, the former was confused and punished. For after a little time Gerard wanted to go to the abode of St. Thomas, and when he was all ready to start, he broke a gold ring into two pieces before the eyes of his wife, and joining them together in her presence, gave one piece to her and kept the other himself, saying, "You ought to trust this token. Moreover, I ask you to wait five years for my return, and after that you can marry any one you please." And she promised.

He went on a very long journey and at length with great expense and very great labor reached the city of St. Thomas the Apostle. There he was saluted most courteously by the citizens and received with as great kindness as if he had been one of them and well known to them. Ascribing this favor to the blessed Apostle he entered the oratory and prayed, commending himself, his wife, and all his possessions to the saint. After this, remembering the limit fixed, and thinking that the five years ended on that very day, he groaned and said, "Alas! my wife will now marry some other man." God had delayed his journey on account of what is to follow.

When he looked around in sorrow he saw the above mentioned demon walking about in his cape. And the demon said, "Do you know me, Gerard?" He said, it No, I do not know you, but I know cape." The demon replied, "I am he who sought hospitality from you in the name of the Apostle; and I carried off your cape, for which I have been severely punished." And he added, "I am the devil, and I am commanded to carry you back to your own house before nightfall, because your wife has married another man and is now sitting with him at the wedding banquet." Taking him up, the devil crossed in part of a day from India to Germany, from the east to the west, and about twilight placed him in his own house without injury

Entering his own house like a stranger, when he saw his own wife eating with her spouse, he drew near and in her sight taking out the half of the ring, he sent it to her in a cup. When she saw it, she immediately took it out and joining it to the part given to her she recognized him as her husband. Immediately jumping up she rushed to embrace him, proclaiming that he was her husband Gerard and saying good-bye to her spouse. Nevertheless, out of courtesy Gerard kept the latter with him that night.

In this as in the preceding miracle it is sufficiently evident how much the blessed Apostles love and glorify those who love them.


Caesar of Heisterbach, Dist. V, Cap. XVIII. (Vol I, pp. 296, ff.)

Two men simply clad, but not without guile, not sheep but ravening wolves, came to Besançon, feigning the greatest piety. Moreover they were pale and thin, they went about barefooted and fasted daily, they did not miss a single night the matins in the cathedral, nor did they accept anything from any one except a little food. When by such hypocrisy they had attracted the attention of every one, they began to vomit forth their hidden poison and to preach to the ignorant new and unheard of heresies. In order, moreover, that the people might believe their teachings they ordered meal to be sifted on the sidewalk and walked on it without leaving a trace of a footprint. Likewise walking upon the water they could not be immersed; also, they had little huts burnt over their heads, and after those had been burnt to ashes, they came out uninjured. After this they said to the people, 'If you do not believe our words, believe our miracles."

The bishop and the clergy hearing of this were greatly disturbed. And when they wished to resist those men, affirming that they were heretics and deceivers and ministers of the devil, they escaped with difficulty from being stoned by the people. Now that bishop was a good and learned man and a native of our province. Our aged monk, Conrad, who told me these facts and who was in that city at the time, knew him well.

The bishop seeing that his words were of no avail and that the people entrusted to his charge were being subverted from the faith by the devil's agents, summoned a certain clerk that he knew, who was very well versed in necromancy, and said, "Certain men in my city are doing so and so. I ask you to find out from the devil by your art who they are, whence they come, and by what means so many and so wonderful miracles are wrought. For it is impossible that they should do wonders through divine inspiration when their teaching is so contrary to God's." The clerk said, "My lord, I have long renounced that art." The bishop replied, "You see clearly in what straits I am. I must either acquiesce in their teachings or be stoned by the people. Therefore I enjoin upon you for the remission of your sins that yon obey me in this matter."

The clerk, obeying the bishop, summoned the devil, and when asked why he had called him responded, "I am sorry that I have deserted you. And because I desire to be more obedient to you in the future than in the past, I ask you to tell me who these men are, what they teach, and by what means they work so great miracles." The devil replied, "They are mine and sent by me, and they preach what I have placed in their mouths." The clerk responded, "How is it that they cannot be injured, or sunk in the water, or burned by fire?" The demon replied again, "They have under their arm-pits, sewed between the skin and the flesh, my compacts in which the homage done by them to me is written; and by virtue of these they work such miracles and can not be injured by any one." Then the clerk, "What if those should be taken away from them?" The devil replied, "Then they would be weak, just like other men." The clerk having heard this, thanked the demon, saying, "Now go, and when you are summoned by me, return."

He went to the bishop and recited these things to him in order. The latter filled with great joy summoned all the people of the city to a suitable place and said, "I am your shepherd, ye are my sheep. If those men, as you say, confirm their teaching by signs, I will follow them with you. If not, it is fitting that they should be punished and that you should penitently return to the faith of your fathers with me." The people replied, ,We have seen many signs from them. The bishop replied "But I have not seen them." Why protract my words? The plan pleased the people. The heretics were summoned. A fire was kindled in the midst of the city. Nevertheless before the heretics entered it, they were secretly summoned to the bishop. He said to them, "I want to see if you have any evil about you." Hearing this they stripped quickly and said with great confidence, "Search our bodies and our garments carefully." The soldiers, truly, following the instructions of the bishop, raised their arms and noticing under the arm-pits some scars that were healed up broke them open with their knives and extracted from them the little scrolls which had been sewed in.

Having received these the bishop went forth with the heretics to the people and, having commanded silence, cried out in a loud voice, "Now shall your prophets enter the fire, and if they are not injured I will believe in them." The wretched men trembled and said, "We are not able to enter now." Then the bishop told the people of the evil which had been detected, and showed the compacts. Then all furious hurled the devil's ministers, to be tortured with the devil in eternal flames, into the fire which had been prepared. And thus through the grace of God and the zeal of the bishop the growing heresy was extinguished and the people who had been seduced and corrupted were cleansed by penance.

University of Pennsylvania. Dept. of History: Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European history, published for the Dept. of History of the University of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press [1897?-1907?]. Vol II, No 4, pp. 7-11

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© Paul Halsall July 1997

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