Legends of the Blessed Virgin – The Saint

Legends of the Blessed Virgin, by Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de PlancyAfter some most truthful remarks on the folly of the past age in seeking all its legends and fable from classic mythology, the author just cited continues: “We shall find many a stirring legend in old dusty moth-eaten books written by simple-minded men; or, at the chimney-corner in some village, far from the haunts of modern society, listening to the tales of the country folk. There you will find those touching and eloquent traditions, whose authority no one will venture to contest, which pass from generation to generation as a pious inheritance from the lips of the elders. These recitals can afford no subject for discussion; they defy the criticism of an exacting reason which contracts the soul, and a disdainful philosophy which withers it; they are not confined to the limits of ordinary occurrences, or even those of possibility, for that which is considered to be impossible at the present day, was doubtless possible formerly, when the world was younger and more innocent than it now is, was worthy of the miracles God wrought in it, when angels and saints could associate, without much derogation of their heavenly character, with its simple and innocent people, whose life was spent between labour and the practice of good works. . . .

“O, you, my friends, from whom the divine light which illuminated man on the day of his creation has not been withdrawn; you, who still possess a soul to believe, to love, and to feel; you, into whose minds no thoughts of despair of yourselves or your future state ever enter, come and share with me in those enchanting words which revive in our hearts the ages of simplicity and of virtue. But delay not I conjure you! Tomorrow, perhaps, will be too late. The spirit of progress has told you that it advances, and the monster takes huge strides indeed. All the ills which writing draws after her, all the evils of printing, her perverse and fruitful sister, menace the destruction of the last asylums of ancient modesty, piety, and innocence, under an escort of gloomy pedants. In a few years, this new world, which the genius of evil will seize upon in its cradle, will be versed in an absurd system of learning, but will be ignorant of God. A few more years, and the small remnant of the children of nature will be as dull and as wicked as their masters. Let us then hasten to listen to these delicious tales of the people, before they have forgotten them; before they have learned to blush at them, and before their chaste poetry, ashamed of her state of innocence shall cover herself with a veil, like Eve, exiled from Paradise.

“For my part, I have resolved never to recount or listen to any other histories than these. The one I am about to relate is drawn from an old biographer, called Bzovius, a continuator of Baronvus, but little known. . . .

“Not far from the highest point of Jura, on the declivity of its western side, there might be seen fifty years ago, a group of ruins, which once formed part of the monastery of our Lady of the Flowering Thorn. It is on the extremity of a narrow and deep defile, but much more sheltered on the northern side, where, thanks to this protection, the rarest flowers of the country flourish. Half a league hence, the opposite extremity shows the remains of an ancient lordly manor-house, which has disappeared with the house of God. All we know is, that it was inhabited by a family renowned in arms, and that the last of these knights, whose name it bears, died at the conquest of his Blessed Lord’s tomb in Palestine, without leaving any heir to succeed him. His widow, unconsolable at his loss, would not abandon the spot endeared to her by his memory, but by her pious acts perpetuated her remembrance in the minds of the people far around, by whom she was then and is still known by the name of ‘the Saint’.

“On one of the last days of winter, the Saint was walking according to her custom in the long avenue leading to her castle, occupied in heavenly contemplation. She thus reached the thorn bush which then, as now, terminated the avenue, when to her utter astonishment she perceived that one of the thorns was already covered with its spring flowers. She hurried on to the spot, to assure herself whether it was not some remains of snow which caused it to assume this appearance, but she was delighted to see her first impressions confirmed by an immense number of little white star-like flowers with carnation rays. She carefully gathered a branch to suspend in her oratory before a much-venerated image of the Blessed Virgin. Whether this small tribute of love was agreeable to the Mother of Jesus, or that some indefinable feeling of pleasure is reserved for tender hearts in the performance of the least act of affection towards the object of its esteem, never had the lady of the castle experienced more sweet emotions than she did on the evening on which she made her offering. So that she resolved to renew the tribute every day. We can easily believe that she kept this resolution faithfully.

“One day, however, when the care of the poor and the sick had retained her in the village longer than usual, she had to hurry in order to reach her wild flower garden. Night advanced, and it is said she began to regret being out so late, when a pure and brilliant light burst forth over the thorn bush, showing its flowers as clearly as in the day. She stopped for an instant, fearing this unusual light might proceed from bandits, or some other cause she could not divine. But remembering her resolution, she boldly advanced and seized one of the branches, which seemed to drop into her hand, so little effort did it require to break it; she then hastened towards the house without daring to look back.

“During the whole night the Saint reflected on this strange phenomenon, without being able to solve it. Anxious to satisfy her mind on the subject, she repaired to the bush the next evening at the same hour, accompanied by a venerable priest, her chaplain, and two attendants. They saw the heavenly light again hovering over the bush, which, as they approached, increased in brilliancy. They then stopped and knelt, out of reverence, at this wondrous sight, and the good priest rising, approached respectfully towards the bush, chanting a hymn of the Church, and pushed it aside without difficulty. The sight which then struck their eyes so astounded them, that they remained for some time motionless, penetrated with gratitude and joy. It was an image of the Blessed Virgin carved with much simplicity in common wood, and coloured with little skill. From this figure proceeded the luminous appearance around. “Hail, Mary! full of grace,” at length exclaimed the chaplain, falling on his knees, and from the delicious music which answered his salutation one would have thought that the bush was filled with celestial spirits. He then recited the Litany of Loreto, which the assistants answered, and raising the image from its wooden pedestal carried it with reverence to the castle, where it was destined to occupy a more worthy sanctuary, while the lady and her attendants followed, joining their prayers with those of the priest.

“I need not dilate upon the care taken to surround the image of our Lady with all the elegant and costly materials in the oratory of the lady of the castle. Yet in the morning it was not to be found, and the alarm was great at its sudden disappearance. What secret sin could have deprived the lady of the manor – the Saint – of this honoured statue of our Lady? . . Why had our Lady quitted her? What new resting-place had she chosen?

“The reader has doubtless devised the solution of this question. The Blessed Mother of God had preferred the modest shelter of the thorn-bush to the exquisitely carved oratory of the lady of the castle. She had returned to her first abode to enjoy the quiet of its solitude and the fragrance of its flowers. All the inhabitants of the castle returned to the bush in the evening, and found it more brilliantly illumined than on the eve. They fell on their knees in respectful silence.

“‘Powerful Queen of Queens,’ said the Saint, ‘since this spot is so favoured by your gracious pleasure, your will shall be obeyed.’ And in a short time a splendid chapel, on which all the skill of the first architects of the day was lavished, reared its fretted vaults over our Lady’s image. The great and powerful ones of the earth enriched it with their gifts. Kings endowed it with a tabernacle of gold. The miracles worked at this shrine were soon known over the whole Christian world. A great many pious women came and settled in the valley and formed a community of religious. The good widow, moved by divine grace, entered it and was elected superior. She died there after a long life of good deeds, by which she increased the renown of the sanctuary.”

Such is, according to the manuscript chronicles of the province, the origin of the foundation of the church and convent of “Our Lady of the Flowering Thorn” This convent, two centuries later, is said to be the scene of the legend of Sister Beatrice.