The Appearance of St Vaast

Editions:

This translation is based on the AASS text, corrected from Arras, Bibliothèque Municipale, Ms.734 (s.XI), ff.63-69. My thanks to Pascal Rideau for assisting with access to this manuscript.

The Letter of Hubert the Priest to Haimin.

Doing my best to satisfy your instructions, my dearest instructor, I will thoroughly reveal the depths of my own ignorance, and will describe the vision manifestly shown by the revelation of the most holy Vaast to a certain person, a poor carpenter named Dagobert. I give this to you so its style can be improved from what it is into something better ornamented: for I would prefer to incur the fault of ignorance than presume to deny to you, my lord, whatever might seem right. Let your Paternity hear therefore through my rustic words the whole account of what happened. Then, if there is anything in it worthy of commemoration, you may remove the crudeness of its style, and write it down on its own little sheets of parchment, as seems pleasing.

An account of what happened.

On a Wednesday as the third hour was approaching, the harvesters of Imbod the priest, my paternal uncle, were returning from the fields, and by chance they passed by the hut of the carpenter I have mentioned, that is Dagobert. His little wife was standing in front of the door, repeatedly beating her unhappy breast with her fists, tearing her hair with her hands, and wailing – broken down indeed with too much grief. One of the men asked her what grief was affecting her in this way: she replied that it was the very great danger for her husband, who was now held in the last moments of life. And she added that she was very greatly afflicted by the fact that her husband was about to depart from this world suddenly, without the grace of penance and communion.

When he [the harvester] heard this, he once made his way to me, and unhappily informed me about it, for I did not know. As soon as I heard, I was stupefied, fearing that if he passed beyond this world without penance and viaticum, I would be held guilty on the day of the Lord’s great final judgement for the sheep entrusted to me. Trusting however in the Lord’s clemency, I speedily got up, and taking with me the mystery of the life-giving body and blood of Lord, I hurried with quick step to the house of the ill man. Consumed by his long illness, he was not only unable to speak, but could not even lift up his eyes to see, even a little. I sat, grieving, in front of his bed for almost two hours. At last, he began to open a little his eyes which had been closed for so long, and anxiously to cast his gaze around here and there. When I saw this, I asked him if he recognised me at all. He replied that he knew me very well indeed. I asked him, “Do you wish, in the custom of other men, to take penance, and to be strengthened by the Lord’s viaticum before you leave from here?”. He replied “Oh lord, I will willingly do whatever you order, provided I am worthy”. When my ears heard these words, I became more cheerful in my soul, and I said to his wife that she should moisten his lips with some water, so that he might more easily be able to say a few words. This was done at once. Then, after he had undertaken penance, and accepted the Lord’s supper according to custom, he was so slow in movement that it seemed he would not make it to the end of the day at dusk, let alone to the light of the next day. Leaving him there, I returned home, having no hope whatsoever for his recovery.

However, in the evening, and after a part of the night had passed, his wife saw him buried in such immobility that she tried to address him with sweet words, to comfort him and so that he might be somewhat mindful of her. At last he sighed heavily from the bottom of his heart, and with all the effort he could manage, he said “Oh dearest former wife, why you bother me so much? Why do you take away from me the experience of such glory? Or can you not see that the whole of our wretched little dwelling shines with an ineffable brightness? Cease, I beg you, to disturb me with your laments, and let me be amongst these joys for a while, which I experienced a little before I was woken up by you”. To these words, the woman fell silent. He however took up again the repose he had mentioned – and he does not cease up to now to set out in clear explanation what was divinely shown to him. He says that he saw Saint Vaast, our patron, standing before him and asking him what he was doing, and in whom he had placed his hope. When he replied that he was doing the best he could, and that he trusted in the mercy of God, and in the help of his patron Saint Vaast, he [the saint] said “Good”. Then, taking some saliva from his own mouth with his finger, he [Vaast] touched the man’s mouth with it, saying “Take care, that no fear of a priest, a lord, a judge or a master should scare you from now on. Instead, fearlessly repeat all these things which are commanded by me to you, in their order. I warn you not to cover over even one word in silence, giving credence to foolhardiness: I command that you reveal to each person the truth of the matter as it is, which you will clearly hear.

First of all, take care speedily to repeat these commands to the younger priest of this church, Hubert, in this way: “Watch out very carefully that you do not grow weary of what you have begun, and that you do not become diverted by those things which are not useful. But make the effort to persevere in finishing the journey you have started with such effort, so that you will be able to reach all the way to the end without any blame”. Then report this to his uncle, that is Imbod: he is idling in solicitude for outward things, and has little care for the utility of our church. “Unless you hastily correct yourself from this kind of anxiety, and make an effort to restore what is necessary to our church, know that you will henceforth lack my favour, and that of the Lord, and that there will be a greater sign for you than that which you currently possess.”

Do not fear to repeat these things with the greatest diligence to Adelgis, the lord of this village. “Dagobert, the famous former king of the Franks and founder of this village, gave to our church with a charter and his own seal a certain portion of land and slaves (vernaculi). This remained intact right up to the time of the wicked Eccard, who was in charge of this village. Then, led by jealousy that such there should be such a donation to this church of Arras, he [Eccard] added to his own sins: and he divided up the portion already mentioned, boldly keeping one part for himself, and leaving the other to the church. But he suffered a deserved retribution for this bold deed not long afterwards. For suddenly deprived of the favour of his lord the king, he lost the village, and was deprived of the solace of all things. At the end, when as an old man he was trying to do sport on horseback, he was thrown to the ground by the horse, and the wretched man broke his own hip. From that day even until now, he goes about his way with the support of a crutch. So, mindful of him, lest you suffer something similar, take care to quickly restore to the church all things which were ours. You will not be affected by any poverty as a result, if you attempt to obey our commands: rather you will be the more enriched, and made happier than ever before.””

Lest wordiness breed contempt, I have decided not to write to your Paternity [Haimin] what he said about the lime kiln, which he ordered to be built nearby in the wood, and about asking the help of neighbouring people to finish a certain work, and about replacing the rafters, and about finishing the building which Herrard the founder of this church was unable to complete, prevented by death.

He said this also: “Proclaim on my behalf these words to Winfrid the judge: that he should not  torment the familia of this place without cause, or perhaps he shall have the same punishment bought by Gilbert, who for a long time had the same office. For he, like Eccard, went about his way up to his death with the help of a crutch. Let him therefore return the twelve pence which he undeservedly took from Ebruin. As for Ebruin, he should understand that because he dared unfairly to subjugate our familia to his own service, he lost the use of his right eye, and his own daughter was paralysed in part of her body so that now she hardly seeks to obtain any further recovery. Hubert was greatly upset on account of these slaves (mancipia), when they were removed from this place. So too at first was Imbod. But afterwards he gave his agreement, lest John, who was married to his niece, should lose some slaves (vernaculi) of that family (prosapia), which he was seen to be holding. Advising in this matter was Oricus the mayor, who was shown to be the head of this wickedness, and of other similar ones. He was wretchedly punished for this, and now pays the merited price for his wickedness every day. Order those already-mentioned priests to coerce with strict penance those caught up in the oath, through which our slaves (mancipia) were taken away, and to bring them back at some point to the remedy of reconciliation: so that they should not give their agreement to a similar suggestion again, nor dare stretch their own hands for such a wicked oath.

You must take care henceforth to reveal in clear speech all things which have been commanded to you. Nor should you presume to bestow any service (servitium) to anyone from now on except to our house. If the already mentioned lord of this place should return you with your own farm-holding (cum proprio manso) to the church, pay attention to how much of the required service (debitum servitium) you are capable of. If this does not happen, let our matricula alone suffice for you. For you will not be lacking in necessary provisions for as long as you are subjected to our ministers.” With these words, he at last finished speaking.

As the day’s dawn began to shine, the sick man, that is Dagobert, began to speak softly to his own wife, asking her if she had anything which he might be able to eat. When she replied that she had a part of a fresh cheese, he said to her “Please, bring it to me, and along with it a little beer if you have some, so I can drink it”. When these things were brought, he ate a little. Strengthened with this food, he continued without eating until the dawn of the day after, that is Friday. When it was fully light, he said to his wife, “Bring me please my normal shoes. It seems hard to me that for such a long period of time I and my little children have been here without any fire, affected by great cold. If I am able to find somewhere a wagon with oxen, you will see me quickly back here again with timber from the woods on it”. Greatly surprised and dumbfounded by this, she stayed sitting in her chair. He saw that she was dumbfounded, and said “Don't be surprised, oh wife! For assisted by the mercy of the Lord, and supported by the help of my patron Saint Vedast, who strengthened me last night, you will see what I say fulfilled.” And it was soon carried out in this way. For he put on his normal clothes and took his stick, and borrowing the wagon of a neighbour, he went to the wood, and as he had said, he quickly returned to his own home with a loaded wagon. This seemed to all those who were able to see and hear it very wonderful: that a man, debilitated by such a lengthy illness and who had been brought just three days before to the very end, should so suddenly recover and attempt to carry out such a thing beyond his strength, and nor afterwards suffer any inconvenience. But he confessed, as is certainly true, that he had done it not by his own strength, but by the clemency and support of Saint Vedast.

Nor do I think that it should be covered in silence: that this man, who had previously been slow to speak and lisping, was endowed by this revelation with such a force of speaking, that he is now able to say more properly in a single hour than previously he had been able to say in an entire day.

[The text is followed by a short dedication poem to Haimin,not translated here]