And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. . . . Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow; for the morrow will be solicitous for itself.
Gospel of St. Matthew, 6:28, 34.
July 5, 1327. Düngenheim, Germany
Peter and Wilhelm rose in the pews upon hearing Monsignore Stefan tell Johann he was required to come with him. Stefan glanced at them. His brother and nephew looked like a brick wall that had just gone up. All of Peter’s family then stood. Then Augustus, who had the largest farm, and the largest family, in town, stood together with his wife and children. Then the tanner and his wife. Then the Sisters.
“You require me to come with you to where?” Joseph asked.
Stefan, or at least his tone, was unaffected by the sign of support from the villagers.
“You must come with us to Bonn, the Archbishop requires it. And we must bring the casket and its contents as well.”
“I beg your pardon,” Johann said in a humble tone, “but I must doubt that the Archbishop of Cologne would even know my name before this incident. You said you were looking for the blackfriar–for the man who passed. You did not know that you would find him here, so I must doubt that the Archbishop has asked for me in person. Would that be correct?” He did not shy from Stefan’s stern gaze, but he kept his voice low and spoke of facts.
Stefan stared at him a long moment, then he looked around the room, then to the men with him. He reached into his vestments and pulled a rolled-up paper and handed it to Johann.
Johann carefully read the Latin text. “This is a letter from the Archbishop giving you authority in matters of the Fraticelli.”
“This incident concerns the Fraticelli. You have information from that man, which may concern the Fraticelli,” his voice now had an edge to it, “you must come with me until this matter is resolved.”
Peter cleared his throat in a loud manner, to remind the visitors of the presence of the parishioners.
“There will be no discord, I assure you,” Johann said, then looked to his brother specifically. “And I would not resist the decision of the Archbishop, if I knew such a decision had been made. However, I have no information I could tell anyone in Bonn even if I went with you. Matters presented in confession must stay sealed there. I can answer your questions here, or if the archbishop requests my presence, I will humbly go to wherever he decides. I do not mean to disagree with you, or question your authority, Monsignore, but I am a humble parish priest trying to sort out these matters and I cannot simply leave my flock to go with you. I have responsibilities here. I am charged with the protection of these souls.”
Stefan stood silent a moment, his face still stern. Johann noticed the Sisters excusing themselves in the aisle and quietly walking out of the back of the church. Stefan glanced at them, but did not seem to care. He looked back at Johann and, some decision having been made in his head, his face formed into a courteous smile.
“I understand, Father,” he said, just loud enough to be heard by all. “I am certain that the Archbishop will soon request the pleasure of your company. But I will take the body of the Fraticelli with me. That is well within my charge,” he nodded to the letter in Johann’s hands, which Johann returned.
“I have known the poor soul as a blackfriar,” Johann said, “who appears to have been killed and running from something. I will not oppose you in taking him, but I would ask how you know him to be Fraticelli.”
“Often individuals who accept heresies, such as those of Joachim or Dolcino, find themselves unpopular and on the run, Father, when they speak of them. More than that I need not say. I take the casket into my charge and mean to take the body with me so that he can be properly identified elsewhere. I advise that no one interfere with my solemn duties.”
Johann looked at his brother and the crowd in general. He knew every face, he knew that he would be protected if he claimed some kind of right to it, but truthfully he had none. He would investigate further to satisfy himself but he would let them take the blackfriar. He glanced at Peter, who seemed angered. He knew these people would support whatever decision he made, but he knew he could only choose peace.
He glanced around the room again. He had been here five years and he literally knew all of the people here except one. An older man with a white beard and peaceful look, standing with Augustus’ family. Johann was proud to be able to take care of all of these people and their souls. This sign of friendship and support by them meant a great deal to him. But he would not be prideful this day. This Stefan seemed to be who he said he was, a representative of the Archbishop, and he would not allow anyone to fall into danger or be threatened in a house of God.
“I will remain here and wait for a letter from the Archbishop, should he need me, and you may of course take the blackfriar with you,” Johann said.
The tension in the room seemed to clear. Stefan nodded, satisfied for the moment. He gestured to his men who went to examine the casket and the job of moving it.
“Again, it was a beautiful Mass, Father Johann Schwall,” Stefan said with a civil tone. “I do look forward to speaking with you again, in Bonn.”
The following day was the summer festival and the town square was full of life. Father Johann walked the square, watching the dancing, music and events. He expected to get many questions. He got many looks and nods, but few approached him. The events of the night before had an awkwardness about them that made idle discussion with him difficult, he supposed.
He found Augustus at the feat of strength event, watching his son Julian participate. Large stones, mostly rough blocks of slate, were placed before the contestants, mainly younger men, and they competed as to who could lift increasingly larger stones. Peter’s son Wilhelm was also participating.
“Good day,” Johann said, approaching Augustus, the man with the largest farming operation in the village whose family had been at the Mass the night before.
“Father,” he said, nodding to him. Johann stood next to him to watch the event.
“How is the event going?”
“Very well,” said Augustus, he glanced at Johann, “and how are you this day?”
“It is a more peaceful one so far, and that is fine with me,” Johann said with a smile.
“So you will go to Bonn if summoned there?” Augustus asked, showing concern and getting right to the point.
“If I must I must. We shall see.”
“I know that you are aware of this, but this is the archbishopric of Trier,” he said proudly–Augustus and his family had always fancifully claimed they descended from the Romans, who had once had a large base in Trier. “Neither Stefan nor his Heinrich has any direct authority here.”
Johann nodded his thanks at the thoughtful argument, “This is so. We exist in a middle space in many ways with the Archbishopric of the Trier above us, that of Cologne beside us and we are under the lordship of the nuns in Bremm at Stuben, whom we do not see. But as a Franciscan, Heinrich has a broad reach. These newer orders, such as the Franciscans, can operate outside the structures we are familiar with, my friend, and Pope John, I have heard, wants to make friends with Heinrich. He and Stefan may have all the authority they need.”
“And Baldwin, Archbishop of Trier, is Emperor Louis’ ally, Father Johann. They are not afraid of Pope John’s chosen favorites. Hopefully he would not want you to go.”
“I serve at the Holy Father’s pleasure, and I don’t expect the events here to rise to that level of intrigue,” Johann said with a smile. “The soul who passed here may yet prove to be less mysterious than everyone seems to think. Perhaps he really is a spiritual Franciscan who criticized some landholder in a way that displeased his people, and he was forced to run for his life.”
Augustus nodded, his face showing doubt. He often saw grand designs in the coincidences of the day, Johann noted.
“We don’t really know who hurt the blackfriar,” Augustus finally replied, his voice now low and filled with concern as he glanced sideways at Johann. “You would know more about monsignores and such than I, but those men with him had the look and stance of warriors. Former military men, Templars perhaps. I saw no swords on them, but many such men are mercenaries now and could do such a thing, if ordered. I’m not certain I, or the village, would want you entrusted to their care.”
Johann watched the event, pondering the words of Augustus but not responding. Wilhelm appeared to be beating Julian handily, but Wilhelm had a good three years on Augustus’ son.
“What do you think of this Fraticelli business?” Augustus asked.
“Many things once unified are now split,” Johann responded as he considered the issues. “Pope John has taken his stance against the Fraticelli, the followers of Francis who have wandered toward heresy. So the Emperor, who was excommunicated by John, takes his stance in support of them. But certainly all of those who claim that the teachings of Francis are their own are not saints, so a line must be drawn. And, I suppose, enforced by someone.”
“You believe that the blackfriar was a Fraticelli?”
“I don’t know,” Johann looked at Augustus. “and it is not for me to decide. May I now ask you a question?”
“The man with your family at the service yesterday, I did not recognize him. Was he a relative of some sort?”
“There was no man with us yesterday, Father. I believe we sat next to an elderly gentleman, but he was not one of us.”
“Perhaps a visitor to town, then,” Johann said. “You have no idea who he was?”
“None,” replied Augustus.
The event was over and Wilhelm had prevailed.
“Thank you Augustus, may God bless your family.”
Augustus nodded and smiled, and went to console his son. Johann began a walk to his next destination at the edge of town.
There was no activity at the House of the Sisters as he approached. He knocked at the door. There was no response. Johann glanced around and knocked again more solidly and the door pushed through to the inside. He saw no one there.
He stuck his head inside the now-open door. “Good day,” he said loudly, “is anyone home?”
After a moment he walked in. It was clear immediately that the Sisters had left and the house was vacant. He walked through the rooms. No personal items had been left. Furnishings remained, farm implements, but everything that could be easily and hastily packed was gone. The Sisters had fled.
Perhaps it was something to do with the blackfriar, but more likely Johann believed it was the visit of Stefan. There had seemed to be a tension between them. They knew each of other perhaps, or the Sisters preferred to remain anonymous and left upon discovery by authorities. Out of fear? Caution? It was impossible to guess. Perhaps this explained their reluctance to speak of themselves for the past five years? Johann just did not know. In the last few days so many questions had piled up, with very few answers.
As a pastor priest he felt a certain guilt. He should have inquired to know more about them in the past years. It was clear enough now that they were either a danger themselves or feared a danger of some kind. He should have pushed the situation to know more.
He glanced around the rooms again. On his way out he noticed that they had left something. On the small table in the front room remained the small wooden statue of Francis, and on either side of it were two plants in a V-shape.
On one side was a small branch of rosemary. On the other was a lily. They crossed at the bottom.
Father Johann picked up the lily and carried it with him as he went back to the festival. Was it a coincidence that they brought him rosemary to the Masses and now here was a piece with a sprig of lily? Was it the Sisters’ way of saying goodbye to him? Or, were they sending him a message of some kind? If so, what could it be?
Johann began his way back to the town square, spinning the lily in his hand and looking at it. For five years now he had been the shepherd to this town, and felt very much as though it was his life’s calling. He and Peter had lost their parents early in life and had lived with relatives, always moving from one to another until he was 15, when he entered the seminary and Peter went off to work. Johann enjoyed the calm and predictability of this small town, this life he led. Something about the wild winds let loose in this age, always bringing change and strife, bothered him to his core. He felt tucked away from them here, he felt stable and secure, as if he could contribute to the world had here. To bring these people to the Lord and keep them, as much as he could, in His graces.
But it seemed to him that those winds of constant change were coming to find him again here. Augustus was conspiracy-minded, but it did seem that a powerful archbishop would now have his fate in his hands. And once that occurred, there was no telling what might happen. He knew it was logical to think that he was an unambitious priest in a small village and that no one of power would concern themselves with him, but he couldn’t avoid the feeling that the death of the blackfriar right before his eyes had changed all of that. All his training was to trust in the Lord, but he could not help but feel fear, as though he was slowly losing his balance.
“May I have that?”
He looked down to see the tanner’s daughter looking up at him with her bright smile. It shook Johann from his thoughts and he saw the tanner watching them from a distance.
“They don’t grow in town, and it’s so pretty, Father,” she said with excitement.
“Good day, Cora,” he said. “Yes, yes you may.” He handed her the lily.
“Thank you!” Cora said and ran back toward her parents, who smiled and waved at him.
He spent a few hours at the festival, visiting with people, then returned to the Church. With everyone at the summer festival, the church was empty. He walked to the first pew, knelt and made the sign of the cross.
“Heavenly Father, I pray for my parishioners and the welfare of their souls,” he prayed aloud. “For all of the sick and the poor, for all of those in power and authority—that they make their decisions by seeking what would be pleasing to You.”
“I must confess that, as far as myself, I think of the words of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of St. Matthew this day. Christ advised that we should worry only about today, and let tomorrow worry about itself. I pray again for the ability to heed his advise, and the assistance of the Holy Spirit in my attempts.
“Men came to look for the blackfriar and took him,” he continued. “They threatened also to take me. They may be men of peace, but you know that I can fret about the many uncertainties that life presents. Aid me in calming myself, calming my heart. Sometimes my mind can spin like the lilies in the field.”
He stopped, silent for a long moment.
“Grant me your peace, oh Lord. These things I ask in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
He stood up and looked around the Church, as if lost thought for a moment, then he smiled and rushed out the door.
Johann walked through the field of lilies, away from the road. It was evening now. The sun was ducking behind the tree line and it was getting more difficult to see, but he kept moving toward the middle of the field.
The tanner’s daughter was right. He could think of nowhere where lilies grew close to town. If someone wanted to find them, they went to the wild lily field up the eastern road. Young couples would come out here to have a meal or a moment away—Johann had even sent a few of them, embarrassed and scurrying, out of this very spot over the past few years.
Seeing no one, he spoke loud enough to be heard through the whole field. “Lily?” he said.
“Yes, Father,” he heard in the distance. He saw her even further from the road and went in that direction. “You got my message!”
He nodded as he approached. “I did. You’ve left your home?”
She frowned. “Hilda says it’s not safe there anymore, and we agreed it was time to go.”
“Safe from what?” he asked.
“From rumor, I guess. From authorities. From inquisition. I’ve heard that other Beguines have been chased away or persecuted for no reason at all! We have to go back where it’s safe.”
“Because of the arrival of Stefan?”
“We don’t know Stefan,” she said, shaking her head, then corrected herself. “I don’t think any of us do, anyhow. But he has a stern look and a sterner master. He is a type of person it is safest for those such as us to avoid.”
“You fear the Archbishop of Cologne? Where would you run from him?” he said, realizing the answer before she gave it.
“Cologne of course,” she said with a smile.
Heinrich the Second was Archbishop of Cologne in name only. As powerful and influential as he may be, both politically and spiritually, Cologne was protected as a free city, and the emperor had more than implied that the free cities would decide matters for themselves. The town leaders were still men of faith, but the Archbishop held no authority over them. So Heinrich operated out of Bonn, and controlled the archdiocese, but had no say in the city itself, and was not welcome there.
“And you should go too,” Lily said, happy and nervous to finally be making her point.
“To Cologne?” Johann asked, surprised. “Whatever for?”
“Because it’s safer for you, Father. You are a kind man. You don’t know about men such as Stefan and Heinrich.”
“Are you suggesting I’m in danger from the Archbishop, Lily?”
“No, yes,” she shook her head. “I don’t know. I convinced Hilda that we should invite you to travel with us. The eyes of the world may be turning on the village, Father. When that happens, it becomes dangerous for everyone.”
“Why would there be so much attention on Düngenheim, Lily?”
She stood silent, considering how she could answer that. She reached into a small satchel she had with her and handed Johann a small parchment.
“I had Hilda copy that for you. I have one myself. It is a few words I once heard from a great speaker, a preacher. I keep them with me to read when I feel alone. Maybe you’ll understand when you can read them.”
Johann looked down at the scrap of parchment. He couldn’t make out the words with the evening turning to night around him. He nodded and placed the parchment in a pocket he had sewn into the inside of his tunic.
“I will read them upon my return, and I appreciate your warning. But I am a pastor priest, that is my life, my flock needs me. To run from that is to run from myself.”
Lily looked disappointed, but smiled at him nonetheless.
“There are things I wish I could say, but I’ve promised I wouldn’t,” she said. “If you come to Cologne we’ll find you. If you don’t, then I beg you to beware of the dangers, Father Johann.”
Copyright 2012 JD Pierce, Traditium.