The day before Christmas, in the year of our Lord 722.
Broad snow-meadows glistening white along the banks of the river
Moselle; pallid hill-sides blooming with mystic roses where the
glow of the setting sun still lingered upon them; an arch of
clearest, faintest azure bending overhead; in the center of the
aerial landscape of the massive walls of the cloister of Pfalzel,
gray to the east, purple to the west; silence over all,--a
gentle, eager, conscious stillness, diffused through the air like
perfume, as if earth and sky were hushing themselves to hear the
voice of the river faintly murmuring down the valley.
In the cloister, too, there was silence at the sunset hour. All
day long there had been a strange and joyful stir among the nuns.
A breeze of curiosity and excitement had swept along the
corridors and through every quiet cell.
The elder sisters,--the provost, the deaconess, the stewardess,
the portress with her huge bunch of keys jingling at her
girdle,--had been hurrying to and fro, busied with household
cares. In the huge kitchen there was a bustle of hospitable
preparation. The little bandy-legged dogs that kept the spits
turning before the fires had been trotting steadily for many an
hour, until their tongues hung out for want of breath. The big
black pots swinging from the cranes had bubbled and gurgled and
shaken and sent out puffs of appetizing steam.
St. Martha was in her element. It was a field-day for her
The younger sisters, the pupils of the convent, had forsaken
their Latin books and their embroidery-frames, their manuscripts
and their miniatures, and fluttered through the halls in little
flocks like merry snow-birds, all in black and white, chattering
and whispering together. This was no day for tedious task-work,
no day for grammar or arithmetic, no day for picking out
illuminated letters in red and gold on stiff parchment, or
patiently chasing intricate patterns over thick cloth with the
slow needle. It was a holiday. A famous visitor had come to the
It was Winfried of England, whose name in the Roman tongue was
Boniface, and whom men called the Apostle of Germany. A great
preacher; a wonderful scholar; he had written a Latin grammar
himself,--think of it,--and he could hardly sleep without a book
under his pillow; but, more than all, a great and daring
traveller, a venturesome pilgrim, a high-priest of romance.
He had left his home and his fair estate in Wessex; he would not
stay in the rich monastery of Nutescelle, even though they had
chosen him as the abbot; he had refused a bishopric at the court
of King Karl. Nothing would content him but to go out into the
wild woods and preach to the heathen.