|Giotto di Bondone: St. Francis and his followers before the Pope|
Your dauntless blogger is feeling a bit - well, daunted. Life has become rather busy for me of late, and I don't currently have time to keep feeding you ridiculously detailed historical tidbits in the style to which you've become accustomed. So for a little while, until life calms down, I'm trying something different: excerpts, outtakes, snippets, and other shards of things already written. Plus, I hope, more wonderful guest posts like the one by Judith Starkston that I was able to share with you last week.
This first one is a scene that didn't make it into my book A Thing Done. It has to do with a follower of Francis of Assisi, a man named Bartolo. The situation, in brief, is that Corrado the Jester (my POV character) and his friend Neri, for different reasons, find themselves in a bit of a bind regarding making a pre-Easter confession. A recent church council (November 1215, and it's now early 1216 [modern dating]) has proclaimed that such confessions must be made to one's parish priest. This presents certain problems.
Here's the excerpt, and following it you'll find a brief explanation of why it didn't make it into the final version of the book. Enjoy!
"Neri, there must be hundreds of people in this city committing adultery, or fornication, or sinning by wanting to."
He gave me a weak grin. "Well, if you're going to include wanting to, you're probably right," he said, sounding for a moment more like his old self. But then he grew serious again. "The thing is, I'm actually doing it. It's against God's law, and it's against the city's law. And the worst of it is, Ghisola could be punished for it. She's a good woman; she doesn't deserve that." True, I thought. Neither of you deserves that.
"And they could make me become a public penitent, like those people we just saw." Neri looked miserable.
I considered what he had said. "Well, yes, I suppose they could, but it isn't very likely, is it? I mean, nobody's denouncing you, or complaining, are they?" Had Marietta decided she wanted him back?
"No. But I know I'm doing it, and if I confess it in my own parish, he'll have to tell me to repent and give her up. And I can't do it." His face crumpled. "I can't give up Ghisola. And I can't put her at risk, and I can't promise to repent if I'm not going to. So what can I do?"
This was a problem. Eventually I suspected things would settle into their usual patterns, but for this first year of the papal edict, things could get difficult, as the priests tried to figure out their new responsibilities to their parishes. Punishment for adultery could be barbaric, ruining people's lives and sometimes their bodies. I didn't want to see Ghisola and Neri used as an example, which was certainly one possible result of his confession, but on the other hand he was obviously going to feel terrible if he couldn't take Easter communion.
"I'm sorry I was so unsympathetic about your confession before," he said. "I didn't think about how it would feel, to have something really serious on your soul."
"Do you think living with Ghisola is a serious sin?" A thought struck me. "You'd marry her if you were free to, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, of course I would, but I'm not free. Marietta hasn't died." Neri said it almost indignantly. Damned inconsiderate of her, I thought. She always was a self-centered little vixen.
I punched my fist into my palm. "Neri, I've got it. Let's go find Father Bartolo, and we can both confess to him."
"But the law--"
"I know. But it's better than not confessing at all, isn't it?"
"Maybe," he said, sounding unconvinced. "But would he even take our confession now? Won't he get in trouble?"
"He won't care. He's a good soul, but he's not so fussy about the details. It's why I've always liked him."
"But the new law says if we don't confess to our parish priest, we're excommunicated."
"Did we have to do that last year?"
"Then why do you think we're going to endanger our immortal souls if we do it this year? Why is this year so different from last year?"
He didn't have a ready answer for that.
"Besides," I said, "I'm not sure that's what it said, exactly. What I remember hearing when they announced it is that we have to confess to the parish priest, and if we don't confess we're excommunicated. So, if we don't confess to Father Pietro, but we do confess, then we messed up on the first part, but we still aren't excommunicated."
"I don't know--I don't think that works." Neri sounded skeptical, and I couldn't blame him. Theology was not my strength.
"Well, how about this, then," I said. "We confess the really bad things, the big sins, to Father Bartolo. Then we go confess everything else to Father Pietro. That covers everything."
Neri still looked dubious. "Father Pietro will ask us if we've made a full confession."
"And we will have! We'll confess everything we've got left. Even I will, even if it takes me all week!"
Neri chuckled at that, and I could see he was considering the idea. I didn't want to push too much, so I suggested we think about it for a while and then talk again in a few days.
We left the subject for the time being and returned home, but Neri was noticeably more cheerful, and the next day, when Ghisola stopped in to bring us an eel pie, she wound up staying the night. I wondered how she felt about all of this, but we had no opportunity to talk out of Neri's hearing before the two of them withdrew to their alcove.
As it fell out, he and I both decided Father Bartolo was our best choice. Neri wanted to start with him and then move on to Father Pietro, as we had discussed; I privately thought I might both start and end with Bartolo, but I let Neri assume my plans were the same as his. And maybe I would eventually make confession to Father Pietro--I just didn't know.
I said I'd find Bartolo, which took me a while, because we weren't the only ones looking for a creative solution to our confession problems. We set up a time and place and then we purchased some dried fruit and good bread to take him, as thanks for his efforts. As a mendicant he would have none of our coins, though not all were so careful. Father Bartolo took his job as confessor seriously, impatient as he was with church rules.
We met him just inside the city walls, in a stand of cherry trees whose former owner had been exiled. The cherries were everyone's now, at least until someone succeeded in claiming the land, which we all hoped would not happen before this year's crop ripened and could be harvested. Bartolo had tidied up a bit for the occasion, but even his best undyed robe was patched and snagged, and I suspected it had been a long time since he had removed the dirt from anything any better hidden than his hands and his face. He accepted Neri's bag of dried apricots and plums and heard him out while I waited, out of earshot, and he sent my friend away smiling.
"All right?" I asked Neri, as I passed him on my way to Bartolo.
"Fine. He gave me a reasonable penance, and he said God recognizes that men are weak and can't always adhere to the law. That's why we have penance, he says."
I wasn't sure how theologically sound that was, but it was a joy to see Neri looking happy for the first time in weeks. I clasped his hand and went to the waiting preacher to take my turn.
After I knelt and murmured the preliminary formulae, I broke with tradition and simply told Father Bartolo, straight out, what the business was that I was entangled in. He listened with considerable interest, making an occasional comment and stroking his beard--and I couldn't help imagining fleas and other vermin hopping out of that tangled gray beard as he stroked it. When I was finished, he stood for a moment lost in thought. Finally he shook his head.
"Many in your story have sinned already, and others have yet to do so."
"And what of my sin, Father?"
"You sinned, as you well know, by taking the second knight's money. In your defense, it's true you would have been in some danger had you not done so, but our Lord expects good Christians to be willing to martyr themselves when necessary."
That left me short of being a good Christian, I supposed, because I was a lot less than willing.
"As far as I can see, that act of greed was the extent of your sin, for all of the rest was beyond your control. And even that was under some duress. I don't say your sin is light, for much ill may come of it, but I do say that whatever happens, you mustn't think your own guilt the equal of those who intend harm to another."
That made sense, and I felt a weight lift from my shoulders upon hearing it. It was the sort of rationalization I might have made myself, but it was different, and more meaningful, hearing it from a man of the church. Even if the man was dirty, bedraggled, and fairly disreputable. I knew Father Bartolo to be a good man, if unconventional, and his judgment meant something to me.
He gave me a modest penance and absolved me. We went our separate ways, Father Bartolo carrying the bread and me carrying less guilt than I had in weeks. I did brood a little, though, on how my story would resolve, and I hoped Buondelmonte had an image of St. Christopher somewhere and he attended to it daily.
Why this didn't make the final cut: it's anachronistic. Not by much, as it turns out. Francis, whose order had not even been made official yet at this date, did indeed have followers, and as of 1209 he had a priest among them (Sylvester, a cousin of Francis's follower Chiara, or Claire, who like Francis would become a saint after her lifetime). Francis had probably even been to Florence by this time. But his little flock still consisted of only a few men in 1216; history records all or most of their names, and I could find no evidence that they went off on their own, preaching in different cities, this early. Thus, Bartolo, being my own invention and a solo mendicant, was a man slightly ahead of his time, and he had to go. A decade later, he would have been fine - and his scruffy description would probably have been about right.
|Sylvester casting demons out of Arezzo, per Francis's command|
Images in this post are both frescos by Giotto; they are in the public domain by virtue of it having been way more than 100 years after the artist's death.