« PreviousContinue »
Mr. Constance. At this distant period, it is almost impossible to say what course ought to have been pursued, in combating the errors and previous religious notions of a barbarous people. That St. Boniface is charged with using objectionable means, I believe is undisputed ; but it is also recorded of him, that while he considered it necessary to descend to superstitious customs, to make an impression upon the unenlightened, he never failed to prefer and to use fair argument with those whom he conceived capable of understanding him. But to overcome existing prejudices and ancient customs is an arduous task, and requires the powerful aid of firmness of character, joined to an acute understanding ; and I think that the best proof of the fitness of Boniface for his office, is in the fact that he converted a greater number of infidels than any missionary who ever travelled through Germany. He was also the friend of the venerable Bede, whose character was noticed last month. But now, William, we will attend to your account of the next remarkable day.
WILLIAM. The 11th of this month is commemorative of St. Barnabas, who, you all no doubt know, fell a victim in the cause of Christianity. His proper name is said to have been Joses or Joseph, but was changed to Barnabas, (which signifies Son of consolation,) for his forwardness in every act of charity..
CHARLES. Where was he born, William ?
WILLIAM. In the island of Cyprus, and was a Jew of the tribe of Levi. He received his education at Jeru salem, from one Gamaliel, a learned Jew, who, at the same time, was tutor to St. Paul. After his conversion he preached the gospel with his fellow student; and as we have already observed, introduced him to the apostles. He then became a joint labourer with St. Paul, and travelled with him into various countries, as you will find related in the 13th, 14th, and 15th chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, in promoting the knowledge of the gospel, for the space of fourteen years. After this period, which had been passed in the most perfect union, and with mutual advantage, a difference of opinion arose between these holy men, concerning the mode of perfecting the good end which they both equally desired to attain : and with grief and bitterness of heart they parted from each other, St. Paul visiting Syria and Cilicia, taking with him Silas; and St. Barnabas returning to the place of his nativity, in company with John Mark, where he continued until about the year 73, using every endeavour to promote the dissemination of the gospel. The Jews, however, terminated both his labours and his life ; for after having been cruelly tortured, and severely beaten with staves, he was stoned to death while preaching in the synagogue of Salamis.
MR. CONSTANCE. The character of St. Barnabas has been highly extolled for benevolence. He is said to have disposed of his estate, in order to aid the establishment of a fund for the relief of indigent Christians; which must have been of the greatest utility in those days of persecution and trouble.
ANGELINA. Was he one of the apostles ?
Mr. Constance. There are some doubts as to that. It is contended by many eminent critics, that he was nominated to the apostleship with Matthias ; while others state him to have been one of the Seventy disciples, who were chosen by Christ to assist in the ministry of the gospel. He has left behind him one epistle, which is considered authentic, although not inserted as part of the canonical scriptures. . But now, William, we will attend to your account of St. Alban, the first Christian martyr in this island. Where was he born ?
WILLIAM. At St. Alban's, Sir; or rather at a place called Verulam, an ancient city in Hertfordshire, near where St. Alban's now stands. He was converted by a monk named Amphibalus, who accompanied him on a tour to Rome, where it is stated St. Alban served seven years in the army of Dioclesian. On their return to Verulam, Amphibalus, taking advantage of the sentiments he had discovered, laid before St. Alban the benefits of the Christian religion, and made him a complete and zealous convert. He suffered martyrdom in the year 303, dnring the dreadful persecution raised by Dioclesian. MARIA. Did Amphibalus also suffer in the cause ?
WILLIAM. I believe not. There is a circumstance related by the historian, Bede, which places the character of St. Alban in a very favourable light, inasmuch as it shows his friendly disposition towards his preceptor. It may also be taken as a specimen of the Ecclesiastical History of Bede, and of the legends he had recourse to in those times of superstitious ignorance. He states, that Amphibalus, being closely pursued by his persecutors, took refuge in the house of his friend, St. Alban ; of which the Roman governor being informed, sent a party of soldiers to apprehend Amphibalus; but Alban putting on the habit of his guest, presented himself in his stead, and was carried before that magistrate. The governor having asked him of what family he was, Alban replied : “ To what purpose do you inquire of my family? If you would know my religion, I am a Christian;" then being asked his name, he answered: “My name is Alban, and I worship the only true and living God, who created all things.” The magistrate replied, “If you would enjoy the happiness of eternal life, delay not to sacrifice to the great gods.” Alban said : “ The sacrifices you offer are made to devils ; neither can they help the needy, nor grant the petition of their votaries.” This behaviour so enraged the governor, that he ordered him immediately to be beheaded. Bede then goes on to state the wonderful miracles the saint performed on his way to execution. Being prevented from passing a bridge which was thronged with spectators, he is said to have lifted up his eyes to heaven, and the stream was miraculously divided, so as to admit a passage for himself and a thousand others. This wonderful event converted the executioner, who, throwing himself at St. Alban's feet, implored the honour of dying with him; and the execution being thus delayed, until another person could be got to perform the office, St. Alban walked up a neighbouring hill, where he prayed for water to quench his thirst, and a fountain of water sprang up at his feet. These miracles, however, appear not to have had the effect of subduing the barbarous feelings of his spectators, for he was beheaded on the 23d of June, 303. The executioner is said to have been a signal example of divine vengeance; for as soon as he gave the fatal stroke, his eyes dropped out of his head !
CHARLES Oh, what a wonderful account !
MR. ConstanCE. Wonderful, indeed; and is, as William has stated, a specimen of the legendary arts made use of by St. Bede, to promote Christianity. Although once universally believed, they are now scouted as profane impositions upon the ignorant. They, however, obtained for the memory of St. Alban, a wonderful degree of popular veneration. In the year 795, sixty-four years after the publication of the Ecclesiastical History, Offa, king of the Mercians, built a monastery to the memory of St. Alban, on the place where he had suffered, and which has since been called after his name.
ANGELINA. I have been to St. Alban's, and also seen what is now called the abbey church, but surely it cannot be the remains of the monastery built in honour of the saint.
WILLIAM. I believe it is. The ancient parish church being destroyed, the corporation bought that belonging to the abbey for 4001. The exterior, though apparently of
stone, consists chiefly of Roman bricks. The tomb of its founder, with those of St. Alban, and Humphrey, duke of Glocester, are still to be seen. " · MR. CONSTANCE. But, William, you are now giving us a description of the abbey of St. Alban's. You must be aware that this is foreign to our purpose.
WILLIAM. Thank you, Sir, for the hint. I will proceed to notice the next marked day, the 20th. It is named, Translation of Edward, King of the West Saxons, but is nothing more than an anniversary of the the day on which the body of Edward was removed or translated from Wareham, to the minster at Salisbury.
Maria. Do you mean Edward the Martyr, who was stabbed in the back by his mother-in-law, Elfrida, and of which unnatural murder you gave us an account in March? : WILLIAM. Yes, the same. - MARIA. But how is it that he has two days devoted to his memory? His death was rather of a political than å religious nature.
Mr. ConstaNCE. It was so, my dear; and I think that the insertion of his name in the calendar is to be attributed more to the weakness of our forefathers, who believed in the supposed miracles worked at his tomb, than from any particular acts of piety displayed by him during his life. But to commemorate the mere removal of his dead body, appears to be the height of absurdity. I believe much has been written upon the origin of these translations, which, at one time were so common, that few if any of the saints and martyrs remained in their original burial-places. Whether it was devotion or interest that actuated the devotees to these removals, cannot now be said ; but certain it is, that many supposed relics of the bodies of saints have been foisted upon the credulity of the ignorant, for interested purposes. A long list