Thomas Wyke [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (cropped)
This article was first published on #FolkloreThursday.com as London Folklore: The Legendary Frost Fairs of the River Thames by zteve t evans on December 27, 2018
The legendary frost fairs on the River Thames are depicted in a number of works of art that show just how cold, icy and severe the weather became during winter, in comparison to the weather experienced in London in modern times.
The idea of a frost fair on the icy surface of the River Thames in London may seem a flight of fantasy today, especially when one appears, or is mentioned several times in one of the UK’s favourite sci-fi television series, Dr Who. In one of the scenes set during the 1814 Thames frost fair, the doctor encounters an elephant walking across the frozen surface of the Thames. In another episode the doctor takes River Song to the same event to celebrate her birthday. The Thames frost fairs are also featured in two tracks on Snow on Snow, by The Albion Christmas Band, a beautiful collection of Christmas and winter songs on CD. Today, the idea of such a novel event with crowds of people, stalls, entertainments and all the fun of the fair on the frozen River Thames may seem surreal, but it did happen several times in the past. Here we look at some of these times and see how it affected Londoners; what they did and how they coped in those frigid times.
The Little Ice Age
The River Thames has long been an important trade and transport route, and many kinds of businesses, large and small, flourished around it. The river swarmed with large and small boats, manned by watermen who ferried people and goods up, down and across the river. Many people lived, worked and died around the river and a rich culture of folklore and legend evolved, some of which remains today.
With the great river of such importance to Londoners, how would they cope when it suddenly froze solid, allowing no ships or boats to travel up, down or across it?
Although it is written in legends and folklore, it is also historic fact that the River Thames has frozen over a number of times, hard enough for the usual daily commerce to be brought to a halt. These extreme cold events happened during a period known as the ‘Little Ice Age’ that some people believe lasted from 1300 to 1870. (Expert opinion varies on this subject, and is not dealt with here.) During the winter of 1536, Henry VIII was said to have enjoyed a sleigh ride to Greenwich from the centre of London on the Thames ice and in 1564, Elizabeth I strolled upon the ice and practiced archery on the frozen river.
The worst of the big freezes occurred between 1550 and 1750. During the winters of 1683 – 1684 and 1715 – 1716, the Thames was frozen for three months, but most events were usually much briefer. When it did freeze over it not only brought the river to an abrupt halt, it brought the every day business of the city and its people to a standstill too. However, Londoners, being innovative and enterprising, adapted. In its frozen state, the river effectively became a highway that wagons and coaches could traverse while the boats were stuck in the ice. Furthermore, it became an extension to the land, offering new opportunities not just to make money but also to have fun. Londoners like to have fun.
The First Frost Fair (1607-08)
In 1608, the first recorded London frost fair took place on the icy surface of the River Thames. During December, 1607, the ice was thick enough to walk upon from Southwark to the City, and by January 1608 the ice was thick and strong enough for a whole host of activities on its surface. A small town of stalls, booths and tents sprang up selling many different kinds of food and drink. Tradesmen such as shoemakers and barbers set up stalls selling their wares and services and even lit fires on the ice to keep warm and use for cooking. Among them, skittles and bowling and many other sports and activities took place to the enjoyment of the people, including “folk“ football. This was not like the modern game of football where two teams compete and rules are followed. This competition was between two mobs with virtually no rules and they often became free-for-all, no holds barred, riotous events.
Insects and humans are a strange mix and yet in In Japanese folklore the human soul sometimes appears as a butterfly. Maybe it is something about the way they flutter from place to place or the fact that they have gone through metamorphosis to transform into a such a beautiful creature. When we look deeply into the populous and industrious colonies of ants many people see a microcosm of a human cities and society. Indeed, from above our cities often seem to be teeming with myriads of ant-like creatures.
In reality the idea of humans being insect-like in any way may seem absurd except in our dreams in which reality can be suspended, twisted and turned on its head and time has a completely different duration. In such dreams we may believe ourselves to have lived for years in a certain place but awake to be told that we have only been asleep for a few minutes. But what if when we return from the dream to the waking world we find evidence that there may indeed be some basis for the idea we actually existed in our dream – what then?
Presented here is a retelling of a Japanese folktale originally called, The Dream of Akinosuke, from a collection of tales, called Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things by Lafcadio Hearn which has some strange things to say about ants, butterflies and dreaming humans.
THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKE
There once lived in the district of Toichi in the Yamato Province of old Japan a goshi named Miyata Akinosuke. These were feudal times and in such times goshi were a social class having certain privileges. They were soldiers and freehold farmers who owed their position and allegiance to an overlord. Akinosuke was just such a man and as a freeholder he had a very beautiful garden with an ancient and spreading cedar tree. He was very fond of his tree and during the hot, sultry days of summer he liked to recline and relax in the coolness of its shade.
One hot afternoon he was relaxing in the shade of his tree with two of his fellow goshi. They were having a very pleasant time drinking wine and conversing amicably on different topics and enjoying each other’s company. Maybe it was the wine or maybe it was the warm sultry afternoon or maybe it was both, but Akinosuke grew very drowsy. He grew so sleepy that he asked his friends to excuse him while he took a brief nap. Teasing him they told him the wine had gone to his head, but agreed to excuse him and he lay down at the foot of his beautiful cedar tree and very soon he was dreaming a dream like no other.
In this dream he saw a great and grand procession of people coming over the crest of a nearby hill and he stood up to get a better view. It was indeed a very grand procession the likes of which he had never seen before. There were very many men and women all dressed in the finest of silks carry banners and flags and marching to the beat of a drum. There were so many in the distance it looked like a long line of ants coming over the hill.
At the heart of the procession was a carriage that was borne aloft proudly. Akinosuke watched and was surprised to see that it was making directly for his dwelling. As it drew nearer he could see that the carriage was richly decorated with silks of blue and gold and obviously carried someone who must have been very important indeed. The procession proceeded unerringly to his gate and stopped. The carriage door opened and a tall, thin man dressed in the most exquisite finery got out. In a mostly stately way he approached the surprised and bemused Akinosuke, who awestruck, bowed low while the visitor greeted him thus,
“Most honorable Miyata Akinosuke you see before you an envoy and servant of the King in Tokyo. I am commanded to greet you in the name of the King and put myself entirely at your service. He has commanded me to inform you that he seeks your presence at his palace and has tasked me to escort you into his esteemed presence. Therefore, please enter this most honorable of carriages that he has sent for this purpose and allow me to be your personal guide to his royal presence.”
With that the messenger stood aside holding the carriage door open, gesturing for the bewildered Akinosuke to step inside. He wanted to make some kind of fitting reply but was too astonished and overwhelmed. Instead, he meekly obeyed and stepped into the carriage and his guide sat down beside him. With a word of command the carriage proceeded to the King’s palace.
They traveled at surprising speed and within a short time were outside the palace gates. The envoy announced he would go and inform the King of Akinosuke’s arrival and he was to wait here until sent for. Presently two noblemen wearing the purple silks and caps of high rank arrived. They greeted him with all due respect and escorted him through a most beautiful garden, the vastness of which appeared to extend in all directions for many miles.
At last they entered the palace and Akinosuke was shown into a most splendid reception room with many ornate carvings and works of art upon the walls. He was seated in a place of honor while two servants brought him food and drink. After he had taken refreshment the two nobles in purple bowed low and speaking in turns said to him thus,
“It is our duty and pleasure to inform you that the reason you have been brought here is because the King, our most noble master, desires greatly that you become his son-in-law. It is his greatest wish that this will happen today. Therefore, you will marry his daughter the August Princess this day. When the time comes we will escort you to your wedding, but first we will provide you with appropriate apparel for such a splendid and important ceremony.”
Having finished their speech the two nobles went over to a great gilded chest and lifting the lid drew out various items of clothing. These were of the finest and richest silks and styled for royalty and were indeed most suitable for the bridegroom of a royal wedding. After he was dressed in the very finest of fashions befitting such a special occasion he was led into a hall where the King and his highest dignitaries and nobles awaited the arrival of Akinosuke.
Akinosuke saluted, bowed and knelt before the King who greeted him graciously and spoke to him thus,
“You have been informed that it is my desire that you will become my son-in-law and the husband of my only daughter – the August Princess. We shall now proceed with the wedding.”
With that he clapped his hands and the sound of joyful music filled the hall and a long line of beautiful ladies of the Royal court appeared. Solemnly they escorted Akinosuke to another hall where his bride awaited dressed most beautifully for her wedding.
The wedding hall was huge and richly decorated and despite its size it was barely big enough to seat all of the guests who swarmed everywhere. Everyone stopped and bowed as he entered escorted by the ladies of the court and he took his place kneeling on a cushion facing his bride. In her gorgeous silk wedding dress the color of the bluest summer sky she looked indeed the August Princess.
The marriage rites were performed with great ceremony and dignity and afterwards the newly married couple were escorted to a special suite of apartments especially prepared for them. The King and all the guests were overjoyed and Akinosuke and his wife radiating happiness received many wonderful presents and the blessings of everyone.
Although they had not met each other before or heard of one another in the past, Akinosuke and his wife were very happy together enjoying the company of each other. The days passed joyfully and presently Akinosuke was summoned to appear before the King. He feared he had done something wrong but instead the King spoke to him thus,
“The island of Rashi lies in the southwestern part of my realm and I have decided to appoint you the Governor of Raishu in my name. The people of the island are very loyal and peaceful but their laws have never been brought into alignment with the laws and customs of my realm. I am entrusting you with this task and with improving their lives and social condition as much as is possible. It is my desire that you rule them with kindness, justice and wisdom. All the preparations for the journey and your arrival have been made and you will leave in the morning.’
The Island of Raishu
The next morning Akinosuke and his wife left the palace with a great escort of nobles, palace officials and courtesans who accompanied them to the harbor. There he and his wife boarded one of the King’ s own ships to take them to Raishu and take up the governorship of the island. They had a good wind and fair weather and soon arrived safely in the harbor of the island to find the people had all come out and were lining the shores to welcome them.
After a warm reception from the people Akinosuke began his governorship and put his heart and soul into the task. In the first three years he reformed the laws to align with those of the King in Tokyo. He was lucky to have the help of wise counselors who knew the people very well. This helped him considerably and he never grew tired or bored with the task. When it was all complete he found he only had a few active duties to carry out and most of these were of a ceremonial nature.
The island was very fertile and grew all the crops the people needed and they also fished the seas. The weather always seemed to just right so there was never famine or starvation. The people were hard working and peaceful never broke any laws so there was little for him to do.
Akinosuke lived and ruled on the island for another twenty years making twenty three in total and in that time he was happy. He grew to love his wife and she him and they were very close and happy together. She bore him seven fine children – five strapping sons and two beautiful daughters.
In the beginning of the twenty fourth year of his governorship his beloved wife fell sick and died. Akinosuke was grief stricken but as tradition required he made sure she was buried with all the dignity and ceremony befitting her status. He had her buried on a beautiful hill with a fittingly splendid monument raised over her. Unfortunately and understandably her death had left him devastated and he no longer cared for himself or wanted to live.
After the customary period of mourning was complete a ship sailed in from Tokyo bearing a royal messenger from the King. The messenger hastened to Akinosuke to deliver a message of condolence directly from the King telling him thus,
“The King our lord and master sends his deep condolences to you and your children. You have worked hard and done a splendid job on Raishu but it is now time you returned to your own country. Have no fear for your seven children for they are also my grandsons and granddaughters and I will look after them.”
Akinosuke on hearing this order submissively prepared to leave the island. When all was made ready for his departure and all necessary rituals and ceremonies were completed he said goodbye to his children, councilors and officials and was escorted in a grand procession to the harbor where he took the ship for home.
The ship sailed out of the harbor into the blue sea and towards the blue sky of the horizon. Akinosuke turned to look at the island in a last farewell and watched as it’s shape turned to blue and then, grey and vanished forever from his sight – and at this point he woke up to find himself lying in the shade of the cedar tree in his very own garden. For a moment or two he was dazed and bewildered and rubbed his eyes. Looking around he saw his two friends sitting nearby drinking wine and chatting happily to each other and he cried out loud,
“How strange this is!!”
His two friends looked over to him and laughed when they heard him. “Ha!” laughed one, “Our friend, Akinosuke has been dreaming! Tell us your strange dream my friend.”
” I think the wine got the better of him,” teasedthe other, “but do tell us!”
Therefore, Akinosuke told them his strange dream and how he had spent over twenty three years living on the island of Raishu in the realm of the King of Tokyo. He told how he was married and of his children and finally how his beloved wife had died.
His two friends were astonished at his tale and insisted he had only been asleep for a few minutes at the most. One of them told him that while he had been asleep they had witnessed a very strange thing and he spoke thus,
“While you were asleep we saw a very strange thing happen.A small yellow butterfly appeared and fluttered and hovered over your face for a brief moment or two. We watched and saw it settle on the ground beside you as you lay close to the cedar tree. Almost immediately an exceptionally large ant rushed from a hole by the tree and seizing the butterfly ran back down the hole carrying it with him.
Just before you woke we saw the same yellow butterfly crawl out of the hole and flutter up to hover before your face before suddenly vanishing. I do not know where it went but it was gone.”
The second nodded in agreement and then he spoke,
“Maybe it was our friend Akinosuke’s soul. I thought perhaps it flew into his mouth but even if it was our friend’s soul it does not explain the dream.”
The Realm of the Ants
“Maybe the ants explain it,” said the first, ” they are peculiar beings and there is a large ant’s nest by the hole of the tree.”
Akinosuke jumped up and cried, “Let us investigate!” And rushed off to fetch a spade.
On his return he set about gently clearing the soil away to carefully reveal that the nest had been excavated and built in the most surprisingly complex way. The huge population of ants that lived there had turned the colony into a miniature world with some similarity to that of humans. There were tiny buildings made from straw, clay and stems that gave the nest the look of scaled-down versions of human towns and cities.
In the very center of the colony was a structure larger than all of the others which contained a swarm of small ants appearing to work around the body of one very large ant that had a black head and pale yellow wings.
” Look! There is the King in the palace of Tokyo that I saw in my dream! How amazing and extraordinary! If that is so, the island of Raisu should lie somewhere to the southwest – and there it is by that root … now can I find the green hill and the tomb of my beloved wife – Yes, there it is – how remarkable!”
Looking closely, Akinosuke saw the small hill in the nest and on top of the hill was a worn polished pebble very similar in shape to the monument he had placed over the body of his wife. Gently lifting up the pebble he was astonished to see covered in clay the dead body of a female ant.
Ants, Humans and the Butterfly Soul
There are some people who see parallels between ants and humans. Such philosophers see similarities in the two societies while comparing the differences. The cities humans build and live in are seen in parallel with the ant colonies and the two societies compared. In human cities the swarms of humans may all appear to be busy working for the greater good of their society. However, on closer inspection it is found that this is so only as far as it does not encroach upon their own selfish needs and desires which may be at odds with the well-being of their society and even their own butterfly soul.
Ants are seen to be regimented and industrious giving up or not possessing such selfish needs and desires working entirely for the good of their society. These same philosophers argue that humans with their selfishness damage the good of their society while the ants give up the wants of the self in favor of maintaining the good of their society and their butterfly soul – assuming ants have any kind of soul at all. Therefore, they claim ants are superior to humans and their society further evolved. Such philosophers are not renowned for their sense of humor, but personally I always think it one of the greatest of human attributes, though I am not sure ants have one. I wonder though, what do you think of these strange matters of ants, dreaming humans and the butterfly soul?
This All Hallow’s Read is a re-telling of an Irish folktale for Enchanted Conversation Magazine, by zteve t evans, published as ALL HALLOW’S READ – Stingy Jack: The Man Who Stole the Devil’s Wallet, 14th October 2019. It tells of the infamous, Stingy Jack, (also known as Jack the Smith, Flaky Jack, or Jack of the Lantern)- a character associated with Halloween. The pumpkin jack-o-lantern may have derived from this colorful character and his interaction with the Prince of Darkness.
Way back in old Ireland several centuries ago, there was a well known character in many towns and villages across the country known as Stingy Jack. He had a silver tongue and could be very persuasive and charming yet was unquestionably a drunkard, trickster, blaggard and a man of all round devious character.
According to legend, the Devil heard all about Jack’s tricks and deviousness and decided to see if he lived up to his evil reputation. It also has to be said, although he would never admit it, that he may have been more than a little envious of his notoriety. Maybe he thought Jack was getting too big for his boots and stealing his thunder, but anyway he decided it was time he paid him a visit, intending to carry him back to Hell.
When he arrived at Jack’s door on a Saturday night, Jack was out in the bars and pubs boozing and carousing with anyone and everyone. Eventually, deeply inebriated and skint, he staggered homewards. After knocking on Jack’s front door several times the Devil realized it was Saturday night and Jack would surely be out on the town. He knocked one last time just in case, and as he did so, he heard someone stumbling up the garden path. As Jack staggered up the path, he suddenly became aware of a dark figure knocking loudly upon his door.
“Hey! Who is that a-knocking on my door at this time of night when I am not in?” he drunkenly inquired. The dark figure slowly turned and looked at Jack square in the face. Despite his drunkenness, Jack knew it was the Devil, and he had come to take him back to Hell.
There are many myths and legends that tell how Saint Brendan the Navigator set sail in a boat with a band of followers to find a wondrous island and eventually succeeded. His followers returned but he did not. Many others after tried to find it but few succeeded. On many old maps Saint Brendan’s Isle is shown as clear as day, but if you look on any modern ones you will not see it.
They say that if you sail your boat beyond the horizon and into the setting sun you eventually come to a wondrous island kept by a single gardener and the gardener is Saint Brendan. But to do that requires faith, like he had. He once lived in Ireland but followed his heart and was led to this wondrous place where God spoke to him and told him he should stay and take care of the plants, flowers and trees. Since his arrival on the island long ages ago only those that have have faith in the good saint have managed to find this marvelous place.
The following story is a retelling of a tale from the island of Terceira in the Azores originally called, Saint Brendan’s Island – The Story of a Little Maid who Found it, and was published in a collection called The Islands of Magic, Legends, Folk and Fairy Tales from the Azores – by Elsie Spicer Eells and illustrated by E. L. Brock.
Saint Brendan lived between 484 – 577 AD, and this story tells how he left Ireland to find the wondrous island. It then moves forward in time to the 15th century to tell how a maiden from the island of Terceira and a young man from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes, through their faith in Saint Brendan, made it to the island to join the good saint there.
The Hermit’s Tale
The story begins way back in time in Ireland where a monk by the name of Saint Brendan lived. One day he received a visit from a hermit who told him all about the most mysterious and wonderful island he had just returned from visiting. On this marvelous island the sun shone all the time and the birds wore crowns on their heads and had the ability to speak to humans. Brendan could smell the wonderful fragrance of the island which clung to the hermit’s clothes so he believed him.
The hermit spoke so enthusiastically about the island it piqued the saint’s curiosity. He yearned to see it for himself and asked the hermit many questions about it. The more he heard the more he wanted to see to see if all the wonderful things were true that the hermit had told him about. At last the hermit had no more to say but Brendan had heard enough and yearned to visit it to experience all of the marvels for himself.
That night he dreamed he visited the island and it was every bit as marvellous as the hermit had described. In that dream a voice spoke to him saying,
“On this wondrous isle there was no one else but God who could hear is prayers so he could speak from the pureness of his heart and with faith his prayers would be answered.”
Therefore, the next morning, he gathered together a small group of his most devoted disciples and told them about the marvellous island and his desire to find it. Despite the dangers his disciples were also fascinated by the place and having faith in him were keen to accompany him on his quest.
The Voyage of Saint Brendan
They built a large coracle of wattle, skins and tar and fitted it with oars and a sail and enough seating for them all. They loaded the craft with as much food, water and necessary items that it could safely carry.
They all realised it would be a difficult and dangerous voyage but they had faith. After saying their goodbyes to the large crowd of family, friends and well-wishers who had come to see them off they set sail across the wild Atlantic Ocean to find the wonderful island. The crowd on the shore waved them goodbye but secretly many feared they would never see them again.
Saint Brendan and his followers sailed the wide uncharted ocean facing many dangers and having many adventures but sustained by faith they sailed on. Back home in Ireland people looked out for their return. After two years of absence people feared the worst as they looked across the sea hoping to see their return. After five years they were completely forgotten.
Return of the Voyagers
After they had left Saint Brendan and his followers had trusted in the Lord and allowed the wind and currents to take them where they would. After seven years the small vessel carrying the forgotten voyagers appeared on the horizon off the Irish coast where they had set out from. As the small craft sailed in from the blue a small crowd gathered at the harbour both pleased and astounded to see the intrepid voyagers again.
Of course, everyone wanted to know all about the voyage and their adventures but were disconcerted to see that Saint Brendan was not among those that had returned. They asked earnestly about his well-being were told that the adventurers had found the wondrous island and it was every bit as wonderful as the hermit had said. Furthermore, they told the people that Saint Brendan had stayed behind as he had been instructed by God to become the gardener of the island and ensure it thrived and remained fertile for those faithful enough to find it in the vastness of the open sea.
The Wondrous Island
The people wanted to know all about the island and the disciples told them of all the wonders they had seen and experienced while they were there. If anything they spoke more enthusiastically than the hermit who had first spoken to Saint Brendan. Many people, like Saint Brendan before them, were overcome with curiosity and desire to visit the island see the wonders for themselves. The disciples urged them to go and many set out on the voyage and spent many years at sea in search of the wondrous place. None of them ever found it and returned forlornly to their home in Ireland on the shore of the wild Atlantic.
From what was said by those who accompanied Saint Brendan the island was a floating Island and floated from place to place making it difficult to find and only those who had faith would be successful. They also said that Saint Brendan will not die but remain on the island caring for it.
That is the story of how Saint Brendan found the Wondrous island and happened many centuries ago. We must now move forward to the 15th century to the island of Terceira in the archipelago of the Azores in the vastness of the wild Atlantic Ocean.
On this island there lived a young maid named Maria. She had been told all about Saint Brendan and the marvelous island by an old monk. Like the good Saint before her she had been enthralled by the island and highly impressed by the faith of Saint Brendan. She was fascinated by everything she heard about it and prayed each morning and night to the good Saint for guidance.
She would often dream of walking under the beautiful trees as he told her all about the wonderful place. In one dream he took her to a mountaintop where she could look across the sea towards her home. He told her,
“In this place there was no one else but God and himself who could hear her prayers so she could speak from the pureness of her heart and with faith her prayers would be answered.”
In the waking world she would often walk the hillside of Monte Brasil looking out across the sea, hoping to catch a glimpse of that enchanted place. Sometimes she would sit and gaze wistfully across the water letting her imagination take her there.
The Arrival of Vitale
One day a caravel anchored off Terceira. It had sailed from Rhodes carrying a young man named Vitale and in his possession he carried sacred relics of Saint Brendan that his grandfather had passed on to him. He was on a quest to seek out and find the wonderful island of Saint Brendan and had called in at Terceira on his way. Proudly displayed upon his doublet was an eight pointed star and a scarlet silk band with the motto “By Faith” boldly displayed upon it. Indeed, it was by faith alone that he had set out upon the mission of his life for he had no idea how he would accomplish it.
When Maria heard of his arrival and the sacred relics he bore she rushed down to the ship to see him for herself. She was extremely impressed with the way he carried himself and his good looks, but was overwhelmed by the passion he showed for his quest and she quickly fell in love with him. Indeed she revered him as if he had been the good Saint himself and would sit quiet and still with her dark eyes downcast not caring to glance at him while he told of his quest for the Saint and the Wondrous Island.
The young man in turn was fascinated by this demure young maiden and confessed his love for her. Willingly, he gave her his grandfather’s sacred relics and asked that in return she might speak her true feelings towards him. Maria replied, “To speak my of my love for you in full and in truth I would need to be in a place where God alone could hear me. Only then could I speak from the purity of my heart.”
A Jealous Suitor
You see this was true for Maria because on Terceira there lived a young man of the island who had long admired her. He was the son of the Lord of the district and for a long time he had been infatuated by her beauty and her manner. He had begged her for her hand in marriage several times but each time she had demurely and sensitively declined. She hated having to do it but she could not marry a man she did not love. Now she was worried because she knew that if her unwanted suitor ever found out about her love for Vitale he would fly into a jealous rage and feared what he would do. Indeed she had good cause to fear for Terceira was a small island with a close knit community and it was not long before her unwanted suitor heard of her relationship with Vitale.
Rushing to her in a jealous rage he demanded that she marry him immediately. Maria sensitively and with all kindness gently told him she could not. Angrily he told her, “If you do not marry me I shall have my father lock you in the tower of Saint Louis on the hillside and there you shall stay until you change your mind!’
‘I am sorry,” she replied, “but I would prefer to remain locked in the tower for the rest of my days than be your wife. Why can you not see it and just leave me in peace with my relics of Saint Brendan?”
The Tower of Saint Louis
This further enraged the young man and he had her marched to the tower of Saint Louis where she was locked in its uppermost chamber. Although small and bare the chamber at least had a window where she would sit and look down upon the city of Angra below.
“All my life I have prayed to the blessed Saint Brendan and loved God. Now my world has been destroyed by unwanted love!’ she cried in despair.
With that despairing cry which rang out over the city below, the earth shook and trembled and the great stone tower quivered as if was but paper.
Not far from the tower two beautiful white doves were perched on the branches of a cedar tree.
“Look at the tower,” said one, “It will surely fall and the fair maid who weeps inside will die.”
“She shall not die! Let us rescue her,” said the other , “and take her to a place of safety.”
As they flew into the air the earth shuddered and the tower began to fall and Maria stood weeping in fear at the window. Faster than the wind the doves swooped down and each clasping one of Maria’s hands carried her through the air as the falling tower collapsed.
Over the treetops, over the rooftops and churches of Angra they carried her and out across the sea. They continued flying over the horizon and into the setting sun and through the dark night until the sun came up in the morning.
Saint Brendan’s Wondrous Isle
With the growing light Maria could see they were heading towards an island shrouded in morning mist. As they drew closer the mist lifted and upon a silver shore there was someone who appeared to be waiting. Carried by the doves she could see that the island was abundant with the most beautiful trees and gorgeous flowers. As they descended, she saw that it was a truly wondrous place. As the doves gently set her down before the waiting figure to her joy and wonder she saw that it was Saint Brendan and that he was the gardener of the island.
Back on Terceira the earthquake had caused great damage to the city of Angra and the Tower of Saint Louis had been completely destroyed. Everyone thought poor Maria had been buried in the rubble and mourned. Vitale had been grief stricken and without her saw his life on the island as being empty and devoid of purpose.
Therefore he took to his caravel and set sail resuming his quest to find the blessed Isle of Saint Brendan. For long days and nights he sailed through foul and fine weather until he sailed into a bank of thick fog. He could see no more than a foot before him whichever way he looked. Having no idea of his direction he allowed his ship to drift with the current. Eventually, sustained by faith alone, he came through the fog to find himself looking at a beautiful sunset. As he looked he saw the clouds descending from heaven to earth like a long white ladder.
Further on in the distance he saw an island with a silver shore and a green and beautiful land beyond. In his heart he knew this was Saint Brendan’s wondrous island and current took his vessel gently to the shore. As he approached he saw his beloved Maria standing with her arms outstretched towards him, smiling and her eyes shining. All around her there glowed a gentle auro of pure white light. Stepping ashore, he ran to her outstretched arms and as he approached she said,
“At last, in this place I can speak my love for you from my heart with no one but God and Saint Brendan and you, my dear Vitale, to hear!”