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Asser of Saint David’s Annals of the reign of Alfred the Great From A.D. 849 to A.D. 887.

 
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Asser of Saint David’s
Annals of the reign of Alfred the Great From A.D. 849 to A.D. 887.
page 16

 who have escaped, as they have not wherewith to sustain even their own lives. They repented, therefore, when it was too late, and grieved at their incautious neglect of the king's commands, and they praised the royal wisdom with one voice, and tried with all their power to fulfil what they had before refused, namely, concerning the erection of castles, and other things generally useful to the whole kingdom. Of his fixed purpose of holy meditation, which, in the midst of prosperity and adversity he never neglected, I cannot with advantage now omit to speak. For, whereas he often thought of the necessities of his soul, among the other good deeds to which his thoughts were night and day turned, he ordered that two monasteries should be built, one for monks at Athelney, which is a place surrounded by impassable marshes and rivers, where no one can enter but by boats, or by a bridge laboriously constructed between two other heights; at the western end of which bridge was erected a strong tower, of beautiful work, by command of the aforesaid king; and in this monastery he collected monks of all kinds, from every quarter, and placed them therein. For at first, because he had no one of his own nation, noble and free by birth, who was willing to enter the monastic life, except children, who could neither choose good nor avoid evil in consequence of their tender years, because for many previous years the love of a monastic life had utterly decayed from that nation as well as from many other nations, though many monasteries still remain in that country; yet, as no one directed the rule of that kind of life in a regular way, for what reason I cannot say, either from the invasions of foreigners which took place so frequently both by sea and land, or because that people abounded in riches of every kind, and so looked with contempt on the monastic life. It was for this reason that king Alfred sought to gather monks of different kinds to place in the same monastery. First he placed there as abbat, John(*) the priest and monk, an old Saxon by birth, then certain priests and deacons from beyond the sea; of whom, finding that he had not as large a number as he wished, he procured as many as possible of the same Gallic race, some of whom, being children, he ordered to be taught in the same monastery, and at a later period to be admitted to the monastic habit. I have myself seen a young lad of pagan birth who was educated in that monastery, and by no means the hindmost of them all.

(*)Not the celebrated John Scotus Eregina

There was also a deed done once in that monastery, which I would utterly consign to oblivion, although it is an unworthy deed; for throughout the whole of Scripture the base deeds of the wicked are interspersed among the blessed deeds of the just, as tares and darnel are sown among the wheat: good deeds are recorded that they may be praised and imitated, and that their imitators may be held in all honour; wicked deeds are there related, that they may be censured and avoided, and their imitators be reproved with all odium, contempt, and vengeance. For once upon a time, a certain priest and a deacon, Gauls by birth, and two of the aforesaid monks, by the instigation of the devil, and excited by some secret jealousy, became so embittered in secret against their abbat, the above mentioned John, that, like Jews, they circumvented and betrayed their master. For whereas he had two servants, whom he had hired out of Gaul, they taught these such wicked practices, that in the night, when all men were enjoying the sweet tranquillity of sleep, they should make their way into the church armed, and shutting it behind them as usual, hide themselves therein, and wait for the moment when the abbat should enter the church alone. At length, when he should come alone to pray, and, bending his knees, bow before the holy altar, the men should rush on him with hostility, and try to slay him on the spot. They then should drag his lifeless body out of The church, and throw it down before the house of a certain harlot, as if he had been slain whilst on a visit to her. This was their machination, adding crime to crime, as it is said, "The last error shall be worse than the first." But the divine mercy, which always delights to aid the innocent, frustrated in great part the wicked design of the wicked men, so that it should not turn out in every respect as they had proposed. When, therefore, the whole of the evil counsel had been explained by those wicked teachers to their wicked agents, and the night which had been fixed on as most fit was come, the two armed ruffians were placed, with a promise of impunity, to await in the church for the arrival of the abbat. In the middle of the night John, as usual, entered the church to pray, without any one's knowing of it, and knelt before the altar. The two ruffians rushed upon him with drawn swords, and dealt him some severe wounds. But he, being a man of a brave mind, and, as we have heard say, not unacquainted with the art of self-defence, if he had not been a follower of a better calling, no sooner heard the sound of the robbers, before he saw them, than he rose up against them before he was wounded, and, shouting as loud as he could, struggled against them, crying out that they were devils and not men; for he himself knew no better, as he thought that no men would dare to attempt such a deed. He was, however, wounded before any of his people could come to his help. His attendants, roused by the noise, were frightened when they heard the word devils, and both those two who, like Jews, sought to betray their master, and the others who knew nothing of the matter, rushed together to the doors of the church; but before they got there those ruffians escaped, leaving the abbat half dead. The monks raised the old man, in a fainting condition, and carried him home with tears and lamentations; nor did those two deceitful monks shed tears less than the innocent. But God's mercy did not allow so bold a deed to pass unpunished; the ruffians who perpetrated it, and all who urged them to it, were taken and put in prison, where, by various tortures, they came to a disgraceful end. Let us now return to our narrative. Another monastery, also, was built by the same king as a residence for nuns, near the eastern gate of Shaftesbury; and his own daughter, Ethelgiva, was placed in it as abbess. With her many

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