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The Historical Works Of Venerable Bede

§ 1. ALMIGHTY GOD, who is justly merciful and mercifully just, being willing to punish the English nation for their manifold sins, permitted the Fresons and Danes, pagan nations, to exercise their inhumanity over them. These nations, under Ubba, Duke of the Fresons, and Halfdene, King of the Danes, arrived in Britain, which is now called England, and having divided themselves into three bodies, ravaged the country in three directions. One body rebuilt the walls of York, and occupying the neighbouring country on all sides, took up their abode there; the other two, much more ferocious than the first, occupied Mercia and the country of the South Saxons, destroying everything they came near, both sacred and profane, with fire, rapine, and slaughter. Then might be seen noble and excellent priests slain around the altars on which they had solemnized the holy mysteries of the body and blood of Christ, virgins ravished, the respect due to matrons trodden under foot, infants torn from their mothers’ breasts and dashed against the ground, or suspended by the feet, or torn in pieces by the hands of the barbarians; in short, no mercy was shown by the cruel wretches, to sex, age, or dignity. Nor yet even thus could their brutal ferocity glut itself, but they must needs destroy every member of the royal family from whom they apprehended danger to their dominion. Alfred, the father of King Edward the First, alone escaped destruction; and in order to avoid the fate of the others, he remained concealed in the marshes of Glestingia during the three years that the ravage of the Danes was allowed to last.

§ 2. But when God, with his wonted mercy, had now decreed to put an end to their barbarous cruelties, it came to pass that Alfred was sitting at home with the wife of the house and one servant, for all the others had been sent out to fish. Meanwhile a person in a foreign habit approached him, and earnestly besought alms. Alfred forthwith, with ready looks, ordered food to be given him; and learning from the servant that no food remained for their daily use, except one loaf and a measure of wine, said to him, with joyful countenance, “Thanks be to God, who hath thought worthy to visit me, his poor servant, in this place so far removed from the haunts of men, by another of his servants who is as poor as I.” As he said these words with a cheerful look, he ordered half of each to be given to the man, thereby fulfilling the apostolical precept, “God loveth a cheerful giver.” The stranger, apparently a poor man, took it and said, “Do not delay to offer repeated thanks to your Lord for his compassion towards me; for I hope that this, his benevolence, will be abundantly compensated by heavenly mercies.” He said this to the servant, who told it to his master; and when the servant returned to the place, he no where could see the stranger, but he found the bread and wine whole, and bearing no marks of having been divided. Astonished at this occurrence, he hastened to inform his master of it. The king recognized the miracle, and both himself and his wife were no less lost in astonishment than their servant. And although they minutely examined, they could not find out which way he had come or which way he had gone; and this was the more remarkable, because the place, being surrounded by water, could be approached by no one without a boat.

§ 3. Meanwhile the ninth hour of the day (3 o’clock) was approaching, and those who had gone out to fish, brought home three boats full, and said that they had never caught such an abundance during the three years which they had passed in those marshes. Delighted at such an instance of God’s mercy, they spent the day in greater glee than usual, and at the approach of night went each to rest himself after the labours of the day. All the others were soon buried in sleep, but Alfred alone lay awake in his bed, thinking with a sad heart of his sufferings and exile, and wondering much about the stranger and the unexpected draught of fishes. On a sudden a light from heaven, brighter than the beams of the sun, shone upon his bed. Struck with terror, he forgot all his former anxieties, and looked in amazement on the brightness of the light. In the midst of which there appeared an elderly man, bearing the pontifical fillet on his black locks, but having a most benignant look, and bearing in his right hand a copy of the Holy Gospels, adorned most marvellously with gold and jewels. He advanced and calmed the fears of the astonished king with these words, “Let not the brilliancy of my coming disturb you, beloved King Alfred, nor the fear of barbarian cruelty any longer harass you: for God, who does not despise the groans of his poor servants, will soon put an end to your troubles, and I, from henceforth, will be your constant helper.” The king was comforted by these words, and asked him earnestly who he was, and why he had come. Then the elderly man, smiling, said, “I am he to whom you this day ordered bread to be given; but I took not so much pleasure in the bread and wine, as in the devotion of your soul. But, whereas you ask me my name, know that I am Cuthbert, the servant of God, and am sent to explain to you, in familiar terms, how you may be relieved from the persecution, which has so long afflicted you. In particular, therefore, I advise you to cherish mercy and justice, and to teach them to your sons above every thing else, seeing that at your prayer God has vouchsafed to grant to you the disposal of the whole of Britain. If you are faithful to God and me, you shall find me, from this time, your invincible buckler, whereon shall be broken all the strength of your enemies. Wherefore, now, put off your fears and inactivity, and, as soon as to-morrow’s light shall dawn, cross over to the nearest shore, and blow loudly with your horn three times. And as wax melts before the heat of the fire, so by your blasts shall the pride of your enemies, with God’s will, be dissolved, and the courage of your friends be aroused. About the ninth hour of the day, five hundred of your dearest friends shall come to you fully armed; and by this sign shall you believe me, that at the end of seven days, an army shall assemble together from the whole of this land at Mount Assandune, prepared to follow you as their king in adversity as well as in prosperity: there shall you join battle with the enemy, and, without doubt, gain the victory.” Having said these words, the saint disappeared from the eyes of the king, and the light faded away. Alfred, feeling certain that all he had heard would come to pass, yielded himself wholly to the saint’s protection and guidance.

§ 4. At the dawn of day he hastened with unusual activity to the shore, and did as he had been directed. His horn was heard both by his enemies and friends, and five hundred of his best adherents joined him, well prepared with arms. He revealed to them the vision, and said,—“We have now seen what punishment our fathers, who are dead, have, by God’s just ordinance, been suffered to receive from the barbarians for our crimes as well as theirs. We ourselves, also, are sought out, day and night, for similar treatment; nor have we any place of refuge to which we can trust. I beg you, therefore, let us obey the admonitions of our patron, St. Cuthbert. Let us be faithful to God, eschew evil, love the practice of virtue, and so shall we everywhere experience the benefit of his protection.” In short, an army from the whole country came with Alfred on the appointed day, to the mountain aforesaid; and on the other side there came that ill-omened host of fierce barbarians, trusting to their superior numbers, and to their success in former battles. They instantly engaged, but the event of the contest was not the same to both. On the one side the Christians proved, by their slaughter of the enemy, how wholesome a thing it is to trust in heavenly aid. On the other hand, the pagans experienced by their defeat, how detestable it is to presume on human pride. Thus this battle was gained without much loss to his army; and Alfred received dominion over the whole of Britain: and, as at his court he always retained in his thoughts the precepts of the saint which he had learnt when in adversity, he at all times, and in all places, prevailed over all the machinations of his adversaries.








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