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MEMORIES AND MONKS
IN the summer following that Christmas Fernando's mother took him to see the Abbey of Valle Crucis, which was several miles from the village, in a most lovely spot close to the river Dee, among level meadows with high hills all around. The road by which we went wound along the opposite side of the Dee, that on which Llanberwyn itself lay, and there were exquisite views of river, valley and mountain at every turn of it. Our mother walked, but Peveril and I were mounted on donkeys, with whose deliberate pace she had not the slightest difficulty in keeping up. In those days, and for more than thirty years afterwards, she was a marvellous walker, and on foot she had explored the heights and gorges of all the hills round Llanberwyn, adding to her collections of ferns and fossils, mosses, butterflies and land-shells.
Nearly opposite Valle Crucis we crossed the river by a bridge I had often heard of the Chamebridge I thought was its name, and it was only when I saw it that I understood it was a bridge of chains. The Dee was wide and shallow there, in places there were long and broad patches of rock and gravel left quite dry, though no doubt in winter, or in early spring when the mountain snow had melted, the whole wide river-bed was covered with water. At intervals wooden piles had been driven into the gravel, or between clefts in the rock, and from one to another of these long and thick chains had been stretched, on which planks had been laid. Yet the effect was not that of a wooden bridge, for the planks had gradually become covered with soil, from the feet of those that passed over, and with little stones, and tufts of fern and grasses had sprung up, especially along the sides, and there were spots quite green with moss or rusted with lichens. It was a very old bridge, bridge, originally put there for the common service of the people by the monks, and it was in a most picturesque disrepair, so that here and there were holes through which you saw the river down below. On the further side we came to the rich, flat meadows,
dotted with lovely trees among which what was left of the Abbey stood up, basking in the hot summer noon. There are many ruined abbeys in England whose remains are much more extensive; but it was the first I ever saw, and the impression of pathetic beauty it made on me nothing seen afterwards could wipe out or weaken. I was only five years old then, and did not become a Catholic for fifteen years more, but what it made me feel was exactly what I should have felt had I been a Catholic child; and that must have been due to the way in which our mother spoke to us of the old monks who had built it, of what it was that brought them here into the farthest wilderness, what their life was, how they served God day and night, and lived only for Him and his poor, out of sight of the selfish, greedy world. And yet she was not a Catholic till two years after her son; but I doubt if she was ever a Protestant : the name she certainly disliked and repudiated, thinking it arrogant and uncharitable. The first time I ever asked her what it meant she said, "It means those who Protest against the errors of Rome-the Catholics; but it is our business to mend our own faults and leave other people's to God." And always she
spoke with respect of the great Catholic Church, explaining that it was the religion of the greatest number of Christians, and had been our country's religion for a thousand years not that she was ever in the least ritualistic, or even very High Church as things went in England: her father, indeed, who I think was a Calvinist, would have thought her quite Popish; but the Irish Protestants have generally been more deeply Protestant than the English who are not dissenters. All this I mention because it was from my mother I learned about religion, and if she could not teach me Catholicity, she certainly never taught me Protestantism. Her own gentle and sincere, sweet and lovely religion, was like a Catholic lamp, ready trimmed and only waiting to be lighted.
It was certainly at Valle Crucis Abbey, that summer day over fifty years ago, that I began to have for monks that deep veneration and peculiar feeling of personal love that has lasted ever since, growing only stronger with clearer understanding. Not to have it at all seems to me a lack of Catholic instinct, one of the many false fruits that a non-Catholic or unbelieving environment sometimes produces
in a lean Catholic soil. Half a century after that Valle Crucis day I sat at a banquet given during a Catholic Congress, beside a most energetic Catholic gentleman, who considered Contemplative Religion quite out of date, and pointed out that this is the Age of Workershe, he owned, had always been a Worker. I did not doubt it or in the least wish to think slightingly of his earnest work (which, he assured me, caused his wife to complain that she might as well have no husband at all) but I was not certain he had contributed to the quality of the Catholic Church as much as a Carmelite nun, or a Carthusian monk, and told him so. And, after all, it is that supernatural quality that converts outsiders, not our fuss or our sweating frenzy of eloquence. What the Church is forces non-believers to see in her something they see nowhere else, not the things the wisest of us can say about her. If English Catholics have a fault, which is very improbable, may it possibly be that they think a little too well of themselves as English Catholics? That they have a lurking sense of superiority to Latin Catholics : and may be almost inclined to say, “If you want to see the Church in perfection look this way." Perhaps that was why I, who