Saturday, 18 May 2013
The Juggler of Notre Dame
A French Legend based on the original story by Anatole France
GLOBE-DEMOCRAT SUNDAY MAGAZINE, DECEMBER 25, 1966
Many years ago in France, there lived a poor juggler named Barnabas who went through the towns and cities performing tricks of strength and skill. Crowds that would gather in the streets and market places to watch him tossed coins which enabled him to earn his bread.
Barnabas was a great performer. He could throw himself backwards until his neck touched his heels, his body forming a perfect wheel, and in that position juggle twelve knives. He was known all over the country. Nevertheless, he had a hard time earning his livelihood by the sweat of his brow. He carried more than his share of the miseries attached to the sin of Adam. He could not work as much as he wished and in winter he suffered from cold and hunger. But because his heart was simple, he suffered his ills in patience.
He lived honestly, soberly, never taking God's name in vain. Barnabas was not inclined toward material things and he had a simple prayer he would say before the image of the Mother of God:
"Madame, take care of my life until it may please God that I shall die, and when I die let me have the joys of paradise"
One cold, rainy night he was walking along a road seeking a barn that he might use for sleeping when he met a monk who befriended him and convinced him it was more noble to spend his life working for God in a monastery than being a juggler. Thus Barnabas became a monk. In the priory he became aware of the many devoted men, each contributing his skill, learning and service to the glory of God. Some composed books, others copied them with a learned hand on leaves of vellum, others carved great and beautiful statues and still others executed magnificent paintings and composed poems and hymns. At Christmas the monks would bring their finest works and offer them as gifts to God. Seeing such competition, Barnabas lamented his ignorance and simplicity.
"Alas" he sighed while alone, "I am not able, like my brothers, to offer much in praise to God and His Blessed Mother. I am a rough and artless man." He was sad indeed and forlorn.
One night when the monks were conversing, he heard one of them relate the story of a religious who could recite nothing but the Ave Maria. This monk was disdained for his ignorance; but when he died five roses came out of his mouth in honor of the five letters in the name of Maria, and thus his simplicity was manifested.
While he listened to this tale, Barnabas admired once more the kindness of Mary, the Mother of God; but he was not consoled by the example of that death, for his heart was full of zeal and he wished to serve the glory of God. He sought the means of doing this but failed and his affliction increased day by day. But one morning, he awoke joyfully, ran to the chapel and stayed there alone for more than an hour.
Each day after this, he visited the chapel at an hour when it was deserted and passed there a great part of his time. He was no longer sad and no longer complained.
His behavior was soon thought curious by the Prior and the Elders and they decided to watch Barnabas in the solitude of the chapel. They saw him through the cracks in the doors before the altar, head downward, his feet in the air, juggling with six copper balls and twelve knives. He was doing for God those professional feats which had pleased his audiences most and provided the greatest applause.
Not comprehending that this simple man was offering his only talent and learning to God, the Elders thought it a sacrilege. The Prior knew that Barnabas's heart was innocent but thought he had fallen into insanity. They were preparing to drag him from the chapel when they saw Mary, the Mother of God descend the stairs of the altar, take her blue mantle and wipe the perspiration from Barnabas's forehead.
The Prior witnessing this, fell to his knees and said:
"Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God"
"Amen,” replied the Elders, kissing the earth.
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- As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.