A Hermit in his Meadow

The Order of Chivalry: The Hermit Knight

In a previous blog we learned about the polymath and Christian mystic Ramon Llull (c.1232–c.1315/16) and his Book of the Order of Chivalry, which became a standard manual for chivalry in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Llull’s book begins with the story of a young man about to be knighted:1

Once upon a time there was a wise knight who had long upheld the Order of Chivalry with the nobility and strength of his lofty courage, and whom wisdom and good fortune had favored. But there came a day when the ravages of time prevented him from fulfilling his duties as he thought he ought. So he gave all his lands and possessions to his children, and retired alone to a forest to live as a hermit. In the midst of the forest was a meadow, and a great tree, and abundant fruit, and a fine clear spring. And the knight was in the habit of spending his days under the tree to worship, contemplate and praise God for the great honor paid to him throughout his life in this world.

At the same time, at the beginning of a harsh winter, a great and noble king ordered the courts to assemble. And because of the great fame of his court throughout the land, a valorous squire, riding all alone on his palfrey2, was going there to be dubbed a new knight. And because of the travail he endured from riding, he fell asleep. While the squire was riding in this manner his palfrey left the road and wandered into the forest, following its nose until it came to the meadow in which the hermit knight was contemplating God and spurning the vanity of this world as was his habit every day.

 

The squire awoke, and saw before him the knight, who was very old, with a full beard, long hair, and tattered old clothes; and because of his long penance he was thin and pale, and because of the tears he was shedding his eyes were hollow rimmed, and he looked as if he had led a very righteous life.

The hermit knight inquired, and the squire explained his errand to become a knight, and how he came to be in the meadow. When the hermit knight heard talk of knighthood, he remembered the Order of Chivalry and all that pertains to it, and became very pensive. The squire asked his thoughts, and the hermit knight replied, “Fine son, my thoughts are about the Order of Chivalry and the great duty that a knight has when he upholds the high honor of Chivalry.”

The squire beseeched the knight to tell him about the Order of Chivalry, and how it can be better honored and preserved. The hermit knight responded, “Fine friend, the Rule and the Order of Chivalry is contained in this book that I have here, from which I sometimes read so that it will make me remember the grace and mercy that God has shown me in this world.” And the hermit knight gave his book to the squire, who read it, and exclaimed “O Lord God! Blessed be Thy name, who has led me to a place and time where I may acquire the knowledge about Chivalry that I have desired for so long.”

“Kind son,” says the hermit knight, “I am close to death and my days are few. Therefore, since this book was written to restore the devotion, the loyalty and the Rule that the knight must observe, take it with you to the court where you are going, and show it to all who wish to be new knights.”

So the hermit knight blessed the squire, and the squire took the book and set out for the court. And wisely and discreetly he entrusted this book to the most noble king, and to all the great court, and the king required any knight who would aspire to be in the Order of Chivalry to make a copy of it so that from time to time he might read and remember the Order of Chivalry.

Llull’s tale ends here, but the squire’s story continues:

So the squire was knighted “Sir Elfred.” And the years passed, and he grew in prowess and nobility, defending the kingdom, protecting widows and orphans, helping the needy with his largess, and rescuing ladies in distress. Indeed, he became one of the most honored knights in the kingdom for his courageous and selfless service to God, king and country. He was also a skillful musician on diverse instruments, pleasing the court with his musical depth of soul.

Alas, there came a battle in which Sir Elfred was blinded. In honor of his long and exemplary service, the king made him court musician for life. But Sir Elfred’s sorrow and shame, that one day he was so powerful, and the next so helpless that he had to be led by the hand like a child — it was too much for him. So he gave his armor, steed, weapons, and copy of The Order of Chivalry to a young squire, took on the habit of a lowly monk, and shut himself up in the Grail Cathedral there, praying with his voice and also with his fingers on the organ day and night.

And every Lord’s day, in the evening as the sun was setting, the cathedral would fill with people who came from near and far to hear the monk’s organ music inspire them to all that was true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.3

The Hermit Knight:4


Photo Credits:

Cathedral: Sainte-Chapelle, chapel of the French monarchs. Photo by Bradley Weber via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Organ: The Silbermann organ at Wasselonne, France, built 1745, on which the Order of Chivalry: the Hermit Knight was recorded. See here (you may be able to right-click and select ‘translate to English’)

Footnotes:

  1. Adapted from:

    Llull, Ramon. Fallows, Noel (trans.). The Book of the Order of Chivalry. Boydell Press, 2013. ISBN 978-1843838494. Amazon. pp. 35-39.

    Llull, Ramon. Caxton, William (trans.). The Book of the Ordre of Chyvalry or Knyghthode. 1484, reprinted Walter J. Johnson, Inc., 1976. ISBN 9022107787. (No page numbers available.)

  2. “palfrey”: a docile horse used for ordinary riding
  3. “… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think on these things.” Phil. 4:8
  4. Recorded using this marvelous organ sample set and Hauptwerk. William also plays this piece live.

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