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The Drowned Sacristan

William of Malmesbury
There was once a sacristan devoted to the Queen of the world, but he would all the same have met a disgraceful end if she had not come to his aid in person.


The errant monk always greeted Our Lady with
a Hail Mary

He was given to lustful desires, and burned for a neighboring woman whom his roving eye and a recklessness that had no share in good counsel had marked out as his prey.

Past the church flowed a river, beyond which the woman lived. And so he used to make clandestine forays there. But as the crossing inevitably took him past an altar to Our Lady, he never went by his Lady without a greeting, "Hail Mary, full of grace," and the rest.

This went on for a long time. But then God in the rigor of His mercy decided to put a stop to such wicked behavior. The monk, after greeting his Lady, came to the river. He thought he had found the familiar ford in the river, but he missed his way and fell into deep water, where he was sucked down and drowned.

Meanwhile, the bell rung by the sacristan that by custom interrupted the slumber of the monks did not sound. When the sound of cock crow throughout the village awoke the monks, some of them got up and burst into the church but they could not find the sacristan.

Young people are curious by nature, and some of the youth from the village went looking for the missing sacristan all around the monastery. Finally they came to the river. Following his tracks they found the body trapped in the water and brought it to dry land. Grievous was the cry that went up. The air was filled with wails and lamentation as the monks gathered around.

While this was going on, the body shook itself, and at the first attempt arose and stood. Now the tears of sorrow changed to those of joy, and the astonished monks asked the sacristan how he came to die and return to life.

devil monk

The Devil was preparing to take away the sacristan when Our Lady intervened

He revealed the course of events, and then said: "When I had drowned and vomited up my life in gasps, angels and demons surrounded me, contending with each other for my soul. In the end the victory went to the dark spirits.

"The angels, discomfited because they were unable to say much good of me, were on the point of departing when, lo! my Lady, the Mother of the Lord, appeared on the scene, her countenance flashing.

"She enquired of the demons why they were so angry with me. They replied that I deserved to be punished because I did not repent my sins, but while still in their grip had died the death of shameless and scurrilous sinner, and proceeded to list terrible sins that, horrible as I be, I never fell into.

"She replied indignantly, 'You lie, wicked demons. What I know is that he never left the monastery without greeting me. One who died almost the same moment of saluting me must meet no bad death. If you have a just cause of complaint, let us go to law with my Son as judge.'

"When this dispute began, still no judgment had been reached, no sentence handed down from on high. Then I suddenly found myself here with you, goodness knows how, but through the mercy of my Holy Lady. Of that I am certain.'

Thus restored to perfect health, he lived a holy and discreet life before dying a beautiful and fortunate death in the fullness of his days.

Our Lady of Mercy

Our Lady shows mercy and protection
to all who invoke her tenderly

Adapted from The Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary by William of Malmesbury,
Trans. by R.M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, Boydell Press: 2017, pp 55-56

Posted March 27, 2021

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