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The Tumbler of Our Lady

Hugh O’Reilly

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H011_ol_tumbler05.jpg - 29293 Bytes

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A jester entered a monastery and after a time, became very sad because he could not participate in the praying of the Divine Office or in the intellectual or artistic activities of the monks. He was afraid of being expelled as a useless mouth to feed. One day, while he was in the crypt of the Church before a statute of Our Lady a marvelous inspiration came to him.

When he heard the bell for the Mass, while he was arranging his garb he thought: “Oh! How unfortunate I am! Each one is fulfilling his duty now, but I am here like a tethered ox with naught to do but chew its cud. What should I do? What should I say?  I will at least do something for the Mother of God, and none is here to blame. I will do what I know how to do, what I learned, which is my office. The others serve her with chant, and I will serve her with tumbling.”

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The tumbler performed his best somersault in the air
Then, he took off his cowl, and approaching close to the altar he humbly gazed at the statue of Our Lady and said: “Lady, to Thy fair charge I give my body and soul. Sweet Queen, charming Lady, do not scorn the thing I know, for with the help of God I will exert myself in good faith to serve Thee. I do not know how to chant or read, so I will set before Thee what art I have. I will be like the lamb that jumps and frolics before its mother. Lady, Thou who art nowise bitter to those who serve Thou with a good intent, accept my actions with Thy good pleasure.”

Then he started his merry play, leaping low and small, tall and high, over and under. Then he bowed and knelt before the statue: “Ah! My most sweet Queen, of Thy pity and Thy nobility, do not scorn my service.”

Again, he leaped and capered and with great ardor made the somersault of Metz [a type of acrobatic]. Again, he bowed before the statue, paid it reverence and all the honor that he might. Next, he did the Spanish vault, and then the vaults they love in Brittany, then the vault of Lorraine. He did all these feats as best as he was able. Afterward, he did the Roman vault, and then, with hands before his brow, he danced with charm before the altar, gazing humbly at the statue of the Mother of God.

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A handstand for his Queen
“My Lady,” he said, “here is a beautiful somersault, which I proudly offer to Thee only. I do not tumble for my own delight, but to serve Thee, and this alone is my recompense. Just as my brothers serve Thou, so also do I serve Thou. Do not scorn Thy servant, I beg Thee, for I do it for Thy pleasure. Thou art the most perfect creature who makes the entire world more beautiful!”  Then, he stood on his head and walked upside-down. His feet were moving joyfully, but his eyes were weeping…

He leaped and sprang until he was worn out and could do no more. Every day in his simplicity he would repeat his exercises of piety. But one day a certain monk discovered his secret and revealed it to the Abbot. Then the two of them hid themselves near the altar where they could see and not be seen to watch the acrobatics of the minstrel.

The Abbot and the monk saw the whole performance of the tumbler, the many vaults, as well as his nimble leaping and dancing. They saw him bow toward the statue and then bound and leap until he was nigh to faint. So weak was he that he sank to the ground, all worn out, and the sweat fell from his body to the ground, wetting the pavement of the crypt. But then, without delay, from her niche came the Sweet Lady to his need. Well she knew that guileless heart.

The Abbot watched everything attentively. He saw that there came down from the vault of the altar toward the jester a Lady so glorious that certainly no man had seen one so brilliant, so richly dressed, and so beautiful. Her vesture was marvelous, covered with gold and precious stones. In her train came the Angels and Archangels of Heaven, and they pressed close about the minstrel, and solaced and refreshed him. When their shining ranks drew near, peace fell on his heart. For they contended to do him a service, so they might be part of the work of the Lady who is a most precious Pearl.

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Our Lady took her kerchief to refresh her exhausted tumbler
Then, the sweet and noble Queen herself took a white kerchief in her hand and with it gently fanned her minstrel who rested before the altar. The sweet and most good Lady refreshed his neck, body and brow, showing him a great concern as she comforted him.

The two witnesses withdrew. The Abbot called for the jester, asked him to tell his story, congratulated him and encouraged him to continue his devotion. Upon hearing this, the good tumbler rejoiced so greatly that the great emotion caused him to fall ill. He did not rise again from his bed, and shortly he died, surrounded by the Abbot and all the monks. These all humbly watched the dying man, and saw with their own eyes this wonder. About that lowly bed, the Virgin with her Angels appeared again to him, to await the passing of his soul, which she gathered to her bosom and brought to Paradise.

Thus ends the story of the tumbler. Fair was his tumbling, fair was his service, for with it he gained such high honor as is above all earthly honors.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Based on Lagarde & Michaud, Moyen Age, p. 109
Posted on September 29, 2007

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