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Of the sharp cross which he bore upon his back.

ABOVE all his other exercises, he had a longing desire to bear upon his body something which might betoken a sensible sympathy with the painful sufferings of his crucified Lord. To this end he made for himself a wooden cross, in length about a man’s span, and of corresponding breadth, and he drove into it thirty iron nails, intending to represent by them all his Lord’s wounds and love-tokens. He placed this cross upon his bare back between his shoulders on the flesh, and he bore it continually day and night in honour of his crucified Lord. After wards, in the last year, he drove into it besides seven needles, so that their points passed a long way through the cross, and remained sticking in it, while the other ends were broken off close to the wood. He bore the wounds made by these pointed needles in honour of the piercing anguish of God’s pure Mother, by which her heart and soul were wounded through and through so utterly at the hour of her Son’s agonising death. The first time that he stretched out this cross upon his back his tender frame 62was struck with terror at it, and he blunted the sharp nails very slightly upon a stone. But very soon repenting of this unmanly cowardice, he pointed and sharpened them all again with a file, and placed the cross once more upon him. It furrowed his back, where the bones are, and made it bloody and seared. Whenever he sat down or stood up, it was as if a hedgehog-skin lay upon him. If any one touched him unawares, or pushed against his clothes, it tore him. To make this painful cross more bear able, he chiselled on the back of it the saving Name of Jesus. For a long time he took two disciplines every day with this cross, in the following manner. He struck behind him with his fist upon the cross, and thus drove the nails into his flesh, and made them stick in it, so that he had to take off his clothes to get them out again. He used to strike these blows upon the cross so secretly that no one could have observed it. He took the first discipline on arriving in his contemplation at the pillar where our beautiful Lord was so barbarously scourged, and he prayed our Lord to heal His servant’s wounds with His own. He took the second discipline when he had come in contemplation beneath the cross, and the Lord had been nailed to it, 63and then he nailed himself to his Lord, never more to part from Him. He did not take the third discipline every day, but only when he had been too indulgent with himself, or had given way to inordinate pleasure in eating and drinking, or such like.

Once upon a time he had been so much off his guard as to take into his hands the hands of two maidens, who were sitting beside him in a public assembly, though without any bad intention. He soon repented of this unguardedness, and he considered that this inordinate pleasure must be atoned for by penance. As soon as he left the maidens, and had come into his chapel to his place of privacy, he struck himself upon the cross for this misdeed, so that the pointed nails stuck into his back. He moreover laid himself under an interdict for this fault, and would not allow himself to go after matins into the chapter-room, his usual place of prayer, to meet the heavenly spirits, who were wont to appear to him there during his contemplation. At length, desiring, to atone completely for the misdeed, he summoned courage, and fell at the Judge’s feet, and took a discipline in His presence with the cross; and then going round and round on every side before the saints, he took 64thirty disciplines, till the blood ran down his back. In this way he atoned very bitterly for the inordinate pleasure which he had allowed himself.

After matins had been sung, he went into the chapter-room, to his place of privacy, and kissed the ground a hundred times prostrate with outstretched arms, and a hundred times kneeling; each time with a special object of contemplation. This caused him very great pain on account of the cross. For as it was fastened tightly upon him, and driven closer to his body than a hoop is to a cask—such being his custom at this period—each time that he flung himself on the ground in making the hundred prostrations the nails stuck into him through the fall. When he got up again he writhed them out of him. But at the next fall they stuck into fresh holes, and this was a sore pain to him. If, however, they stuck into the same holes it was endurable.

There was another penitential exercise which he had previously practised. It was this: He made for himself a scourge out of a leather thong, and had it fitted with pointed brass tacks as sharp as a style, in such a way that the ends of each tack stood out on either side of the thong, 65and each of the ends had a triple point, which caused wounds in whatever part of the body they struck. Such was the kind of scourge which he made for himself; and he used to get up before matins, and go into the choir in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and there discipline himself with it severely. He practised this penance for a long time, until at last the brothers became aware of it, upon which he discontinued it.

Once, on St. Clement’s day, at the beginning of winter, he made a general confession, and that same evening, when it became dusk, he shut himself up in his cell, and stripping himself naked to his horsehair under-garment, he took out the scourge with the pointed tacks, and struck himself with it over the body and about the arms, till the blood ran down just as when one is cupped. The chief cause of this was a bent tack on the scourge, in shape like a little hook, which tore away all the flesh on which it caught. He struck himself so hard, that the scourge broke into three pieces, and while one little piece remained in his hand, the rest with the points flew against the walls. As he stood there all covered with blood, and looked at himself, the spectacle which he presented was a 66most miserable one, and he resembled in some degree Christ, our Lord, when He was barbarously scourged. Thereupon, being moved to pity for himself, he began to weep from his very heart, and kneeling down all naked and bleeding in the frosty cold, he besought God so to blot out all his sins that His merciful eves might no more behold them.

Another time, on Quinquagesima Sunday, he went, as he had done before, into his cell, when the brothers were at table; and after having stripped himself naked, he gave himself very cruel blows, so that the blood streamed down his body. But just as he was about to strike himself still harder, there came thither a brother, who had heard the noise, so that he was obliged to leave off. Then he took vinegar and salt, and rubbed them into his wounds, that the pain might be rendered greater.

On St. Benedict’s feast, the day on which he was born into this miserable world, he went at breakfast-time into his chapel, and making fast the door, stripped himself as before, and taking out the scourge, began to strike himself with it. A blow fell on his left arm, and hit the vein called mediana, or another vein near it. And as the stroke was a very severe one, the blood 67burst forth, and ran down in a stream upon his foot between the toes, and lay in a pool upon the pavement. His arm immediately swelled up to a great size, and turned blue; and this so frightened him, that he did not dare to go on striking. Now at this very time, and at the selfsame hour in which he thus struck himself, there was at another place in a certain castle a holy maiden, named Anna, praying, who seemed to herself to be carried in a vision to the spot where he was taking the discipline. And when she saw the hard blows which he was giving himself, it so moved her to compassion that, going up to him just as he had raised his arm, and was on the point of striking, she intercepted the blow, and received it on her own arm, as it seemed to her in the vision. When she came to herself again, she found the mark of the blow on her arm in black wales, as if she had been hit by a scourge. These marks remained visible upon her for a long time, and they were accompanied with great pain.

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