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The Monk at Lorch Abbey
Not far from the ancient little town of Heppenheim, the ruins of the once rich and powerful Benedictine Abbey, Lorch, stand on an island in the Rhine. This abbey had been founded by Pepin, father of Charlemagne, King of the Franks, and it stood during many centuries, until the devastations of the Thirty Years' War destroyed the church and cloister.
Once when Charles the Great was journeying through the Rhine countries he came to a cloister situated on an island in the Rhine. The old ruler was received by the Abbot and the brethern with great respect. Being weary the emperor retired early to his chamber, but the cares of his kingdom drove sleep from his eyes; finding no rest he arose and went to the little church attached to the cloister to relieve his heart in prayer. Thinking himself quite alone he knelt down at the altar and remained there for some time in fervent devotion.
When he was about to return, he saw to his surprise that he had not been alone. A tall gray-haired monk was kneeling behind him apparently absorbed in deep prayer, and a young man was standing near. The emperor, hidden behind a large pillar, felt himself attracted by this strange pair.
The venerable appearance of the old monk struck his attention, and he observed him closely. He waited patiently till the monk had finished his devotions, and as the old man was led away by his youthful guide, Charlemagne saw that he was blind.
In the morning the emperor related what had happened to the Abbot and enquired after the name of the monk; but the only information he could receive concerning him was, that he was called Bernhardus and had come from a distant cloister; his lineage and the name of the monastery where he had formerly dwelt, he obstinately refused to divulge. Impelled by curiosity and sympathy the emperor desired to be conducted to the monk's cell.
When he was face to face with the old man the emperor's features underwent a great change. He could no longer be mistaken; this tall man in whose countenance pain and sorrow had left their traces, had once worn a prince's crown, had married the daughter of the King of Lombardy, and when Charlemagne had dethroned Desiderius, his father-in-law, this man had rebelled against him, had been imprisoned and afterwards generously forgiven; but having again plotted against the emperor, the latter had sent him to a cloister for the rest of his life, there to repent his wicked deeds. Yes! it was Thassilo, Duke of Bavaria.
Thus the feudal lord and his vassal stood before each other again, conqueror and conquered, both grown gray with life's cares; the latter, robbed of his eyesight, not knowing who thus addressed him.
"My brother," said Charles greatly touched, grasping the monk's hand, "he who now is speaking to you was once your great enemy. Both our heads have grown gray, and the resentment of the feudal lord against his proud vassal has disappeared for ever. Those times of hatred are long since past. Charlemagne stands before you offering you pardon and wishing to be reconciled to you. Let all rancour which you once fostered against me flee from your heart."
Overcome by emotion the monk fell down at the emperor's feet.
"My King and my Sovereign!" cried he in a broken voice. "I have sinned heavily against you, but will strive to expiate this wrong by penance and atonement until death. When I heard of your arrival in the cloister I went by night to the altar, praying to Heaven for forgiveness for my past life, and I now implore your pardon, which is my last earthly wish."
The monk overcome with emotion fell fainting to the ground. Charlemagne, deeply moved, ordered ,every attention to be paid to his old enemy. The next morning the emperor, wishing to see Thassilo, went himself to the monk's cell, but the Abbot informed him that the old man had quietly expired during the night.Click to go to the next section of the Legends of the Rhine