A faithful lion helps St. Jerome’s monastery

Pocket Bard’s notes: I’ve gotta say, I really like the animal stories, especially when you’ve got one as anthropomorphized as this. But the thing that strikes me most about this story is that no one who’s portrayed as being in the wrong was, in fact, in the wrong. The lion fell asleep but did not eat the ass. The merchants who stole the ass assumed it was wild because it was unguarded, and even though they make restitutions (which continue in perpetuity, I might add), they didn’t actually have any reason to do so. Ah, saints lives, where you should know that you’ve done something wrong, even though there’s no way you could possibly know.

A faithful lion helps St. Jerome’s monastery
The Golden Legend, Volume II, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.213-215

In time the saint was so worn out and weakened that he lay on his cot and had a rope hanging from an overhead beam, by which he pulled himself upright to follow the offices of the monastery as well as he could. One day toward evening, when he was seated with the brethren to hear the sacred lessons read, a lion suddenly limped into the monastery. The other monks fled at the sight of the beast, but Jerome greeting him as a guest. The lion showed him his wounded foot, and Jerome called the brothers and ordered them to wash the animal’s feet and to dress the wound carefully. When they set about doing this, they found that the paw had been scratched and torn by thorns. They did what was necessary, and the lion recovered, lost all his wildness, and lived among the monks like a house pet.

By this time, however, Jerome sensed that the Lord had not sent them the lion for the health of the wounded paw, but so that the animal could render them some service. The saint therefore followed the advice of his monks and assigned a duty to the lion. The monks had an ass that carried firewood in from the forest, and it became the lion’s chore to lead the ass out to pasture and to watch over her safety. And so it went. Once the care of the ass was enjoined upon the lion, they were constant companions. He guarded her like a faithful shepherd, going with her to pasture and being a most vigilant defender. He looked after his own food and the ass went about her accustomed work, but at fixed hours he led his charge home.

Then one day, when the ass was feeding and the lion fell into a deep sleep, some merchants passed that way with their camels and, seeing the ass unguarded, made off with her at once. When the lion woke up and did not see his companion, he ran hither and yon, roaring, but did not find the ass. He went sadly back to the monastery but was ashamed to go in as he usually did. The monks, seeing him come home late and without his ward, concluded that hunger had made him eat the ass. Therefore they would not give him his usual provisions and said to him: “Get out, and go eat what’s left of the poor little ass, and satisfy your gluttony!”

The monks, however, found it hard to believe that the lion had done this bad thing, and they went out to the pastures to see if they could discover any sign of what had happened; but there was none, and they reported the whole matter to Jerome. At his suggestion they turned the ass’s work over to the lion and loaded the cut wood on his back. The lion submitted to this patiently. Then one day, when his work was finished, he went out to the fields, running to and fro and hoping to learn what had become of his companion. Then at a distance he saw a train of merchants with their loaded camels, and an ass leading the way: in that religion it is usual, in order to keep the camels on the right track when they have a long way to go, to have them follow an ass that leads them with a rope around its neck. The lion recognized his friend and with a terrifying roar rushed upon the caravan and put all the men to flight. Then, still roaring terribly and flailing the ground with its tail, he drove the frightened camels, laden as they were, toward the monastery. The monks saw them coming and notified Jerome, who said: “Wash the feet of our guests, dearest brothers! Offer them food, and above all, await the will of the Lord!”

Now the happy lion began to run around the monastery, prostrating himself before each brother and swishing his tail as if to beg pardon for the perpetrated fault although he had not committed it. Jerome, foreseeing what was about to happen, said to the monks: “Go, brothers, and get ready to provide our arriving guests with whatever they need!” He was still speaking when a messenger came to tell him that some visitors were outside and wanted to see the abbot. When Jerome went out to meet the merchants, they threw themselves at his feet, asking his pardon for the wrong they had done. He brought them kindly to their feet, and admonished them to take what was theirs and not to usurp what belonged to others. They prevailed upon Jerome to accept half their oil in return for his blessing. Reluctantly consenting, he accepted their offer. Furthermore they promised that every year the same measure of oil would be given to the monks, and that their heirs would be ordered to continue this practice.


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