Saint Basil and the Lusty Servant

In my continuing series of interesting saints’ lives stories, I discovered this one in The Golden Legend, a popular medieval hagiography. It’s long, but at least to me, it’s also funny and has some good moments of tension and anticipation. One day, I’ll get around to recording myself performing it, because this is definitely a piece that’s better watched than read.

Saint Basil and the Lusty Servant
Katherine Ashewode
based on “Saint Basil, Bishop”, #26 of The Golden Legend
July 2011

Heradius, a noble lord,
had a daughter he adored
beyond all life, fair of face
and manners that were fit to grace
the highest halls bedecked with gold.
But yet the man would not withhold
his daughter’s life from God above.
He pledged that he would full in love
allow his kin in cloistered halls
to offer prayers within the walls
of faith. But as the girl prepared,
the Devil, king of Hell, declared
that such a thing would never be!
No psalms would rise, no hymns would flee
her honeyed lips! He hatched a scheme,
and showed the girl within a dream
to servant of the noble’s house.
Inflamed with lust he could not douse
the servant sought to catch her eye,
but knew that status would defy
his hopes to win the lady’s hand.
He was no lord, he had no grand
estates, no gold or silver coin!
But if the swelling of his loin
would never sate through mortal force,
he thought perhaps he’d find a course
through magic, dark and evil art,
and sought a mage to change the heart
that beat within his lady’s breast.
The mage refused the slave’s request,
had not the power to comply,
but said the boy could fortune try
by calling on the force of Hell.
Upon the crossroad stood he well
as darkness covered all the night
and raised his voice to loud recite
the chant to summon Satan king.
His words had scarcely ceased to ring
when he was bound on every side
by demons, who will ever hide
from God and men of holy worth
to ply their sins beneath the Earth
and capture those whose thoughts will stay
as did our servant’s on the day
he thought to call to Satan dark.
The devil answered to the hark
of servant boy who called his name,
and told him he could well inflame
the lady’s heart to match his own,
but first he needed to be shown
a letter in the boy’s own hand
that said that he would never stand
upon the side of Jesus Christ
nor ever would he be enticed
to set his foot within a church
and in the market never search
for priest or monk or holy saint
to rid him of the blackened taint
the devil placed upon his soul.
The servant set upon a scroll
the words the Devil had him write
and placed it, not the least contrite,
within the midst of Satan’s grasp.
The demon-lord began to rasp
and said he would the bargain fill.
That very night he would distill
a force of lust within the noble maid
that none could vanquish, none evade.
The servant turned and homeward sped
and found the words that had been said
by Lucifer had all transpired.
The lady who he so desired
yearned for him with all her heart
and wished to never be apart
from servant boy. The lady wailed
and told her father if he failed
to give her hand in wedded pledge
that she would take a sharpened edge
and plunge it deep within her breast
so she would find eternal rest
but he would pass his days in grief
and never would he find relief
until the time the trumpets sound
and Holy Christ in glory crowned
by angels on the Judgement Day.
The father could not but obey
the wishes that his daughter spoke
and pledged that he would now revoke
his plans for her to wed to the Lord
and would instead her hand award
to servant boy, and so it passed.
The maid and servant gathered fast
within the bounds of married life.
And for a time, the noble wife
was happy in her wedded bliss,
and in her joy she could dismiss
her husband’s oft ungodly ways,
for he would never speak in praise
of Christ, nor raise his voice in prayer,
nor set his foot upon the square
before the Church or chapel gate.
And gossip, which will not abate,
began to spread from mouth to ear:
the reason he would not appear
within the church on Sunday morn
was that he never had been born
to Christ or baptized by a priest,
and as the rumours quick increased
the lady cried and tore her nails
and asked her husband if the tales
the widows told were true and right.
The servant now was full in fright
and told his wife of all he’d done
to gain her hand and be the one
to lie within her wedded bed.
The lady felt the force of dread
and hurried quick to market street
in hope that she would find and meet
Saint Basil, who in city stayed.
Swift as thought, she found and bade
him homeward come to her abode
and soon they’d passed from square to road
to home, where harrowed servant lay.
Saint Basil said that he would pray
to God above to end his plight
and bring him back to godly sight
so high in heaven he could dwell.
He placed the servant in a cell
and made the cross upon his brow,
and said that he would not allow
the Devil to receive his soul.
For three full days the church bell tolled,
till Basil opened wide the door,
and loud the servant cursed and swore,
“I find no rest from Satan’s kin,
and all the time I’m shut within
the cell, their torments never cease!
I haven’t any rest or peace
but hear their every mocking word!
They say my fate I well incurred
by going forth to seek them out!
They hold my letter, taunt and shout
and say I chose to seek their aid!”
Saint Basil soft the servant bade
and placed the cross upon his head.
He said his path could well be led
away from Satan’s demon kin
and once more shut the servant in
’till three more days had come and gone.
And when, upon the third day’s dawn,
he turned the key within the door
again the servant cursed and swore!
“The demons now are hid from sight
but still I hear them, day and night,
tormenting me and hurling jeers!
Their voices always in my ears
so I may never rest of sleep!”
Saint Basil bid the man to keep
his faith in God and Holy Ghost
and soon he would have cause to boast
and fear no more from Satan’s hell.
Again he closed the servant’s cell
and three more days he sat and prayed,
and when again a visit paid
to servant’s cell, he saw him laugh!
“I saw you fight on my behalf
within a vision, clear as light!
You beat the devil as a knight
commander on the field of war!”
Saint Basil then the servant bore
to stand within the church’s walls
and all the people heard his calls
to join in prayer to save his charge
and as their voices echoed large
the devil came with all his horde
and placed their hands upon the ward
that Basil had within his care.
Their strength was so beyond compare
they dragged at saint and servant both
and cried upon unholy oath
the servant did belong to them
for he had come and grabbed the hem
of Satan’s robes to gain his aid,
they had the script the servant made
and said it was undoubted fact!
But Basil said that he would act
to counter Satan, never cease
until the Devil would release
the letter that the boy had writ
and to the saint’s own will submit.
He raised his hands to heaven high
and chorused with a mighty cry
that God fulfill his holy pleas.
And there, descending on a breeze,
the letter fell within his hand.
He raised it with a firm demand,
“Is this your letter, your own script?”
The servant nodded, tightly gripped
the saintly garments, full of fright,
but Basil set the page alight
and as the smoke to heaven curled
the Devil scathing insults hurled
and fell away from saintly force
and hurried fast upon the course
that led him down to deepest flame.
Basil, Saint of God, proclaimed
the servant now was free from hell
and bid him go and peaceful dwell
in wedded bliss and free from fears.
And so he lived for all his years
until the Lord received his life.
And so I hope that any strife
that falls to you upon this day
can just as quick be cast away
so you can live in peace and rest
and ever in the Lord be blessed.

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