The Miracles of Our Lady Saint Mary

St Thomas of Canterbury

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ERE I will tell of a noble work that Christ's Mother did for her dear servant and martyr, Saint Thomas, that was Bishop of Canterbury. In a good time began the friendship that was between them, to wit, whilst he was yet but a young scholar in the University of Paris; for already he did love that Lady with a great devotion, and served her with his lips and with his life.

And it happened at this time that one day he walked with other young men, his fellow students in that city, and they jested together concerning the sweethearts that they had; boasting one against the other, each of the fairness of his friend. Then said Saint Thomas, wishing to prevail over them, for he was but a young man, and somewhat vainglorious:

"She whom I call sweetheart is fairest of all; for there is no woman in all France to compare with her, neither for beauty nor for loving kindness." And this he said, meaning by his

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words to honour Our Most Blessed Lady, the Virgin Mary; for she was the only mistress that he had.       But his friends, deeming that he spoke of earthly love, laughed, because they knew that he desired to be priested, and went little amongst women. And they said, "We do not believe that you have any sweetheart. If that you have one, tell us her name, that we may know her since she be so fair."       

He answered, "That I may not do; but sweetheart I have exceeding fair and gracious. Little would you heed any other could you but see her."

Then said they, "No doubt this mistress of yours has given you some gage or token, as is the custom amongst lovers?"       

"This hath she done for certain," said he. "And it is finer than any you have seen."

But in this he lied, for no testimony had he received that Saint Mary accepted his devotion.

Then one and another showed the love-gage that he had, and said, "Is it fairer than this?"

And he answered, "It is more lovely by far."

And so at last his fellows were provoked by this boasting, and they said, "If you will not tell us the name of your mistress, show us at least her love-token, that we may know you speak truth."

He said, "That I cannot do."       

They answered, " If you cannot, it is because you have it not. And now we believe not that you have any sweetheart, or if you have, it is

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but some serving-wench whose kisses you buy of her, and she has given you no token." And he was abashed and could not answer.

Then they departed from him, and Saint Thomas went to his home. And now he was full of grief, for it seemed to him that by his idle boasting he had defaced the honour of his glorious Mistress, that should be to him so great a treasure, for that he had made her holy name the subject of light talk and vain dispute. Therefore, going into his oratory, he fell on his knees before her image and cried her mercy very humbly, saying:       

"Alas, most blessed Virgin! How great has been my presumption, in that I have dared to call you friend, and set your love against that of earthly women! And by this I have been led to worldly conversation, to vainglory and untruthfulness, a thing that ill becomes your loyal servitors. And little benefit have I got of this fault, for my companions that I undertook to deceive know well that I have lied to them, and for this they will despise me, as they should. Great Queen and dearest Lady, I do most heartily entreat your pardon, the which if you will grant it me, I will serve you henceforth in secret all my life, for most truly I love you; nor will I be ever led to the misusing of your name."       

Then he made his devotion with tears and supplications, saying Salve Regina and Ave Maria! very devoutly, as her servants should.

Now when God's Mother saw his repentance

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she had pity on her servant, for she knew that he loved her truly and was of an upright life, and it displeased her that he should be brought into contempt for that by reverence he would not name her to his companions that demanded it. Therefore she came, and appeared before him in that oratory, and spoke to him comfortable words of pardon and encouragement.       

And she said, "Know, Thomas, that I am most truly your Friend and Sweetheart, that am ever with you to be companion of your loneliness and help in your need; therefore fear not to confess me, for none may have more faithful nor more loving Bride. And I have brought you a love-gage, in token of the troth that is between us; and it is my will that you take and carry it to your companions that they may know that you speak truth."

Then did the Queen of Angels give into the hands of Saint Thomas a little casket, most fairly wrought of goldsmiths' work and set with precious stones. On the sides of it was emblazoned in fair colours the lily-flower of Our Lady, and about it much tabernacle work in the manner of those coffers wherein are kept the relics of the saints.       

And she said to him, " Take heed of this gift, for know that all your life and all your honour is therein. Yea! not alone the glories of your earthly pilgrimage, but that perdurable joy which my Son has laid up for those our servants that will be faithful even unto death. 'Pretiosa in conspectu Domini mors Sanctorum ejus.'"

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Then that most gracious Queen departed, and went back to Paradise, where of her infinite compassion she does intercede for us before her Son. And Saint Thomas, being filled with new courage by reason of the mercy he had had, went and sought out his companions, and he showed to them his love-gage, and told them all that had passed: how that he was dedicate to Our Lady, and how that she had wrought for him this miracle that she might give him token of her love. Then took they the little casket to open it, for they greatly desired to see what was therein, for that she had said that all his life and honour were in it. And when it was open they found a little vestment, most marvellously fashioned of the fairest stuffs: and they were filled with amazement, for these were those robes that bishops wear when they say Our Lady's Mass. By this token they all did know that the glorious Virgin was truly the friend of Saint Thomas, and that she was minded to bring her lover to great honour in the Church, and to the charge and governance of many souls. For this cause they gave him worship, yet he held himself ever very humbly, since he knew that to his Mistress belonged the praise.

Now when that Our Lady's promise was accomplished, and Saint Thomas was Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of this land, she did to him another courtesy; for she forgets not her lovers ever, as earthly women do, but is ever quick to do them kindliness.

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At this time that holy bishop was driven by God's enemies into exile; and he fled into France to Pontigny, and dwelt in the monastery of the Cistercians in that town. And for many years Saint Thomas had worn next to his skin a shirt and breeches made of hair; for the greater mortification of his flesh, and that he might ever keep in mind his Saviour's pains. But none knew it, save only a holy woman, an anchoress of Canterbury, to whom he would take the said garments so that she might mend them.       

But when that he was compelled to flee into France for his safety, because of the suddenness of his going he could not provide himself with a change of this vesture; and for that it was very old and greatly worn, that which he had on him was falling to pieces. Therefore, being in Pontigny, where he might not get what he needed without disclosing the matter, which for humility's sake he did not desire to do, Saint Thomas was in great perplexity; for indeed his breeches fell into many holes, and would scarce stay on him. Thus it was, that one day, finding himself alone in the monastery church, and being in the chapel of Our Lady at the head of the choir where few passed save at the hour of her Office, it came into his mind that he would try what he might do for the mending of the said hair breeches. And he took them off his body very discreetly, and examined them where they should be sewed. But at this craft Saint Thomas had no skill,

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being indeed wholly ignorant of the matter, as is the manner of men; and how to begin he knew not, nor yet what contrivance he must use, for he had not the needle and thread that the business required. But far otherwise was it with his Sweetheart, that is the Queen of Ladies. Of such matters the Blessed Virgin is not ignorant; nay, rather is she skilful in the rendering of womanly service, for she is the very Pattern of right womanhood.

Therefore she came, and saluted that bishop her lover with much courtesy, and comforted his fears. "What!" she said, "would you do this alone, that might have your Friend to help you? Let be, for this is woman's work."      

And thus said, she took the breeches from his hands and sat down beside him, and repaired all the rents that were in them most properly and well. And when the work was done, she vanished.

Then did Saint Thomas burst into tears, and he fell down on his knees and lauded the glorious Virgin right lovingly, because she had remembered her servant and humbled herself to minister to his needs. And he did on the clothing that she had mended for him, for now it was made new and whole; and so great was the joy he had of it that it seemed softer than the finest silk. But he told this adventure to none, for he feared to boast of the favour that his Lady had shown him.

Now that all may know that this history is true, I will here put in writing another marvel

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that befell to Saint Thomas, after that he returned to his cathedral-church of Canterbury in England. For because of the prayers that he made to Our Lady his helper, for the healing of that strife which was therein between the King and Holy Church, Philip King of France did contrive the matter, and peace was made. So Saint Thomas might go again to the Kingdom of England, there to minister to his faithful folk.       

Now when he had been some while there established, dissension arose within his diocese, because certain men, the which were but Pharisees and hypocrites, accused to his vicar a priest of the place, that was of right happy and holy life, making complaint of him that he never celebrated any other Mass than that of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. For this was a young man that lived wholly in the love of Our Lady; but though he had a heart full of fervour, he was but slow of wit. And because of the exceeding great devotion that he had for the glorious Virgin, whilst he was still very young

he laboured greatly that he might perfect himself in the saying of her Mass. And this he learnt, though indeed he was unlettered and knew nought that a clerk should understand; but those other Masses which Holy Church appoints for the due observing of her feasts, he might not learn, for all scholarship was too hard for him save when it concerned the Mistress whom he loved.

And this young man, being greatly impatient

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to serve the Queen of Angels at her altar, did so importune his Ordinary that at last he prevailed with him, and despite his lack of learning was made priest. And every day in the chapel that was at his house he did celebrate the Mass of Christ's Mother, to wit, that which beginneth "Salve, sancta Parens," with much devotion and a right heavenly joy.

Which thing was greatly pleasing to our most holy Lady, for she despises not the love of unlettered men.       

But otherwise was it with the priests that were his neighbours; for they were filled with envy because the greater piety of his life did manifest the worldliness of theirs. Therefore they cited him before Saint Thomas the Archbishop, because, knowing but one Mass, the which he repeated daily, he had dared to take on himself the duties of a priest.       "Thus," they said, "is the Church brought to scorn and God's enemies are exalted! This ignorant man, that can say but one Mass, were better at the plough than at the altar, for indeed it is an insult to God to take Him thus ignorantly into our hands. We know that His service demands great scholarship, to the which this clerk cannot attain, for he lacks understanding. Therefore we pray that he be deprived of his benefice, and that it be given to some other in his stead."       

Then Saint Thomas questioned the young priest concerning this matter; and he denied nought, but said that indeed he did celebrate

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daily the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary, nor had he used any other Mass since he was hallowed. And the Archbishop marvelled very much, and grieved that he could give him no dispensation, for he knew him for an holy man, though lacking scholarship. Therefore he said to him:

 "My son, now must you cease the saying of the Mass, and you must apply yourself to scholarship until you have learned those matters wherein a priest should be well skilled. And when this you have done, I will give you back your benefice, and you shall celebrate Our Lady's Mass again."

When this he heard, that chaplain was greatly cast down; for he knew that these things were too hard for him, and the service of his Mistress was all the joy that he had. And he went home to his chapel, wherein he had a right fair image of the Blessed Virgin that was above the altar, and he stood before that image and cried, saying:       

"Alas! most merciful Mother and Lady, what news is this? I have lived wholly for your sake, and for this I have despised marriage and renounced the having of children, that I might the more perfectly serve you. And behold! all my care goes for nought, and I am cast down in confusion and utterly contemned; for because I am ignorant and dull of wit I may no longer celebrate your Mass, the which I had promised to do all the days of my life. For they do say that I have sinned, in that I

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have come ignorantly to your altar, there to take your Son into my hands. Sweet Saint Mary, most glorious Virgin ! I have no other helper left but you, to make my peace with Jesu Christ your Son. Will you not aid me? for well I know that your intercessions are acceptable to God; and indeed, if I may not serve you, then would I rather die."       

This said, he wept bitterly, and threw himself down before the altar, for he was exceeding sore of heart. And behold, the merciful Mother, seeing her chaplain so full of grief, had compassion on him, and she spoke by the mouth of her image, saying:       

"My dear one, lift up your heart and be at peace, for I will not suffer you to be taken from my service; and think not that my Son is vexed against you, for all His Mother's servants are His friends. Go therefore to your archbishop, and speak with him secretly, saying: "My Lord, the Lady your Sweetheart has sent me unto you; the same that did come to you in the monastery church of Pontigny, and with needle and thread did mend your breeches of hair. And she says and demands that because I am her chaplain, and have given myself altogether to her service, I may not be letted in the saying of her Mass. In this you have wronged her, for in all the city of Canterbury there is none other priest that devotes himself wholly to her praise."       

When he heard the Queen of Heaven that spake thus to him, that chaplain was greatly

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amazed ; and he burst forth into lauds and thanksgivings, for that of her pitiful mercy she had shown this favour unto her poor clerk.

Then he arose and went quickly to the palace of the Archbishop; but when he came there he found great press of people, priests, clerks, and gentlemen, that were in the antechamber, and they would not suffer him to come in to the bishop where he held his court.       

And they spoke of him one to another, mocking, and saying, "See! there is the ignorant chaplain that knows but one Mass," for the which cause he was confused afresh.       

And after that he had waited some hours, there came out from the court the Archdeacon, the which knew this priest and loved him for the goodness and innocency of his life; and he took and brought him into the presence of Saint Thomas. Then, when the Archbishop saw him, he accosted him gently, as his custom was with all; but when that the young priest prayed him that he would amend his judgment, and give him leave to say his Mass again, he reproved him very strictly, saying:      

"Better would patience and obedience comport you than these importunities, carissime. All things that are necessary I will most willingly grant you: but that which you come to ask I cannot do, for Holy Church forbids."

Then said the chaplain, "My Lord, hear me with patience; for I am sent to you from that Lady who in the monastery church of Pontigny did mend your breeches of hair. And she de-

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mands and ordains that you do restore to me the grace of celebrating her Mass, for she knows that I love her; nor has she in Canterbury any other priest that serves her thus."       

When he heard these words, Saint Thomas fell at the feet of that chaplain, and prayed him that he would intercede for him before the glorious Virgin, because he had sinned in that he had entreated her servant amiss. And he gave him his cure again, and would have advanced him to high office. But that young priest replied that he knew himself to be but ignorant and unworthy of any honour; and therefore he asked only that he might serve his Mistress, who, of her infinite compassion, did deign to receive his prayers.       

And so did he do; but whereas aforetime he had indeed been slow of wit, now by God's grace he was quick to learn, so that soon he might do all things that became a priest, and rightly say the Daily Office. Yet because of the mercy that he had had of the glorious Virgin, he kept his old and loving custom; nor did he ever, so long as he lived, celebrate any other Mass than that of Our Lady Saint Mary.

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Next: The Divine Encounter



1906 - The Miracles of Our Lady Saint Mary

1911 - Mysticism

1912 - Introduction to The Cloud of Unknowing

1913 - The Mystic Way

1914 - Introduction: Richard Rolle - The Fire of Love

1915 - Practical Mysticism

1915 - Introduction: Songs of Kabir

1916 - Introduction: John of Ruysbroeck

1920 - The Essentials of Mysticism, and other Essays

1922 - The Spiral Way

1922 - The Life of the Spirit and the Life of Today (Upton Lectures)

1926 - Concerning the Inner Life

1928 - Man and the Supernatural

1929 - The House of the Soul

1933 - The Golden Sequence

1933 - Mixed Pasture: Twelve Essays

1936 - The Spiritual Life

1943 - Introduction to the Letters of Evelyn Underhill
by Charles Williams


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