Gesta Romanorum Vol. I (1871)/Of inordinate Love
OF INORDINATE LOVE.
A certain Emperor was strongly attached to a beautiful wife. In the first year of their marriage, she was delivered of a son, upon whom she doated with extravagant fondness. When the child had completed its third year, the king died; for whose death great lamentation was made through the whole kingdom. The queen bewailed him bitterly; and after his remains were deposited in the royal sepulchre, took up her residence in another part of the country, accompanied by her son. This child became the object of an affection so violent, that no consideration could induce her to leave him; and they invariably occupied the same bed, even till the boy had attained his eighteenth year. Now when the devil perceived the irregular attachment of the mother, and the filial return exhibited by the son, he insinuated black and unnatural thoughts into their minds; and from time to time repeating his detestable solicitations, finally overthrew them. The queen became pregnant; and the unhappy son, filled with the deepest horror, and writhing beneath the most intolerable agony, quitted the kingdom, and never was heard of again. In due time, the queen was delivered of a lovely female, whom her eyes no sooner beheld, than—(mark, ye who dream that one dereliction from virtue, may be tried with impunity—mark!) desperate at the remembrance of her fearful crime, and apprehensive of detection, she snatched up a knife that lay beside her, and plunged it into the infant's breast. Not content with this exhibition of maternal inhumanity, she cut it directly across the throat, from whence the blood rapidly gushed forth, and falling upon the palm of her left hand, distinctly impressed four circular lines, which no human power could erase. Terrified, not less at the singular consequence of her guilt, than at the guilt itself, she carefully concealed this awful and mysterious evidence, and dedicated herself for life to the service of the blessed Virgin. Yet though penitent for what she had done, and regularly every fifteenth morning duly confessed, she scrupulously avoided any disclosure relating to that horrid transaction. She distributed alms with the most unbounded liberality; and the people experiencing her kindness and benevolence, evinced towards her the greatest respect and love.
It happened on a certain night as her confessor knelt at his devotions, repeating five times aloud the "Ave Maria," that the blessed Virgin herself appeared to him, and said, "I am the Virgin Mary, and have an important communication to make to thee." The confessor, full of joy, answered, "Oh! dear Lady, wherein can thy servant please thee?" She replied, "The queen of this kingdom will confess herself to you; but there is one sin she has committed, which shame and horror will not permit her to disclose. On the morrow she will come to you: tell her from me, that her alms and her prayers have been accepted by him who delights in the pure oblation of a contrite heart; I command her therefore, to confess that crime which she secretly committed in her chamber—for alas! she slew her daughter. I have entreated for her, and her sin is forgiven, if she will confess it. But if she yield no attention to your words, bid her lay aside the cover upon her left hand; and on her palm, you will read the crime which she refuses to acknowledge. If she deny this also, take it off by force." When she had thus spoken, the blessed Virgin disappeared. In the morning, the queen with great humility was shrieved of all her sins—that one excepted. After she had uttered as much as she chose, the confessor said, "Madam, and dear daughter, people are very inquisitive to know for what strange reason you constantly wear that cover upon your left hand. Let me see it, I beseech you, that I may ascertain why it is concealed, and whether the concealment be pleasing to God." The queen answered, "Sir, my hand is diseased, and therefore, I cannot show it." Hearing this, the confessor caught hold of her arm, and notwithstanding her resistance, drew off the cover. "Lady," said he, "fear not; the blessed Virgin Mary loves you; and it is she who hath commanded me to do this." When the hand was uncovered, there appeared four circles of blood. In the first circle there were four letters in the form of a C; in the second, four D's; in the third, four M's; and in the fourth, four R's. Upon the outward edge of the circles, in the manner of a seal, a blood-coloured writing was distinguishable, containing the legend beneath. First, of the letter C,—which was interpreted, "Casu cecidisti carne cæcata," [Blinded by the flesh thou hast fallen.] The letter D, "Dæmoni dedisti dona donata" [Thou hast given thyself for certain gifts to the devil.] The letter M, "Monstrat manifestè manus maculata," [The stain upon thy hand discovers thee.] The letter R, "Recedet rubigo, regina rogata," [When the queen is interrogated her dishonour ceases.] The lady beholding this, fell at the confessor's feet, and with many tears meekly related her dreadful offences. Then being entirely and truly penitent, she was absolved; and a very few days afterwards, slept in the Lord. Her death was long lamented by the whole state. (10)
My beloved, the emperor, is Jesus Christ, who married a beautiful girl, that is, our human nature, when he became incarnate. But first he was betrothed to her, when the Father, speaking to the Son and Holy Ghost, said—"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." Our Lord had a fair child, that is to say, the soul made free from all spot by his Passion, and by virtue of baptism. That soul is slain in us by sin. Do you ask how? I will tell you. By giving ourselves up to carnal delights, whose fruit is death. The blood on the hand is sin, which tenaciously cleaves to us; as it is said, "My soul is ever in my own hands"—that is, whether it does well or ill, is as openly apparent, as if it were placed in the hands for the inspection and sentence of the Supreme Judge.
Note 10.Page 59.
"This story is in the Speculum Historiale of Vincent of Beauvais, who wrote about the year 1250."—Warton.