DR. GROSS-DIAZ AND I ARE STILL LOOKING FOR VOLUNTEERS INTERESTED IN REPAINTING THE LOYOLA MEDIEVAL LABYRINTH AT CROWN CENTER. PLEASE CONTACT ME AT firstname.lastname@example.org or DR. DIAZ AT email@example.com IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR MARK ON THE UNIVERSITY AND BRING THE MIDDLE AGES ALIVE!
|This can be you.|
Today I'd like to delve a bit into some monastic writings pertaining to gardens and gardening. As a general precursor to this blog post, I think it is good to remember that texts are more than what they tell you. As will become clear throughout this blog, what historical texts imply are often just as important as what they outright say. In our case, texts talking about gardens are more than just garden-variety texts(1). The two monastic views on gardens I will be using here, one from the 9th-century monk Walahfrid Strabo's Hortulus, and the other from Pope Gregory the Great's Dialogues, will illustrate some important ways in which both these men (and monks!) viewed the world.
|He took the time to pose for this illumination, only to realize he brought the wrong book.|
Pope Gregory's Dialogues were written between the years 593 and 594, and among the collection of writings, several miraculous stories are included which take place in a garden.
One particular such tale that stands out goes as follows:
A nun was passing by the garden of her convent, when she saw some delicious-looking lettuce. Overcome with sudden desire, she gobbled up the lettuce without saying the customary blessings, and the Devil came and possessed her and threw her into a fit of pain. The other nuns saw this, and sent for Abbot Equitius to help the nun. When the Abbot came, the Devil started using the nun's voice to try and justify himself, saying "I haven't done anything! I was merely sitting on this lettuce, when this woman came up and ate me!" Abbot Equitius was not amused, and after prayer, he commanded the Devil to leave hence from here and trouble both the nun and the monastery no more, to which the Devil was immediately forced to comply.
-Paraphrased from the Dialogues (2)
Another garden story in the Dialogues concerns a monk who was able to command a serpent to stop thieves from stealing fruit from his garden(3).
Yet another involves an evil priest, who is "crushed to death after having tried to destroy the souls of Benedict's disciples by sending seven naked woman into the garden of Benedict's monastery" (4).
The Dialogues offer a wide variety of tales and didactic stories, so it is interesting to see how the garden fits into the general theme of the entire work. There are common threads uniting these stories, as well as many of the works in the Dialogues as a whole.
For one, miracles occur not from the grazing of precious saints' relics, but rather they are performed by ordinary, holy men. In the garden stories, and elsewhere, miracles are granted through faith and prayer, not the mystical power of any one person in particular. Gregory the Great makes this a conscious choice to place less emphasis on the wondrous miracles that surround more popular saints. As Barbara Muller explains:
"In this way, Gregory stresses the divine origin of miracles strongly. The part of the miracle workers consists primarily in believing and asking for God's help and in showing humility and love towards the neighbor." (5)Gregory himself in the Dialogues makes this very telling statement:
"The true estimate of life, after all, lies in acts of virtue, not in display of miracles."
Gregory, Dialogues (6)
How do gardens fit into the larger picture?
When we consider what gardens are, and what they mean for Gregory the Great, the answer becomes clearer. For one, the obvious allusions to gardens as places of paradise and places of temptation cannot be overlooked. This is evident in the nun story of the devil laying in wait in the garden. Biblical allusions are also seen in the story of the monk and the snake protecting the fruit trees - a clear reference to Eden and the Serpent.
|The Garden of Eden. The nice thing about medieval art is that when I think I've found the most bizarre-looking image around, I stumble across a new one.|
But the holy men of the Dialogues are gardeners as well. And as Gregory himself was a monk, he would have been well-aware of the stipulations St. Benedict had laid down in his Rules about the proper monastic care for gardens. The gardens in these stories are places where we learn moral lessons or see the power of prayer and faith. So the gardens are not merely places to grow food, but of spiritual education.
We see then that the garden's purpose is twofold: "pure necessity... and that it teaches young monks... how to do something; it provides ascetic, spiritual, and moral education." (7)
The garden sustains the people, much like how a rector must provide and sustain the spiritual needs of his flock. The holy man, for Gregory, is like the garden and gardener, for he tills the soil, caring for peoples' "immediate ordinary and spiritual needs." (8)
So in the stories of the Dialogues, we find the garden to be the perfect place to discover the power of God's grace, and the perfect place to contemplate in good ol' fashioned physical work and care.
In that sense, what perfect reasons for all who read this to come volunteer and continue to help prepare Loyola's own Medieval Garden for spring planting!
Thank you for reading, once more. The next part will focus on Strabo's Hortulus, and the insights that abound when one looks at his poem through a big lens. Plus, you'll learn some things about catmint you never knew was possible!
|Trust me; you won't know what hits you.|
P.S. I still haven't found a way to reliably do footnotes, which is aggravating. I'm still taking the time poking around to learn HTML better to make the citations easier to navigate. Bear with me!
1) On gardening.
2) Barbara Muller. "The Diabolical Power of Lettuce, or Garden Miracles in Gregory the Great's Dialogues," in Studies in Church History. vol. 41, 2005. p. 47
3) Ibid. p. 48
4) Ibid. p. 50
5) Ibid. p. 50.
6) Ibid. p. 51
7) Ibid. p. 52
8) Ibid. p. 54