Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Flight of the Earls (Author: Tadhg Ó Cianáin)

section 109


Here we shall say a few words on the description of Rome, as far as we have learned it by experience, we having lived in Rome for a long period now. There are


two hundred and forty-six churches in it, without counting among these the seven chief churches which we have spoken of. One of these is a very beautiful church situated on a beautiful, high hill near the palace where the lords lived, Sant' Onofrio is its name, lying exactly southwards from the gate of Santo Spirito. There is a view and sight of all Rome from it, of the Tiber as it flows and advances through it, of a certain portion of the Alps, and of the part of Italy around the city. Amoeno was the name of the particular eminence of the mountain on which the church was built. The congregation and community in it is the Order of Saint Benedict. This is the reason why it was named Sant' Onofrio's: There was a certain great, renowned King in Persia at one time, and he had a wife that was worthy of him. This King was virtuous, venerable, notable, and splendid, but no children or posterity were born to him. He was sorry, regretful, and grieved that his own worthy heir should not rule his kingdom and principality after him. When he had been a long time in this grief and sorrow, the thought came to his mind that he himself and his wife, together with the noblest of their relatives, their venerable men and elders, should go to the church, and invoke and beseech the heavenly Trinity in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament with fasting, prayer, and pilgrimage, that he might have one child. That was done. They went to the church. They fasted, they prayed, they wept for their sins and their vices, and all their delinquencies and wretchedness. Almighty God heard the prayer and plaint of these holy people. By His miraculous intervention it came about at the end of a short time that the Queen became pregnant. The King and noblemen of all the kingdom of Persia were glad and delighted when the certainty of the matter was known. But the old enemy of the pious faithful, the devil,


conceived great envy and jealousy because the King had obtained that grant and gift from the heavenly Trinity. This is what he meditated and considered in his wicked, baneful mind: once when he took the King unawares in a lonely room, he approached him in the habit of a poor pilgrim. The King asked him who he was. ‘I am a wretched, poor pilgrim,’ said he. ‘I have walked the greater part of the world performing pilgrimage and abstinence. It is believed that I am a saint, and that I have the spirit of prophecy within me, and I regret, O King of Persia, how you have been cheated and deceived by the Queen.’ ‘In what way?’, said the King. ‘It is easy to say,’ said the pilgrim; ‘I will speak to you in words of truth. You grieved and were sorry that she should be so many years your consort, and that you had no children or posterity. She has committed adultery and a vile sin against you, so that she is for some time bearing child and pregnant. Do not allow that child to be baptized or reared as yours, and for fear that an outside breed should enter to corrupt the true blood of the kingdom, give order to have a great pile of fire made, and when this child is born, let it be pitched by you into the middle of that raging, red fire.’ The King foolishly thought, because of the wiles and temptation of the devil, that all he said to him was true, and that he was a holy man, and he believed everything that he said. When the Queen had given birth to the child, he assembled all the nobles of his people, and with his own hands he pitched the Queen's child in to the centre of a very great fire which he had caused to be made. The boy fell straight on his two knees into the fire. He looked up. He raised his two hands in the form of a cross, and in humility to the heavenly Trinity. The Queen was on her knees before the King, praying him and beseeching him not to put to death the one child which he had received from God, and the nobles of the kingdom did the same, but in vain. By the favour of the Trinity there appeared to the King, and to all the


rest, the angel of God above them in the air, and he gave orders to the King to save the boy, to have him baptized, and to give him Honuphrius as his name. The King did thus on the advice of the angel, and the fire did no harm, great or small, to the boy. The King had great regret and extraordinary sorrow, and he recognized that it was the devil that came to him in the shape of the pilgrim, and suggested to him to cast the boy into the fire. The determination he then came to was to give up the boy to God and the Church, as God had rescued him, as an offering for his own sin. He went to a monastery of the Order of Girolamo which had the Benedictine rule, and was an Order of hermits. He got the child baptized. He ordered that he should be named Honuphrius, as the angel had commanded. After that he granted and offered him from his own hands to the abbot of the monastery in honour of the heavenly Holy Trinity. The abbot gladly accepted that holy gift, but he was not content to allow him out of the monastery to be reared, and it was contrary to the rule that any woman should enter inside the walls of the monastery. There was a white hind, and with her a fawn of like colour, in the field of the friars. The abbot went to the place where it was. He took away the fawn that was with it, and brought to it the young boy. The fosterling was adopted by the hind with meekness, quietness, and gentleness. Honuphrius was fed for three full years on the milk of the hind. It used to come to him night and day to the side of the field in front of the monastery. He continued to grow and improve during that time. At the end of that period the friars commenced to give him ordinary food. His habit was to bring out to his nurse all the bread and fragments that he got from them. One day he was going out to the hind, and he had with him a loaf of bread. He found before him in the field the Holy Virgin Mary and her wondrous Son in her bosom, as He was when a child. His whole heart rejoiced when he saw them, and he made sign of


humility and reverence. He then said: ‘O Lord, Thou art a child; I, too, am a child, and here for Thee is my loaf of bread. I beseech Thee, when Thou takest it, eat it not as I eat it.’ The Lord took the loaf out of the hands of Honuphrius. He afterwards returned it to him, and enjoined upon him to give it to the abbot. They remained for a while playing and in holy converse with each other. Then Mary and her Son took leave of their faithful, humble servant. Honuphrius went with the loaf to the abbot. He was with difficulty able to carry it, for it had grown and increased from the hands of the Creator having touched it. The abbot and the friars all wondered greatly at how much the loaf had increased, and they understood and believed that it was miraculously, strangely, and wonderfully that Honuphrius had been granted that manifestation.


Divine grace followed Honuphrius, for he was filled with wisdom and learning, and with the gifts of the Holy Ghost. Besides he grew in size, in beauty, and in comeliness. On one occasion the Order elected Honuphrius as their superior. He would not accept their election, and he said he would go into secret and pathless places to search for the Child companion that he had once met in the field in the bosom of the Holy Virgin Mary. He would not be denied. He bade farewell to the abbot and to all the friars, and went into the desert of Egypt. As he was approaching the edge of the desert, he saw a fiery torch shining in the air above. He was frightened and startled thereat, and threw himself upon his knees. He commenced doing penance and praying. The angel of God came to him and said to him: ‘Fear not, noble Honuphrius, for God has given thee assistance, and as a miraculous sign to thee, He has shown the bright torch which thou seest.’ Honuphrius became glad on hearing the words of the angel. He gave great thanks to God, and then entered the desert. As he proceeded into a secret, hidden, pathless place, he saw approaching him an elder of great age in the habit


of a pilgrim or hermit. The old man rejoiced immediately on seeing him for he was pleased and delighted that the young boy of tender years, with grace and divine virtue about him, should be sent to him. He then conducted him to the secret, hidden house where his dwelling and habitation was. Now this was the kind of house he had, a small, narrow hut at the foot of a tall palm tree. They remained and tarried there in company with each other. Their food and nourishment they had by eating the fruit of the palm tree, together with the water of the well which was at the base of the tree. The branches and foliage of the tree made a shelter for them against wind and storm, heat and cold. They were not long together, however, when the old hermit died. He left by will to Honuphrius the palm tree, and the little hut, and the spring well as an inheritance. The old man was buried by Honuphrius at a short distance from the tree. He himself remained fasting and praying beneath the tree for a period of thirty years, praising and invoking the heavenly Trinity, doing penance and praying by day and by night. The fruit of the tree and the spring water were his food during that time.


On one occasion when he thought of the Child companion whom he was searching for, he put off at once all that remained of the old habit which he had brought out of the monastery thirty years before. He left the tree, and the well, and the hut. He then set out on his way through the desert. He continued for a long time thus without food or clothing. After that he fell into a weakness and heavy sickness. One day, as he was in these straits, he saw the angel of Almighty God coming to him with repast and food from heaven. He gave thanks to his Lord. The angel used to bring him the heavenly food, the Blessed Sacrament, every Sunday with his own hands in the same way as he brought him the food of the body in the course of the week. He was for thirty years more in the desert without meeting or converse with anyone, but only the


visits of the angel. The hair of his head and his beard, of his breast and all his body, was his only protection against cold and heat during that time. His dwelling and habitation was beneath the branches of the trees. At the end of that time he bethought him of going to travel and traverse all the portion of the desert which he had not travelled until then. As he went on, he saw in a dark, pathless place, in the middle of the wood, a beautiful, secret, well-constructed house. He was greatly surprised. Then, near to it, he saw an elder of great age. He advanced towards him. When the old man saw the wretched, unknown creature, covered and hidden with his hair and locks from foot to head, he became frightened and alarmed, and he ran and fled as fast as he could. Honuphrius followed him. He asked him in honour of the heavenly Trinity to stand and remain at rest. The old man looked behind him. Honuphrius sat down on the ground. The old man then knew that it was as a sign of humility, and meekness, and innocence that Honuphrius sat down. After that he approached him cautiously and with fear. Each inquired of the other who he was. The old man told him that he himself was a hermit who had been for a long time dwelling and living in that desert, and that Pamplutius was his name. Honuphrius fell on his knees when he heard this. He narrated all his own doings and history. He besought and prayed the holy old man to pray to God for him. When the old man heard that he was Honuphrius, he threw himself upon his knees. He besought and requested him to pray God on his behalf. Then they both invoked the heavenly Trinity, each for the soul of the other. After that, the old man saw the angel descending from heaven with a loaf and a bottle of wine, and alighting behind Honuphrius. He was assured thenceforward that he was a godly man of holy life. They remained together for some time. One day, as they were praying, the hermit heard an angel's voice from heaven, and it said: Honofrii,


audita est petitio tua, that is, ‘Honuphrius, thy prayer has been heard.’ The love of the hermit for Honuphrius was the greater for hearing the words of the angel.


One day Honuphrius besought the old man, for the honour of God, to hear his sins, and to give him the absolution of the Church for all his transgressions and vices. The old man did thus. When Honuphrius had made his full confession, his soul separated from his body, having triumphed over the world and the devil, as he lay in the arms of the hermit. Thereupon, there came a trembling and a dreadful earthquake in the desert all around them, and the trees commenced to strike and smite one another throughout the forest. After that, the old man saw six angels, with lighted torches and many kinds of music, descending from heaven on either side of the body of Honuphrius. After these were two other angels, an incense-boat in the hand of one of them, and a thurible in that of the other. They scattered the sweetness and fragrance of the incense about the body. Visible and evident to the old man, as the angels returned, was the soul of the noble, holy man, Honuphrius, transported by two of the angels in the shape and form of a bright dove. He saw then the Saviour Himself coming from the citadels of the heavenly palace, and receiving that soul into His own hands. The old man was sad and lonely for his lovable companion and fitting mate-fellow. He was so advanced in years, and so infirm, that he did not know how he should bury the body. In a short time afterwards he saw two fierce, powerful lions coming towards him. He trembled and shuddered. He was certain that the lions would kill himself, and devour the body of his companion. Then the lions came towards the body of Honuphrius. They fell on their knees. They commenced to kiss and lick his feet and his hands. They then began to strike the ground with their paws, and to make signs to the old man asking him in what particular place he wished to have a grave and burial-place dug. He selected


for them a suitable spot. He marked with his staff the sign of the cross upon the ground. He measured out the length and breadth of the grave. Then the lions dug the ground with their paws. They afterwards brought the body of the noble, wondrous saint with them to the brink of the grave, and lowered it in to the ground according to the orders of the hermit. Afterwards they went away into the forest, having laid stones and clay on the body, and having taken leave gently and humbly of the hermit. While the burial was being carried out, all the beasts and wild, untame birds of the desert gathered and assembled. They remained quiet, dumb, and silent until it was finished. Then they scattered all over the desert. Now there is a portion of his body in the aforesaid church attended with miracles and wonders. His soul, however, is in the noble union of fathers and prophets, in union with the saints and virgins of the world, in union with the apostles and disciples, in union with the Divinity and Humanity of Almighty God, in union with the nine orders of heaven which did not transgress, in union with the angels and archangels of the Lord of the elements, in the union which is nobler than every union, in union with the Holy noble Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. We beseech the mercy of Almighty God, through the intercession of this holy, noble patron that we may reach and dwell in that union in saecula saeculorum. Amen. A short time after that the angel of God came to the hermit. He instructed him to return again to his own country, that is, to Egypt. He did so. He narrated and published to all all the doings, and the life, and the holiness of Honuphrius et cetera.