In the Middle Ages, a Tumbler was a jester, a minstrel, a sort of forerunner to the sort of acrobatic act that might be included in The Royal Variety Performance today.
Extract from the Original Translation of Our Lady's Tumbler"In the lives of the ancient fathers, where is store of goodly matter, is told a certain tale.
Now I will not say that others full as fair may not be heard — ay! many a one — but I say that this is not to be so scorned but it is worth narrating.
I will therefore tell you and relate of what befell a certain minstrel.
He wandered so far to and fro, over so many a plot and place, that he grew a-weary of the world and gave himself up to a Holy Order.
Horses and robes and money, and whatsoever he had he straight surrendered to it, and clean dismissed himself from the world, resolved never again to set teeth in it. Wherefore he entered that Holy Order — as folk say — in Clairvaux.
And when this dancer had given himself to it, albeit he was well adorned and beauteous, comely and well made, he knew no trade that he could ply therein. For all his life he had spent in tumbling and leaping and dancing.
How to trip and spring he understood, but naught beside, for he had conned no other lesson — nor pater noster, nor chant, nor credo, nor ave, nor aught that might make for his salvation.
When he had entered the Order, he saw those folk high-shorn converse by signs, while no sound passed their lips; and he supposed for sure that they could speak no otherwise. But presently he learned the truth, and knew that for penance they were forbidden to speak, therefore somewhiles they were silent; whereat it came into his mind that he too ought often to keep his silence; and he held his peace so meekly and so long, he had not spoken all the day had they not bidden him to do it; whereat there was no little laughter many a time. The man was all abashed amongst them, for he knew not to do or say aught with which they were busied there, and he was sore grieved and sad thereat. He beheld the monks and the converts, as each one served God here and there according to such office as he held.
He saw the priests at the altar, for such was their duty, the deacons at the gospels, the sub-deacons at the vigils, while the acolytes stood ready for the epistles, in due time. One recites verses, and another a lesson, and the choristers are at the psalters, and the converts at the misereres — for so they order their lamentings — and even the simplest at pater nosters.
Through offices and cloisters he gazes everywhere, up and down, and sees in remote recesses here five, here three, here two, here one. He looks fixedly, if he may, at every one.
The one has to lament, the other weep, a third to groan and sigh. Much he wonders what ails them. "Holy Mary!" he says, "what ails these folk that they bear them thus and show such grief? Methinks they are perturbed indeed, that they all make such lamentations." Then he added, "Holy Mary! — ah! woe is me, what have I said! I trow they are praying God for mercy.
But, O wretched me! what am I doing? For there is none here so caitiff but who vies with all the rest in serving God after his trade; but I had no business here, for I now not what to do or say. A very wretch was I when I gave myself to the Order, for I know nor prayer, nor aught that is good. I see them — one before and another behind — while I only walk with nose in air and consume victuals for nothing.
If I am found out in this I shall foully fail, for they will thrust me out to the dogs. And here am I, a strong villain, doing naught but eat. Verily I am wretched in a high degree." Then in despite he wept for woe, and for his part would he were dead. "Holy Mary, mother!" he said, " do pray your Sovereign Father that he hold me in his pleasure, and send me his good counsel, that I may have power to serve him and you, and may earn the victuals that I take" for I know well that I misreceive them."
By the mother of God I will! I shall ne'er be blamed for it, if I do what I have learned, and served the mother of God in her monastery according to my trade. The rest serve in chanting, and I will serve in tumbling.
Sweet queen, sweet lady, despise not what I know: for I would fain essay to serve you in good faith, if God aid me, without guile. I can not chant, nor read to you; but, for certain, I would pick for you a choice of all my finest feats. Now, may I be like the bull-calf that leaps and bounds before his mother. Lady, who art no whit bitter to such as serve you truly, whatsoever I am, may it be for you." Then he began his leaps before her, low and small, great and high, first under and then over.
Then he threw himself on his knees again before the image, and saluted it. "Ah!" he says, "all-sweet Queen! of your pity and of your frankness, despise not my service." Then he tumbled and leapt, and made, in festal guise, the vault of Metz around his head. He saluted the image and adored it, and honoured it with all his might. Then he did the French vault and then the vault of Champagne, and then he did the Spanish vault and then the vaults they do in Brittany, and then the vault of Lorraine, and strained him self to do the best of all his power. Then he did the Roman vault, and put his hand before his brow and danced so featly, as he gazed right humbly at the image of the Mother of God.
"Lady," he said, "this is a choice performance. I do it for no other but for you; so aid me God, I do not — for you and for your son! And this I dare avouch and boast, that for me it is no playwork. But I am serving you, and that pays me. The others serve, and so do I. Lady, despise not your slave, for I serve you for your disport. Lady, you are the mon-joie that kindles all the world.
Then he tumbled with his feet up in the air, walked and went on his two hands that he might journey closer to the ground. He twists with his feet and weeps with his eyes. Lady, he says, I adore you with heart and body, feet and hands, for I can nor more nor less. Henceforth I will ever be your minstrel. They shall sing in there together, and I will come here to entertain you. Lady, you can guide me. For Godâs sake do not despise me. Then he beat his breast in penitence, he sighed and wept right tenderly, for he knew not how else to pray.
Then he turned back and made a leap. ãLady,ä he said, ãso save me God, I neâer did that before! This does not rank among inferior feats, and is all new. Lady! what fill of joyance should he have made who might abide with you in your glorious manor.
For Godâs sake Lady, receive me therein, for I am yours, and no whit my own.ä Then he did the vault of Metz again, and tumbled and danced right there. And when he heard them raise the chants he laid too in right good earnest, and as long as the Mass lasted his body did not cease to dance and trip and leap, till he waxed so faint he might no longer stand upon his feet, but fell upon the ground and dropped for very weariness.
And as blood drips from the spit so the sweat started from him, head to foot, from end to end. Lady, he said, I can do no more now; but, indeed, Iâll come again. With heat he seemed all burning. He puts on his vestments again, and when he is clothed salutes the image and goes his way.
Adieu, he says, ãsweetest friend. For Godâs sake be not cast down, for if I can I will come again.
At ever hour I would serve you the very best that may be, if it please you, and if I can. Then he went away, still looking at the image. Lady, he said, ãwhat pity that I know not all those psalters! Right gladly would I say them for love of you, most sweet Lady. To you I commend my body and my soul.
Not a whit, however much he tumbled! But it was his love that he prized. Do penance and toil all you may, keep fast and vigil all you may, weep all you may and sigh, groan and pray, and give yourself to discipline, and go to Mass and matin, and give all you have, and pay all you owe: yet, if you love not God with all your heart, all these good things are thrown away — be well assured — and avail you naught at all for salvation; for without love and without pity all labour counts for nothing. God asks not gold nor silver, but only true love in folksâ hearts. And this man loved God unfeigningly,. and that was why God prized his service.
The monk observed and tracked and spied him out until he plainly saw him plying his trade without disguise, as I have told you. In faith, said he, ãhere is fine sport! and methinks greater doings than all the rest of ours put together! There are the others at their orisons, and toiling for the houses, while he is dancing as proudly as if he had a hundred marks of silver. He does his business in good style, and verily he pays us all he owes. It is a goodly way of doing it — for us to chant for him and him to tumble for us!
We pray for him and he for us.. If we do weep, he gives us quits. Would all the Convent could see him as I do — if I had to fast till nightfall for it! Not a soul, I trow, could keep from laughing if they saw the fury with which this wretch goes killing himself, as he throws himself into his tumbling and gives himself no mercy.
May God count it for penance! for he does it without guile. And, for my part, in sooth, I think no ill of it; for I take it he does according to his lights and in good faith, because he would not fain be idle.
This the monk saw with his eyes at all the hours of the day, as he worked and rested not. Much did he laugh and much rejoice, and felt delight and pity.
He worked himself into such weariness that he needs must fall, and down he sat all worn out.
The sweat all over him, for very toil, dropped down upon the floor of the crypt. But in short time, in little space, his sweet Lady succours him, her whom he serves without deceit. Well knew she how to come at need!
Then they pressed to serve him, because they longed to repay the service that he did their Lady, who is so precious a gem. And the sweet frank Queen held a white napkin, and fanned her minstrel with it right sweetly before the altar.
The Dame, frank and meek, fans his neck and body and face to cool him. Well does she undertake to aid him.
The Dame abandons herself to the task. The good man does not turn a glance to her, for he sees her not, nor knows a whit that he has such fair company.
But now God had shewn him verily that the service pleased him which his poor man had rendered. The monk was all confused, as though burnt with anguish.
To the Abbot he said: Have mercy, sire! This is a holy man that I see here. If I have said aught concerning him amiss ât is meet my body make it good. Lay on me my penance, for beyond all doubt this is a good man. We have seen it all right through, and cannot ever be deceived about it.ä Said the Abbot: You speak truth, God has made us know right well that he loves him with a love all tender. Now I command you straightway, in virtue of obedience, and on pain of falling under sentence, that you speak to no man of what you have seen, if it be not to God and to me.
And I, said he, give you my promise, sire. With these words they withdraw, and make no longer stay in the crypt; nor did the good man delay, but put on his garments again, and when he had done all his task, he went to disport himself in the monastery.
Did I suppose that such a deed as mine and such sport were fit to please the Lord God? Not a whit. I neâer did any good. Alas, what shall I do, what shall I say?
Fair, sweetest God, what will become of me? Now shall I be slain and shamed, now shall I be banished from hence, now shall I become a target out there in the world with all its evil.
Sweet Lady, holy Mary, how far astray was that idea of mine! And I know not whom to take to counsel. Lady, come you to guide me! Do not delay nor linger. And do bring you Mother with you. For Godâs sake come not without her. Come both of you to help me, for I know not what to plead. They will say straightway, at the first word, ÎBe off with you! Oh me!
What answer can I make when I have not a word to say? What does it matter, for I shall have to go. Weeping, so that his face was wet, he came before the Abbot; weeping, he knelt before him. Sire, he cried, for the mercy of God, will you chase me out from here? Say what you will command. Will do all you will. The Abbot said, I will to know, and will that you should tell me true — you have been long time here, winter and summer — I will to know what is your worth, and how you earn your bread.
Alas! said he, ãI knew it well, that I should be sent upon my way soon as my doing should be known: that they would have no more to do with me. Sire, he said, I go my way. Wretched I am and wretched I shall be, and I never made a farthingâs worth of any goods.
The Abbot answered, Far am I from saying that, but I require and demand, and moreover I command you in virtue of obedience, that you tell me all you know, and at what trade you serve us in our monastery. Sire! he said, ãhow have you slain me! How this command kills me!
Then he tells him, with whatever grief, all his doings, from end to end, so that he did not leave a word to say but told it all at a breath, just as I have related it. And now he has told it all and narrated it to him with clasped hands, weeping, kissing his feet and sighing.
Sire, said he, is this in verity?Yes, said the Abbot, ãât is in verity. He charged him, on pain of penance, to doubt it no more; whereat the good man was so overjoyed, as says the ditty, that he scarce knew what had become of him, and he must needs sit down, and he turned all pale. When his heart came back to him his bosom leapt with joy, so sore that an ill assailed him, whereof in right short space he died.
But very meekly he did his service without repose, morning, and evening, night and day, never missing an hour until he was smitten sick; and so great was the ill that held him that he could not stir from his bed. Then it was grievous shame to him that he might not pay his dues; and therefor chiefly was he troubled, for he complained not a whit of his ill, save that he stood in sore doubt of losing his penance, in that he toiled not at that toil that was his wont. It seemed him he was all too slothful; and since slothful he must be henceforth, the good man prayed to God to receive him eâer he were undone by sloth. For he felt such utter grief about this matter, whereof some knew, that his heart might not endure it; yet needs but he lie and could not stir. The holy Abbot honours him much; he and his monk at every hour come to chant at his couch. And he took such great delight in what they sang to him of God that he would not have had Poitou in lieu of it, but would have given all in quittance, such joy had he in hearing. Well did he confess and repent; yet withal was he in doubt. What need of more? At the last it behooved him to meet his end.
Great joy had they amongst themselves thereat.
Thus ends The Minstrel. In happy hour he tumbled; in happy hours he served; for thereby he won high honour such that none may compare therewith. This is what the holy fathers relate concerning what befell this minstrel. Now pray we to God, who has no like, that he grant us so to serve him that we may earn his love".
And if anyone believes that this story is an encouragement to dance at Mass.....you're reading the wrong blog.