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As they entered the building, King Edwin and his nobles rose, and the King himself went forward to greet the Bishop and lead him to his seat. The singing ceased. The cooks and their helpers resumed their work of boiling and roasting. The stick of the overseer was again active on the backs of the lazy and careless. The crowd of idlers who had nothing to do in getting up the feast thronged around the open door to hear what took place within. The servants threw fresh billets on the fire, sending a shower of sparks around the hall, and then withdrew to the wall at the lower end.
Then arose King Edwin. Turning to his chief nobles, he said: “You have heard, O earls and wise men, the new religion that is preached by these strangers, – that the faith of our fathers is foolishness, and the gods we have worshipped mere blocks of wood and stone. What shall be said of this strange faith ? Are Woden and Thor but senseless blocks, as these men say? and is the cross of the Christians mightier than the sword of Woden and the hammer of Thor the thunder-wielder ? Let him who is able to give counsel speak.”
There was silence for some moments. Then arose Coifi, high-priest of the Northumbrian Saxons, the most earnest and relentless sacrificer to the cruel gods. He desired to hear more of this new religion. Perhaps it is good. He had worshipped the old gods many years with great diligence, and was satisfied they were false. The faith these strangers preached might be better. The King should examine it well, and, if it should seem good, let us at once adopt it.
A venerable earl, bent with age, and with his snowy bair hanging over his shoulders to his hands clasped on the head of his staff, next spoke :
“To me, O King, the present life of man, when compared to that time which is unknown to us, is like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room in which you sit at supper in the winter season. With your commanders and ministers you sit in comfort around the bright fire blazing in the middle of the hall, heedless of the storms of rain and snow without. From the darkness and storm without the sparrow enters through one open door, catches a brief glimpse of the warmth and comfort within, and again swiftly disappears through the other door into the darkness and storm. Such is the life of man. Of our brief stay here we know, but of what went before or what is to follow we know nothing. If, therefore, this new faith tells us anything more certain of the past or the future, let us follow it."
Others spoke to the same effect, and were willing that the King should have the new religion proclaimed. But Coifi wished that nothing should be done hastily. He would hear more particulars of the new faith before he could fully embrace it.
Thereupon Paulinus rose. In impressive words he told the story of the cross, of the sin and the redemption of man. The importance of the occasion lent fire to his tongue. He was laboring for a great prize, — the souls of a whole nation. From the garden of Eden he led his hearers to the rocky manger in the cave at Bethlehem ; to the Mount of Olives, whence the wondrous sermon of love and peace was given to the world; to the garden of
Gethsemane, where the sins of the world wrung with agony the spirit of the Redeemer ; to the judgment-seat of Pilate; to the foot of the cross, on which the expiation was completed ; and, finally, to the open sepulchre and the mount from which the Saviour ascended to heaven in the sight of his adoring disciples. When he finished, Coifi, the pagan high-priest rose in haste, trembling with excitement.
"O King!” he exclaimed, “this holy man speaks the truth. I have long felt that the religion I taught was naught but lies. I sought truth therein, but could never find it. Here is truth that gives life, salvation, and eternal happiness. Let us at once embrace this religion. The gods we followed are false ; let us dash them to earth. The temples we worshipped in are unholy; let them be cast down. The altars are profaned with blood shed in vain ; let them be given to the flames.”
The earls and counsellors rose, exclaiming, “Coifi has spoken well, O King; let this be done."
"But who will thus dare the wrath of the gods, — if they should be gods? Who will lay axe or torch to the temples protected by the curses of the thunder-wielder?"
" That will I!” answered Coifi. “I have led in their worship, I will lead in their destruction.” Striding to the door, he shouted, “Bring me horse and armor, spear and shield. I will dare the thunder-wielder himself to the combat! ”
Right and left the crowd around the door fell back in amazement and consternation as Coifi strode forth, shouting for horse and armor. No priest of Woden dared mount a horse. For him to put on armor was to provoke the wrath of the gods. To grasp shield and spear was to invite swift and terrible destruction. Even the nobles who had with him urged the abandonment of the old faith shrunk with involuntary dread at such bold defiance of the gods they so lately worshipped as all-powerful. But Coifi was undaunted. Buckling on a shirt of mail instead of his priestly robe, he sprang lightly on the back of a war-horse, and, grasping sword and shield, rode gayly out of the gate, followed by the King and all his nobles, and by every one in the court-yard. The cooks dropped ladles and crooks, the overseer forgot his duties and his staff, the women ran out of their chambers, and all rushed tumultuously, tumbling pell-mell over one another in their haste to see what the high-priest — who, they thought, had certainly gone mad — was about to do. The Christian bishop and his priests went solemnly, chanting prayers as they went. Only Ethelberga, the Queen, was left in the palace; and she knelt by the side of her babe, praying earnestly that the Christian cross might triumph over the pagan sword and sacrificial knife.
A little way from the palace, partly surrounded by gloomy woods, stood the heathen temple, the greatest and most renowned in all Northumbria. A stark and rugged fane, fit place for a worship so fierce and cruel as that of the heathen Saxons! A massive wall of earth was the outward enclosure. The entrance to this, defended by a gate, oak-framed and ironbound, gave admission to a large court-yard, in which were the houses
of the lower servants of the temple, who performed the menial offices. Other walls of stone and wood surrounded yards with the dwellings of the priests and virgins, fortune-tellers and performers of the cruel rites of the altar. Beyond all these barriers, and in the centre of all these enclosures, was an open spot on which was the temple itself, a gloomy structure, rude and massive, whose open sides gave passage to every wind that blew. Here stood the gigantic images of the gods, rudely carved figures in stone and wood, — Woden the mighty, robed and crowned, bearing in one hand the sceptre of power, and in the other the sword of vengeance; Freya the terrible, clutching the death-dealing mace in her strong grasp ; Thor the thunder-wielder, his flaming beard streaming down his iron-mailed breast, the mighty hammer that crushed his foes uplifted to strike; Saturn the wise, white-robed, bearing in one hand a vase of water, on which floated the flowers of the season, and the other resting on the wheel of a war-chariot; with other gods and goddesses of less note. Before every one was an altar; and each image was smirched with the smoke of countless sacrifices, in many of which the reek of human blood mingled with the smoke of burning wood.
It was to this temple that the crowd of king and nobles, freemen and bondmen, headed by the armed and mailed high-priest, were hurrying. The wide gate of the temple entrance stood open, for rarely, except at night, or in time of sudden and pressing danger, were the courts of dwelling or temple closed. Saxon hospitality allowed no bar to the entrance of the former, and the latter was guarded by a dread that was stronger than oak or iron. The wide gate stood open ; but when the servants of the temple saw the disorderly throng that rushed tumultuously at the heels of the armed horseman, they gathered around the entrance, uncertain whether or not to swing to the massive gate. Whilst they hesitated the opportunity was lost. Waving them aside with his spear, Coifi rode swiftly through the gateway. For a moment the throng behind hesitated before passing the barrier they had hitherto held sacred; but the pressure behind allowed no stay, and like a flock of sheep they dashed in after their leader. Through all the enclosures they passed without let or hindrance until they reached the last. Here the priests and virgins, startled from the altars by the noise of the approaching crowd, flung themselves on their knees in the entrance, and opposed the passage of Coifi with uplifted arms, and wild cries of terror at the sacrilege. It was but for a moment, and then Coifi, reining his horse for a leap, bounded forward, the kneeling priests and virgins falling away on either side with more piercing shrieks of affright.
Even the trowd that had thus far rushed heedlessly at his heels stopped without crossing the last line that separated them from the most sacred chamber of the gods, and stood looking with shuddering expectation of what was to follow. King Edwin was foremost in the line, his hands clasped, and his eyes gazing intently on Coifi with mingled hope and fear. The priests of the Saxon gods prostrated themselves on the ground, hiding their faces in the earth, and stopping their ears, that they might neither see the sacrilegious deed, nor hear the thunders of the expected retribution. Behind the shuddering awe-struck crowd knelt the reverend Bishop Paulinus, and the priests of the true God, praying fervently that the eyes of the blind worshippers of false gods might at last be opened.
Slowly Coifi rode around the temple, striking every altar with his profane spear as he passed. Then reining up in front of the statue of Thor the thunder-wielder, and rising in his stirrups, he exclaimed with a loud voice :“ Thor, god of the roaring thunder and the death-dealing lightning, wielder of the mighty crusher, lo! in the name of the Christian's God, thus 1 defy thee !” And with these words he launched his spear right at the face of the monstrous image, striking it in the eyeball.
The crowd swung back in dread ; even King Edwin clutched at a pillar as if to save himself from the coming shock. But no shock came. No thunder shook the heavens. No lightning-bolt struck the presumptuous Coifi dead. The crushing hammer remained unmoved in the uplifted hand of Thor, - a hammer of iron in a hand of wood. Slowly Coifi again rode around the temple, smiting each image in the face, and no harm came. They were indeed but blocks of wood and stone.
Then the crowd awoke from their stupor of astonishment. With a wild VOL. IV. -- NO. II.
cry they burst into the sacred enclosure. Axe and hammer were soon at work, and gods and goddesses were hurled to the ground. Fagots and torches were brought, and in a few minutes gods and temple were burning in one sacrificial fire. Wall and bank were next levelled with the ground, amid the wild shouts of the Saxons, above which rose the triumphant voices of the Christian priests chanting psalms and hallelujahs.
But from the exulting and excited throng, one figure stole quietly out, and, mounting a fleet steed, rode swiftly back to the palace, and crossed its deserted courts to the Queen's chamber. There, leaping from his horse, Edwin threw himself into the arms of his faithful Ethelberga, exclaiming with joyous but reverent voice, “Now, indeed, Christ is Lord.”
7. H. A. Bone.
“ONCE upon a time," the little woman began, “ there lived in a quiet
valley a rather sour-tempered child, who was so fond of red, that she was seldom seen without some garment or ribbon of that color, and so became known in the valley as Little Redjacket.
“She had often heard of Santa Claus, the well-beloved friend of children,