Thursday, April 20, 2006

Day 8 - 20th April 1483

"On the 20th, which was the Sunday called 'Jubilate,' we stayed for divine service and for dinner at Neustift, and then left the monastery. We passed hurriedly through the town of Brixen, because their lordships were told that the plague was raging there. At other times when passing I have stayed the night there. There is a rich bishopric. Consequently, on the death of the bishop there often arise quarrels among the nobles about the bishopric, and the whole of this country is vexed by interdicts and ecclesiastical censures. I can remember the time when the present Duke of Austria, Sigismund, and all that country was laid under a strict interdict and most severe excommunication on account of that bishopric, so that every man who passed through that country, whether knowingly or in ignorance, became excommunicated. There is a beautiful cathedral church. Once I and a brother of my order stood and repeated the canonical hours in that church, whereupon my lord the Superior and great canon of the church, sent his chaplain to us, and asked whether we were Mendicant Friars, and when he learned the truth he gave us a good fat alms. A convent of good brethren would do very well there, for in the whole diocese there is no convent of Mendicant Friars. The canons there are so grave and reverend that they will not suffer any monks save Recollets in Neustift. Now, the monastery of Neustift belongs to those canons, and not very long ago the church at Neustift was the cathedral church, but when it was moved into the town the Canons Regular were placed there. Leaving Brixen behind us, we came to the Kuntersweg, along which we easily proceeded, because the Duke of Austria has so strengthened it that now people go up and down it with wheeled carriages, and have deserted the old bridle-paths. So now the aforesaid Duke is erecting at the end of this road a very lofty and costly building to serve as a toll-house. Not two years ago this road was so bad and dangerous that a man could only pass along it with the greatest difficulty, leading his horse after him. I know with what peril I passed along that road in the course of my first pilgrimage, for on the right hand there are very deep valleys, and the road was very narrow, having on the left a lofty precipice of rock, and on the right an exceeding deep valley. So narrow and dangerous was the road, that Volksliider were commonly sung about it. But now, as I have said, the Duke has contrived by art to blow up the rocks with gunpowder, to cut away the face of the precipices, and roll away great masses of stone, and at a great expense has made the rough places plain; and that not only here, but in many other parts of Rhaetia which are subject to his rule. The aforesaid road is two German miles in length. When we had passed over it, we came to the town of Botzen, which we found had been lately, to its sorrow, almost entirely burned; indeed, the fire had not yet gone out, but we saw flames and smelt smoke still rising from the heaps of ruins. The monasteries, however, and the churches, remained unharmed, as though by a miracle. The convent of our order of Preaching Friars caught fire in many places, but, by the zealous labour of the brethren, who ran about on the roofs, the flames were extinguished; nevertheless, the fire caught such a hold even of our convent, that the brethren could not have saved it without more than human aid, for when the roof of the dormitory blazed up, I am told by most trustworthy witnesses that the venerable Prior, Father Nicolaus Munchberger, fell on his knees beneath the flames, and called upon the Blessed Virgin for help, which he received. Many years ago, in the sight of all men, fire came in at the city gate, ran through the streets, and burned the whole town. Wherefore, as the former fire was clearly caused by the vengeance of Heaven, so, it is thought, was this latter. For the people there are sinful, given to drunkenness, luxury, and pride beyond measure. Indeed, everything there is exceeding cheap, and there is an abundance of good things; the wine is especially good, and all fruits are sweet. But the air is unwholesome, because, it is said, on the side from which fresh wholesome air would blow there stand very high mountains, which were pointed out to me by the brethren, while on the quarter from which the town receives the wind, there lie most pestilent marshes. The consequence of this is, that there are always many persons there suffering from feverish symptoms, and it is so common to have fever that they do not count fever as a disease. When one of them meets a friend, and sees him pale and altered in face, he says to him, 'Friend, what is the matter, that I see you so pale and altered?' To which he replies, 'Of a truth, my friend, I thank God I am not ill, but it is the fever that alters my looks.' So it happened that once I was visiting Botzen in company with a secular friend, and when we saw the town, he said to me, 'Look there, brother! I do not believe that there is any town in the world which is colder than that.' Surprised at this, I said, ' Not so; it is, I think, one of the warmest.' He replied, 'I never have come into this town, even on the hottest day in summer-time, without always seeing many people there sitting in their winter fur pelisses pale with the cold, and with their teeth chattering.' This he said in a joke, alluding to the sufferers from fever. Many are of opinion that men do not contract fevers from bad air, but from good wine and good cookery, with which they gorge themselves and become diseased. A few years ago this town was Italian, and the Italian language was the common speech of the people; indeed, I know an Italian Father who cannot speak a word of German, and who in the time of his youth was a runner and preacher in the convent at Botzen; but in process of time, as the Germans increased in numbers, the town has become a German town; and that convent which formerly belonged to the province of St. Dominic, has now been added to our province. We passed the night in this town, and saw much misery, for many people were living among the ruins of their houses, without any roof or place of shelter, and many were leaving the town as beggars who had heretofore been rich men. But at the present day the town is being rebuilt, and the buildings which they are putting up are more costly than those which stood there before the fire."

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