Friday, April 21, 2006

Day 9 - 21st April 1483

"On the 21st of April, after hearing Mass and dining in the convent of our order, we left that place, having on our right hand the river Athesis, or Lavisius (Adige), which is commonly called Etsch; and beyond the Adige we saw a very fertile hill country, full of castles and villages, of which the chief is that called Tramingum, which is a large village. Near it grows a noble wine, which is imported into Suabia, and is known as Tramminger, from the name of the village. Between us and the Adige, in the direction of the town of Meran, are deep morasses, and beyond the morasses, over against the town of Trent, are low hills, on the angle of which stands an old castle, named Firmianum, from whence the noble family of the lords of Firmianum, some of whom I have seen, derive their origin. The castle is at present possessed by Sigismund, Duke of Austria, who is rebuilding it on a larger scale, with exceeding thick walls, and surrounding it with great and lofty towers. The thickness of the wall is twenty shod feet. It contains in the four angles large and strongly-built dwellings, separated one from another by the intervening walls and towers, and each dwelling has its own Courtyard and its own stables for horses, so that four princes might dwell there in safety I have been in the castle and seen all of it. It has no water, save what they draw up by a wheel from the river Adige, which runs past the rock on which the castle stands. This place was once of evil repute as an abode because of the miasma from the marsh, which quickly caused the death of the inhabitants. Wherefore, to remove this drawback, the Duke caused ditches to be dug through the morass, from the river Adige right up to the mountains; so that now there are fair meadows where before was a soft and pestilent swamp. The ditches themselves are so full of the water which drains out of the marsh, that people pass up and down them in boats. Along the banks of the ditches on either side the Duke caused a very long vineyard to be planted, from which is gathered in the vintage season more than twenty cartloads of excellent wine. Yet, notwithstanding all this, and albeit the miasma of the marsh has been taken away, it is said that no one is able to live in the castle any longer than before. The reason of this was lately told me by the governor of the castle to be that it stands high, and has a fresh, strong air, which makes the men who live there hungry and thirsty, and greatly stimulates their appetite, which, if a man tries to satisfy intemperately, he destroys himself; for there is no lack there, but a table always stands ready spread with food, and the wine is not locked up. This profusion makes the place less dear.

I asked the governor what object the lord Duke could have in incurring such great expense in thus strangely fortifying this castle, when all the country round about belonged to the country of Tyrol. He answered that he did it in order that if the common people were to attempt to drive out their lord, and free themselves from their allegiance, as the Helvetians, or Swiss, had done, then the Duke might take refuge in that castle, and so harass them that they would be forced to submit; for the castle is, as one may say, impregnable, and stands in the throat of that valley. We rode on our way and came to Neumarkt, a large village, where we stayed for an hour in an inn to bait and rest our horses. Here a serving-man came to me from a house which stood opposite, and said that he had been sent by a brother of the Order of Preaching Friars to ask me who I was and whence I came. I answered that if that friar wished to know who I was and whence I came, he might come to me and I would give him a civil answer; 'but,' said I, 'I will not give any answer to a servant.' I spoke thus to him because I suspected him of being one of those wandering brethren of our order who range about the hill country-for discontented and runaway brethren both of our order and of other orders betake themselves to these parts and to the hill country, where they find the safest of hiding-places, and as everything there is very cheap, they are able to live a dissolute life, and they visit the country people, telling them about the value of Masses, so that their hearers buy Masses of them, both for themselves and their dead relatives, not knowing that the sin of simony is incurred by so doing. So they give these men money that they may read Masses, whereas they had much better give them the money as a free gift, for they never would approach the altar to do any honour to God. I have seen wretches of almost every religious order wandering in those mountains, and they are actually tolerated by the bishops and priests. From Neumarkt we rode through the valley which leads towards Trent. The vulgar have a tradition that through this valley or channel the sea once came up as far as Meran, and that the Adige ran down from the mountains above Meran and fell into the sea there. In proof of, this in the rock on the mountains of Tyrol are found to this day iron rings, to which ships used to be fastened; thus the whole district through which the Adige now flows into the Mediterranean was once sea. This I can well believe, because the sea in old times was much higher than it now is. We came to a village named Nova, where there runs a rapid mountain-stream, which marks the frontier of Italy and Germany. Above the stream on our side stands a chapel, in which the bowels of St. Udalrich, Bishop of Augsburg, are buried. The story goes that the aforesaid saint had been at Rome, and on his way home began to be seriously ill. So he begged God that He would permit him to die in Germany, and not in Italy; and so it was, for as soon as he had crossed the bridge over this stream he died, and his bowels were buried there, but his body was taken on to Augsburg. From this place we rode to the city of Trent, and stayed the night there. Trent is one of those very ancient cities which were founded in these mountains by the Trojans, who came thither with Antenor; the Adige runs past its walls. It is placed in a most beautiful, airy and healthy position, and consists, one may say, of two cities, an upper and a lower, on account of the two races which inhabit it. In the upper town dwell the Italians, and in the lower the Germans. They are at variance both in language and habits of life, and seldom are at peace with one another; indeed, before our own times the city was often ruined, sometimes by the Italians out of hatred for the Germans, and sometimes by the Germans out of hatred for the Italians. Not many years ago the Germans were but a few strangers in that city; now they are the burghers and rulers of the city. The day will soon come-indeed, has virtually come-when Duke Athesis (sic) of Innspruck will altogether join it to his dominions and to Germany, as has been done at Botzen, for the number of Germans there increases daily. What the reason of this increase is, and why our race should spread over other people's countries instead of theirs spreading over ours, I have never learned, unless we choose to say, to the shame of our land, that on account of its poverty and sterility we are driven to other countries, or on account of the fierceness of the Germans, whose near aspect no other race can endure, but all make way for them, yielding to their rage, which no man can resist. Over against the city, on the banks of the Adige, the Preaching Friars have a right fair convent, set about with most lovely gardens, which is called the Convent of St. Laurence. This convent was built by St. Jordanes, the immediate successor of our Father, St. Dominic, as head of the order; but in it there is no service or rule of life, only a few miserable brethren dwell therein to no purpose. In this city, in 1475, the holy child Simeon was martyred by the Jews with great torture; wherefore the Jews were condemned to be hanged after suffering great tortures. I myself beheld their accursed bodies hanging on gibbets the next year when I went to Rome. The body of the holy child, when it was found, began to be famous for the miracles which it wrought, and is still said to be famous. Wherefore people from distant parts of Germany, France and Italy make pilgrimages thither, and bring offerings of wax, clothing, gold and silver plate, and money, in such quantities as is wonderful to behold. In consequence of this they have pulled down the old church of St. Peter, in which the body used to be kept, and have built a new and spacious one upon the same site out of these offerings; moreover, they have cleansed the house of the martyr and consecrated it as a church. So when we pilgrims had taken off our riding-dresses, we went to the churches to obtain indulgences, and in the Church of St. Peter we saw the body of the holy child and the place of his martyrdom, and the old cathedral church, and other chapels and churches. For this is what is done by all respectable pilgrims to Jerusalem, namely, that at whatever towns they stop on the way, they straightway make inquiries about the churches and the relics of the saints, and visit them. Thus did my lords, and I together with them, as will appear hereafter. When it was late, and we were all sitting at supper, there came a minstrel, or jongleur, and his wife. He carried a flute, and his wife sang in good tune while he played his flute. This man, albeit he was sensible enough, yet while playing made mops and mows like a fool, which foolery made us laugh heartily in addition to the pleasure of hearing the music. When he had finished playing, my lords the barons, as is usual, consulted with one another as to what they should give the jongleur. One of the noblemen, however, said that he would give nothing, and declared that his parish priest had often said in his sermons that either to give or to receive money in such cases is damnable and a mortal sin. 'Since, therefore,' said he, 'I am on a holy pilgrimage, I am lath to soil it by giving away money sinfully; but I will give it to the poor.'
Hereupon there arose a great dispute among the noblemen, and they argued long and angrily.

At last they asked me to settle the question, declaring that they would abide by my decision and sentence. I therefore decided, not without fear, that he ought to give money to the jongleur. So they gave a present to the flute-player and his wife. After I had returned home, I searched the writing of learned casuists to see whether I had decided rightly, and I found the decision which I had given in Gerson in two places, when he treats of 'Avarice' in the matter of the seven mortal sins, and of converse with sinners, where he declares that such flute-players, jugglers and posture-makers are not in a state of damnation, and that such things may be said or done without mortal sin, even though the words said may be idle, jesting, and sometimes faulty, provided there be nothing shameful said, and unless he does it merely for amusement; but that it is right if he practices it for his own sustenance and profit, and in order to afford recreation to princes and nobles when they are oppressed by care. This we discovered to be the case with this jongleur, who was a mechanic dwelling in Trent, who did not make a constant practice of playing, but only on the arrival of princes or nobles; for when he heard that they were pilgrims to the Holy Land, he played for their diversion and for his own profit, in order that our sadness and anxiety might for a short time be laid aside."


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