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From Tales from the Italian and Spanish, Vol. III, Stories of Humor and Adventure, The Review of Reviews Co.; New York; 1920; pp. 248-252.



[Translator Unknown]

Many a mirthful tale did Boccaccio and his followers relate of the hypocrisy of the church, for no subject of satire seemed to them half so amusing as a worldly priest or a credulous churchman. It was not often that the rogues themselves came in for a share of the ridicule, as they do here. The Woodcutter’s Ass and The Pious Brigand are other specimens of this source of merriment.

THERE lived not long since at Triers, a German called Arrigo, who was a poor man, and served as a porter when anyone pleased to employ him: yet was he reputed a person of a good life; on which account (whether it be true or false I know not) it as affirmed by the people of Triers that at the very instant of his death, the bells of the great church rang of their own accord, which was accounted a miracle, and all declared that this Arrigo was a saint. They flocked to the house where the corpse lay, and carried it as a sanctified body to the great church; bringing thither the halt, lame, and blind, in expectation that, by the touch of it, they would all recover.

In so great a concourse of people, it happened that three of our city arrived there, one of whom was named Stecchi, another Martellino, and the third Marchese; persons that frequented the courts of princes, to divert them as buffoons and mimics. Having none of them ever been there before, and seeing the great crowd of people running from all parts of the city, they were much surprised; and hearing the cause, they were very desirous of seeing the corpse. They left their baggage therefore at the inn, and Marchese said:

“We will see this saint; but I do not know how we shall contrive to get near enough, for the street is full of soldiers and persons in arms, whom the governor has stationed


A large medieval church interior with massive columns and several people tooking toward a distant altar, including one with a crutch, and one being carried by two others


(From the engraved print made for this story by the famous Italian artist, Tito Lessi)

there to prevent any tumult in the city; and besides, the church is so thronged with people that it will be impossible to get it.

Martellino, who was eager to be a spectator, replied, “I will find a way, notwithstanding, to get close to the very body.”

“How,” said Marchese, is that possible?”

“I’ll tell you,” answered Martellino: “I intend to counterfeit a cripple, whilst thou shalt support me on one side and Stecchi on the other, as if I were unable to walk by myself, bringing me towards the saint to be cured; and you will see everybody make way for us to go on.”

The other two were much pleased with the contrivance, and they all went accordingly into a private place, where Martellino distorted his hands, fingers, arms, legs, mouth, eyes, and his whole countenance, in such a manner that it was frightful to behold; and nobody that saw him would have imagined but that he was really so lamed and deformed. Being carried in that guise by Marchese and Stecchi, they directed their way to the church, crying out in a most piteous manner all the way, to make way for God’s sake! which the people did with great readiness.

In a little time they attracted the eyes of everyone, and the general cry was “Room! room!” till at length they came where the body of St. Arrigo lay. Martellino was then taken from his friends by some persons that stood around, and laid all along upon the body, to the end that he might, by that means, receive the benefit of a cure. All the people’s eyes were now upon him, expecting the event; when he, who was master of his business, first began to stretch his fingers, then his hands, afterwards his arms, and at last his whole body; which, when the people saw, they set up such shouts in praise of St. Arrigo that a clap of thunder would hardly have been noticed in the din.

Now it happened that a Florentine was not far off, who, knowing Martellino very well (not while his body was distorted, but after his pretended cure), burst out laughing, and cried:


“Good God! who would not have taken him to have been really a cripple?”

Some of the bystanders, hearing this, immediately said, “And was he not so?”

“No,” answered the other, “as God is my judge, he was always as straight as any person here; but he has the art, as you have now seen, of turning his body into what shape he pleases.”

There needed nothing more to set them all on fire; they therefore pressed on most violently, crying out to “seize the villain, that blasphemer of God and his saints, who being in no wise disordered, comes here to make a jest of our saint and us.”

Whereupon they dragged him by the hair of the head and threw him upon the ground, kicking him, and tearing the clothes off his back; nor was there one that did not endeavor to give him a blow; whilst Martellino kept crying out for God’s sake to have mercy; but all to no purpose, for the blows fell thicker and faster upon him.

Marchese and Stecchi now began to be in some pain for themselves, and not daring to help him, they cried out with the multitude, “Kill him! kill him!” contriving all the time how to get him out of their hands: nevertheless he had certainly been murdered, but for the following expedient. Marchese, knowing that the officers of justice were at the door, ran to the lieutenant that commanded, crying out:

“Help, sir help! for God’s sake; here’s a fellow that has picked my pocket of a hundred florins; I beg you will assist me in getting them back again.”

And immediately twelve of the sergeants ran to where Martellino was in the utmost jeopardy, and with the greatest difficulty got him away, all trodden under foot and bruised as he was, and carried him to the palace, followed by many of the people who had been incensed against him, and who now hearing that he was taken up for a cut-purse, and seeing no other way of revenging themselves, declared that they had also been robbed by him.


On hearing these complaints, the judge, who was an ill-tempered man, took him aside and examined him; whilst Martellino answered him in a jesting manner, making no account of their accusations. This so incensed the judge that he ordered him to be tied by the neck and soundly lashed, that he might make him confess the crimes he was charged with, in order to hang him afterwards. Martellino being therefore bound down to the ground, and the judge asking him if those things with which he was accused were true, and telling him it would be in vain to deny them; he made answer:

“My lord, I am ready to confess the truth; but please first to order all my accusers to say when and where I robbed them, and I will then tell you truly what I am guilty of, and what not.”

The judge readily consented, and having summoned some of them before him, one said he had picked his pocket eight days ago, and some averred that he had robbed them that same day. Martellino replied:

“My lord, they are all liars; for I had not been here many hours (and would to God I had never come at all!) before I went to view this saint, where I got abused as you now see. That this is true, the officer who keeps your book of presentations, as also my landlord, will testify for me; therefore I beseech you not to torture and put me to death at the instance of these people.”

When Marchese and Stecchi heard what passed before the judge, and that their friend was severely handled, they began to be in great fear about him, saying to themselves that they had taken him out of the frying-pan to throw him into the fire: and they ran from place to place to find out their landlord, whom they acquainted with what had happened. The landlord, laughing heartily at their story, took them to one Alexander Agolanti, a person of great interest in the city, to whom they related the whole affair, entreating him to have pity on poor Martellino. Alexander, after much laughter, went to the governor of the 252 town and prevailed upon him to have Martellino brought into his presence.

The messenger that went for him found him standing before the judge in his shirt, all terrified, because his worship would hear nothing in his favor, having an aversion perhaps to our country people, and being probably resolved to hang him at all events; and he refused to deliver him up, till he was compelled. Martellino, being brought before the governor, told him everything that had happened, and entreated him as a special favor that he would let him go, saying that till he came to Florence he should always think he had the rope about his neck. The governor was highly diverted with the story, and ordering every one of the three a suit of apparel, they escaped, beyond all their hopes, from the most imminent danger, and got home safe and sound.

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