From The Autobiography of Johannes Butzbach, A Wandering Scholar of the Fifteenth Century, [Hodoporicon] Translated from the German by Robert Francis Seybolt and Paul Monroe; Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1933; pp. 89-150.



Chapter I

How John returned to his parents’ home

Dear Philipp, I have given you a comprehensive account of the course of my travels through the Highlands. To avoid wearying you with reading, I have been obliged to pass over a great deal, and so have brought my narrative to the close of the second book. It is now necessary that, in the third book, I give you an account of my travels in their further course, and explain how I have at last been led, through divers adventures and accidents in the regions of Lower Germany, to my present stopping place.

Having returned to my native town, I concealed myself temporarily at the waggoner’s home, and no one knew I was there except his wife. It so happened that my mother kept me vividly in mind, and spoke of me sorrowfully to the children as if I were dead. While she was talking in this manner, weeping as if I were no longer alive, the waggoner’s wife, who had gone out without my knowing it, arrived and asked why she had given way to tears. When she learned the cause of her sorrow, she clapped her hands and said: “What will you give me if I show you your son at this very hour?” With that our mother replied, just as if she had come to life: “If you do that, I shall give you a present.” Then the other said, “Good, come with me immediately, and you will find him at my house; even now he awaits your coming.” My mother came weeping for excess of joy. My brothers and sisters also hurried along so rapidly that they arrived before her. She herself came slowly after; she was pregnant, and hourly expecting her delivery. How great was our happiness at meeting again, you can imagine better than I can describe. But here, as it often happens, grief quickly 90 followed joy. My mother took me home, and on the way told me that father was dead, and moreover that I had had a stepfather these five years, namely your father. I now understood for the first time, and wept inconsolably; they all wept with me. My former joy was not so great as my present grief over the news of my father’s death.


Chapter II

How John entered the tailor’s trade

At last we had to put an end to our mourning over my father’s death. They took me home, and everyone stood on the street in front of his door, and wished me joy at my homecoming. You also, at that time only a small child, came with your father to meet me. He received me like a father, led me into the house, and comforted me as if he were my own father. When he learned that I had not confessed or partaken of communion for a long time, and had associated with heretics, he anxiously exhorted me to compose myself, in order to make confession and prepare for the holy communion. The following Sunday I went to church with my mother who also desired to partake of communion. When someone offered me the holy water, to which I had not helped myself for many years, I experienced a real pleasure in the novelty of the ceremony. At that time I did not reach the point of going to the communion table. On the following day, however, I went to holy communion, and was strengthened by the bread of heaven; but somehow all who were in the church got the notion that I had the plague and said to each other: “It would have been better for this fellow if he had remained elsewhere a while longer, than for him to see his home again, and, just as the plague has ceased, expose himself to the peril of death.” In that very year the plague had raged, and had snatched from me a brother and a sister. On that account your father was very uneasy lest, if I remained there long, I also should contract the plague. For that reason, after he had cut my long hair upon which I had bestowed a great deal of care while in Bohemia, according to the custom, he had me fitted out with other clothes, and went with me to Aschaffenburg and apprenticed me to the tailor’s trade there. 92 When my choice had been given me, I had preferred to learn this as it is easier than others. I went to a capable master who had a large trade. He was to take pains to teach me his trade within two years and for this, Father promised to give him six gold florins and twenty yards of cloth, a part of which he had brought with him.


Chapter III

What John had to endure as tailor’s apprentice

What I had to endure from the master during the two years of my apprenticeship, not to mention the severity of the work and the inhuman night watching, by which a young man is entirely worn our physically; how I had to work from three to four o’clock in the morning, to nine or ten at night, sometimes until eleven or twelve, but especially how I usually had to continue working until high mass on higher feast days; how I was harassed with carrying water, sweeping the house, tending the fire, running here and there and carrying out orders within the town and outside, collecting or rather, to be more correct stealing wax from the candlesticks in the church for the use in the trade; how I had to suffer harsh words from my master and the household, and sometimes hard blows, cold and heat, hunger and thirst in the extreme; what I had to suffer in these and many other kinds of distress, could hardly be written in a large book. Indeed, I had to endure such extreme hunger that if the sound of my mother tongue and the nearness of my native town had not persuaded me to the contrary, I should have had to believe myself in exile among the Bohemians at that very moment. In addition to that, the artificiality of the trade displeased me no less that the fact that we were greatly encouraging pride. We were urged to fashion the most unimportant garments not out of plain cloths, but out of many-colored fabrics. We were obliged, with the greatest care, like a painter, to embroider on them clouds, stars, blue sky, lightning, hail, hands clasped like lovers, besides that cubes, lilies, roses, trees, sprays, stalks, crosses, beryls, and countless other follies, such as the ostentation court life daily produced with its wantonness and arrogance. The most costly materials were used, such as scarlet, English stanet, woolen cloths from 94 Lüttich, Rouen, Grenoble, Bruges, Ghent, Aachen, and others still more costly; and of silk materials, velvet, damask, camelot, decorated with roses in broad-stitch, sendal and sendaline, obtained from the bloody sweat of peasants and poor, for hard cash. As regards the remnants of other people’s cloth, which are reckoned as nothing by tailors, and of which they have high baskets full, standing in all the corners of the workrooms, it seemed to me an unpermissible theft to hold it back; and this caused me no little pain of conscience, as it daily gave me greater distaste for the trade and despair for my salvation. And yet it is a common custom sanctioned by all covetous people and thieves. They are accustomed to have under the table a box or basket, which they call the “eye.” Into this, they throw the scraps of cloth and when they are questioned about them, they reply that there was hardly enough left with which to fill or cover an eye; meaning, however, their baskets, not their eyes.


Chapter IV

How John, after completing his apprenticeship, went by way of Frankfort to Mainz, and was there recommended by the monks of St. James as monastery tailor at Johannisberg in Rheingau

I had learned my trade to the best of my ability. On account of the circumstances just mentioned and others, it seemed dangerous to the salvation of my soul, and I became uneasy about it to a certain extent. When the term of my apprenticeship expired, I went to Frankfort. This place is visited twice a year by a great crowd of merchants and tradesmen from all the surrounding districts. The meeting is said to have been transferred, many years ago, to Frankfort from Duisberg, a city in Jülicherland, on account of the highway robbery there. From here, the journey proceeded to Mainz. As it is very lovely there, and pleased me greatly because of the number of churches and monasteries, I went to work for a short time with a certain master Everhard, who is still alive and a very able master. In Bohemia I had drifted away from religion. Now, I went into the monastery in order to make amends for my neglect. As I observed the mode of living of the monks and especially of the Dominicans, whom I often visited, I felt myself daily more and more attracted to this mode of life. I asked admittance, and a certain John Hermann Rumel, a fellow countryman of my own age, who was studying in lodgings in Mainz and was well acquainted with the fathers, interceded for me. Unfortunately, however, they already had two converts who attended to the tailoring. So, they sent me to the monastery of St. John the Baptist, which is very pleasantly situated on a high mountain in the midst of Rheingau. The Abbot had earlier inquired in Mainz for a tailor who wished to become a lay brother. When I reached Johannisberg, I learned that the Abbot was dying. In fact, he died within few days.


Chapter V

John’s life as a lay brother at Johannisberg

After the Abbot had thus gone the way of all flesh, the brothers prepared themselves, to a man, with fasting and prayer, for the choice of a new shepherd. John of Segen, who until recently had loyally performed his duty as comforter of the sick for thirty years, was elected by canonical choice. When he learned that I had been sent there on behalf of the order, he very willingly granted my requests. He took into consideration the fact that the monastery suffered certain significant disadvantages through its connection with the secular tailor, since that one daily went home at evening laden with provisions and other things which he had pilfered. He was now dismissed. I, however, received the garments of a lay brother, and was sent to the monastery of St. James on the Schönenberg near Mainz, in order to learn the cutting of cowls. Here under the guidance of the brother tailor, I acquired sufficient skill in a few days, and returned to my own monastery. Now the work began. In the summer time my work was very pleasantly situated over the infirmary. Formerly, a Count of Solms who was a canon and suspected of leprosy, had his dwelling here because of the beauty of the place. I had to sew all the necessary things for the monastery and the Abbot, for the lay brothers, and servants, and likewise for the church. In addition to the tailoring, I had other duties. Early in the morning, I had to carry a pitcher of fresh spring water into the sacristy for the stewards, by whom about five o’clock in the morning, the holy mass used to be read. I had also to serve the brothers at the silent masses, and the Abbot at high mass. Likewise, when secular guests were there, I often had to go with the hospitaler to serve them. Every 97 Wednesday, I went to Bingen with the steward to purchase two florins worth of eggs, and carry out other necessary commissions. Also, when the prelate visited the monasteries, in the company of Trithemius, I often rode along with him, or traveled with him or other brothers to Frankfort, Mainz, Spanheim, Kreuznach, and many other places.20 Occasionally, I traveled alone on business. Then again, I had to go with the conventual brothers in haying and vintage seasons, or accompany them when they preached outside the monastery.


20  Johann Trithemius (1462-1516), historian, theologian.


Chapter VI

The grandeur of Rheingau

Rheingau, in the middle of which, on a mountain not far from the Rhine, the monastery of Johannisberg is situated, is but four miles in extent, and on one side stretches from Walluff to Lorch opposite the town of Bacharach. It is a very beautiful region, however, richly endowed with wine, grain, woods, water, and many kinds of fruit trees, and dotted with villages, among which two are especially important, namely Bingen and Elfeld. It also possesses, as ornaments, several cloisters for both sexes: Eberbach of the order of St. Bernard, Johannisberg, Rupertsberg at Bingen, Gottesthal, and many others. Through its midst flows the Rhine, rich in islands and meadows, of which a few are of considerable area. The people here are prosperous and sturdy, by reason of which they captured Mainz a long time ago. One finds there a great abundance of fruit. I knew a farmer there who in one year, on his cherries alone, made thirty florins in the market at Mainz. The people have retained their freedom. They enjoy their old privileges and customs which have been well-established since the days of their ancestors. Four princes once tried to seize this region, but in the end they were obliged to withdraw without having achieved their purpose. The district is strongly protected by its woods, hills, and valleys, on one side, while on the other, it is encircled by the Rhine. Concerning Rheingau, brother Bartholomew of England, of the Friars-Minor, writes in his work “on the nature of things”, in the fifteenth book, one hundred twenty-seventh chapter, the following: “Rheingau is a little district which extends from Mainz down stream along the shore of the Rhine between the mountains to Bingen.”21 From the river 99 which flows through its midst, it gets the name Rheingau. To be sure, the district is small, but on both sides of the Rhine, up to the tops of the mountains, it is wonderfully beautiful and fruitful. So very beautiful, so unbelievably fruitful is this region, that not only does it please the inhabitant as a home of indescribable delight, but it charms the traveler hastily passing along the shore. Its soil is so rich and fertile, that season after season, it brings forth grain and fruit in as great profusion as rapidity. On the same bit of ground are produced an endless variety of fruit as well as nuts. Yet with all its abundance of fruit, it does not lack grain. Fruit culture does not hinder vine culture. Here, the same small field brings forth grain and wine, nuts and fruit, apples and pears, and many other products. Warm mineral springs, good for all kinds of bodily ills, gush from the interior of the earth. But this country offers much more for the needs and pleasures of life, all of which would take too long to describe in detail.


21  Bartholomaeus Anglicus, English Franciscan, author of De proprietatibus rerum, a well-known encyclopedia of the thirteenth century.


Chapter VII

The work and monastic life at Johannisberg

To take up the thread of my story once more, I may say that in the above-mentioned monastery of John the Baptist there were twelve of us lay brothers. Of these, two were in the kitchen, one in the mill with a servant whom he needed for bringing in the grain and for sending it out again into the neighborhood. Then there were two brothers in the press; one of them did not always have the key, but only in the absence of the other. When the latter was there, the former had to carry out his orders. Then there was always one in the workhouse, and in the bakehouse, one at the gate, and one in the wardrobe. When work accumulated to an unusual amount, the steward on some days gave the latter a servant as an assistant. All were abundantly occupied with the regular work, under the careful supervision of the superiors. The superintendence was so careful that no one could give himself up to idleness, or indulge himself in proper rest or accustomed prayer. On work days, we all had to be in church early, about four o’clock, until the closing of the mass which began about five. Whenever anyone was absent because of sleepiness or other remissness, he was obliged to forego his portion of wine, which for midday and evening together hardly amounted to two gobletsful. For our consumption, a special cask of wine had been prepared from the skins; this was never empty, and was called the “Monastery’s tail-end.” An inferior wine was always served us except on holidays, when we had the same fare as the monastery. Similar punishment was imposed upon those who neglected the time of confession or the chapter of guilt, to which we were pledged every other Sunday. This punishment lasted until the neglect was remedied and the duty performed satisfactorily. We all slept together, 101 and in the dormitory there was absolute silence. No one would ever have ventured to break the silence at table, where at all times someone read from the lives of the fathers, the legends of the saints, or from the interpretations of the Gospels and Epistles.


Chapter VIII

How John began to study at Deventer, but was obliged to give it up because of poverty, and how his mother encouraged him to resume

While I was engaged as lay brother with these and similar works and duties, I felt a constant longing for the higher functions of the brothers, and I greatly regretted that I had been obliged to abandon my studies. This did not escape the notice of the younger brothers who had recently returned from the schools, and secretly they advised me to betake myself to Deventer. An elderly monk, Peter Schlarp, by name, a very industrious and learned man, gave me a letter of introduction to the Rector of the school at Deventer, Alexander Hegius. With this I set out, although the Abbot raised many objections and had no confidence in my success. On the entrance examination I could answer nothing, but since the excellent style of the Latin in my letter of introduction excited their admiration, I was assigned to the seventh grade to learn the elements of grammar with the little boys.22 But soon, through poverty, hunger, and cold, I was in such distress that I was again obliged to give up my studies. With a few comrades, who had so advised me, I took my departure. two fine gentlemen, John Gre. . . , who later died of the plague, and his brother Frederick who is still living, used their influence in my behalf and I was again received into my monastery, although I had previously laid aside the garb and betaken myself to the monastery at Eberbach without returning at the command of the Abbot. This monastery is said to have been founded by St. Bernard at the time when he 103 was in the district in the capacity of imperial legate. So I received the habit of the order for the second time; another departure, or study, was not to be thought of. In my heart I was now reconciled to remaining here forever, when one day I had to accompany the Abbot to Frankfort. Here we met my mother. She had heard that I was a “Lollhard.”23 She sought me out in our monastery, and now followed us with troubled heart. The whole day she interceded with the Abbot, entreating him to allow her to send me back to school. But he remained obdurate to her most earnest prayers. Seeing that she accomplished nothing this way, she secretly gave me money and arranged with me that after our return I should leave the monastery against the wishes of the Abbot.


22  Butzbach was twenty years old at this time. Cf. Thomas Platter (Monroe, op. cit, 117): “When I entered the school, I could do nothing; not even read Donatus. I was then eighteen years old.”

23  Lollhard, a lay brother.


Chapter IX

How it happened that John
gained the Abbot’s permission to study.
A domestic interlude

We returned to our monastery. I had not the courage to ask for permission to leave. Moreover, I had entirely resigned myself to remaining in my humble position. Then it happened that the Abbot, disturbed in his heart by the woman’s entreaties, came to me of his own accord. He spoke to me as a friend; I must do what seemed best and most salutary according to my own judgment and conscience. Quite embarrassed, I confessed to him my burning desire for knowledge and my longing for the higher grades of the order. Then he said: “Go forth in the name of the Lord, and abide steadfast in your good resolve. Your mother’s wish shall be granted. With zeal and perseverance, go to your studies and complete them. Then return, and the order stands open to you.” So, for the third time, I left the monastery and returned to my native town. I was a welcome guest with all my acquaintances. When the people heard that I wished to return to school, several masters praised my intentions and wished me luck; others thought that I was too old and ridiculed me on that account. My father, however, took no little joy at the prospect, and soon got together the money for my journey. He gave me five florins. He knew also that my mother had a treasured florin which she had received from Hillig, with which he had betrothed himself to her. With all authority, he demanded it for me. But my mother did not wish to give it up, and had intended to give me another florin instead, behind my father’s back. As a result, a terrible quarrel arose between them, which ended in my mother being severely beaten and having her hair torn. When I saw this, I threw aside my luggage and money, and with my brothers and sisters, offered resistance to my father in order to 105 protect mother. I succeeded in dragging her from under his feet. Weeping bitterly, I left the house, and swore that after such an occurrence I would never again set foot in a school, or return to the monastery. Meanwhile my father’s anger abated, and when he came to himself and could no longer endure his remorse, he hurried through the town in search of me. When he found me, he begged me, in his anguish, in heaven’s name, not to give up my intentions, and to forgive him the wrong he had done in trying to be kind to me. He begged me to go on with my plan, which had given him so much pleasure. With that, he handed me the florin which had been extorted with blows. I accepted it for the sake of peace, intending to return it secretly to my mother who accompanied me to the ship. At last I tore myself away. Our ship sailed down the Main and Rhine. The skipper was changed at Mainz as well as at Cologne. Particularly favorable winds filled our sails, and in nine days we landed at Deventer. I was again examined by the Rector, and this time placed in the eighth class.24 Here I sat near six other grown-up school-mates, who as a result of a rebellion had, out of fear, devoted themselves to study.25 A few days earlier, a band of seven thousand insurgents, who were besieging a town, had been utterly defeated by the Bishop of Maestricht and the Duke of Gueldres. A hundred of them had been condemned to death. On the day of my arrival and on the two preceding days, they were executed, and I still saw them on the wheels. Of my comrades just mentioned, who had begun to study more through fear than from a desire for knowledge, only a few remained steadfast. They were too dull witted, and made slow progress, while I took pains, through zealous study night and day, to improve myself in learning.


24   Instruction in the eighth class begins with the Grammar of Donatus. Butzbach arrived at Deventer early in August, 1498.

25  Students enjoyed exemption from military service.


Chapter X

How John studied with good results, but at the same time suffered unspeakably because of poverty and illness

Not long afterward my schoolmates were dismissed. One of them sat for four years in the same class and scarcely learned to read, although he lived with a teacher of his class and had uselessly allowed it to cost him a great deal. For my part, I was in the eighth class for a short time only, then skipping over the seventh, I was able to advance to the sixth class; and from this, by Easter, I attained the fifth. Now, I also won a place among the brothers in the almshouse, into which one gets admittance only from the fifth class and above, if at the same time one has intentions of becoming a monk.26 Moreover, whenever I was in need of anything, I felt free to consult a canon of the city, who was also a provost of Zutphen. While I was living in the town, at the house of a very devout spinster, before my entrance into the house of the brothers, I had rendered the canon many services by helping his servants and especially his amanuensis. In addition, I had won several other friends, who were good to me, and in the time of need and distress showed me great kindness. In those days I had to endure many and various inconveniences from illnesses; at times, with all my zeal for learning, I was strongly tempted to give it up. I thought then that I had never had to endure so unhealthful a climate and such raw air, as I found there. I was daily visited with all sorts of sickness and troubles, so that I had already thought seriously of abandoning study and taking up my old trade once again, just to escape from this region. Now it was a burning fever, now ulcerous 107 ailments, that threatened my life. Later quinsy, combined with a swelling of the larynx; and then scabs to such a horrible degree that my whole body was covered with them. Added to that, I was often troubled with boils on different parts of my body. Then again, I had swollen feet, and for a long time a swelling on one thigh. Finally, I got relief from a woman skilled in medicine, who cut off the sore on my thigh with an iron instrument; she called it a “rose.” I was nearly desperate with the pain that I suffered from it. Moreover, I lived in constant fear lest, from one quarter or another, as they feared at home, some evil would befall me. I seldom or never felt safe. Just as one oftentimes is apprehensive of the outbreak of war, I feared that I might have to give up before the completion of my studies and go home untutored, and become the sport of those who had thought that I would never amount to anything in my studies, and who, when I was very earnest about it derided me as if I were crazy. In addition to all this, we heard daily that the plague was at hand. When the plague or war breaks out, it is the custom to banish the students from a town. Then too, I suffered very much from a scabby disease called sycoma, which covered my body like oak bark. I was also hard hit by many other adversities, with which Satan struck me in order, if possible, to dissuade me from my undertaking. Yet, through the teaching of the Brothers of the Common Life who take a loving interest in the students, and strengthened as well by the faith of a pious people, I have, thank God, patiently overcome all those troubles and put to shame the cunning fiend with all his snares.


26  The Brotherhood of the Common life, a religious community, founded at Deventer, c. 1380, by Gerhard Groot (1340-1384).



How John decided to continue his studies despite all obstacles

Now that all these sufferings are over, it gives me great pleasure to look back on them, because I believe that all this happened for the purification and improvement of my soul. It happened five times, at the instigation of others, that I was on the point of giving up my studies and returning home. One morning a year after my arrival, when I was a student in the fifth class, I had agreed to depart with a certain fellow student. Suddenly in the evening, I was attacked by a swelling in my feet and the sore to which I have already referred. The journey was out of the question; I remained and advanced to the fourth class. Now I thank God for this dispensation. Had I left then, no one could have induced me to return to such misery. I might mention two reasons which above all persuaded me to remain steadfast and bound me to my studies: my father’s wish, as long as he lived, and the prophecy, if I may so call it, of certain people, that I would some day become a priest. The former was expressed at home, the latter at Johannisberg where I was lay brother and monastery tailor. One day I was sitting at my work, and engaged in confidential conversation with an elderly sick father, whom I had to wait on and look after daily. I was telling him how, greatly to my sorrow, I had been obliged, as a boy, to give up my study. On the wall over my bench, I had fastened a little round piece of bread, called the host, for devotional purposes, and to have a reminder of our Lord’s sufferings always before my eyes, to help me endure the temptations by which youth is so often tried. While I was telling this, and lamenting that nothing had come of my early studies and therefore of my desire to become a priest, suddenly to our great astonishment, the host loosened itself from the wall and fell to the floor. When the aged man, who sat 109 with shaking head behind the stove, saw this, he stood up at once, in spite of the weakness of old age which bowed him down, and said in a loud voice: “See, brother John, that shall be a sure sign of your future priesthood. Now you need despair no longer, but firmly believe and trust that, if you take up your studies again, what has happened augurs that which I have but now uttered.” He also predicted the day and hour of his death, and when he died the brothers called him back to life to confess him. I did not forget his words. Another year passed, and then with zeal for learning, and with the assistance of my parents, I again returned to school, and with God’s grace and the help of the Blessed Virgin, within four years, according to that prophecy, I became monk and priest. May this gift of God to me, unworthy as all of us, redound to the salvation of my soul and to His glory. This is my most earnest with.


Chapter XII

How it was foretold that John would become a priest.
The glories of the city of Deventer

The same prophecy had also been expressed to my mother by a priest, a venerable man and pastor in the town of Aschaffenburg, who had brought me a surplice to mend. While I was trying it on, he heard me sigh fervently: “Oh, that I too might become a priest!” My persistence at study rested on the expressed ambition of my father, who, during his life and at the time of death, had stated this as his highest wish. For that reason while he lived, he had sent me to school, and on his death-bed had enjoined my mother to do the same. After his death, when I had given up the tailor’s trade, and with our friends was deliberating about returning to school, the following occurred. One morning when my brother Kunz and I arose and dressed ourselves, our father’s spirit appeared in the room just as he had been in life, remained standing a while in the wide-open door, and looked at me compassionately, as if he wished to indicate that I should, without delay or fear, carry out the plan which had so long been his dearest wish. More than anything else, this occurrence spurred me on to enthusiasm and perseverance in my studies. If I was somewhat disobedient to my father in his lifetime, I now wished to make amends. He had wished so much that I should become a priest. Now that I am one, God grant that it may bring peace to his soul.

After this digression, I again take up the thread of my story. I should like to sound the praises of Deventer, where I endured all the misfortunes which I have mentioned. The people there are exceedingly kind to the poor, as I have observed nowhere else; they are pious, and hold closely to their religious beliefs. At the same time, the town is very prosperous in consequence of its active trade with countries across the seas and with Holland and Zeeland. 111 It is a fact that I knew a citizen there, a great benefactor of mine, and of other poor people, who gave his daughter as a dowry, on her marriage, seventeen thousand florins in hard cash. This same citizen’s wife was equally upright and remarkably kind to the poor and to strangers. No day passed on which she did not invite six or seven needy clerics to her well-laden table, not to mention the alms which she continually dispensed to other poor people at her door. This estimable woman had shown me many kindnesses at the time of my illness and need, either through food, clothing, and money, or through consoling words. She and her family certainly deserved to be wealthy, for she is not, as other rich people usually are, proud or avaricious, but is kind, compassionate and generous to the poor, and places all her faith in God. This noble town has many such Godfearing people. In addition, the town has a good constitution, and a well-regulated government. Alexander Hegius, formerly Rector of the gymnasium in that place, has epitomized the glories of the city in verse.*

The town reveres as its patron saint the holy confessor Lebuin, who was a monk of our order and a pupil of St. Willibrod. A magnificent church has been built there in his honor; within it his bones, and the relics of several saints, as for instance of St. Margaret, which was brought there from Rome, and of St. Ratbod, Bishop of Maestricht, and many others, are worthily laid to rest in a costly chest. Lebuin came over from England, and first converted that country to the Christian faith. He lived on the Yssel, a tributary of the Rhine, and even to this day his house is pointed out by the inhabitants. To be sure, it has a very different appearance, at present.

Apart from the fairs which are held several times a year at Deventer, the town has still another advantage for which it rightly has a reputation far and wide above all other towns in that region. That 112 is the ancient and highly celebrated gymnasium which, under the excellent guidance of the most learned men, enjoyed an enviable reputation because of the attention it paid to the humanities. But after the death of Alexander Hegius, an extraordinarily learned man, a master of three languages, and in addition a philosopher and a poet, who died in the year of our Lord 1498, in the first year of my study there; since that time — and I do not say it without pain — the school, as I hear, has greatly declined.27 Truly, there was a man worthy of all praise, which he deservedly received from scholarly men during his life and after his death. Like a bright star he shone among the people for his uprightness, and among the scholars for his comprehensive knowledge and great attachments. His former pupil, the learned Desiderius Erasmus, pays tribute to the great teacher in his “Adages.” The learned Rudolph Agricola, at one time Rector of the University of Heidelberg, and John of Dalberg, celebrated his brilliant gifts in their writings.28 Michael Hobing, now Rector of the school at Wesel, heaps on him the most signal eulogy, in a poem which he sent to him while he was pursuing the liberal arts of Rostock.

Hermann von dem Busche, that gallant poet of our own day, has expressed briefly and appropriately, in verse, what he thought of the erudition of this renowned schoolman.29 He is also highly praised by a philosopher of Deventer, Jacob Fabri, in an epitaph which he composed for him. Many others did the same, all of whom I cannot enumerate. The preceding, my dear brother, I wished to add in honor of that man so that you may see how greatly attached to him I was, because he received me into his school for the study of the arts. From it you may learn to love 113 your teachers, since, as the philosopher teaches, what we owe to parents and teachers can never be fully repaid. Since I cannot do justice to him in my own words, I wished to cite here the praiseworthy testimony of his other pupils. These few remarks must suffice concerning a man whose only thought was to glorify the city of Deventer through his reputation for learning and scholarship, as well as through the careful direction of the school.


27  Alexander Hegius (1433-1498), Rector of the school at Deventer, c. 1475-1498.

28  Rudolph Agricola (1443-1485), Dutch scholar. Johann von Dalberg (1445-1503), became Bishop of Worms, 1482.

29  Hermann von dem Busche (1468-1534), a distinguished German humanist.

*  Here in Whitcomb is translated the verse of Hegius (op. cit., p. 94. — Elf.Ed.:

“Of the piety of Deventer
Through the towns the rumour goes.
I esteem it worth the riches
Which there everywhere abound.
There the peasant is protected,
And the robber feels the law.
There each man receives what bounty,
Horse or foot, to him is due.
Ever full may stand the treasure,
Never touched by faction’s hand.
Thus we pray, both youth and elder,
Night and day for native land.”

Chapter XIII

How the intellectual life in the monasteries flourished with the success of the school at Deventer, and disappeared with its decline

The school at Deventer, at that time, was of great assistance to the reformed orders, in providing them with many well-trained men. As long as it maintained its well-merited reputation through skillful instruction and thorough scholarship, everybody strove to secure suitable people from that source. In those days, one saw students better fitted and more deeply versed in the arts pouring into the orders at Deventer and Zwolle, and these were superior to those whom I find now in the first and second classes, although at present they read more advanced authors in the schools. I have often heard it said that apart from the Parables of Alanus, and morals or ethics of Cato, the Fables of Aesop, and a few other writers of this character, upon whom they now look with contempt, scarcely anything was read. At that time everyone was concerned with the improvement of his mind, through a steadfast application which did not shrink from the greatest difficulties. But now, when all the schools, even the least pretentious, resound with the various admirable prose and poetic works of the ancient and modern classical writers, all zeal flags, and most of the students set about the matter like the ass with the lyre. But, all-devouring time suffers nothing to endure for long. Hence it happened that the condition of the orders began to decline, when this school went to ruin. Yet, since the introduction of the reform, which in no monastery goes back more than a century, many learned men went forth from that school and found admittance in various monasteries in these parts of Germany.30


But, it is time to return to my narrative. I must now close what I wished to say in praise of Deventer. All this is well known to those who studied there the various branches of learning, and so laid the foundation of their education. Many of these share with me the sacred service, and bear the yoke of the Lord; some have returned to the activities of the world. However, the digression into which I have been led by love and enthusiasm for days gone by has become longer than I had intended. Let us, then, take up the thread of our story again.


30  The Bursfeld Reform, initited by Johann Dideroth, 1433.


Chapter XIV

How John through industry and talent, under the direction of able teachers, rose step by step to the third class, and was already thinking of returning to Johannisberg, when the Abbot of Laach sent to Deventer to secure some good scholars

I remained a half year in the fifth class, under the guidance of an excellent man, one Gottfried, a bachelor of both kinds of law, and a master of the liberal arts. After an examination, I rose to the fourth class, where I spent a year under the industrious and well-informed Master John of Venray, at the end of which, although without deserving it, I reached the third class. At that time, the class was under Master Bartholomew of Cologne, an unusually earnest and learned man. His writings in prose and verse have been admired and highly praised by the greatest scholars. He is indeed a man of noble spirit and wonderful eloquence, excelling in many branches of learning. It seemed strange to all that such a man as he, versed in all branches of learning should often study with untiring diligence from dawn far into the night, like one absolutely ignorant. He was very fond of industrious students, and cheerfully did for them whatever they desired. The more studious and energetic students, whom I knew, clung to him with such a strong affection, that, after they had studied for several years under so excellent a master and lecturer in the philosophical studies and then finally had to leave him, they could hardly tear themselves away. Although he was in every way worthy, still no university had honored him with the degree of Master. For this reason, he is, to this very day, a thorn in the flesh for many blockheads, who are proud of their empty titles; and his works are criticized by them as schoolboys’ exercises and despised by them. Like a true and genuine philosopher, he pays no more attention to such people, whose learning 117 consists of empty titles and certain externalities, than a camel does to the purple. Indeed it is better to possess the essence of learning than a silly title. Among the many who are now styled Masters of Arts there are only a few who have a thorough or sufficient knowledge of one single, though minor art. Of what use then is such a title without content? What are titles without possession? What is honor without merit? What is a name without truth? If, moreover, anyone has completed his period of study without industry, whether he knows something of what he has heard or not, whether he is ignorant or capable, it is easy for him to attain, by a gift, to the degree of Bachelor, Master, or Doctor. Our teacher Bartholomew, for his part, agrees with the ancients: he despises as folly this custom of modern times, and values an earnest pursuit of learning more highly than an empty display. An educated mind is worth more to him than a decorated head. Of what use is a red biretta on the head, if the mind within is clouded by the darkness of ignorance? At any rate, learning without a title is to be more highly valued than a title alone in which people ignorantly take pride. But of this, I should like to speak again elsewhere.

When, as I have remarked, I had come to this learned philosopher of the third class, I decided to remain until Easter and then go home, and from there, with the consent of my parents, to return to Johannisberg in the Rheingau, which I had previously left at the earnest request of my mother and the encouragement of my brothers in order to study. I wanted to see whether, instead of returning to the garments of the lower order which I had laid aside, I should succeed in putting on the higher and being received into the convent of the fathers. But I had hardly been in the class six weeks, when the reverend father steward of the Island of Niederwerth near Coblenz chanced to come to Deventer. In addition to other commissions which he had to discharge, he had been asked by our most reverend Abbot of Laach to 118 bring back several scholars who were willing under his safe guidance to serve the Lord as monks according to the rules of that monastery, over which he had presided for ten years. After he had shown the Abbot’s letter which was addressed to the Rector, he submitted his requests, with regard to this matter, to the house of the brothers. After this, he continued his inquiries in other towns of the district, where he had business, in schools, lodging houses, and houses of the brothers, as well as among the citizens, for young clerics who had the necessary preparatory training and were inclined, for the sake of God, to give up further worldly study in order to devote themselves to the monastic life and to the study of the sacred writings. After that, almost three weeks must have passed, and he had still found none ready to accept his proposals. On his return to Deventer, he found it expedient to bespeak the aid of the Rector, Master Ostendorp, who as an eloquent and scholarly man, was a suitable successor to the above-mentioned Alexander Hegius in the administration of the school. He came at once to the third and fourth classes, and with all the earnestness at his command sought to inspire the scholars to join the order. First he spoke at length in praise of the Benedictine order, then he lauded beyond measure the Abbey of Laach and the merits of its Abbot; but all his efforts with the students seemed in vain, since the lessons had already begun, and the students were enrolled with their teachers. Several had already entered well into the work of the new classes, and had paid the fees for the semester to the new teachers, so that it seemed disgraceful and improper to demand their return from the Rector and professor. Moreover, everyone had provided for board and lodging, and was unwilling to give this up. Furthermore, it happened to be a very unseasonable time for traveling; intensely cold weather prevailed, which kept everyone back.


Chapter XV

How with another student John was persuaded to enter the monastery at Laach

Accepted as I was for the order to which I had long since pledged myself, I began at once to persuade one of my fellow students, who sat next to me when all eight classes were together, to travel with me. I gave him a picture of the monastic life as I knew it. On this report, he was inclined to my wishes and promised, unless others were to be found, to go with me. He was a very young man, a native of Speier. He had been sent here by a schoolmaster of Heidelberg, and had been highly recommended to the Rector of the school. The latter had examined him at the same time with a newcomer from Kitzingen, named Paul, and found both so thoroughly prepared, that he admitted them at once to the third class, a very unusual event. The latter within a half year stood first in his class, and as a result of his constantly pertinent answers at the examination, had risen with distinguished honor to the second class. He even had the courage often to argue with Bartholomew, who greatly admired his ability. On us genuine Franconians he reflected great credit, since he was the best of all the students. His comrade and fellow student Peter presented himself to the father for admission into the order, but at the suggestion of the latter, came to me and urged me to travel with him. I tried in every way to evade him, and told him that I already had a secure position in Rheingau, or, if I wished it, in the renowned monastery at Amorbach, near my native town, which belonged to our order, if not to our union. But he became more insistent, and did not cease to press his pleading until he finally persuaded me at least to visit the worthy father. Once with him, he was able with his pious discourse, with which he overflowed, to induce me to acquiesce in his will or 120 rather God’s, who so directed. In all places, he assured me, the service of God was the same, since all places served the same God. And so I was won over by him whom I had taken pains to win over by my own persuasion. After I had once given my consent, I made preparations fro the journey readily and happily, and without hesitation, which makes many unfaithful to their purposes.


Chapter XVI

How John left Deventer, now without sorrow, and came to Zutphen in company with the father

Had he so wished, the father could have secured far more suitable persons than I. As a consequence of our decision, there were others who had been filled with a desire to go, but an incident, which I should not mention, prevented them. “Nothing is without cause,” says the philosopher, and it is not my business to make any comment concerning the cause which lay at the bottom of this matter. However, I must say that the father took great pains to secure me, and my comrades, and others like us. I had opposed the persuasion of both with all kinds of excuses; yet I could not bear to see the efforts and pious eloquence of the man spent in vain. For the honor of our order, which it seemed to me the father exerted himself zealously to seek and increase, as well as for my own, I dared not permit him to leave town without settling a matter which had been earnestly entrusted to his care not only by our Abbot but also by his own worthy superiors. First of all, I took my leave of the professors in whose classes I had been. Then after I had taken leave of the Rector, I bade farewell to my benefactors. These took no small pleasure in my resolve, and gave me tokens of remembrance, which I repaid in turn with some trifling gifts. It was on St. Barbara’s Day that I left the very remarkable town of Deventer.31 As my comrade and I started on our way with the father and his companion, a crowd of students, as numerous as a swarm of bees, escorted us. I still 121 advised them to do as I did, and offered them my hand in farewell. Without further adventure, we came to the little town of Zutphen, two miles distant. On the one hand, I was full of joy because I had been called to God’s service for which I had so long yearned, and it seemed now as if I had been released from a vale of tears; on the other hand I was in a sorrowful mood on account of the kind words of my friends and benefactors in parting. In general, I have never liked to leave any place where I had become to any extent comfortable and at home; such a place I have never left without sorrow.


31  December 4, 1500. Butzbach entered the school early in August, 1498. He was in the eighth class only a short time. Skipping the seventh, he was promoted to the sixth class, and as early as Easter, 1499, to the fifth. A half year later, he was ready for the fourth class, from which, in the autumn of 1500, he advanced to the third.


Chapter XVII

How John and his companions came to Neuss by way of Emmerich, Calcar, and Mors, and how it may be a misfortune to be named “Peter”

From Zutphen we went forward on the next day, and with moderate walking succeeded in reaching a little town called Heerenberg. Leaving there we came to the town of Emmerich, only a half mile distant, renowned for its schools and wealth. We found a friendly welcome with the brothers of the order, and were graciously entertained after divine service, for it happened to be Sunday and the feast of St. Nicholas.32 With the benedictions of the brothers among whom, if I am not mistaken, I saw our Jacob Siberti who is lame, we departed and with considerable misgiving crossed the Rhine. The river was entirely frozen over, and the ice was so thick and strong that the people of the district unhesitatingly drove across it with the heaviest loads. Since the sun was about to set, we increased our speed to reach the town of Calcar. My companions began to get tired. We made but slow progress, and were obliged to turn into a monastery which lay close to the main road. A lay brother admitted us in friendly fashion, and provided entertainment for us. The monastery belonged to the order of St. Bridget, and was inhabited by persons of both sexes, none of whom, we were told, could ever go out. The living rooms of the brothers were separated from those of the sisters, so that they were never able to see each other. The companion of our guide had a relative there, and would have liked to speak to her, but was on no account permitted to do so. We left there early in the morning in order to reach the town of Rheinberg on the same day, at which point the bishopric of Cologne ends, or more correctly begins. But we were again delayed by the weakness of my rather frail comrade, and were compelled to spend the night 124 on straw in a village near Mors. Early the next morning we reached the little town of Uerdingen, and in spite of earnest entreaties the fathers had the greatest difficulty in obtaining permission from the local priest to read the mass. It was just at the feast of the glorious and immaculate Virgin Mary of whom the church holds the pious and assured belief that she conceived without sin, although some are opposed to this belief.33

After we had strengthened ourselves spiritually at the holy mass and physically at the inn, with great difficulty owing to the weariness of our comrade, we reached by the evening the town of Neuss, renowned for the remains of the holy martyr Christus Quirinus and for the siege of Charles the warlike Duke of Burgundy. Here we entered the monastery of our order, which is situated at the gates of Cologne, and were received and generously entertained. In this monastery, they say, no man by the name of Peter finds admittance. The reason for this I could not discover then, nor have I been able to find out since. It may be that they considered those so named of strange disposition, since they gave us to understand that the Peters had caused them much labor, confusion, and tribulation. The cause of this may remain unknown to me, but this much is certain: our guides, the fathers, assured us that the monks there received none who bore that name. It seems to me an extraordinary notion and an absurd idea, to attribute to a name what nature or evil circumstances, or bad habits, were responsible for. And why should others atone for what one man may have committed? If one Peter because of his disreputable conduct had left a bad impression with them, ought they to look with suspicion on all who bore that name, as if they, like the other, might become intractable and a burden to the whole group? Certainly not: there are indeed many of that name, like our brother the secular priest at Kruft, who are known to me to be excellent examples of humility, friendliness, and 125 peacefulness, and with whom many are glad to associate.34 Further, if that superstitious idea were correct, I should have had an opportunity of discovering it in that secular priest when he was still my novice master. And yet he was so gentle and kind-hearted — I say it entirely without flattery — that while I was his pupil I never noticed any bitterness or ill-feeling in him. He was so kindly and obliging and had such a lovable disposition, that it was a pleasure to associate with him, for he was full of sympathy for the misery of his fellow men. All these praiseworthy qualities were a real comfort and a great support to me in the trials of my novitiate, so that I did not succumb to temptations, but remained true to my calling. If he had really been stubborn, and had treated me in that spirit, according to the extraordinary prejudice concerning the name Peter, I should never have become professed at Laach. It is not then a question of name but of nature, and it is a failing and defect of character if one who happens to be called Peter is an unattractive person. For there are many Peters who are kind, gentle, friendly, quiet, peaceful, contented, humble, lovable, and, to say it in a word, of good character.


32  December 6.

33  December 8.

34  Peter von Weiden. See p. 145.


Chapter XVIII

More in defense of Peter

Little as any man should be excluded from an order on account of his name, still less should this happen because of the name Peter. It happens at this time that we have another Peter, inferior in rank and junior in age to the one already mentioned, who is now my pupil, and is called Peter of Münstermaifeld. If I had discovered in him any of the quarrelsomeness and stubbornness attributed to one Peter, I should certainly not have permitted him to pass through his novitiate to the profession. In monastic societies, nothing can be more burdensome than a stubborn, capricious, headstrong monk. Thus it frequently happens when such a character has been in a monastery, people are so disheartened by his perversity, that they do not readily accept another candidate of the same name or from the same place. Woe to them, if they are to blame that other and better people from their own home are turned away, as we have often known it to happen. Of course, different places have their special peculiarities; every district produces similar fruit, and in some places people are more suited to monastic life, just as there are certain families or certain races whose descendants are naturally more disposed to virtue than others. It is obvious. My dear Philipp, you yourself know it. Long ago I had four pupils: the first was John of Münstermaifeld; the second, a nobleman from Alsace and a bachelor of arts, named Herbert of Cologne, except that he was a native of this city; the third was Christian of Neuss who has two brothers in our order; the fourth was named Peter. Of all these, none except Peter lasted through the period of the novitiate to the profession. According to this, one ought to consider stupid those who are not called Peter, rather than this Peter who continued through it all so courageously. God 127 grant that many of the name do not begin to “peter out” later, as they say. Indeed, I have no small hopes for the future progress of this one of my scholars, whom alone out of all I was so fortunate as to retain. I hope that he will not resemble those who conduct themselves well at first, but later, when they imagine themselves something in the order, venture to rebel against those who were their teachers. Those who behave in this manner never do well in the monastic state, and deserve all censure. However, that is what happens to those who, with the cunning and shrewdness of a fox, perform lip service to their masters, during the novitiate, but secretly attack them before others. To me, these seem more likely to have a “Peter head”, whether they be called John or Jacob.


Chapter XIX

How the travelers rested for a day at Cologne and then came, by way of Bonn and Andernach, to the monastery of Niederwerth where they were hospitably received by Prior Adam von der Leyen

Although I first heard that superstitious belief abut the name Peter, in the monastery at Neuss, I wished at this opportunity to state what I have just said, even though in an unsuitable place, in defense of our two brothers who are called Peter, since it is right that I praise them on every occasion. One may properly call him a poor teacher who speaks ill of his pupils to others, just as, on the other hand, he must be regarded as a bad student who disparages his teachers instead of showing them due respect, as is his duty. That is what I wished to observe here in favor of the name Peter, which the prince of apostles bore. It shall serve to do honor to my former teacher, the present secular priest at Kruft, as well as to my present pupil, Peter of Münster, who was formerly a former student at Deventer.

Early the next morning we left the above-mentioned monastery, and took the road to Cologne.35 We had scarcely gone a half mile, when we were obliged to let our guides go on ahead. I had to remain behind for a day and a night with my companion, who was suffering from a sore on his finger, known as whitlow, the burning pain of which I had previously known myself. But there, since we could not think of sleep because of his restlessness, and constant chatter, we rose about midnight and, for a half florin, hired a carriage to take us to Cologne. We arrived there just as the gates were opened. At a monastery known as Corpus Christi, we found the fathers waiting for us. We did not remain here long, 129 however, but went to a wealthy widow whose son had died shortly before on the island of the brothers. She lived behind St. Martins where, not long before, after a very pious life devoted to zeal for the advancement of the order, the Abbot Adam had passed away.36 Two years earlier, when I traveled to Deventer, I had seen him. At that time, he had held the position of Abbot for forty years. We remained in this house two days and two nights, and were very pleasantly entertained. The steward had a number of commissions to discharge for his monastery. These he diligently attended to; and we purchased several pictures as ornaments for the cells which we should have at Laach. We also reverently visited the churches of the saints, but not without being annoyed by the students who pointed their fingers at us and halloed and mocked at us as we passed, which is a fair sample of their unruliness.

After a two days’ rest, we continued our journey to Bonn, whence we reached Andernach on the next day. On the third day late at night, we arrived very tired at the monastery of our fathers on the island. The Prior of the monastery, Adam von der Leyen, an uncle of our master at Laach, a very elderly man, who had been in the monastery sixty years, came to meet us with friendly greetings and welcomed us in a kindly, affectionate way, as was to be expected of him. For two days, he saw that we were well cared for and was able, moreover, to fire us still further with affection and enthusiasm for the monastic life. I must say that the venerable appearance and entire demeanor of the man pleased us very much. There was none of that pride of nobility which men of high birth are wont to display in order not to be deemed the same as less important people; there was nothing ostentatious in his speech; nothing peculiar or choice in his dress or food was to be observed, by which he might have wished to have an advantage over his brothers. In spite of our 130 reluctance, he would not have it otherwise, after we had refreshed ourselves with the evening meal, than that he himself should wash our feet. The next day, he escorted us through the various rooms of the monastery, and through the brothers’ workrooms, and with the greatest friendliness explained to us the occupations of the brothers, just as if we were his equal. For that reason, he has a great reputation with all for his holiness, and over and over again he has been called a holy man by the late Bishop of Trier, the clergy, and the people.37 And so he lives, pious and happy, after resigning his office on account of his great age and after being in the order sixty-four years.


35  December 9.

36  Adam Mayer.

37  Johann II, Margrave of Baden, 1456-1503.


Chapter XX

How the journey continued, by way of Coblenz and Bassenheim, to Saffig, where we found lodging with the brother of the Prior of Niederwerth

Highly edified by the good and pious father and still more inspired for the monastic calling by his earnest words and pleasing manner, on the third day after our arrival we asked leave to proceed with our journey. To some extent he had already informed us of the advantages of a place in the order, and he told us of the trials and temptations which are prepared by the evil one, at the beginning of this calling, to distract from their undertaking all those who wish to serve God. He also arranged that the steward should accompany us to Laach. We now started out with him, and made for Coblenz.38 Here the steward stopped with me because of several affairs to which he had to attend in the city. In order to go about unhindered, we let my comrade go ahead with a lay brother; we would follow. After completing our business and taking a meal, we went after the others at a brisk pace, and found them waiting for us not far from the city, on the other side of the Mosel bridge. We thought that they were already in Saffig. From an early hour they had sat in an excellent inn, and had spent almost the last penny that my comrade had in his pocket. Since he thought he would have no further need of money, he had ordered the most expensive wines and fine food, and in this way they made merry. When we came upon them, their tongues and gait were so unsteady that they could scarcely stand or, with stuttering tongue, give us an explanation. You may imagine how very indignant we both were: I with my comrade, the steward with the brother since he, drunkard that was, had misled the young man. My comrade had had 132 in his keeping some silver pennies of mine, which I had given him at Cologne for pictures; everything had been spent for drink by the two customers. Had it chanced that I had wanted to go away from Laach again, he would have been unable to return my money. In truth I was still much in doubt whether I should remain there or go away again; my longings still centered in the place which I had previously left. All the way from Deventer to Coblenz, my thoughts had given me no peace. Once arrived at Coblenz, I wanted to leave my comrade and wander farther up the Rhine and not remain forever in the heart of Lower Germany. But I recognized this as a whispering of the devil, and thrust it from my thoughts. So, we went on to Laach. On this part of the way, however, I had to endure greater hardship, adversity and dejection than I had experienced on the whole difficult journey from Deventer. In consequence of the rainy weather, which had set in during our stay on the island, the entire Coblenz road, especially on both sides of the village of Bassenheim, was so slippery, soft, and muddy, that I found it very hard and tiresome. However, by evening, after a fatiguing walk, we arrived at Saffig, where the steward took us to the house of the noble George von der Leyen, a brother of the above-mentioned father.


38  December 17, 1500.


Chapter XXI

How John came to Laach and successfully passed the period of probation, while his comrade withdrew later, to become a Cistercian monk

The father took the lead, and told his lordship and his honored wife what our purpose was and whence we came. They wished us success with our plans, and bade us enter. They gave us a friendly welcome, and had us attentively and well entertained, even though it was a period of fasting. It gave us a great deal of happiness and encouragement to hear them tell of their son, our future Abbot, how kindly, generously, and benevolently he treated the brothers placed under his authority, and how good he was to them. On the next day, they advised us to persevere in our good resolution. With happy hearts we parted from them, and made our way to the monastery at Laach. I thought I had never seen a monastery like this. It was on December eighteenth that we arrived here; the brothers had just gone to the table. We entered and followed our guide into the church, where I said: “Haec requies mea in saeculum saeculi; hic habitabo, quoniam elegi eam,” which interpreted means: “Let this be my resting place forever: here will I dwell, for I have chosen it.”39 When our guide heard this, he was very happy and answered “Amen”, and advised my comrade to make the same response. The latter had indeed said nothing but, because I had slipped on the glazed floor which led from the door to the church and had fallen while speaking, had broken into such immoderate laughter that he could not utter a word. Since I had often laughed at him for falling on the way, he wished that I too might fall so that he might laugh at me. When this actually happened to me after I had thought myself secure against falling, it seemed to cause him extraordinary pleasure. Later on, after his departure, it seemed to me that 134 such a fall, after I had remained sure-footed on such a long, muddy, and slippery road, was a prediction of my steadfastness and his fickleness. We were now received and admitted to the monastery. After the cowl was put on us, we had to serve a period of probation until the feast of St. Benedict.40 Then we would be received into the novitiate. In the meantime, the testing became somewhat more severe. Although the Prior lightened it a great deal because of our tender years, my comrade rebelled against it. Even though all tried to dissuade him, and I remonstrated with him, he succumbed to his fickleness, took off the habit, left me, who after all had followed him; and returned to his home and people, which as a High German he had always preferred to the Low German country and people. I, on the other hand, long since convinced that the conscience of the deserted is usually troubled by great uneasiness, hold that it is necessary, if one would persevere, to remain firm against temptations and continue in the fear of God, which indeed, as we read, is the beginning of wisdom. I hear that not long after his departure from the monastery at Laach, my companion troubled by his conscience, again withdrew from the world, and entered the order of St. Bernard in the monastery of Schonau at Worms.


39  Psalm, cxxxii, 14.

40  March 21.


Chapter XXII

How John fared during his first days at Laach, and the temptations with which he had to contend during his novitiate

To return to our arrival at Laach: after visiting the church, the brother hospitaler whom someone had summoned from the refectory, came to meet us in a very kind and cheerful manner. He led us in, had the table set at once and, since we were still hungry, took care that we were refreshed with a good meal. When the repast was finished, the very reverent lord Abbot appeared. Although he had been unknown to us until then, I recognized the prelate in him at once by the dignity of his personal appearance, his dignified carriage and speech, his nobility, which shone like a jewel from his brow. We stood up before him, and in his characteristic way he received us benevolently. While he conversed with us, he inquired who we were and whence we came, and how it stood with our plans and ability. Then, with the Prior, he conducted us through the rooms of the monastery. The latter, since he was of small stature, we did not recognize as the Prior until the departure of the steward, on the third day after our arrival, although he took great pains to look after us day and night, and treated us with great familiarity. In our wanderings, we found the brothers behind the monastery occupied with the laundry. As is usual in such cases, they were all highly pleased at our coming and our purpose. They surveyed us from head to foot. Some thought we would remain permanently, some feared we would not. At the end of three days, during which we were well entertained in the guest house, the Prior asked us whether we persisted in our desire to enter the order. When we answered in the affirmative, he put before us most eloquently the severity and strictness of the order, 136 the various employments, routine practices, laws, and customs of the house; and called attention to the renunciation of one’s own wishes, and to everything that was exacted, as well as to other things of similar character which, because of my earlier sojourn in the monastery, were still somewhat familiar to me, but hard for my companion to hear and still harder to obey, as the course of events later proved.

Thinking that he might hope we would observe and follow all this, he led us to the convent of the brothers, where we found that each man had his own cell, and one of the empty cells was assigned to each of us. Now, it seemed to me as if I were in paradise, so happy did I feel. For this great boon, for which I had yearned so long, I now began to praise and pray to God in the silent devotion of my heart. But this was not to last long. Slowly the storm of temptations rose, filled me with sorrow and bewilderment, and sought to make me regret my purpose. Indeed, at first, so great had been my joy over my reception into the order, as everything in my surroundings and in my situation still had the attraction of novelty for me, that, on the occasion of subsequent calamities, my joy over my flight out of Egypt and over my change of dress and life and even nature, dissolved and seemed to change into deep regret because I had entered upon such an undertaking. More than anyone can imagine, the devil tempted me and pursued me with his deceitful promptings, and dazzling promises, now of a bitter, now of a sweetly enticing sort; at one time he hinted at the obstacles I should have to endure in the order if I remained, at another time he promised all manner of good fortune and pleasure and worldly goods, if I would again return to the world. Since I had never known by experience the wiles of the devil, I feared that I should let myself be ensnared by them, like my companion. I was immeasurably sorry that he was faithless and left the monastery, and deserted me in such a manner. Waver as I did before, I thought now that I must undoubtedly 137 depart also. I would not have persevered and would have left the order, had not the steward, who came with us, restrained me. As soon as he heard that the other had left, he came on the inspiration of God, I think, to give me comfort. At the same time the Prior and my master came to me with comforting advice; several of the other brothers, who were particularly well-disposed to me and whom my sorrow and trouble moved, also came to my aid with kind words and pious prayers.


Chapter XXIII

How John was professed. The pious and happy life of the monks at Laach, and the incomparable beauty of the monastery

I continued to suffer great sorrow because of the lamentable departure of my comrade, and since then the wily tempter increased his efforts to drive me from the monastery, as he had the other one. He pursued me unceasingly with the thought that I had acted according to his and not God’s will, in entering this monastery, and not that at Rheingau, on which I had previously determined. But I recognized his wiles, and from earlier experience, when I had thrice laid aside the garments of the lay brother. I knew how unbearably mortifying it was, when I took into consideration the good will of the prelate and of the dear brothers toward me, as well as the beauty of the monastery itself, and especially the compassion and grace of God to an unworthy creature like me. On the persuasion of the superior and the brothers, I finally determined to remain. From now on, I stood firm with manly patience. Weary though I was from the struggle, I did not yield, and in the end, with God’s help, I had the good fortune to attain the profession and to be received into the holy fellowship at Laach, however unworthy of such grace I was.

Does not that seem to you a holy fellowship, which lives according to the discipline of the monastic rule, and carefully observes the laws and prescriptions of the fathers, in which the brothers not only readily and gladly obey the prelate and Prior, but also yield to each other in mutual love, and, joined by the bond of peace, unceasingly serve the Lord? Should not this be rightly called a holy fellowship, over which an Abbot presides with such infinite wisdom, such nobility, and such exemplary 139 conduct, which alone is of higher worth than the highest nobility; an Abbot, I say, who proves himself worthy of his name by a life carefully ordered according to rule, who leads the band entrusted to him without distinction of person, thoughtful only of their needs, and far removed from any desire for mastery? So great is his virtue that, from him as the superior, his followers all seem to receive greater health and strength of soul, for it is easy to see that his perfection flows over and is shared by those under him. To all of them he is thus affable, kindly, and affectionate to all, he is condescending and fatherly, and seems to know no other care than the welfare of his children and the glory of God. Should not that be called a holy fellowship which is permitted to abide in the service of God under such an Abbot?

Happy brothers indeed, of whom one shines forth by his silence, another by his teaching activity, this through clever writing, that by his scholarly sayings, one through the art of song, another through peaceful contemplation, this one through the light of learning, that one through his diligent reading, and another through constant prayer. So one distinguishes himself through conscientious obedience, another makes himself necessary to the monastery through carefully attending to any business entrusted to him, a third delights in the solitude of his cell, and has no longer any desire to leave the monastery; again, one has a remarkable ability in copying books, while another carefully corrects and improves what has been written. One is distinguished for his humility, another for his exquisite love, one is untiring in patience, another lovable for his modesty and gentleness; this one observes strict abstinence, that one attracts by his friendly manner; one is noted for watchfulness, love of his neighbor, and godliness, another for his discerning mind and the gift of wise counsel; this one is extremely old, that one in the prime of youth; and so, one is adorned with 140 this virtue, and another with that. To whom would not a monastery, adorned with the most varied virtues as with numberless flowers, seem like a paradise on earth, where earthly angels, adorned with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, wander and dwell? Whom, I ask, would not such a house charm and bind as with the force of a magnet? O fortunate, thrice fortunate monastery, not with greater truth to call it a paradise, to which the good fortune is granted to have as director an Abbot such as he whom I have already described, with such a fatherly heart for all the brothers. Fortunate and thrice blessed, therefore, that it may nourish and protect such inhabitants adorned with God’s best gifts.

Add to this the beauty and splendor of the monastery building, which one cannot sufficiently admire. Who was ever in a position to describe the beautifully formed church, with its choir and its double apse, with its pillars, chapels, altars, and vaults, which were built by the Counts-Palatine who rest here in splendid tombs? This monastery was built, at great cost, of heavy glazed freestone, for the monks who established themselves here for the praise of God and his holy mother, and St. Nicholas.41 There is the great dormitory with its neat little cells, the stately cloistered walks, the spacious chapter hall, the great refectory, the appropriate hothouse and laundry, the workhouse, the locutory, the joiners’ workshop, and the various other workhouses of the monks; likewise the beautiful abbey, and the guest house with its special church, which is even older than the monastery and was consecrated to St. Nicholas. Who has the ability to describe all this splendor, as its merit deserves? And the library, I had almost forgotten it, with its many ancient works, — who would not be happy in it? Who would not delight in the beautiful fountain? Above all else, there is a deep solitude which commends 141 itself to him who wishes to serve God and give himself up to philosophical study, and which one finds here so beautiful, where the monastery is surrounded far and wide by wooded heights. At the bottom of the valley, the lake spreads afar, and in the summer pleasantly refreshes the eyes of man. Whom would such a spectacle not persuade to linger? I have seen the monastery at Limberg, and lived there, also the monastery at Walzach, both of which were burned down in the war between the Palsgraves and Landgraves; furthermore, I have seen Hirschau, Gottesau, Seligenstadt, Amorbach, Sponheim, Eberbach, and Johannisberg in the Rheingau, also the monasteries in Cologne, Trier, Mainz, Nürnberg, Prague, Bamberg, and many others which are famous for their beauty. Many splendid monasteries have I seen in my day, but nowhere have I found one that resembled our monastery at Laach in the marvelous beauty of its architecture. There may indeed be richer monasteries, but a more beautiful, and a more delightfully and more peacefully situated monastery can never again be found.


41  Palsgrave Henry II founded the monastery at Laach, April 12, 1095.


Chapter XXIV

The monks whom John found when he entered Laach

It is time, my dear Philipp, for what I would tell you in commendation of my present abode and its present inhabitants. You may now think the matter over in greater detail for yourself and, after a careful scrutiny, you will admit that I must tell you of the fathers and brothers whom I found on my arrival at this distinguished monastery. I shall enumerate them in order of their entrance and rank, and shall add a few remarks to each name.

In the first place, I found as director and superior the highly honored Simon von der Leyen, who, they tell me, was invested with the dignity of Abbot ten years before.42 He was chosen for this office while he was still a monk at Hornbach. He is a man of wonderful piety and virtuous life, and thoroughly well informed on monastic life; large and stately of figure, his demeanor inspiring reverence; and to the degree that he was worthy of every dignity, he also deserved to be the father of this brotherhood and the master of this place.

The next place in rank was occupied by the Prior, John of Kond on the Mosel, small of stature, it is true, but great in activity and virtue. He had held his office in a praiseworthy manner, for eight years. The blessed Abbot Adam of St. Martin in Cologne, who at that time was inspector here, had called him to this post of honor from the highest place among the priests. This had been done on the persuasion and urging of the departing father Thomas, chosen at the time by the same visitor as Prior to the nuns, and who seven years before had been called here by him, as Prior, from the same monastery of St. Martin.43


The names of the other brothers were as follows:

Jacob of Vreden in Westphalia, senior in the monastery, as he was then in his sixtieth year. He had been sent here long before on account of the reform, by the above-mentioned Abbot Adam of Cologne, and had lived here thirty-one years, they say, in the most earnest service to God. Jacob was also the first Prior since the reform, and is now our solicitous comforter of the sick and supervisor of the workhouse. He is a good example of the life of the order and of monastic training; day and night he is a brilliant example of all good works, since he is above all zealously concerned with the practices of the monastery. Except in case of sickness, he will never fail therein, certainly never on account of negligence.

Next to him, the second senior was Dietrich of Zuzbach, also sent here on account of the reform. For years he had taken care of the Office of Martha, and then had taken over the parish of Kruft. He had directed this for two years when, with many others, he died of the plague in 1502.

John of Andernach, who came here with our former Abbot from Trier. He lived here many years, but died this year; he has appeared to a few since his death.

Simon of Holland, native of a village there, a diligent man, especially well versed in the Scriptures, and of great renown. His hair is prematurely gray, for he has not yet served the Lord here more than twenty years.

Gottfried of Cologne, who is the hospitaler, and chaplain to our master. Because of many kinds of technical skill, he is known far and wide; he is versed in medicine, possesses a considerable knowledge of astronomy, and through all this has won a great reputation among the people round about. He is also an expert in the brass foundry. The former Abbot brought him here from St. Pantaleon in Cologne.

Hermann of Hasselt, in Maestricht. He is engaged in the workshop, and is a skilled carver and 144 joiner. Like the above-mentioned Simon, he is a son of this house in that both have taken all their vows here. Hermann once had a brother here, who is now Abbot of Tholey.

Benedict, otherwise called Chrysanthus, takes care of the service of Martha here. Shortly after my admittance, they had taken from him his office of novice master and his silent cell which he loved so much, because of his joy in flower painting and writing, and put him into his present office. He has a fine mind, and is well versed in the art of writing. A native of the city of Münstereifel, he was sent here by the masters of St. Martin in Cologne, where he had already lived eight years in the order. He had been at Laach some time before my arrival.

Henry of Coblenz, chief cantor, overseer of the wardrobe, also gardener, glazier, and barber. Though not so learned, he had a keen mind, and was very useful in the monastery, as he had learned the flower art or painting, from the above-mentioned Benedict. He was a good conventual and a brother without guile, and was devoted to me with more particular sincerity than the others. After he recovered from a fever, they had, in the past summer, for the restoration of his strength, made him chaplain at Kruft for a short time; but he continued to waste away, and while I was attending him at twelve o’clock on Whitsunday, he died. His death was no small loss to the monastery. He was a very pleasant companion, and was of such a happy disposition that he easily cheered the saddest. Furthermore, he was never idle, but always occupied in filling this short life of mortals with necessary, fruitful works. He had learned from experience to recognize temptation, and knew better how to advise the brothers in their troubles than did those who had studied industriously so many voluminous writings. During my novitiate I had abundant proof of what I say here. Therefore, may eternal peace and joy be his share. Amen.

Next in order comes John of Kond, whom I have with good reason placed after the Abbot, on account 145 of his dignity. Also a son of this house, he was, with the above-mentioned Henry, taken into the order by the former Abbot, and succeeded to the profession under the present Abbot.

Peter of Weiden, in Julicherland, mentioned above, writes and sings. When I was a novice, I had him as master. Later, while the Abbot was at the annual convention at Erfurt, he was chosen, by vote of the monastery in place of the late pastor at Kruft. In addition to other accomplishments, nature had endowed him with a trumpet-like voice, and a very kindly disposition which made him loved by all.

Anthony of St. Hubert, a very diligent man, who a few days before had read his first holy mass. He had to take care of the refectory, and of the bees for which he made the hives. He had a youth, Servatius, to instruct who, from infancy, had been brought up here in the monastery under the supervision of the monks. His parents, who were beggars, had died here, and had left him an orphan. As long as he was under the discipline of Anthony, he was a fine, diligent youth. But when he came away from him, he would not do so well, and seemed to degenerate from then on. This same brother had to take care of the church of St. Nicholas in which, under the guidance of Peter, who had this duty before him, and who by means of his preaching had accomplished much, he has become a very good preacher. He was finally placed at Kruft; but about a year lager, in 1502, together with pastor Dietrich, he died there of the plague. He was especially skilled in turning out artistic woodwork, to which the cabinet work he had made to decorate the choir and refectory, testifies.

Henry of Kempen, a little town in the bishopric of Cologne. He is first Deacon, and a man of particular piety. Henry had studied in Deventer with master Alexander, and had been brought here by father Tilmann whom I did not meet here in 1500, because he had already been placed, with a certain Gerhard, 146 the former Prior, finally Sacristan here, in the monastery at Limberg, at the instigation of master John Trithemius, Abbot of Sponheim.

Arnold of Arnheim, a city in Gueldres. Having come here with Henry, he had celebrated his first holy mass a few days before my arrival. Until the deaths of Anthony and Dietrich, he diligently performed the duties of sexton in the church. After that, in the absence of the Abbot, who had gone to the annual convention, he was sent by the Prior to Kruft, where he performed the duties of chaplain for two years. He was then recalled to his former office by the Abbot, and up to the present has been administering it effectively. In addition, he busies himself laudably in window work or in the glasswork room, and with joinery and carving.

John of Linz, Sub-Deacon, the youngest of the professed monks. He has not yet been in the order three years, and is now chaplain at Kruft. Here, after Anthony, he has attended to the church of St. Nicholas, and has become a fairly able preacher. He also had to take care of the refectory and Servatius.

Cratho of Nürburg, a castle in Eifel. He is convert-brother and under-sexton, a man who takes little sleep, fasts much, and bears great love for all, also of noteworthy piety, as he likes to tarry long in the church in earnest prayer. His other duties include waking the brothers, giving notice of each hour with the bells, keeping the lamps in order, attending as a servant at mass, covering in the refectory, heating the same in winter, keeping the convent hall clean, and performing similar duties, since he is not skilled in any art or handicraft. Formerly a knight, he turned to the order here, and has improved it with his many virtues, especially patience.

Peter of Kirburg was still a young novice. He put on the garb of monk a half year before I did, and was my companion and fellow student in place of the other Peter who went away, and my intimate friend. 147 Peter was earnestly determined to perfect himself; at once very devout, conscientious in all his affairs, and especially earnest in obedience. When he was assigned to assist in the sacristy, it was interesting to see how zealously he attended to everything. But it was not long before he was sent with me to Trier and was ordained priest at St. Mary of the Martyrs. He was quite overcome by the fatigue of the journey, from which he soon died.

Except for the reformed men, as well as the old men still remaining, and two lay brothers whom we called “Donats”, likewise several beneficed clergymen, who are appointed men and very useful to the monastery, those mentioned above are the ones whom I selected as the real members of the convent in the illustrious monastery at Laach.44 After taking the vows, I was also fortunate enough to be counted among them, for which I continually rejoice in Him who is God, praised, glorified, and reverenced for ever and ever. Amen.


42  Simon von der Leyen, twenty-first Abbot of Laach, 1491-1512.

43  Thomas von Wied, twenty-second Abbot of Laach, 1512-1529.

44  Donats were novices, a colloquialism derived from Donatus whose textbook in grammar was used by beginners.


Chapter XXV

Postscript to his brother, exhortation to study, and greeting

Now, my dear brother, you have, distributed in three books, a short and frank account of my wanderings, which you urgently desired of me when, called to far countries, you seized the wanderer’s staff. Thus, at any rate, you have some idea of all the misery that I had to suffer, from childhood up, on the changeable and stormy sea of this world, driven here and there by varying winds, until at last my little ship has put in here as into a peaceful haven. When you consider my fortune, you will be more cheerful in the sorry circumstances that you have to bear at present. You have here an account of my troubles and poverty; as often as you examine it, it will be a source of comfort in your hour of need. Indeed, it was for this reason that you induced me to undertake it. I have now gratified your wish; the experiences which I have been able to remember I have recounted in plain language and in rough, unpolished style, as I was requested to do. If I have committed a folly, you are to blame for it. I did only what you desired, yet not so much in detail, perhaps, as you may have wished. I have summarized those parts which would have wearied me to treat in detail. Inasmuch as I take care of the wardrobe and refectory, in order to provide for the novices, and attend the church of St. Nicholas, to say nothing of the regular attendance of the choir, and in this manner am in constant demand the whole day, it was absolutely impossible, on account of additional duties, for me to give more time to this little book. Therefore, I have hurried over much, and have merely sketched it with a fleeting pen. But, at any rate, you can see this much, that to me also the opportunity has been offered, through work and pain, to seek the holy life in the heavenly 149 fatherland. Those who, refreshed by the teaching of the saints, endeavor to walk the way of love, will succeed, since for us there is no other way, as the poet says: “Speed on in newborn valor, child! this is the starward road.”45

Thus speaks Maro, of whom Augustine notes that he should be found in the hands of boys who wish to accomplish something in learning. Above all, seek comfort in the sorrows of Christ, who became a stranger and poor for us; and live according to His bidding. Keep before you the example of the saints and of those wise men who, as poor pilgrims, wandered through the whole world to acquire knowledge. Read often the poem which my pupil Jacob has composed for you on this subject, wherein a brief but helpful rule for your life of study is pointed out, and the noble fruits of such labor are described.

Do not be concerned for our kinsmen: I hear that they are all very well. Also, everything is well with us here, in Christ. May He also guide you in health and safety out of foreign parts into the home land.

My scholars, brothers Jacob, Matthew, Valerius, Peter, and the clergyman Servatius, whom I shall send to you immediately, send you greeting. Heribert, Christian, and Johann withdrew from the monastery and went back to the world, while I was at home. They put their hands to the plow, but drew them away again, and returned to their own land, to eat the husks of the swine with the prodigal son. Like dogs, they returned to the vomit of their former works. They have gone away from us, because they were not of us. For many are called, but few are chosen. Farewell!

Laach, April 1, in the year of our Lord 1506.


45  Virgil, Aeneid, IX, 641.

[My sincere Thanks! to John Mark Ockerbloom, who provided 4 images of pages of the text located in his library at the University of Pennsylvania. The text I used had inadvertently transposed 4 earlier pages instead of the correct ones. The pages that were incorrect in mine were pp. 105, 108, 190 and 112. — Elf.Ed.]

[Go to the entire Autobiography of Johannes Butzbach, translated by Seybolt and Monroe, on this site. It is wonderful. — Elf.Ed.]



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