[From Mannin #7, 1916]

Juan Priest

P. M. C. KERMODE, F.S.A., Scot.


CORMAC was the name of the skilled apprentice of Robert the Bowyer; he made the long-bow under the direction of his master. As one made of yew would have been beyond the strength of a boy so young, this was formed of three pieces of well- seasoned elm, glued together, and nicely finished. Robert completed the outfit, getting from the fletcher a sheaf of four and twenty arrows of ash, made to fit the bow; these had iron piles or points, and were fitted each with four feathers instead of the three which came into use in later days; while the bow- string maker furnished two good strings for it. It was packed in a neat wooden case which Juan was advised to keep in a dry and warm place. Robert made him a gift also of an archer's belt with green tassel on which to wipe his arrows, and a wrist guard and leather cap, so that he proudly felt himself fitted out as a bowman, and tried to live up to his appearance.

When not shooting birds on Clenaige, or practising with Olaf at Ballure, he would make his way to Rafnsey and have a game of Chess with the Bowyer, or go to see Ion y Fawyr and under him learn to use the carpenter's tools and the hammer and tongs of the smith.

Juan soon made friends with Thorliot's sons, who were a few years older than he was, and with them and other boys he learned to swim. A great game among good swimmers from foreign ships anchored in the bay, was for one to catch another and pull him under, trying who could stay the longest. Juan was careful not to get out of his depth, but seeing the others at this play, he practised diving and remaining under as long as he could. When tired of bathing they would have running and leaping and wrestling matches on the sands off the Craig Og, and he became as skilled as any of his age, while in throwing stones and darts and in the use of the sling he was better than most. Thorliot's boys had an 'ask,' or small boat, with which they would go far up the river to the unfinished monastery of Mireshaw; and often they would go a-fishing in the bay, spearing flat fish in the sands with a lister or three-pronged fork, sometimes going as far as the rocks to try for bollan and rock-cod with hook and line.

But his mother would have Juan go with Olaf to Father Daniel to learn grammar and the rudiments of Latin. One of Calybrid's greatest treasures was a small parchment volume containing extracts from the Psalms and Gospels and a few simple prayers; under each Latin word the Celtic equivalent was written in a smaller hand. This had been made by her mother's brother, when as a young man he had studied at the monastery of S. Lua in the south of the Island. From it she made him read and repeat to her every morning a verse or little prayer. ' For,' she said 'my little son must have food for the mind as well as for the body, or he will grow up as simple as the silly sheep he tends.' She told him how she would be praying these same prayers and repeating these psalms, ' so that though we do not see each other we may feel that the very words of our lips and the meditations of our hearts will be joined to rise together to the good God in heaven!'

At the time Juan felt this merely as a task to be got through with his lessons, but such inspiring thoughts, taught at a mother's knee, can never be forgotten; and long years afterwards, when the gentle Calybrid had joined her fellow saints above, he would recall the familiar words, bringing peace to his mind with a picture of the quiet, pale face, the smooth brown hair, the gentle voice, and tender, loving eyes; then would he realise in its fulness and sweetness the mystery of 'the Communion of Saints.'

When the apples were ripe at Clenaige, the old Bowyer would come, and Calybrid would persuade him to tell her little ones of his happy youth in Normandy. Then they heard how he and his young wife had been driven to England, for that on the death of Henry Beauclerk they had loyally supported the just claims of his only child Matilda against the usurping Stephen. He told how at Carlisle, when the young Prince Henry had come to receive knighthood at the hands of his grand- uncle David of Scotland, the Prince had recognised him as having been one of the escort sent to bring him to England, and, had then presented him with the handsome bow which he had shown to Juan and Olaf. It was there too that he had made friends with Aloe-mac-Aloe, who, upon his return to the Island, had spoken of him to King Olaf. But King Olaf was greatly in need of a skilled Bowyer, and sent Aloe back to secure his services at all costs. Thus had he come to settle in Man. Later, Olaf had sent him in the train of his son Godred to Norway, and at Biorgvin (Bergen) they fell in with Aloe, who had gone there on a trading expedition with his friend Thorliot.

'And that,' said Robert, 'was the first meeting of Godred with his souzerain and it proved to be an eventful one. There was a certain Cardinal there, an Englishman, who had been sent on a mission to King Inge to treat about the better government of the Church in Norway; among other things he proposed that Nidaros should become the Metropolitan See. On receiving Prince Godred at his court, King Inge had mentioned this matter to him, and, after talking it over with Aloe, and with the leading men in his train, Godred had given an undertaking that the Church in Man should come in to the Norwegian Province. Two years later, the Cardinal, who was known as Nicholas Brakespeare, became Pope Hadrian IV. He was a good man but very strict and therefore not popular. He proved himself a strong and able Pope when he stood up to Frederick Barbarossa, who thought to crush him with all the power of his empire, but, had he lived, he would have come well out of that trial. Some of us remember that to him was due the widening of the bounds of our faith, for he was persuaded by one, Peter the Lombard, to establish the doctrine called "Transubstantiation," which all good Catholics now hold, 'though,' he added, as if speaking to himself, ' I doubt if we understand or ever really think about it.'

He glanced at Calybrid, who with all her humble and sincere piety was possessed of a feeling that as reasonable human beings, men had not only the right to think for themselves but it was their duty so to do.

Raising her eyes as though, piercing the blue sky she could see into Heaven, Calybrid answered softly, 'Christ came down to earth and founded his religion not for the great ones and the learned in the land but for the poor and simple ; and He Himself and his disciples taught all that was needful for our salvation. I weep if one Pope may add to our faith another may do so also, and, in the end we shall be asked to believe not in the religion of Christ but in that of the Popes.'

' You area good woman, Calybrid, but to me that seems a dangerous doctrine. The Holy Father must know better than we can do the teaching of Christ, and as the head of the Church it is for him to tell us what we are to believe.'

' But,' she replied, 'Christ is the head of the Church.' Then said Eithne, ' Does Father Daniel believe in it ?' 'Ah, Father Daniel is not like other folks, but that is a question you must put to himself.'

Juan wanted to know more about King Godred's doings as a prince in Norway, but the Bowyer said that Aloe would be better able to tell him all about that.

Afterwards, when the children were at play, Calybrid told her old friend how she longed that Juan should become a priest. He answered and said that if that were so the Island would lose a good soldier as the boy not only had courage and determination but he had a head, and would make an able commander. ' I would counsel you, Calybrid, do not try to force him in any way; let him be drawn to it, if so God wills.'

As the days grew shorter and the weather became cold and stormy, Juan, now more warmly clad, spent much of his time at the house of the Bowyer, and, with out knowing it, learned as much from him as he did from Father Daniel. Cormac, the apprentice, would be there, and sometimes little Matilda, with her friend Una, sometimes also Olaf or Heremod with one of Thorliot's boys; and Robert would make them talk in Norman-French, and sing roundels together, while he played on the guitar. He taught Juan to play on little pipes of reeds, saying that as he wandered over the hills, guarding his flocks, or played of an evening on his pipes, he would be like the god Pan, and the wild things would gather round and dance to him.

Then would he tell of the infant Hermes, the first to play on the pipes, who taught them to Pan, his son ; how also he had invented the lyre which his big brother Apollo had bought off him with fifty head of cattle. Again, he would tell how King Amphion builded the walls of Thebes, dancing the huge stones into position by his wondrous skill on the lyre, and, how Arion charmed the very fish with his music, so that once when he was thrown overboard by his crew of thievish Corinthian sailors, he was borne safely to land on the back of a dolphin. Sometimes, also, he would tell them stories from the Roman rya Rose and other tales of the period, and Juan, who had a keen ear and a good memory, would sing these at home with his sisters, and, at many a happy gathering in after days.

In the autumn a Hus Thing was held on the Green, all the householders attending. Some very poor and helpless people had drifted in to Rafnsey from the surrounding districts and it was desired to find out to whom they belonged and what assistance could be given them in the coming winter, which looked as if it would be a hard one. Thorir brought a wretched debtor who had no means to pay him and no family to help, and he claimed a child of his for the debt. The debtor was called and owned that he could not pay. With him was a boy of ten years old and he had two younger children. It was deemed that the boy must be given up if no one would pay the debt for hirn. Thorir had another plaint; he had bought an old horse in the summer and sold it to a beggar, but the animal was so thin and weak that it had died before the latter could make any use of it. But Bald-pate, the beggar, said that the horse had been starved by Thorir, who must have known that it was unfit, besides which he believed it had been stolen. Thorir replied that he had found the horse, which had no other owner, and had fed it and cared for it so that it was good for work for years to come, but that the old man himself had starved it. And as a luck-penny had passed, and the horse had been taken over, it had been duly bought. But it was deemed that as Thorir did not live on the Isle and Bald-pate had no right to do so, the claim could not lie in this Thing. The skipper of a foreign ship who had listened to the story, took pity on the beggar, and offered to pay the debt himself. They said he might do so, but did not know Thorir or would find better use for his money. So it was arranged how- ever. Bui, Thorliot's son, made a lampoon on Thorir which was to give rise to further trouble.

Aloe-mac-Aloe, as King's steward, gave notice that on Lady Day next coming, a Weapon-Thing would be holden on the Green. He warned all to see that their weapons were in order and good condition and to bring them for inspection at the Thing.


Back index next


Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received MNB Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2005