Pilgrim Reindeer in Pisa, 1348

a free multimedia novel by

Thomas A. DuBois, University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Detail, Triumph of Death. Camposanto. Pisa

Sálle has waited all his life to be contacted by the spirits. Now that they've called, there's no turning back—not until the spirits say STOP.

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11. Åbo and the Bishop [August 16, 1347]

Therefore, a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled,decent, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard,not aggressive, but gentle, not contentious,not a lover of money.

It took Bávlos the better part of three days to reach Turku, the city that folk from the Swedish side of the sea called Ĺbo. As he walked, he saw the landscape and its settlements change. The scattered singular farmsteads that Bávlos had come to expect from the month of walking with Pekka now quickly gave way to villages: clusters of small houses, pressed so close to one another that a person could leap from roof to roof and never set foot on the ground. Churches became more common as well: none as fine as the magnificent church at Hattula, but still impressive just the same, grand halls for worshipping Iesh and receiving his flesh. People were numerous now: working the fields, riding in wagons, scurrying from farmhouse to cowshed, lingering under trees at the edges of lakes. Everywhere he looked, Bávlos became aware of the greater wealth, the greater variety of goods, the greater power of this region. And all roads, all goods, and certainly all power seemed streaming inevitably, inexorably toward Turku.

Seeing the spire of the cathedral emerge over the horizon was for Bávlos like reliving a dream: he had seen it before in all its grandeur and its beauty from above. As he passed through the thronging town, down road after road of houses, filled with people, livestock, and vehicles, he felt dizzied by the sheer mass of humanity. Father Jens had warned him that the city was home to more than several hundred people, and Bávlos could well believe it now. They seemed to be everywhere he turned and they spoke in a whole array of languages: Finnish like that of Pekka was spoken by country people, whose clothes were simple and who generally seemed employed in doing hard work of various kinds: pulling wagonloads of firewood, shoveling manure from out of horse stables, hauling large loads of roots from the countryside for people to eat. People with much finer clothes and extravagant hats seemed to be employed in trade: goods passed in and out of windows as short round men seemed to spend their days arguing with each other about prices and quality, although Bávlos did not yet understand their words. Bávlos noted that furs were readily traded, although he decided to hold off on trading any of his uncle’s pelts until he had a better idea what the spirits wanted him to do next. Many of the traders wore tunics and capes that were fringed with fur, and Bávlos suspected that many of these borders had begun their lives as wild beasts in the rugged forests of his land. Still other people on the roads seemed to be brothers or priests: they wore plain tunics of black or brown, decorated with little or large ristit of various kinds. When Bávlos overheard them speaking to each other, they seemed to have the same strange accent as Father Jens in Hattula, but now with words that didn’t make any sense at all to Bávlos. Without realizing it, Bávlos soon found himself beside the priory where Pekka must live; he recognized it easily from his dream. He kept an eye out for his wretched former friend, but saw no sign of him at all. He told himself he was happy about it.

Eventually, after much exploring, Bávlos came to a street that was not of dirt but of stone. Whole, rounded stones had been embedded in the street in regular patterns, making a hard surface that echoed with horses’ hoofs and the clatter of wagon wheels. Bávlos marveled at the thought of all the work that had gone into it, and he walked with a sense of excitement and pride at having arrived at the city from so very far away. Nieiddash, on the other hand, did not seem to appreciate the stones at all, and stepped over them somewhat grumpily, her hoofs’ constant clicking now becoming amplified by the paving stones’ hardness and the close proximity of houses all around. Bávlos thought that it would be impossible to sneak up on anyone on a road of this kind.

The particularly fine street of stone led out of the crowded mass of tradesmen’s houses toward the cathedral itself, the jewel and spiritual center of the great metropolis. Bávlos approached it with reverence and excitement. The church was as impressive as he remembered it from his dream: it was like a little mountain made by man, a holy place meant to tower over all that was commonplace and plain. Bávlos tied Nieiddash to a post by a huge trough filled with water and walked to the door of the cathedral. As he entered its side door, Bávlos was amazed at the height of the ceiling far, far above. The church’s pillars rose like magnificent trees reaching far into the heavens from which streams of light poured down. Panes of window glass allowed the light of day to pour into the hall, even while rain or wind could not. As Bávlos’s eyes adjusted to the dimmer light of the church’s floor, he admired the magnificent space that lay before him: a broad open area paved in flat stone. It was like the surface of a lake in winter, flat and broad and incredibly smooth. Beyond the expanse, Bávlos saw the cathedral’s massive rood screen: thin pieces of wood arrayed in beautiful patterns to separate the place of the people from the holy space of the priests and Iesh. Beautiful statues and a magnificent risti adorned the top of the screen, beyond which, in the dim light of the church, Bávlos could just make out the high altar with its great stone table and grand carven chairs.

To the sides of the open area, Bávlos saw a whole series of smaller chapels, many of which were in use at the moment. Priests stooped before them, quietly singing, lifting hosts and chalices, reciting prayers, accompanied by assistants. Ordinary people stood behind them, watching reverently, or walking by. Most people stood quietly, but some were kneeling, and a few were splayed out on the floor. Perhaps they had passed out as well, thought Bávlos. As he neared them, though, he generally could hear that they were reciting prayers of some sort, usually in Latina, the language of God.

The cathedral was so mesmerizing to Bávlos that it took him a long time to remember the piece of leather Father Jens had given him and his instructions to seek a meeting with the bishop himself. Bávlos saw a kindly looking priest that had just completed a mass at one of the little chapels and was headed off to wherever he went when not praying. Bávlos walked quickly toward him and asked for his help.

“Please Father,” he said, “I have a message for the bishop.”

“The bishop?” asked the priest with some surprise. Bávlos could hear the same foreign accent in this man’s speech as in Father Jens’.

“Yes,” said Bávlos eagerly, “I have this to give him.” He drew out the letter which Father Jens had given him and handed it to the priest.

“Well,” said the priest, looking at the letter. Bávlos watched him look at it and then at Bávlos, and then at the letter again. “It is surprising to see one such as you with a letter such as this,” said the priest with an expectant look. Clearly he wanted some sort of explanation.

“Father Jens of the Holy Risti Church in Hattula sent me here,” said Bávlos in response.

“Yes, is that so?” said the priest pleasantly. “Follow me and I will take you to the bishop’s residence. You are fortunate that he is available today.”

Bávlos followed the priest out of the cathedral and down another road to a fine estate. “The bishop lives here now,” said the priest. “He purchased this residence to be close to the cathedral.” Bávlos looked at the house. It was enormous. He wondered how one man could live in such a grand place: would he not be lonely wandering its many rooms alone? Would he not pine for the companionship of others to share his quarters? When Bávlos and the priest arrived at the house’s front door, however, he saw that he had been wrong: the bishop lived with many people, all of whom were devoted to helping him in various ways. There was someone to answer his door, someone to cook his meals, someone to clean his many rooms, someone to brush his horse, someone to give him advice, and many, many to help him pray and eat lunch. Bávlos and the priest were escorted by one of these helpers into a large room, full of marvelous art and shelves. Bávlos found it wondrous.

After some time, an aging man entered the room. He was tall and very heavy, with a round pink nose and very sharp eyes. He wore long robes of a very smooth material and carried an ornamented staff in his hand. He had a tall, pointy hat on his head. The bishop cleared his throat as he entered while an attendant rang a small bell. The priest leapt from his seat and hurried forward to kiss the bishop on his ring. Bávlos had never seen such a gesture before and stared in confusion. The bishop held out his hand immovably until Bávlos imitated the priest’s action as best he could. Then the bishop sat down. He did not indicate that it would be all right for his guests to sit down as well, so Bávlos and the priest remained standing.

The priest introduced Bávlos to the bishop in their common language and handed the bishop the piece of leather with Fr. Jens’ drawings. The bishop read it carefully, looking up at Bávlos every now and then but saying nothing.

“Are you from east of the Torne River or west?” asked the bishop in Finnish.

“I do not know that river,” said Bávlos, “at least, not by that name.”

“Nonsense!” said the bishop. “You are from the far north, are you not? The boundary between the archdiocese of Uppsala and the archdiocese of Ĺbo runs along the Torne River. I have traveled there myself not two years ago to confirm this fact with my holy brother, Bishop Hemming of Uppsala. He and I have the same name, and our sees are of equal importance to Our Lord” The bishop looked very pleased with himself. “You did not think that the bishop would have visited your lands, did you?” he said with a smile and nod.

“I, I—I do not know of this river,” said Bávlos confused, “but I am certain it is not on my lands. I know the rivers in our lands very well. We live by the lake we call after my grandfather Sallejávri. The river that flows out of that we call Sállejohka, and it joins with the Diivejohka before flowing into Riebanjohka. Riebanjohka joins with Avviljohka and that eventually flows into the great lake called Ánar. But all these places have different names farther to the east. Among my mother’s people they say Sallajuuha and Tijvejuuha and Riemashjuuha and Avveeljuuha—“

“The Torne flows through the lands of the Lappalaiset, and you are one of their number, are you not?”

“I think so,” said Bávlos. He knew that Pekka had called him a Lappalainen, and he had gleaned that this was the strangers’ name for the Sámi. “Do you mean the river they call Duortnoseatnu? It lies far, far to the west of my home. I have only heard of it from travellers.”

The bishop seemed irritated by Bávlos’s answer. It was apparently irksome to him that Bávlos neither knew the name of his people nor the limits of their realm. The meeting did not seem to be going well at all.

“Fr. Jens writes that you seem to be some sort of visionary,” said the bishop, pressing onward despite Bávlos’s confusion. “Are you a visionary?”

“I, I have seen some visions,” said Bávlos. He wondered how Fr. Jens had drawn that on the leather. Perhaps a picture of a sleeping man with his eyes flying off into the sky? Or perhaps he had drawn a picture of the opening door that Bávlos had described?

“Do you know, Master Paulus—that is your name, is it not?”

“Yes,” said Bávlos eagerly.

“As I was saying then,” said the bishop, resuming his questioning, “are you aware that our kingdom has already been graced with one visionary?”

“Oh?” said Bávlos. He had never heard anything of this sort, and he found it curious that the bishop would think that he had.

“Yes,” said the bishop. “The holy Lady Birgitta is a visionary of great significance. She is of noble birth, a kinswoman to the king, and she has seen visions of great importance to the realm. Do you feel that you are her equal?”

Bávlos shook his head. He had never heard of this person either, at least as far as he could tell.

“Personally,” said the bishop pointedly, “I should be very surprised indeed if our Lord were to bless us with two great visionaries at the same time! Especially if one were barely able to speak even the language of the Finnish peasants!”

“I see,” said Bávlos quietly. He looked humbly at the ground but he could feel the bishop’s eyes fixed upon his head.

“Do you see?” said the bishop slowly, “I wonder if you do? I wonder if you know what happens to those who simply pretend to see visions, feigning their faints of ecstasy.” He said this last word icily, as he glanced down at the letter in his hand.

“Pretend?” said Bávlos uneasily, “What does it mean to ‘pretend’?”

“Ah, is that unfamiliar to you?” said the bishop, smiling. “Yes, I forgot. You are an innocent from the far north, although you have no knowledge of the Torne River, by which every Lappalainen lives his life.”

Bávlos was amazed. Here was a man who apparently knew more about his lands than he did himself. Bávlos was beginning to get the feeling that this bishop distrusted him, though for what reason he could not tell.

“Father Jens is a very holy little priest,” said the bishop. “A very holy, very trusting priest. He is good for a church in the countryside. But he does not have the makings of a bishop.”

“No?” said Bávlos. He had begun to think that being a bishop was not a particularly pleasant station at all, or at least, it did not seem to attract particularly pleasant people.

“Do you know what the sin of pride is, Master Paulus?” continued the bishop.

“Pride?” asked Bávlos. It was a word he had not heard before.“Pride,” said the bishop again. “Taking upon oneself things which do not properly belong to one. Overreaching,” said the bishop. “Like the evil Lalli.”

“Lalli?” asked Bávlos, “Who was he?”

“Lalli, Master Paulus, is a person you should learn about. He was a Finn like yourself.” Bávlos found it strange that the bishop was now referring to him as a Finn, when just a moment ago he had accused him of being barely able to speak their language. Perhaps, however, he simply meant that Bávlos was like the Finns in having been born to the east of Duortnoseatnu, the river which he called Torne. The bishop continued.

“This land of Finland was once entirely filled with pagans, Master Paulus. Pagans. Dangerous, dangerous pagans. “ He paused for effect. Bávlos wondered if Fr. Jens had mentioned in his drawings that until recently he had been a pagan as well. He remained quiet, however, and listened.

“The holy King Erik of Sweden saw in his heart that the wretched folk of this land were in desperate need of God’s word. So he came across the sea to subdue the unruly folk and brought with him the holy bishop Henrik, a worthy priest from England, to preach the holy truth to the people.”

“Ah,” said Bávlos.

“Don’t interrupt,” said the bishop with a flip of his hand. Bávlos closed his mouth tightly.

The bishop went on: “This holy bishop took mercy on the sinful folk of this land, and decided to remain with them as their shepherd, even when the king had headed back to rest and reward in Sweden.”

“Now it happened on a cold winter morning that the holy bishop came upon the wretched Lalli, who was guilty of a terrible crime. The holy bishop sought to chastise this Lalli, as was his holy duty: to bring before him his evil deed and punish him as needed. But Lalli, being crude and hardened of heart, struck out at the holy bishop and smote him on the head. The good Bishop Henrik fell to the ground. He was dead. And do you know what the villain did then?” he asked, pausing to wait for Bávlos to respond. Bávlos said nothing. He repeated, more loudly, “Do you know what the villain Lalli did then?”

“No, “ said Bávlos, nervously.

“He seized the holy bishop’s hat—the hat that displays the bishop’s holy office,” he said, pointing at the large pointed hat on his head, “and placed it on his own head! Do you know what that is?” he said, his eyes blazing with excitement.

“No,” said Bávlos hesitantly.

“It was pride!” cried the bishop. “Pride! Lalli did not deserve that hat, it was not his station in life. But he coveted the bishop’s high station and he murdered the holy bishop to seize it for himself. The holy bishop Henrik became a martyr here in Finland. A victim of the Finnish pagans.”

“I see,” said Bávlos.

“Do you know what happened then?” continued the bishop.

“No,” said Bávlos. He had the feeling that the bishop thought he should already know this story quite well.

“Well, the evil Lalli returned to his home. And when he came to his house, his wife asked that he take off the bishop’s hat so that he could enter their lowly doorway. And when he went to pull off the hat, lo! The very hair and skin of his head pulled off with it! His head was bare now to the very bone, and he died soon after! God punished his pride!”

“I see,” said Bávlos.

“Yes, I hope you do,” said the bishop. “Holy St. Henrik’s remains are now in a special chapel in the cathedral. You should visit them there and pray that you not fall victim to the same terrible sin of pride.”

“I will visit them.” said Bávlos. Inwardly, he thought it sounded very uncouth to have the bishop’s remains on display, but perhaps he was being prideful for thinking so.

“So,” said the bishop, softening a little. “I hope you understand what I am suggesting. The holy Birgitta has been having visions, as it right for one of her station. And she has had visions of great importance!” he added.

“Yes?” said Bávlos.

“Yes very important,” replied the bishop. “She has foreseen that the Lord wishes our king to declare war on the heathen Novgorodans to the east!”

“These heathen Novgorodans,” said Bávlos, “they do not believe in Risti?”

“Of course they believe in Christ,” said the bishop irritably. “They are Orthodox, after all.”

“So they are Christians?” asked Bávlos.

“Of a sort, yes,” said the bishop. “Of the wrong sort, however. Nor will they see the errors of their ways.”

“The errors of their ways?”

“Pride, you see. They are too proud to acknowledge the pope as their leader. And so they thrash about in darkness instead. Not ten years ago, in fact, they stormed across this land and tried to burn our sacred cathedral to the ground! Much evil occurs in this world because of pride.”

“Yes,” said Bávlos.

“So,” said the bishop. “I think we understand each other at last, yes? You will return to your land by the Torne River and leave visions to those who should properly experience them. And I shall bear the weighty responsibilities of the bishop of Ĺbo, symbolized by this holy hat,” he said, gesturing again to the magnificent emblem of his station. “You may go now.”

“Thank you,” said Bávlos backing out of the room. He left the great house as quickly as possible.