Cantiga 65 of the Cantigas de Santa Maria of Alfonso X
The Excommunicate who Won Absolution
A man lived a sinful life and did not pay any attention to his priest’s admonitions. Eventually, to chasten him, the priest excommunicated him. The man paid no heed to this either until he fell ill, felt guilty, and wished to take communion. By this time his priest had died, so he asked advice of another. The priest told him to go to Rome and see the pope.
The excommunicated man went to Rome and met with the pope who instructed one of his counsellors to absolve him. The counsellor demanded something in return and since the man had nothing, he went away without receiving absolution. He wandered all over and came to Montaña Negra where he met a holy man. He told him his predicament and the holy man, giving him a letter of introduction, sent him to find a mad man in Alexandria. He assured the sceptical man that the mad man would help him.
The man went to Alexandria, but couldn’t find the mad man. At last he saw him, a skinny, scruffy fellow, being abused by the people. As night began to fall, he followed the mad man out of town to an old church covered with ivy. The mad man entered the church and prayed before the altar. He no longer seemed mad at all. The man gave him the letter and the mad man instructed him to stay in the church overnight.
At midnight, Mary and the saints appeared above the altar. They sang matins and the mad man joined in, singing the words by heart. After they had finished singing, the mad man summoned the excommunicate. He explained to the Virgin the man’s problem. She told him to examine the saints and see if he could find among them the priest who had excommunicated him.
He did so, and the priest absolved him on Mary’s orders. The man who had been absolved insisted on staying at the church with the mad man.
The mad man confessed that he was actually sane and had been the lord of that land. When his family died, he became disillusioned and lived a life of adversity. He predicted that he would die within fifteen days. They stayed there together and then the mad man died, just as he had said. He became a saint and performed miracles. The man he had helped absolve watched over his tomb.
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