The Little Flowers of St. Francis, tr. by W. Heywood, , at sacred-texts.com
How, through procurement of the devil, Friar Juniper was condemned to the gallows
ON a time the devil wishing to frighten Friar Juniper, and to put him to shame and affliction, went unto a very cruel despot, by name Nicolas, who
was then at war with the city of Viterbo, and said: "Sir, look well to this your town, for presently a great traitor cometh hither, sent by the men of Viterbo to the end that he may slay you and set fire to this town. And that this is true I give you these tokens: He goeth in guise of a mendicant, with garments all tattered and patched and with a torn cowl hanging on his shoulders; he carrieth with him an awl wherewith to slay you, and hath besides a flint and steel wherewith to set fire to this town; and if you find not this to be true, punish me as you will." At these words Nicolas was all amazed and feared much, because he who spake these words unto him appeared a worthy person. And he commanded that watch should be diligently kept, and that if this man, with the aforesaid tokens, came, he should forthwith be brought before him. In the meanwhile Friar Juniper came alone; for by reason of his perfection he had licence to go and to stay alone even as he pleased. And, as he came, he met certain dissolute youths who derided him and began to make great mock of him, but for all this he disquieted not himself, but rather led them on to make greater sport of him. And coming to the gate of the town, when the guards saw him so ill-seeming, with but little clothing and that all torn (for, on his way, he had given part of his habit to the poor for the love of God, and looked nothing like a minor friar); because the tokens which` had been given unto them manifestly appeared in him, he was violently dragged before this despot Nicolas; and being searched by the attendants to see if he had weapons of offence, they found in his sleeve an awl wherewith he was wont to mend his sandals; also they found a flint which he carried to light a fire, because the weather was fine, and he ofttimes dwelt in woods and waste places. Now when
Nicolas saw these tokens in him according to the information given by the devil who had accused him, he ordered that a cord should be twisted round his head; and so was it done, and with such cruelty that the whole of the cord entered into his flesh. And afterward he put him to the strappado, and caused his arms to be pulled and wrenched and all his body to be tortured, without any mercy. And when he was asked who he was, he replied: "I am a very great sinner"; and when he was asked whether he wished to betray the town and to give it to the people of Viterbo, he replied: "I am a very great traitor, and undeserving of any good". And when he was asked if he wished to kill Nicolas, the despot, with that awl and to burn the town, he replied: "Very much greater things and worse should I do, if God permitted it". Then Nicolas, overcome with anger, would not examine him further; but full of fury incontinently condemned Friar Juniper, as a traitor and a murderer, to be tied to the tail of a horse and dragged through the town to the gallows, there to be forthwith hanged by the neck. And Friar Juniper made no defence; but, as one who for love of God rejoiced in tribulations, was all joyful and glad. And when the command of the despot was put into execution, and Friar Juniper was dragged through the town, tied by his feet to the tail of a horse, he complained not neither lamented, but like a gentle lamb which is led to the slaughter, went with all humility. To this spectacle and sudden justice ran all the people to see him executed with speed and severity; and no man recognised him. Nevertheless, as God willed it, a good man, who had seen Friar Juniper taken, and who now saw him forthwith dragged away to execution, ran to the place of the minor friars and said: "For God's
sake, I beseech you, come quickly; for a poor beggar hath been taken, and straightway sentence hath been passed upon him, and he is being led away to his death. At least come, that he may be able to commit his soul into your hands; for to me he seemeth a good man, and he hath had no time to confess himself, and he hath been dragged to the gallows, and he seemeth neither to care for death nor for the salvation of his soul. Oh! come quickly, I entreat you." The guardian, who was a compassionate man, went at once to seek to save his soul; but, when he arrived, the folk which were come thither to see the execution were already so numerous that he could not make his way through them; wherefore he stood and watched his opportunity; and, as he thus watched, he heard a voice from among the folk, which said: "Don't, don't, you little rascals, you hurt my legs". At the sound of this voice the guardian began to suspect that it was Friar Juniper, and with fervour of spirit he threw himself among them, and tore the bandage from the man's face, and then he knew of a truth that it was Friar Juniper. Therefore the guardian, for pity's sake, would have taken off his own habit to cover Friar Juniper therewith, but he with merry countenance, as if joking, said: "O guardian, thou art a fat man, and it would he most unseemly to see thee naked. I will not have it." Then the guardian, with great weeping, besought those executioners and all the people that for pity's sake they would wait a little, while he went to intercede with the despot for Friar Juniper, if peradventure he might grant him grace concerning him. The executioners and certain bystanders agreed thereto, believing of a truth that he was his kinsman; and the devout and compassionate guardian went to Nicolas, the despot, with bitter weeping and said: "Sir, I am in such
wonder and grief as my tongue could never tell, because meseemeth that in this town hath to-day been committed a greater sin and a greater wrong than was ever done in the days of our forefathers; and I believe that it hath been done through ignorance". Nicolas heard the guardian with patience, and asked him: "What is the great crime and wrong which hath been committed to-day in this town?" The guardian made answer: "My lord, that one of the holiest friars at this time in the Order of St. Francis (whereunto you bear a singular devotion) hath by you been condemned to such a cruel death, and certainly, I believe, without cause". Said Nicolas: "Now tell me, guardian, who is this? Peradventure, not recognising him, I have done a great wrong." Said the guardian: "He whom you have condemned to death is Friar Juniper, the companion of St. Francis". Nicolas, the despot, was astounded, for he had heard of the fame and holy life of Friar Juniper; and, all pale, as one overcome with horror, he ran with the guardian and came to Friar Juniper and loosed him from the tail of the horse and set him free, and, in the presence of all the people, he cast himself down upon the ground before him, and, with very great weeping, confessed his fault touching the injury and insult which he had caused to be done unto this holy friar, and added: "I believe, in truth, that the days of my evil life are drawing to an end, because I have thus tortured this holy man without any cause. For my evil life, God will permit that I shall soon die an ill death, albeit I have done it ignorantly." Friar Juniper freely pardoned Nicolas, the despot; but God permitted it that, a few days thereafter, this Nicolas, the despot, finished his life with a very cruel death; and Friar Juniper departed, leaving all the people edified.