Anselm - E. M. Wilmot-Buxton

The Journey to Rome

The journey to Rome was not to be entirely free from peril for the archbishop. At first, indeed, it seemed as though he was destined to be driven back from his first destination, the port of Wissant, by contrary winds. The seamen wished to return to Dover, and somewhat roughly accused the three passengers, obviously unwilling to do this, of disregard for the safety of the crew. The gentle reply of Anselm must have put them to shame:

"If it be the inscrutable judgment of God that I go back to the old troubles, rather than escape them and attain the end I have desired, let Him order it, let Him arrange it. I am ready to obey His will; I am not my own but His."

Scarcely, however, had they begun to make for the English coast when the wind changed, and they were able to make an excellent passage to Wissant.

Without knowing it, they had barely escaped a much more serious danger. They had but just landed when Baldwin was called aside by one of the crew, and shown a hole in the bottom of the ship, caused by the sawing asunder of one of the planks. Fortunately the pressure of the surrounding water had served to keep the plank in position during the voyage, but that this had not been the intention of the man who had done the deed is very clear. The matter was hushed up, and it is possible Anselm never knew of this dastardly attempt to close his mouth forever.

The first halting-place of the archbishop was the monastery of St Bertin, situated in what is now the town of St Omer. Here they were received with the greatest honour and enthusiasm. "Men and women, great and small," says Eadmer, "you might see rushing from their houses and crowding to our lodging."

Four days were spent there, mostly in giving confirmation to large crowds of children and grown people from the neighbouring districts, in connection with which Eadmer tells a story. On the fourth morning they were just mounting their horses for a long day's march, when a little girl came running breathlessly. She wanted to be confirmed, and finding she had arrived too late, burst into a storm of tears as she stood by the archbishop's horse. Anselm was already dismounting in order to confirm her when his companions stayed him. If he confirmed this child he must do likewise by the crowd already collecting at the church doors. There would be no end of the matter, as fresh country people were swarming in each day. All arrangements would be upset; they had a long journey in front of them; they begged some consideration for themselves. Most unwillingly Anselm acceded to their wishes, but as they rode along he was silent and heavy of spirit; and that night he told his friend Eadmer that he could not forget the pathetic little incident, and that he should never forgive himself for refusing the child's request.

In what was then the kingdom of France, a comparatively small district which excluded Normandy, Brittany, and Burgundy, Anselm was welcomed wherever he appeared, but when he crossed the frontier into Burgundy, he entered a region where neither his name nor his personality was at all familiar.

To Duke Odo he was nothing but a wealthy prelate, and therefore a fitting prize for the ducal money-bags. I-Hs movements were watched, and one day, as Anselm, with Baldwin and Eadmer, was resting on a bank just off the highway and eating their frugal meal of bread and parched peas, a little band of horsemen rode upon them, shouting demands as to the whereabouts of the archbishop. Rising with quiet dignity, Anselm looked steadily upon the leader, whom he recognized as Duke Odo himself. Something in face or bearing at once revealed his identity to the Duke, who, we are told, "immediately he had set eyes upon Anselm, smitten with sudden shame, he hung down his head and blushed, finding nothing to say for himself."

"My lord Duke," said the gentle old voice, "if you will allow me, I will embrace you."

"Here am I, my lord archbishop," answered Odo eagerly, "ready to embrace you and entirely at your service. Right thankful am I to Him who has brought you here."

And straightway he bent his tall figure and haughty head to receive the kiss of the archbishop. Learning that Anselm was seeking Rome "in the interests of our holy religion," Odo gave orders to his companions to see the archbishop safely across the duchy, providing for his wants as though he were the Duke himself; and as he rode away he freely cursed those who had proposed the way-laying and robbery of a saint.

"For certain he hath the face not of a man but of an angel; and those who do ill by him may be assured of this, that God will smite them for their impiety."

The Christmas season found him at Cluny, the famous monastery in the Saone-et-Loire district, whose abbot, Hugh, the 'superior' of Hildebrand as prior, had been his constant adviser as Pope. He and Anselm were congenial spirits, as was also another Hugh, Archbishop of Lyons, with whom a stay of some length was made.

From the latter the English primate would hear much of the troubled state of Europe in those days, when Northern Italy gave a divided allegiance to Pope and Anti-Pope, Germany was torn by civil war, and Southern Italy was overrun by Normans who cared little for God or for man. Not only in England were the forces of the world set up against the Church of God.

The effect of all this upon an ultra-sensitive soul was soon apparent. No longer does Anselm aim at obtaining justice for himself and condemnation of his opposers. His one desire is now for spiritual peace and calm. His old life as a monk makes again its most powerful appeal, and from Lyons he writes his pathetic letter to Pope Urban, in which, after detailing the points of issue with the King, he says:

"In the archbishopric during my four years I have brought forth no fruit, but have lived uselessly in great and dreadful troubles of spirit, so that to-day I would rather choose to die out of England than to live in it. For, if I should require to finish my life there in the way in which I was living it, I foresee rather the damnation than the salvation of my soul."

The Pope's answer was an invitation to Rome, and a clear intimation that not by relieving him of the archbishopric were his difficulties to be solved.

So, in the middle of the March of 1098, Anselm once more set out with his two companions to cross the Alps, by that same road over the Mont Cenis by which he had travelled more than forty years earlier, in his quest for the truth that was to bring both spiritual and mental peace.

The journey, always a difficult one, was beset with dangers from the adherents of the Anti-Pope as well as from the robber bands which infested the district, and Anselm was warned to travel strictly incognito as an ordinary monk. At a stay made by them for the Palm Sunday solenmities at a monastery not far from Chambery, they were warned not to proceed farther.

"No monk can go in safety along that dangerous road to Rome," said the abbot. "Why, even the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was on his way to plead a suit there, has turned back and is now, we hear, living at Lyons, having given up the attempt."

"He did well," replied Baldwin solemnly, evidently to the inward delight of his companion Eadmer. "As for us, unfortunately, we are bound to proceed as far as we can by the obligations of service to God and obedience to our superior. When we can go no farther, we shall perforce turn back."

"May the good God guide and protect you!" was all the abbot could say.

Having crossed the Mont Cenis, they arrived at Susa, where they rested at the abbey of St Just. There the abbot, eager for news and possibly for gossip, joined them in the refectory, when Baldwin's Flemish accent, or some chance remark brought up the fact that the latter had some acquaintance with Le Bec. At once the abbot began to question them concerning Anselm, that man of God. "Tell me, is he still living?"

"The Abbot Anselm," replied Baldwin cautiously, "was removed by God from Le Bec to be archbishop in another country."

"So I have heard," said the abbot, and with naive concern for the man rather than for his office, reiterated, "but how is he himself? Is he well in soul?"

"I have not seen him at Le Bec since he became archbishop, but he is said to be quite well at present," answered the wily Baldwin, thereby filling Eadmer with admiration and mirth.

"Long may he continue so!" cried the abbot heartily; upon which one of the three visitors must have pulled forward his cowl to hide his quiet smile of gratitude.

The next stage of the journey through Lombardy was perhaps the most dangerous of all, since there the adherents of the Anti-Pope were most violent. A fortunate rumour that Anselm was lying dangerously ill at Lyons saved the situation, however; and the only danger of recognition came, not from his opponents but from the groups of men and women who, mysteriously attracted by the saintly look and beautiful features of the old monk, would hang about him where he rested, and retard his progress by the way in which they threw themselves on their knees before him and implored his blessing.

So Anselm passed unharmed upon his way, his heart full of that favourite ejaculation of his, "Great is the glory of the Lord," and thus, in due time, arrived at the Holy City.

There a harassed Pope, ruler of a city within whose very walls his rival held his state in the Castle of St Angelo, received his visitor with every sign of honour and goodwill. Rooms were assigned him in the papal dwelling at the Lateran, and when, on the day after his arrival, he was received in solemn audience, Urban insisted upon his occupying a chair placed next his own; and seeing him abashed at such a position, spoke of him as one "who, though by reason of his profound learning, we take him for our teacher and deem him in some sort as an equal, yet so great is his humility that neither the perils of the sea nor protracted journeys through strange countries have hindered him from coming here to the feet of St Peter, in my poor unworthy person, making it his business to seek the advice of me, who have much more need of his counsel than he can have of mine. Think then with what love and honour it is meet that he should he welcomed and embraced."

While letters of remonstrance and rebuke were being sent to the Red King in England, the heat of the plain had driven Anselm to the mountain village of Schiavi, belonging to the monastery at Telese, near Benevento, where he had been delighted to sojourn with a former monk of Le Bec, now the abbot. In this quiet spot, far removed from the strife of Rome and the worry of his distant see, the old archbishop passed a time of much-needed repose.

"Here is my rest," he had cried at sight of the primitive little spot perched high upon the hilltop; and here he wrote another of those deep and thoughtful treatises upon theological subjects which were destined to affect the thought of Europe for many a long year.