The elderly man stood in the middle of the recently disturbed brown earth leaning on the wooden hoe and looking up at the sun. Standing among small seedlings that shone bright green in the spring sunshine he squinted at the sky in an effort to calculate the time so that he could anticipate the bell when it rang for Sext at midday. The garden area around him was flat and green, surrounded with an abundance of broad-leaved trees providing protection against the wind. Rolling hills rose in the near distance that had been the site of quarrying for over two hundred years and had provided the warm honey stone for the larger buildings in the growing town.
His morning work done, the man picked up the hoe and stepped over the seedlings onto a narrow well-trodden pathway that allowed access to the various sections of the herb growing area surrounding the Abbey. His seedlings were growing strongly and should provide a heavy crop of beans to add to the pottages boiled up by the kitchen to sustain the patients, visitors and inhabitants of the Abbey.
The warm spring weather offered the promise of a bountiful year but made his black woollen outdoor habit uncomfortable, encouraging his movement towards the cool of the Abbey. Stopping to rinse his hands in the trough that stood at the rear entrance to the kitchens, he meticulously shook them dry as he walked around the outside of the warm yellow stone building and stepped through the doorway into the north west corner of the cloister, immediately appreciating the shade of the covered walkway. The centre of the courtyard was deserted and he bustled through the infirmary and arrived at the chancel just as the bell calling everyone to prayer began to ring. He valued punctuality. To him it suggested orderliness, routine and organisation and gave his life it’s rhythm, allowing him to concentrate on the calling and contemplation that had occupied most of his life.
Light shone through the large coloured glass window and he was mesmerised by the small dots of bright colour dancing over the sleeve of his habit as he reached for his psalter. The spirituality of the building never ceased to amaze and delight him, even during the cold winter months when you could see your own breath while singing the prescribed psalms, and even with the year round suffering that took place within the walls of the attached infirmary. He always felt privileged to be able to offer solace in the last months of the lives of the patients and he was grateful in the knowledge that when his last months came, he would benefit from having his friends around him and a plot waiting for him in the shadow of the building in which he had spent his life. Geoffrey slipped into the wooden seat beside him and nodded an acknowledgement, no words were necessary but the proximity of his friend felt comfortable as the midday service began.
There was no need for words as the friends sat consuming the rough grained bread and boiled vegetables after prayers. This was the difficult time of year when last years harvest was coming to an end, but this year was not quite ready to start consuming. The soup was a dull brown colour and tasted bland but it was warming and welcome. The friends sat and ate in a companionable silence, thinking about their afternoon of chores. Geoffrey worked in the brewing house, where he would emerge later smelling strongly of malt and yeast, a familiar smell that spoke of a satisfying afternoons work bringing benefit to the whole community.
Following lunch, and before commencing the daily rounds of attending to the patients currently residing in the Abbey, he liked to spend a few minutes within part of the building that few of the others enjoyed. This was a small moment in the day that he could call his own, a time for personal reflection, a luxury in a simple and meagre life. Stepping through the entrance to the simple chantry chapel was a moment he relished and he lingered in the threshold. When entering the space he had always been able to feel his spirit being physically lifted, a wave of contentment swept over him enveloping his body with a soft peace, settling any concerns that had sat with him during the morning. The draw of this space was something that he looked forward to and this was the only time that he felt completely surrounded by the atmosphere and meaning of the Abbey.
The small doorless room was well lit with a south-facing window of plain glass, the soft yellow stone of the walls contrasted with a tiled floor that had been painted long ago with a chequered design of green and red, the vibrancy of the colour was worn away from the many years of prayer that had taken place here. He could almost hear the generations of monks and patients appealing to Saint Jude, to whom the room had been dedicated, to guide and assist them through this time of their suffering and desolation. A small altar covered with a linen cloth and a wooden cross was the only adornment and furniture in the space and was the focus of the room. He carefully dropped to his knees in front of the altar, clasped his hands against his chest and allowed his thoughts and spirit be lifted away from the cool Abbey and into the sunshine that streamed through the window.
“May I interrupt you Victor?” The sudden voice behind him was unusual and made him start, jolting his consciousness back to the high walls and garish floor. “I wonder if I may talk to you for a moment?” Victor nodded, he was disoriented and confused, he rose to his feet and turned , it took him a few moments to realise that he didn’t recognise this bearded visitor in heavy brown robes, tied around his waist with a rough hemp rope. “I have watched you come here for many years and you seem to receive peace here that sustains you through the rest of your life and your administration to the local people who come here to be guided towards the end of their lives.”
“Yes” his response needed elaboration but Victor couldn’t find the words.
“Would you mind staying here and assist me in helping people who will visit this site needing guidance?”
“I don’t understand” he found words to reply, “I am here, and will be until the end of the days given to me”
“I’m asking you to go beyond the end of your days and remain here until you have done all you can for the people living around here who need you.”
The request seemed simple but its implications were enormous, a fact that was not lost on Victor but beyond his comprehension. “I will remain here as long as I am needed.” With this sentence uttered, the visitor nodded approval, turned and walked out of the chapel. Victor looked back at the altar and then down at the body of the old man who lay on the tiled floor. His face was set with a look of serene contentment, his eyes were fixed open looking up at the window but there was no terror reflecting in them. His friends started to bustle around him filling the small room with black robes and obscuring his view of the floor. Geoffrey’s quiet but palpable sadness wrenched his heart but Victor felt at peace and he was glad of the knowledge that he had already been dead before his head hit the chapel floor.