William Bateman (1298 – 1355) Bishop of Norwich.
A sister placed a carafe of mulled wine and freshly baked bread before the seated Bishop. He politely denied the offerings, stood up and began to pace around Mother Superior’s office.
“We have a crisis of unprecedented proportion on our hands, as the deaths from this plague rise daily. I am going from parish to monastery to convent in an attempt to bring hope, solidarity and calm to a desperate situation.” The cleric scribbled furiously on his portable writing stand. “Congregations are losing faith. The church can offer little in consolation to their pain and sorrow during this dark time. I fear retribution as we saw at Bury Abbey twenty years ago, but worse.”
The Bishop tore off a piece of bread and began to nibble while still pacing.
“If this is God’s wrath why are we not allowed to atone for our sins?
Where is the remedy? We burn the clothes, and housing of plague stricken families. We burn herbs throughout the day in Norwich to dissipate the foul airs of the disease, quarantine the populace, and have eradicated the dogs and cats. We bury the dead immediately, yet we cannot bury them fast enough. Worse are the accusations creating scapegoats of common folk. The Jews are poisoning the wells, midwifes are practicing witchcraft, devil worshippers and other heretics are invoking Satan to destroy Christianity. The persecutions committed because of these rumors are atrocious.”
He began to pick up the carafe to pour himself a cup when the Abbess interrupted, “Please, let me do that for you.” She quickly took the vessel from his grip and filled the cup, “What can we do at St. Christina to help ease the pain and return some hope to our community?” She handed the wine to the Bishop and poured another one.
“My dear Abbess, information has arrived at my office that heretics are living on the grounds of this convent.” Mother Superior jostled the cup she was handing to the cleric spilling a drop on his writing. “So sorry,” she said. The cleric waved her away and blotted the drip with his sleeve. “As you said my dear Bishop, it appears panic has created rumors.”
The Bishop sipped his drink in a relaxed manner. “Do you have laymen living on the convent grounds with you?”
“Yes, we have workers devoted to the convent who have been with us for as long as I have been here.”
“What do they do?” he asked politely.
“They make candles and incense for the chapel. One of them creates illuminated manuscripts for our patrons, bringing in much needed funds,” she pulled out a box from her desk and popped off the lid revealing resins prepared for her by Ursala. She presented the box to the Bishop, “For you as a gift, compliments of the master incense maker of St. Christina.” The Bishop smiled and nodded. The cleric grabbed the box and went back to writing.
“You are blessed then with some talented individuals who have been with you a long time. Do they also perform rituals of the old religion using herbs and charms?”
Mother Superior was getting perturbed with this line of questioning, and crossed her arms, “These women are herbalists, you might say healers too, as they have helped many of the sisters. What are you getting at exactly, your eminence?”
“I am enjoying this wine immensely, may I have some more?” He stretched his long arm out. The empty cup floated near the old woman’s chest. She did not budge. The Bishop placed the cup down, and stood facing the defiant headmaster. “Tell me about this Vespertina. I hear she has been seen flying in the chapel.”
The Abbess was indignant, “Who is telling you such outlandish tales? Vespertina is a very devout young woman. I say to you in the utmost confidence that she may be a saint. So yes, she soars with spiritual fervor. Maybe this is what you heard and misinterpreted it?” Her arms flexed into a steely resolve.
He laughed, “A saint you say! Well, she has to be dead first, and then it will be up for Rome to decide.” His tone became serious, “I bring these “outlandish tales” to your attention because of my concerns, which are many. This information comes from a valid source, whom will not be divulged. These are dangerous times. It is my responsibility to protect the church and its congregations. I will do whatever is necessary to keep peace and order in accordance with the laws of the papacy. I remind you that St. Christina is first and foremost bound to the holy church.”
-Excerpt from The Visions of Vespertina.