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Medieval Sourcebook:
Ekkehard of St. Gall: Three Monks of St. Gall


The lives of three monks who lived in the abbey of St. Gall at the end of the ninth century were chronicled by Ekkehard of St. Gall a century later. The monks are more human and istinctive than the monastic rules seem to suggest.

I will tell now of Notker, Ratpert, and Tutilo, since they were one heart and soul, and formed together a sort of trinity in unity.... Ye t, though so close in heart, in their natures (as it often happens) they were most diverse. Notker was frail in body, though not in mind, a stammerer in voice but not in spirit; lofty in divine thoughts, patient in adversity, gentle in everything, strict in enforcing the discipline of our convent, yet somewhat timid in sudden and unexpected alarms, except in the assaults of demons, whom he always withstood manfully. He was most assiduous in illuminating, reading, and composing; and (that I may embrace all his gifts of holiness within a brief compass) he was a vessel of the Holy Ghost, as full as any other of his own time. But Tutilo was widely different. He was strong and supple in arm and limb, such a man as Fabius tells us to choose for an athlete; ready of speech, clear of voice, a delicate carver and painter; musical, with especial skill on the harp and the flute; for the Abbot gave him a cell wherein he taught the harp to the sons of noble families around. He was a crafty messenger, to run far or near; skilled in building and all the kindred arts; he had a natural gift of ready and forcible expression whether in German or in Latin, in earnest or in jest; so that the emperor Charles [the Fat] once said, "Devil take the fellow who made so gifted a man into a monk!" But with all this he had higher gifts: in choir he was mighty, and in secret prayer he had the gift of tears; a most excellent composer of poetry and melodies, yet chaste, as became the disciple of our Master Marcellus, who shut his eyes against women. Ratpert, again, was midway between the other two. Master of the Schools from his youth, a straightforward and kindly teacher, he was somewhat harsh in discipline, more loth than all the other Brethren to set foot without the cloister, and wearing but two pairs of shoes in the twelvemonth. He called it death to go forth, and oftentimes warned Tutilo to take heed to himself upon his journeys; in the schools he was most assiduous. He oftentimes omitted the services and the mass, and would say, "We hear good masses when we teach others to sing them." Though he would say that impunity was the worst plague of cloister life, yet . he never came to the Chapter-house* without special summons, since he bore that most heavy burden (as he called it) of reproving and punishing.

These three senators of our Republic being such as they were, yet they suffered constantly (as learned and strenuous men must ever suffer) the detractions and backbiting of such as stagnated in sloth or walked in frivolity; more especially, since he was the less ready to defend himself, that saint (as indeed he was) Dom Notker; for Tutilo and Ratpert, who were of sharper temper and less patient under contumely, were more rarely attacked by such folk. But Notker, the gentlest of men, learned in his own person what insults meant: I will here cite but one example, wherefrom thou mayest judge the rest and know how great is Satan's presumption in such things. There was here a certain Refectorer named Sindolf, who afterwards by feigned obsequiousness (for there was no other use in the man), and by bringing false accusations against the Brethren, wormed himself into the grace of Abbot Solomon, who promoted him to the Clerkship of the Works. Yet even as Refectorer he showed evil for good so far as he had dared, and more especially against Notker. Now Solomon was busied with many things and unable to look closely into every matter; wherefore many of the Brethren, seeing their food sometimes withdrawn and sometimes tainted, would acr-use him of injustice; among whom these Three seemed sometimes to have said something [of the kind]. But Sindolf, who ever fomented discord, knowing that ancient spark which had kindled illwill between these schoolfellows [the four had been fellow pupils in the monestary, but Solomon was now promoted far beyond the others], wormed himself into Solomon's confidence as one who would tell him a matter concerning his own honour; and he, though he knew that nothing is more harmful for prelates than to give ear to whisperings from their subjects, yet asked of Sindolf's tidings. Then the liar told how those Three, ever wont to speak against the Abbot, had on the day before uttered things intolerable to God. The Abbot believed his words, and conceived against his unsuspecting fellows a grudge which he soon showed openly. They, unable to learn aught from him concerning the ground of their offence, guessed that they had been ensnared by Sindolf's wiles. At length, when the concurrent testimony of the rest, had convinced the Bishop* that they had said nothing whatever against him, then all demanded vengeance upon the false witness; but the Bishop dissembled, and they tacitly acquiesced. Now these Three inseparable Brethren were wont to meet in the Scriptorium, by the Prior's permission, in the nightly interval before Lauds, and there to hold debates of Holy Scripture, most suited to such a time. But Sindolf, knowing of their colloquies at this time, crept stealthily ne night to the glazed window by which Tutilo sat, whereunto he closely applied his ear and listened whether he might catch something which he might twist to evil and bear to the Bishop. Tutilo became aware of this; and, being a resolute man who trusted in the strength of his arms, he spoke to his companions in the Latin tongue (for Sindolf knew no Latin), saying, "The rascal is here, with his ear glued to the window! Thou, Notker, who are a timid fellow, go into the church; but thou, my Ratpert, seize the Brethren's scourge which hangeth in the calefactory, and hasten forth. 1, when I hear thine approach, will suddenly open the window, catch him by the hair, and drag him to me here by main force; and thou, dear friend, be strong and of a good courage, and lay upon him with all thy might, that we may avenge God on his body!" So Ratpert, who was ever most ready to discipline, crept softly forth, caught the scourge, and hastened swiftly to the spot, where he found the fellow caught up by the head, and hailed blows upon that defenceless back with all his might; when lo! Sindolf, struggling with arms and legs together, caught the scourge as it fell upon him and held it fast. But Ratpert was aware of a rod that lay hard by, wherewith he now laid on most lustily again; until the victim, after fruitless prayers for mercy, thought within himself, "Now is the time to cry!" and roared aloud for the Brethren. Part of the convent, amazed to hear these unwonted sounds at such an hour, hastened up with lanterns, and asked what was amiss. Whereupon Tutilo cried again and again, "I hold the Devil, I hold the Devil, bring hither a light, that I may see more clearly in whose form I hold him." Then, turning that unw'lling head hither and thither to the beholders, he asked as though I in astonishment: "What! Is this Sindolf" "Yea, indeed!" cried they, and prayed for his liberty: at which Tutilo released him, and said: "Woe is me! for I have laid hands upon the bishop's intimate and privy whisperer!" But Ratpert, when the Brethren hastened up, had gone aside and withdrawn himself privily, nor could the victim know who it was that had smitten him. When, therefore, some enquired whither Dom Notker and Dom Ratpert had gone, Tutilo answered, "Both departed to worship God when they heard the Devil, and left me alone with that fiend prowling in the darkness. Know ye all, therefore, that it was an angel of the Lord whose hand dealt him those stripes." The Brethren therefore departed, and the matter was much debated (as was natural enough) by the partisans of their side; some said that it had befallen by God's justice, that privy eavesdroppers might be brought to light; others, again, argued that such a man should not thus have been handled unless it were true that an angel of God had smitten him.

from Ekkehard, "History of the Vicissitudes of St. Gallen" in G. G. Coulton, ed., A Medieval Garner, (London: Constable, 1910), pp. 18-22.


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

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(c)Paul Halsall Feb 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu