The Broccoli Debate

Entry by: writerQRFHBGVPZX

16th October 2015
For a year my body has lain in a coffin, displayed in state at Wester Abbey. As for my soul, I am in no hurry to get to my final destination, not expecting anything good when I get there. I cannot deny I led a wicked life.
It is the second resting place of the coffin. I long to be buried in the quiet earth but fat chance of that. The holy clerics are beside themselves showing reverence to the remains of Saint Broccoli, patron of suffering children, stowed on a side altar of the small abbey.
Soon after I arrived here, a mother brought her small lame son to the altar in a quiet moment and seeing no one there to stop her, she boldly laid him on the coffin lid. When he got down, his limp was eased and he continues to improve. She believes the saint asked Almighty God to cure him. Her husband is a wealthy merchant and she gives generously to the abbey, who overlooked her presumption in lifting the child up.
Many pilgrims come as the news spreads. Incense wafts entreaties into my small space. Troubled folk kneel, lips moving soundlessly in prayer while fingers count along prayer beads, sometimes a spare hand resting on the silver embossing of the coffin, hoping to make a connection with holy flesh through the stout elm.
Thinking of their children in pain, wretched mothers disturb my peace with wailing. I swear on the life I don’t have, the wood is swelling from reverential kissing and weeping. Perhaps this is my purgatory and I am not going straight to hell as I thought.
In the gloom of the evening after the common people have left, deputations from larger abbeys sit in my chapel, appealing to the senior monks that this small shrine is not the best resting place for such a holy soul. In their opinion, the saint should be venerated in a grander setting.
Following the Abbot’s instructions, Prior Robert deals firmly with them, though he is tempted by their offers of fine stonemasons, sorely needed to complete the church expansion funded by donations from pilgrims.
Places of pilgrimage have grown up around a shrine containing a mummified foot or hand of a saint. When the Prior refuses to part with the whole saint, they appeal to his brotherly duty to “just let us have a finger” but the Abbot has forbidden it, repulsed by the idea of opening the coffin and defiling the sweet lady within.
Before I came here the coffin rested at St Lucius’ church, near Saint Broccoli’s birthplace. The Prior and his party went there as soon as they heard, lest another religious house beat them to it.
Father Frances, the rosy faced old priest, hobbled out to greet him. His hip was always bad in damp weather. The Prior said he had come to discuss finding a priest for the leper colony in the Fens. Father Frances’ face reddened more at the thought of that watery parish. He replied he could not abandon this parishioners here, busy as he was with the sick of the parish and the care of Saint Broccoli.
Prior Robert said he had not understood how hard pressed Father Frances was and agreed he could not be spared. Apologetically he said the Abbot would be pleased to relieve the Parish of the burden of Saint Broccoli and place her in the abbey, a more suitable resting place. He offered a hog roast for the whole parish after her removal.
It had been a hard winter. People were hungry. Father Frances agreed to surrender the saintly remains for their sake.
The Prior went home to fetch a wagon and a welcoming procession worthy of her. He made sure to include his strongest brothers, lest there was any resistance among the villagers when he claimed Saint Broccoli. The parishioners had a final weekend to adore their home grown saint before his return.
Father Frances called a Parish meeting on Friday evening. The news was too much to bear. The good mood after my hanging and burial in a pauper’s grave had evaporated. The proceeds of my stealing horses and gold were not recovered, long ago spent on ale and whorehouses.
The promise of a feast consoled the poor of the parish but the blacksmith and the carpenter were affronted. They often had meat on the table and would have done without it to keep their own little saint. She died sheltering local children during a pagan attack and, since they were infants themselves, they believed she would protect them from harm.
The Prior returned. He knew there was genuine devotion to Saint Broccoli here and he was touched by the warm welcome from the villagers. The brothers were given the best places at the open air Mass and the following feast on the village green. The sun shone, as if the Saint herself approved. Many shook his hand, thanking him for providing meat and ale and inviting him to visit again soon.
The blacksmith and carpenter, laughing from the ale, insisted on loading the coffin on the wagon, to spare the holy brothers the task. The village waved the visitors off with a cheer. The Prior reflected it had been easier than expected and he made a mental note to send them another hog, for their open heartedness.
How was the Prior to know that at the Parish meeting the blacksmith suggested that, since I had done nothing for the village in my life, in death I should come to their aid. I was a wiry fellow, not much heavier than Saint Broccoli. Some blanched at the idea of meddling with the dead but Father Frances said firmly that God in his infinite mercy - even after my death – was giving me a chance to do penance for my crimes. He asked anyone hard hearted enough to deny me an opportunity for redemption to speak up. No one met his eye.
That night the blacksmith and carpenter took turns digging. The wet ground yielded my body up easily. They reverently removed the saint’s bones from the coffin and dumped my corpse within.
On Saturday the villagers filled the church to witness Saint Broccoli being ceremoniously laid to rest under the stone slabs of the church floor. Content in the knowledge that she was safe in their care for ever, as they were in hers, they looked forward to a celebration feast when the Prior returned.