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- Over the Border: Acadia - 6/18 -


Clambering up the hill back of the old house, we come upon the site of an ancient French church, and commend the taste of those who chose such an admirable location. Here we find, to our delight, that local tradition has buried two fine old bells. Bells! What a charm there is about them! One of the earliest recollections of our childhood is of a bell, which, being harsh and dissonant, so worked upon our youthful sensibilities as to cause paroxysms of tears; and now in these later years we are sure that should some genie set us down blindfolded in any place where we had ever remained for a time the mere tones of the bells would enlighten us as to our whereabouts.

"Those evening bells! Those evening bells! How many a tale their music tells, Of youth and home and that sweet time When last I heard their soothing chime."

After the Port Royal settlement was broken up by Argall in 1613, tradition says this church crumbled away into ruin, and, as the supporting beams decayed, the bells sank to the ground, where, from their own weight and the accumulations of Nature's _débris_ they became more and more deeply embedded until lost to view. Silver bells, from France, they say. Of course! Who ever heard of any ancient bells which were not largely composed of that metal? It is a pretty myth, however, which we adopt with pleasure; though common sense plainly says that silver would soon wear away in such use; that the noble patrons of a struggling colony in a wild country would not have been so extravagant as that; and that bell metal is a composition of copper and tin which has been in use from the time of Henry III.

The people of Antwerp have special affection for the "Carolus" of their famous cathedral; and that bell is actually composed of copper, silver, and gold; but it is now so much worn that they are not allowed the privilege of hearing it more than once or twice a year "Kings and nobles have stood beside these famous caldrons" (of the bell founders), "and looked with reverence on the making of these old bells; nay, they have brought gold and silver, and pronouncing the holy name of some saint or apostle which the bell was hereafter to bear, they have flung in precious metals, rings, bracelets, and even bullion."

Possibly these old bells of Annapolis, the secret of whose hiding place Nature guards so well, were made by Van den Gheyn or Hemony of Belgium, who from 1620 to 1650 were such famous founders that those of their works still extant are worth their weight in gold, or priceless, and are noted the world over for their wonderful melody. If so, when they

"Sprinkled with sounds the air, as the priest with his hyssop Sprinkles the congregation and scatters blessing among them,"

it was no doubt with silvery tone; and, as it is well known that bells sound best when rung on a slope or in a valley where there is a lake or river, doubtless this wide and lovely stream carried the music of the mellow peal, and returning voyagers heard the welcome notes; as the sailors of the North Sea, on entering the Scheldt, strain their ears to catch the faint, far melody of the chimes of the belfry of Antwerp, visible one hundred and fifty miles away.

Another day we make an expedition to see the Apostle Spoons, and are received, as invariably everywhere, with cordial hospitality. These spoons would, I fear, cause the eye of an antiquary to gleam covetously. They have round, flat bowls about two and a half inches in diameter; narrow, slender, and straight handles, terminating, the one with a small turbaned head, the other with a full length figure about one inch long; the entire length of the handles being about four and a half inches.

In the bowl of one the letters P L I are rudely cut; and on both is stamped something which, they say, under magnifying glass resembles a King's head In the spring of 1874 or 1875 these were turned up by the plough, in a field two miles beyond the town, the discovery being made in the neighborhood of the supposed bite of an old French church. The farmer's thrifty housewife was making soap at the time the spoons were unearthed; and as they were much discolored, "the old lead things" were tossed into the kettle of lye, from whence, to her amazement, they came out gold, or, at least, silver washed with gold. These spoons, they say, were used in the service of the church; but it is more likely that they were the property of some family, and probable that they were dropped by their owners--then living beyond the present site of Annapolis--when, at the time of the banishment of the Acadians, they were hurried away to the ships on the Basin of Minas.

An apostle spoon was often a treasured heirloom in families of the better class, and at the advent of each scion of the family tree was suspended about the neck of the infant at baptism, being supposed to exert some beneficent influence. Especially in the East, about the seventh century, we find that a small vessel, or spoon, sometimes of gold, was used in the churches These were eucharistic utensils, by means of which communicants conveyed the sacred elements to the mouth; but this custom was forbidden and done away with, though probably the tradition of such usage suggested the spoon, which became general in Greek and most Oriental churches many years after. The supposition is, that in those churches, after the wafer had been put into the wine in the chalice, the spoon was used to dip out such portion as was to be reserved for administering the last sacrament to the dying, or to those who were too ill to attend the service in the church. In all churches of the East, except the Armenian, the spoon is used in administering the sacrament.

Curious customs also existed in ancient times in reference to baptism. Honey mixed with milk or with wine was given to the one who had just received this rite, to show that he who received it, being a, newly born child spiritually, must not be fed with strong meat, but with milk. This became a regular part of the ritual, and was closely adhered to. The old customs of festivals of rejoicing, public thanksgivings, wearing of garlands, singing of hymns, and giving presents, are well known and familiarly associated with baptismal festivities. The presentation of apostle spoons at christenings was a very ancient custom in England. A wealthy sponsor or relative who could afford it, gave a complete set of twelve, each with the figure of an apostle carved or chased on the end of the handle; while sometimes a poor person presented only one, but on that was the figure of the saint for whom the child was named. Sometimes this rudely molded little figure represented the patron saint of the sponsor or the donor. In 1666 the custom was on the decline.

An anecdote relating to this usage is told of Shakespeare. The latter "stood godfather" to the child of a friend; and after the ceremonies of the christening, as the poet seemed much absorbed and serious, the father questioned him as to the cause of his melancholy. The sponsor replied, that he was considering what would be the most suitable gift for him to present to his god-child, and that he had finally decided. "I'll give him," said he, "a dozen good latten spoons, and thou shalt translate them." This was a play upon the word Latin. In the Middle Ages a kind of bronze used for church and household utensils was known as "latten"; and the same name was applied in Shakespeare's time to thin iron plate coated with tin, of which domestic utensils and implements were made.

In Johnson's "Bartholomew Fair" one of his characters says, "And all this for the hope of a couple of apostle spoons, and a cup to eat caudle in." In a work of Middleton, entitled "The Chaste Maid of Cheapside", one of the characters inquires, "What has he given her?" to which another replies, "A faire high standing cup, and two great 'postle spoons, one of them gilt."

The hat, or flat covering on the head of the figure,--that which we call a turban in one of these at Annapolis,--was a customary appendage and usual in apostle spoons; the intention being thereby to protect the features of the tiny heads from wear. Whatever the history of these at Annapolis, there can be no doubt of their genuineness, and, in a perfect state, they are extremely rare.

In our antiquarian researches we are naturally drawn to the old cemetery, adjoining the fort grounds; but learn that the oldest graves were marked by oaken slabs, which have all disappeared, as have also many odd stone ones. But among those still standing one records that some one "dyed 1729"; another states that the body below "is deposited here until the last trump"; and one, which must be the veritable original of the "affliction sore" rhyme, ends: "till death did seize and God did please to ease me of my pain." Still another bears this epitaph, _verbatim et literatim_--

"Stay friend stay nor let thy hart prophane The humble Stone that tells you life is vain. Here lyes a youth in moulding ruin lost A blossom nipt by death's untimely frost O then prepare to meet with him above In realms of everlasting love."

The stone-cutter's hand must have been as weary when he blundered over the word humble as the poet's brain evidently was when he reached the line which limps so lamely to the conclusion. Near this recently stood a stone,

"With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture decked,"

on which the representation of Father Time was carved in such peculiar manner that from pose and expression the figure might have passed for a lively youth rather than the dread reaper, and was irreverently known to the village youths as "Sarah's young man", a title suggested by a popular song of the day.

In a remote corner we find the tomb of "Gregoria Remonia Antonia", "a native of Spain"; and afterwards learn her story,--an episode in the life of the Iron Duke which does not do him honor. Did _la grande dame_, the Duchess, ever know of the fair foreigner who supplanted her, the dame o' high degree, in her husband's affection? Did the beautiful Spanish maiden dream, when the brilliant English General wooed her, that he was doing her and another woman the greatest wrong? Little did the fascinating Spaniard think that the so-called "nobleman" would compel her to marry another; and that other a rough, illiterate man, who would bring her to this wild, strange, far-away country, and that here she should be laid to rest "after life's fitful fever." Is it to be wondered at that her fiery Southern spirit rebelled, that her wrongs embittered her, and that her life here was unhappy?

To add to the romance, one who attended her in her last illness tells us that when the garrison gave a ball, the slender little Spanish lady loaned or gave "pretty fixins" to the young girls to wear, and appeared herself in rich silks and plumes; that she gave to her attendant in that illness a wonderful box "all done off with,--well--this here plated stuff, you know"; and that when the end was drawing near, the faint, weak voice, with its broken English (at best so difficult to understand), tried to make "Char-loet-tah" comprehend where she must look for something hidden away which she wished her nurse to have in recognition of her services. But alas! the hoarded treasure was not found until months after the poor soul was gone, and then fell into the very hands which the sad alien had most desired should not touch it.

The old adage about a sailor's right to have "a sweetheart in every port" is still cited in these days of boasted advancement in culture,


Over the Border: Acadia - 6/18

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