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The Lost Foot – A medieval tale from the Gesta Romanorum

The Gesta Romanorum was written at the turn of the 14th century – this collection of anecdotes and tales was one of the most popular works of its era. It is called Deeds of the Romans because some of its material comes from Greek and Roman histories and legends, but these were essentially short stories that were meant to give moral lessons. Here is one tale from this collection:

 

The Lost Foot

A certain tyrannical and cruel knight retained in his service a very faithful servant. One day, when he had been to the market, he returned with this servant through a grove; and by this way lost thirty silver marks. As soon as he discovered the loss, he questioned his servant about it. The man solemnly denied all knowledge of the matter, and he spoke the truth. But when the money was not to found, the knight cut off the servant’s foot and, leaving him in the place, rode home. A hermit, hearing the groans and cries of the man, went speedily to his help. He confessed him, and being satisfied of his innocence, conveyed him upon his shoulders to his hermitage.

Then entering the oratory, he dared to reproach God with want of justice, inasmuch as he had permitted an innocent man to lose his foot.

For a length of time he continued in tears, and prayers, and reproaches; until at last an angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, “Has thou not read in the Psalms ‘God is a just judge, strong and patient’?”

“Often,” answered the hermit meekly, “have I read and believed it from my heart; but today I have erred. That wretched man, whose foot has been cut off, perhaps under the veil of confession deceived me.”

“Tax not the Lord with injustice,” said the angel. “His way is truth, and His judgments equitable. Recollect how often those has read, ‘The decrees of God are unfathomable.’ Know that he who list his foot, lost it for a former crime. With the same foot he maliciously spurned his mother, and case her from a chariot – for which eternal condemnation overtook him. The knight, has master, was desirous of purchasing a warhorse, to collect more wealth, to the destruction of his soul; and therefore, by the just sentence of God, the money which he had provided for the purchase was lost. Now hear; there is a very poor man with his wife and little ones, who daily supplicate heaven, and perform every religious exercise. He found the money, when otherwise he would have starved, and therewith procured for himself and his family the necessaries of life, entrusting a portion to his confessor to distribute to the poor. But first he diligently endeavoured to find out the right owner. Not accomplishing this, the poor man applied it to its proper use. Place then a bridle upon thy thoughts; and no more upbraid the righteous Disposer of all things, as thou had lately did. For he is just, and strong, and patient.”

This story, and others from the Gesta Romanorum, can be found in Mediæval Tales, translated by Henry Morley (London, 1886). You can read the entire book from Archive.org:

Top Image: Photo by StarMama / Flickr



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