Nun Beatrice

Nun Beatrice.1

Nun Beatrice had not altogether the true spirit of a religious: she was somewhat given to vanity;2  though but for this she was a good nun, and full of excellent dispositions. She held the office of portress;3  and, as she determined to go away out of her convent and return into the world, this seemed to afford her a favourable opportunity for carrying out her design. Accordingly, one day when the house was very quiet, and there seemed no danger of being observed, having previously contrived to secrete some secular clothes such as passed through her hands to keep in store for giving to the poor, she let herself out and went away.

In the parlour was a kneeling-desk with a picture of Our Lady hanging over it, where she had been wont to kneel and hold converse with Our Lady in prayer whenever she had a moment to spare. On this desk she laid the keys before she went, thinking it was a safe place for the Superior to find them; and she commended them to the care of Our Lady, whose picture hung above, and said, ‘Keep thou the keys, and let no harm come to this good house and my dear sisters.'

As she said the words Our Lady looked at her with a glance of reproach, enough to have melted her heart and made her return to a better mood had she seen it; but she was too full of her own thoughts and the excitement of her undertaking to notice anything. No sooner was she gone out, however, than Our Lady, walking out of the canvas, assumed the dress that she had laid aside, and, tying the keys to her girdle, assumed the office of portress.

With the habit of the portress Our Lady also assumed her semblance; so that no one noticed the exchange, except that all remarked how humble, how modest, how edifying Beatrice had become.

After a time the nuns began to say it was a pity so perfect a nun should be left in so subordinate a position, and they made her therefore Mistress of the Novices. This office she exercised with as great perfection, according to its requirements, as she had the other; and so sweetly did she train the young nuns entrusted to her direction that all the novices became saints.

Beatrice meantime had gone to live in the world as a secular; and though she often repented of what she had done, she had not the courage to go back and tell all. She prayed for courage, but she went on delaying. While she was in this mind it so happened one day that the factor 4  of the convent came to the house where she was living. What strange and moving memories of her peaceful home filled her mind as she saw his well-known form, though he did not recognise her in her secular dress! What an opportunity too, she thought, to learn what was the feeling of the community towards her, and what had been said of her escape!

‘I hope all your nuns are well,' she said. ‘I used to live in their neighbourhood once, and there was one of them I used to know, Suora 5  Beatrice. How is she now?'

‘Sister Beatrice!' said the factor. ‘She is the model of perfection, the example of the whole house. Everybody is ready to worship her. With all respect to the Church, which never canonizes the living, no one doubts she is a saint indeed.'

‘It cannot be the same,' answered Beatrice. ‘The one I knew was anything but a saint, though I loved her well, and should like to have news of her.' And she hardly knew how to conceal the astonishment with which she was seized at hearing him speak thus; for the event on which she expected him to enlarge at once was the extraordinary fact of her escape. But he pursued in the same quiet way as before. ‘Oh yes, it must be the same. There has never been but one of the name since I have known the convent. She was portress some time ago; but latterly she has been made Mistress of the Novices.'

There was nothing more to be learnt from him; so she pursued her inquiries no further. But he had no sooner had start enough to put him at a safe distance, than she set out to go to the convent and see this Sister Beatrice who so strangely represented her.

Arrived at the convent door, she asked to see Sister Beatrice, and in a very few minutes the Mistress of the Novices entered the parlour.

The presence of the new Mistress of the Novices filled Beatrice with an awe she could not account for; and, without waiting to ask herself why, she fell on her knees before her.

‘It is well you have come back, my child,' said Our Lady; ‘resume your dress, which I have worn for you; go in to the convent again, and do penance, and keep up the good name I have earned for you.'

With that Our Lady returned to the canvas; Beatrice resumed her habit, and strove so earnestly to form herself by the model of perfection Our Lady had set while wearing it, that in a few months she became a saint.

[Mr. Ralston gives a Russian story (pp. 249–50), in which St. Nicholas comes in person and serves a man who has been devout to his picture.]


1 ‘La Monica Beatrice.' ‘Monica,' provincialism or vulgarism for ‘monaca,' a nun. 

2 ‘Albagia,' self-esteem, vanity. 

3 ‘Rotara,' equivalent to portress; it alludes to her having charge of the ‘ruota,' or ‘turniquet,' through which things are passed in and out and messages conveyed through a convent-wall, without the nun having to present herself at the door. 

4 ‘Fattore,' an agent employed by most convents to attend to their secular affairs. 

5 ‘Suora' is the received word for a ‘Sister' in a convent. ‘Sister,' the natural relationship, is ‘Sorella.'