Saturday, March 2, 2019
If one carefully looks at the bottom left of the Chi Rho page in The Book of Kells (Folio 34r), they will see depicted there a pair of cats pinning down the tails of two mice that are nibbling on the Eucharistic host, while two other mice sit on the cats’ backs. That depiction inspired the following tale.
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As Mother and Father Lucha tucked their two little children, Reep and Cheep, into their nest for the night, the parents knew that this night was no ordinary night. It was different from all other nights they had known because of what they had seen earlier that day. Considering what they had seen, rather than telling Reep and Cheep a make-believe bed-time story to quiet them and to help them sleep, the furry couple began telling their litter of two sons about their ancestry.
Father Lucha said, “Our family was not always Lucha Séipéal, or church mice. Our ancient ancestors were wandering Lucha Achaida, or field mice, living in an emerald green land westward across the great waters. They occasionally scurried closer to humans in search of food and warmth. One day a couple of our ancestors found their way to a small wooden and thatched hut where they discovered a stash of food. There was so much food in that place that after a day of gorging themselves, they built a temporary nest and settled down for the night.”
“What happened next?” asked Cheep.
“Before they were hungry again, and before they could leave that place,” said mother Lucha, “their temporary shelter was turned over, topsy-turvy, and dragged down to the great water. A human named Colum Cille climbed into the upside-down shelter, which they later learned was called a coracle. Colum Cille raised a large piece of cloth, called a sail, on a wooden pole. That sail caught the wind and pushed the coracle eastward. When the wind stopped blowing, Colum Cille used a long wooden stick called an oar, broad on one end, and by stirring the water with it, he propelled that small boat farther eastward.”
“And then what happened?” asked Reep.
“Well, awhile later,” continued Mother Lucha, “the two mice felt the vessel run aground. As soon as Colum Cille unloaded his supplies and was no longer around, the furry couple abandoned the nest they had constructed in the coracle and found a new home among this land’s grasses, heathers, and rocks. Gathering small pieces of straw and twigs, they built a lovely nest among some rocks where they began to raise a family that is our family many generations removed.”
Father Lucha picked up the story where his wife left off. “Life on this small land surrounded by water was not always easy out in the field, as you can imagine. As you know, the wind can blow and it often rains. In our nest in this stone building, we are protected from the long, slithering beasts called snakes that, if mice are not careful when they are out and about, can capture and devour us.”
“When we are in our nest, we are also protected from the furry felines that sometimes knock us about and will even kill us,” added Mother Lucha. “But it was different when our ancestors still lived out in the field.”
Reep and Cheep listened attentively as their parents told them things they had never heard before.
Mother mouse added “The scaly beasts called snakes were a new experience for our ancestors who came here with Colum Cille. They had not experienced such a threat in their former home across the great waters. Many of their children and grandchildren born here were caught and killed by these slithering demons until our ancestors learned how to better avoid them. Despite this threat and all the other challenges of living on this small island, our ancestors persevered and raised a family that has survived and thrived for generations to this day.”
“They also passed on to their descendants the story we are now telling you,” said Father Lucha.
Father Lucha told Reep and Cheep even more. “At first, Colum Cille was alone, but after awhile other humans also sailed here in coracles. They began to build stone shelters, using mud and straw to fill in the gaps and cracks so the wind and rain could not get in. This mud and straw also provided our ancestors with great material to build nests. Our ancestors eventually learned that humans tended to drop food and leave food lying around, so it was much easier to find food and shelter among the humans than out in the field.”
Reep and Cheep listened even more intently as their mother told them, “Over time, Colum Cille and the other humans began to build bigger and more elaborate, multi-room stone buildings to live and work in. One of those buildings is the building in which we now have our warm, comfortable, safe nest.”
Father mouse interjected, “In one of the rooms of this building, the humans gather a couple times a day to eat and drink. As your mother said, the humans often drop crumbs on the ground and leave food behind. When the humans are not looking, or have gone away, we come from out of the dark corners of the walls or down from the rafters and grab the crumbs. We eat what our stomachs will hold and carry what we can back to our nest for you. Someday very soon you will have to closely watch the humans so that you too can gather the food they drop and leave behind.”
“So all the food you feed us comes from the humans?” Cheep asked.
“Yes,” replied mother Lucha. “The food our ancestors received from the monks was always good and nourishing. It kept us well fed, and sooner than later our ancestors abandoned the way of the field. Although our family no longer lived in the field, we kept the memory of that time alive by passing down stories about the field, including stories about the great slithering demons.”
Father Lucha continued “Another room the humans built is a room where they gather several times a day to read from what they call books. They also chant songs from those books, eat small pieces of flat, round bread they call the Eucharistic host, and drink sweet, intoxicating liquid called wine from large chalices. One day, some of our ancestors made their way into this quiet place and observed one of those small, flat, round pieces of bread fall from the table to the floor.”
“And then what happened?” asked Reep.
“Well,” continued Reep’s father, “Once all the humans had left the room, our ancestors scurried to the wafer underneath the table and began to munch on it. The wafer of bread felt and tasted different from all other breads, or even all other foods they had ever eaten. They told the rest of the Lucha Séipéal in the building that it tasted heavenly. It not only filled their stomachs but their souls. It made them feel more alive, cleaner, and refreshed, they said.”
“This bread wafer sounds too good to be true,” said Cheep and Reep at the same time.
“Listen to the rest of the story,” chimed the pair’s mother. She continued, “Eventually, more of our ancestors began to watch from the rafters and dark corners of this room, hoping and watching for another wafer of bread to fall from the table. Sometimes only crumbs would fall to the floor, but those crumbs were the best crumbs our family ever ate. On rare occasions, a whole wafer would fall to the ground, and when it did, it was like a miracle - a feast - that one wafer feeding and satisfying more of our ancestors than they might ever have expected.”
“We and our ancestors always used to think that the humans never saw us in this special room,” said Father mouse, “we reasoned they never knew we were eating their fallen sacred bread. But the other day, your mother and I learned otherwise.”
“That’s right,” Mother mouse said, “earlier today we went into another room the humans built in this building. In that room, they sit at desks copying their great books. Illuminated by sunlight by day and candlelight by night, the humans painstakingly make dark marks on dried and preserved skins of calves they call vellum. They dip specially cut goose feathers they call quills into bottles of dark, syrupy liquid called ink. Some of the ink is pulled up into the quill, but when the humans press the quill against the vellum, the ink slowly flows from the quill on to the surface of the vellum and leaves behind dark marks. The humans apparently know what these dark marks mean, but we mice do not.”
“Sometimes the humans dip their quills into thick liquids of bright and happy pigments, like orpiment, indigo, verdigris, and others,” said mother mouse. “They then use these colorful pigments to draw beautiful patterns and pictures upon the pages of their books, illuminating the writing and the pictures on the pages in a mystical way.”
“And Sometimes the humans draw and illuminate pictures of the animals that live on this land onto the pages of their books,” said Father Lucha. “We have seen them draw geese, and even the dreaded slithering demons called snakes, entangled in knots, upon the pages of their books.”
“Snakes entangled in knots?” quired Reep.
“You heard me correctly, son” replied Reep’s father, “Slithering demons tying themselves up into beautiful knots!”
“Imagine our surprise,” interrupted the boy’s mother, “when earlier today, as we were in this room called the scriptorium, watching from up in the rafters as the humans were working on their special books, I looked down upon one human illuminating a particularly beautiful page. To my astonishment I saw that he had drawn two mice that looked like us, your parents. I gasped at the sight and pointed it out to your father.”
“I could not believe what your mother was pointing at,” said the boy’s father. “There on the page of vellum below us was a drawing of two mice that looked just like us, and they were holding and munching on one of those thin, flat wafers of sacred bread that sometimes fall to the floor in the sacred room where the humans read, sing, and sit in silence! And cats with mice on their backs, but mice we did not recognize, were holding your father’s and mother’s tales, pinning our tails to the floor with their paws!”
“O No!” shrieked Reep.
“Did that ever really happen?” asked Cheep.
“Of course, it never really happened,” clamored the boy’s parents in unison. “At least not to us,” they added.
Reep and Cheep’s father told his sons more. “All these years your mother and I thought that the humans never knew we were watching them in their special sacred place; that they were never aware we ate the sacred wafers that fell from the table. But they had! They knew we were there, but they never shooed us away. They knew we were there, but they never kept us out. Nor had any cats ever bothered us there. It was like the furry felines also knew it was a peaceful, sacred place and that they should not bother us there.”
Reep and Cheep’s mother added, “I am now beginning to think that those special thin, round wafers of bread never accidentally fell from the table. I am beginning to think that occasionally, a human would intentionally drop one of those special pieces of bread so that we and the other Lucha Séipéal could eat from it and so that your father and I could bring some back for you to eat!”
“For this reason,” Father mouse said to his boys, “We Lucha Séipéal must be careful when we are in the Scriptorium to never ever chew on the special calves’ leather called vellum that the humans make black marks and beautiful designs on. We must never disturb the thick liquids called ink, or the goose feathers they call quills. And when we are in the rafters of the Scriptorium, we must never drop anything upon the beautiful, illuminated pages the humans are creating below.”
“We understand,” replied the boys in unison.
“More than anything else,” continued Father Lucha Séipéal, “you must promise you will never forget, and when we, your parents, have died, you must tell your children, and your children must tell their children and your great-grandchildren, from generation to generation, the story about the great illuminated book in which we, your parents, have found a place in the story being copied by the humans.”
“I promise,” said Reep.
“I will never forget this story, or this night,” added Cheep. “This night has indeed been different from all other nights Reep and I have known.”
“We have no way of understanding what these books the humans are making and using mean,” said Mother Lucha Séipéal. “But we know these books are also sacred, especially the book we saw earlier today to which the humans added an illumination including us. The humans creating these books do so with great care, treating them and cherishing them because they are indeed sacred books, just like the Eucharistic host and the room where the human’s read and sing from their books, eat the sacred wafers, and drink wine from chalices is sacred.
“Your father and I do not know how long this extra special illuminated manuscript will last, or where it will eventually end up,” lamented mother mouse, “but we know, and our family of Lucha Séipéal must forever know and remember that we are immortalized in its pages and part of its story.”
“Perhaps someday, many mice generations removed, and in a strange land we can only imagine, maybe even in the land our ancestors came from, the great emerald land across the mighty waters, humans will look at this special, illuminated work, see the pair of us on this particularly beautiful page, and wonder what we are doing there,” said Father mouse. “Perhaps they will ask themselves why the humans drew us there. They will speculate why we are holding and munching on the thin, flat, wafer of bread called the Eucharistic host. They might wonder if the two cats with mice on their backs really pinned the tails of two other mice to the floor. I wish those humans could know our story as much as I wish we could know the story they are copying in this beautiful, illuminated book”.
“Now go to sleep, boys,” cooed mother mouse. “you need your rest. Tomorrow, your father and I will take you to and show you the beautiful illuminated book the humans are making.”