THEY WERE WHITE-ROBED, the monks, and they worked the white salt on the green island bordered by the white foam of the Atlantic. That was how Brother Gérard knew their toils were holy and divinely ordered, and how blessed he was to find himself among them, even though he himself was a lay brother only and his robe matched the dark earth under his sandals. He served the white crystals that lay gleaming in the salt pans under the summer sun, and the crystals in turn served the white monks, who foreswore salt themselves but sold it to the noble houses of Europe so that it might sustain the monastery. The abbot himself had explained to Brother Gérard how the white of the salt matched the white of the lily that was said to have bloomed in the Virgin’s hands as a foretelling of the Christ child to come.
Brother Gérard tried to remember this on those days of heavy rain when the dikes turned to mud and he sank, slowly, toward hell. Also on winter days when he raked the bottom of the pans clean, spattering himself with clay. Mud and clay were also holy, as creations of the Lord, and as necessary to the flourishing of the salt as the sun was, though Brother Gérard couldn’t help regretting the Lord’s choice of materials on the days when he was knee-deep in the stuff. Such criticism of the divine order led him to confession, where on muddy knees, cold and trembling, he acknowledged yet again his sin of foolish thought and his offense against holy scripture. Brother Firmín, who came from Andalusia, said loudly and often—though never in the hearing of the abbot—that he didn’t see why the heavenly Father, ¡Dios me perdone!, couldn’t have situated the salt in some more agreeable climate where they might bake their bones after a day’s work.
Brother Gérard had come to the monastery as a boy of twelve, soon after Abbot Isaac had taken up his post on this tiny island ten miles from the shores of France. Banished, so people said, from the abbey of Stella near the city of Poitiers because of a dispute with his superiors. On the contrary, said others, he had chosen isolation in order to expunge some unnamed sin through hard work and privation. From stars to salt, in any event—or mud, depending on how you looked at it. What was not in question was that Abbot Isaac believed in hard work and drove no one harder than himself. A strange man, Abbot Isaac. First of all was the fact of his being from the strange land of England, though admittedly he had studied in Paris and become a white monk at the mother house of Cîteaux. He spoke a pinched, adenoidal Latin, quite incomprehensible to the lay brothers, but when agitated reverted to his native tongue. In this language, apparently, it was acceptable to curse the Lord (according to Brother Marrec, who had been a Breton fisherman before joining the order and knew a little English). When the abbot of Cluny informed Abbot Isaac that it was improper for tonsured monks to begrime their hands and their habits with rustic labors, Abbot Isaac shouted (though whether as salutation or profanity no one knew) —Christ! Christ himself was not above dirtying his hands in order to save us! Christ himself is the gardener of our souls! Have you no humility?
The boy Gérard was apprenticed to the abbey’s lay brothers as a saunier, a salt worker. From Brother Michel and Brother Hervé and Brother Clément he learned how to draw the seawater through the narrow canals into the evaporating basins, and then through even narrower channels into the shallowest basins of all, where the summer sun dried the salt. He learned that a storm with heavy rain might damage the salt crop with too much fresh water, while too much sun would dry out the crystals and render them unusable. He learned the use of the rouable for removing the soft mud and algae from the bottom of the salt pans in winter, and the simoussi for raking the coarse gray salt from the pans in summer. But it was ten years before he was allowed to touch the souvron, the long-handled trapezoidal board used by the master sauniers for lifting the pure top layer, the delicate pinkish-white fleur de sel that smelled like violets. Of the half-dozen master sauniers he was most in awe of Brother Thibault, himself a white monk and the abbey’s choirmaster. Brother Thibault was old and thin and stooped, yet no one produced better saltflower, and it was said that he sang to his salt to produce its glistening crystals.
Gérard cautiously tried this himself when no one was looking, inexperienced though he still was with the souvron. Alas, his singing had no such effect. He was only a lay brother, after all, a peasant boy from a tiny village a mile or two from the abbey. Like the other brothers he sang behind the high screen that separated them, in church as in life, from the white monks—separate refectories and dormitories, separate passages and hallways, even separate latrines. Only at harvest, when all hands were needed in the salt pans to gather in the crop, did he mingle with them.
—You look tired, mon fils, his mother said one October evening. It was a gray day, colder and rainier than usual, and he’d almost fallen asleep over his soup. At fourteen he still went home every evening, as he would until he made his vows, if he chose, at eighteen. Perhaps, though, he wasn’t fitted? The cellarer, Brother Albéric, had spoken harshly to him that afternoon when he’d stumbled and a section of dike wall had fallen away. Afterward, rebuilding the wall, he shed unmanly tears, for which he chastised himself. He would pray to the familiar blue statue of Our Lady in his own parish church, whose son, after all, must sometimes have spilt the nails in his father’s carpentry shop.
—Don’t send Jean-Marie to the salt, he said suddenly. Jean-Marie, twelve next month, was to join him in the salt pans, which had supported them all since their father’s death from the scrofula. But Jean-Marie was a frail boy; he wouldn’t flourish. —Find something else for him to do. Please, maman.
—Your sister’s been offered a place at the seigneur’s when she turns eleven, his mother said, bringing him a mug of warmed cider. Another year, then; Élisabeth had just turned ten. One less mouth to feed. Then there would be only the two youngest, Mathieu and Anne, at home.
He himself was already promised; that he understood. First as the family’s breadwinner, and second as their offering to God, their amulet against further illness or loss. Or rather, God himself had chosen him for this humble task and had provided this means of sustenance. He could have been sent to the abbey’s pigsty, the brewery, the granary; instead, in the summer breezes, he was surrounded by the smell of violets, that humble three-leafed flower of the Trinity the Virgin herself had loved.
At fifteen, unexpectedly, he fell in love. Their neighbor’s daughter, with her long brown plait and a toss of freckles across her nose, turned suddenly, at fourteen, into a woman. She pretended not to notice him anymore, crossing her father’s yard with the milk pail, but one evening she followed him down to the shore where he stood among the rock pools watching the stints and sanderlings. A few evenings later, when he asked, she went with him. He told her of his feelings and she dipped her chin, which he took as a yes. A few months later she was affianced to the son of the wealthiest farmer in the district.
Again he wept unmanly tears into his pillow. The rejection was a call to vocation, a reminder about his future. He would not marry. He would hold his future nieces and nephews on his knee on those rare feast days when he was permitted visits home, but otherwise he belonged to the church.
At eighteen he became a novice, learning by heart the four prayers that the brothers recited in silence during their labors: the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, the Miserere, the Ave Maria. He slept now in the dormitory, in the narrow bed that would be his for the rest of his life. A year later, in the abbey’s chapel, he made his vows in front of all the monks, white and brown. He was grateful, when his mother died nine months afterward, that she had lived to witness his commitment to God. At her funeral the knot of villagers outside the parish church parted to let him through, a tall, bearded young man in a frayed brown robe.
But the proudest moment of his life came when he was chosen, three years after his vows, to be apprenticed to Brother Thibault himself. No lay brother had ever been apprenticed to a white monk before. Brother Thibault was crumbling like the salt itself, yet he refused to leave his saltflower. If God permitted, he told Gérard, he would die in the salt pans with the smell of the fleur de sel in his nostrils. Meanwhile he would teach the raw young peasant with the flair for the souvron how to rely on smell and texture alone to determine quality, since none of the monks had so much as tasted the crop for which they were famous.
It was another year or two before Brother Thibault whispered to Gérard the secret of his salt. He had, apparently, received unearthly assistance. One summer, many years before, the Virgin herself had visited him, wrapped in her blue cloak, her face obscured by radiance. He’d been young then, not much older than Gérard. She had moved toward him along the dikes, her feet barely touching the ground, her hands lifted in benediction. Overcome by terror and incredulity, he told no one. The following summer she came again, this time with her mother, the blessed Saint Anne, and wiped his brow with her sleeve. He must have fainted, because he came to with his fellow monks standing over him, urging him to rise. Publicly he blamed the fainting spell on the heat, but ever since his salt had been the whitest and most perfumed in the region. The king himself was rumored to insist on Brother Thibault’s salt at his table, and the small pottery jars that bore Brother Thibault’s signature were said to fetch extraordinary prices in Genoa and Saxony.
These stories brought their own terrors to Brother Gérard. How, once Brother Thibault had departed this earthly life, was he to maintain the quality of the crop? If the salt’s unique characteristics depended on heavenly assistance, how was he, a mere lay brother, to obtain it? He redoubled the fervency and frequency of his prayers. A visit from Our Lady would be at a time and place not of his choosing, but he made it plain that, if she should deign to honor him in such a way, he would keep her statue in the parish church permanently lit with candles. He would also—how he didn’t know—make a pilgrimage to the cathedral dedicated to her in Paris, and would undertake any other arduous practices she might require. When his sister Élisabeth, now married with three sons, bore a daughter, he wrote to ask if she would name the child Violette, after the Virgin’s favorite flower.
At the monastery, time stood still. Or rather, time moved in a circle under the dome of heaven, through the round of the year. For Brother Gérard, time moved through the seasons of the salt, marked by more or less mud, more or less rain or sun or wind. One year a heavy snowfall, never before seen in the region, meant they could not clean the pans in time for spring, and the salt crop was much reduced. Another year a fire destroyed many of the barns and outbuildings, and Brother Gérard found himself working with the carpenters and other lay brothers, under the supervision of Brother Albéric, in the rebuilding. The abbot had decreed this reassignment of duties as a mortification, on the grounds that the monks must have so displeased the Lord that he had sent a fire to consume part of their possessions. Something to do with the hotter passions, such as lust or anger, the abbot implied. Brother Gérard went twice to confession that week, remembering how he had glanced longingly at a woman walking past on the road from the village, and how he had raised his voice impatiently with Brother Clotaire, a man as strong and dimwitted as an ox.
It did not occur to him to question the idea of communal guilt. Once, the bread being made a little less coarse than usual, the abbot placed the whole community under penance to atone for the fault of the baker.
Word came, from a pair of mendicant monks, that a force of thirteen thousand troops on their way to the crusades had helped the Portuguese army drive the Moors out of Lisbon. Many in the abbey fell to their knees and gave thanks to God for rescuing a Christian kingdom from the infidels. But Abbot Isaac, that Sunday, gave a sermon not merely strange, but—to some at least—diabolical. He spoke against the forcing of unbelievers to embrace Christian beliefs at the point of a sword, and of the lack of Christian martyrdom for those who killed and pillaged. What belief could occur under such circumstances? Would Christ himself, given his gentleness and patience, have behaved in such a manner? And why, then, should the enemy not say, Do to the church as the church has done?
The sermon prompted fierce and whispered arguments throughout the abbey. How then, Brother Lucien wanted to know, did one do battle against the enemies of the church? The pope himself, after all, had called for the crusade. The kings of France and Germany had assembled their armies. Had the abbot gone mad? Two of the kitchen monks, Brother Louis and Brother Antoine, came almost to blows, but were separated by Brother Thomas with the aid of a large kitchen knife. Brother Lucas, a fellow countryman of Abbot Isaac, said the fact that it had been raining since the news came showed that heaven itself and all its inhabitants were weeping. Brother Firmín, banging a fist on the refectory table, said that the sooner the infidels were driven from his own country the better, whether by sword or sorcery or a scattering of salt to ward off the devil. Brother Gérard thought, but did not say, that the scent of the monastery salt alone would induce the bravest infidel to lay down his weapons and accept the Savior on the spot.
It was perhaps not unforeseen that Abbot Isaac would be accused of heresy. At the famous abbey of Clairvaux, Abbot Bernard was known to champion those knights of Christ who had joined the crusade. He had been sent to preach to the king and queen of France by the pope himself, and all the princes and lords had thrown themselves at his feet to receive the pilgrim’s cross. In Germany, where he had also preached, it was said he had cured the blind, the lame, a girl with a withered hand. Christ is risen! the crowds had shouted, weeping, jubilant, as the bells rang. When Bernard knelt before the statue of the Virgin in the royal chapel in Speyer, white roses had bloomed at her feet.
Brother Thibault, at work in the salt pans, said —Would to God I had been taken before these horrors were visited upon us. Gérard stared at him, dumbstruck, but it turned out that he wasn’t speaking, at least at first, of Bernard. Brother Thibault waved the souvron dangerously. —Are we pagans ourselves, that we must murder and defile? Did the Lord do such things? No, he did not. Brother Thibault flung the souvron into the nearest salt pan, where it slowly sank from view. —How the body of Christ has gone astray, all for a few cheap miracles!
In bed that night, Gérard lay awake, probing cautiously at what Brother Thibault had said. It was blasphemy, of course, to accuse the church of having lost its way. Yet, given the choice, Gérard would have sided with Brother Thibault. He was too fearful to say so in public, but if called upon he would defend Brother Thibault to the death. Brother Thibault, after all, had divine dispensation for his salt-gathering, which wounded no one and sanctified all.
The following day Brother Thibault disappeared. Some said he had retreated to a hermitage in the Ardennes forest, others that he had discarded the habit and returned to his native Auvergne. Whatever the case, he would not have abandoned his crop in the middle of the season if he had any intention of returning. Gérard, to his horror, was placed in charge of the miraculous salt pans.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. Gérard began singing to the salt again. He hummed under his breath if any of the other brothers were nearby, but otherwise kept up a steady stream of hymns and chants. After a week or two, tiring of the repetition, he added the old folk songs his mother had sung in his childhood. Cautiously, one at a time, because it might be another kind of blasphemy to sing profane songs over the blessed salt. When nothing divine nor satanic happened, he added another, and then another. When he ran out he turned to the bawdy songs he and the other boys had sung as they drove the cows home or went hunting birds with their slingshots. Given that the Lord had designed human beings to desire the opposite sex, it might be supposed that he wouldn’t mind the odd risqué verse or two. Better a lusty chorus than the pious quaverings of some of the more hypocritical villagers.
Gérard woke, that week, to an odd glow shining through the open window. It seemed to come from the salt pans. He dressed and ran outside. The moon was full, and all its light seemed concentrated on the salt, as if the moon were vying with the sun for the ripening of it. But then the moon went behind a cloud and the light from the salt faded. Gérard went back to his bed abashed. Miracles did not come to those whose mouths hung open waiting for them. He knelt by his bed and prayed for forgiveness, and promised the Lord there would be no more resorting to the secular in his singing.
He had his sister bring his niece Violette to the abbey and took her walking along the dikes. She was a quiet, bright-eyed, obedient child, whose innocence would be pleasing to the Virgin, and whose name might add perfume to the salt. After the workday was done he took to sitting dreamily by the pans, imagining angels descending, using their wings to fan the salt. He was certain, once or twice, that their wings had brushed him, and once he found a long white feather—too long, he thought, to be from any bird.
Abbot Isaac, most unusually, came to see how he was getting on. Brother Albéric had told him that Gérard was the most devoted worker in the monastery, especially since the loss of Brother Thibault. To crucify oneself in the service of Christ, Abbot Isaac said approvingly, was most admirable. Brother Gérard was a model even the white monks might emulate. Gérard thought of his lusty singing, his attempts to induce miracles, and told the abbot that his thoughts outstripped his attempts to mortify the body.
—Indeed, said the abbot, all of us find ourselves in that position. Even the saintly Bernard, I suspect. I am sure the Lord will favor you in the salt production, as he did Brother Thibault.
But the salt, at the end of that summer, was definitely inferior. It was true that an unusual hailstorm had done a great deal of damage, but perhaps that was the Lord’s answer to the lusty songs? Whatever the reason, Gérard crumbled the salt flakes between his fingers, noting the lack of luster, the absence of scent. The other salt masters had done no better, but that was no consolation. He, Brother Gérard, was a fraud. Brother Thibault had taught him well, but he could not pass on the divine favor he had been granted.
After the failure of the salt, Abbot Isaac was summoned to the mother house at Cîteaux. The failure was proof, if one were needed, that the abbot had incurred divine displeasure, which had no doubt begun with that notorious sermon in which he had denied Christian martyrdom to those who went into battle for the Lord. It was known that the abbot at Cîteaux was much influenced by Bernard. Gérard watched him go, sitting astride his elderly horse, followed by two of the white monks on foot. Would Abbot Isaac be recalled and replaced by someone more congenial to Bernard and his followers? Would he disappear, as Brother Thibault had?
Gérard spent the day on his knees in the chapel. It had been raining heavily for a week, turning the fields into lakes and the salt pans into lagoons that overflowed the dikes. He asked for nothing; instead, swaying a little as the day drew on, he listened. Perhaps, busy with his requests, not to mention his singing, he had drowned out the Lord. Perhaps, instead of a visit from the Virgin and Saint Anne, the Lord was providing other sorts of instruction instead, some of which might concern the salt. At the end of the day he rose, very stiffly, made the sign of the cross, and bowed his head. The sanctuary lamp in its niche flickered and went out. Gérard paid no attention. This time he would not be fooled. He would be patient and obedient. He would expect nothing.
The basins were unworkable while the rain continued, so Gérard lent a hand where needed, in the dormitories, the scriptorium, the stables. He chose the lowliest tasks, the most disagreeable chores. He listened to the scratch of the monks’ pens as he sharpened their nibs, the soft murmurings of the cows when he shoveled dung, the white monks practicing their chants below him while, above, he emptied the night’s chamber pots into a pail. He would not go back to the salt. What he would do instead he did not yet know, but the answer would come in time. He spoke to no one and did not even pray under his breath while working lest he miss some divine word, some sign, some admonition.
Abbot Isaac returned just before the celebration of the Nativity. It was a bitter winter that year, colder than anything anyone remembered, and when they helped the abbot off his horse, it was said that his habit was frozen stiff. Shortly after he came down with the lung-fever, and when neither spiced wine nor bleeding nor purgation did any good, Gérard slipped out of the abbey and went to the house of old Mathilde, who had been the midwife and healer in his village since his childhood and had once cured his little sister Anne of epilepsy. Mathilde, promised a daily mass for her soul in the abbey itself when she died, gave him a folded bit of cloth containing a powder that was to be added to warmed milk taken fresh from the cow. Gérard managed to be in the barn the following morning at milking time and stole a cup from the bucket when Brother Josselin was busy elsewhere. He took the warmed milk himself to the foot of the staircase that led to the abbot’s bedroom, and begged the monk in charge, Brother Gregorius, to see that the abbot drank it. The purity of the milk, he explained, would remove whatever impurities had sickened the abbot. Brother Gregorius, who came from the kingdom of Poland, was old and superstitious, not really a Christian at all, it was sometimes murmured. He took the cup carefully in his hands and told Gérard, in his rich Polish accent, that such a holy offering could only do the abbot good.
Abbot Isaac’s ill health continued into the new year, though all the monks, white and brown, said a special prayer on Christ’s Mass and for the eleven days thereafter. Brother Firmín said darkly that it seemed importunate to burden a newborn babe with the weight of their abbot’s illness, on his birthday no less, but Brother Clotaire—he of the dim wits—astonished everyone by answering, slowly but firmly, that a baby who had been reborn annually for the last thousand years was unlikely to find anything importunate or, for that matter, surprising. Gérard, at compline that evening, found himself thinking of the cup of warmed milk, and of the cow that had provided it, and of Mary herself in the stable light, nursing the babe with the warmth of the beasts upon her.
Abbot Isaac recovered, after a fashion, but was too weak to perform many of his former duties. After some months during which several squabbles broke out and Brother Ignatius accused Brother Florent of stealing the missal his mother had given him—which he should not have been so attached to in the first place, as Brother Lucas observed tartly—a new abbot was appointed. He arrived, preceded by many rumors, on a day in spring when most of the brothers were out of doors, in the fields and the orchard and the vegetable garden. Gérard, helping to prune the pear trees, watched in amazement as a tall young man on a white horse cantered through the abbey gates. He swung himself down with one hand on the pommel, a vivid purple cloak with scarlet lining swirling about him. He might have been a king or an emperor rather than a monk.
The cloak, he explained to them that evening at dinner, had been a gift from Abbot Bernard, who had had it from the pope himself. He intended to sell it and use the funds for the abbey. Kyril was his name, and this was his first posting as abbot. He was Greek by birth but had been raised in Italy and then France. He laughed, to their horror; he drank wine; he told charming stories. He was like a princeling, good-looking, dazzlingly erudite. No wonder Bernard was so impressed, though smitten was the word Brother Firmín used. Enamorado, he added, under his breath so that no one heard.
And yet, and yet…. Along with the charm and boyishness came firmness, calm, impartiality. He sat beside Abbot Isaac at the evening meal and deferred to him on matters of doctrine. As Abbot Isaac had done, he visited those monks who were sick, and from time to time sent his monks to the villages, to see who might be in need of their produce or their ministrations. The cloak, so it was said, brought in seventy-five livres. A portion was sent to Rome; the remainder was used to buy beeswax candles, new robes, a cushion for Brother Hervé’s bony knees, extra blankets. Even Abbot Isaac, who had trouble sleeping, was given a larger room, strewn with fresh hay and lavender each morning, though Gérard was certain he wouldn’t have approved. What had happened to their mortifications? As if able to hear thoughts, Abbot Kyril preached on that very subject the following Sunday. Mortification was, he said, like any spiritual practice, capable of being abused. It did no good if it rendered men incapable of carrying out their duties, becoming then a burden on others. Gérard wondered if this was a reference to Abbot Isaac, who had insisted on traveling home in his thinnest robe, having given his thicker one away. Or perhaps his illness was an affliction from God for his heresy?
Another admission came, this time from Brother Gregorius. —I confess, he told Gérard, looking troubled, that I failed to give that cup of milk to Abbot Isaac that morning. The monk in charge of the infirmary had forbidden it. Milk was known to increase mucus, and who knew what it might do to Abbot Isaac’s recovery, however well-meant? —So I drank it myself, Brother Gregorius said. But I wanted you to know the good it did after all. It cured my arthritis.
In October, after the harvest was in, Abbot Kyril summoned Gérard to his office. Why was he no longer serving the salt, as he had done since boyhood? Matters had been explained to him, but he hadn’t understood. Why would one with such a gift, of such importance to the abbey, not to mention God, turn away from it?
Gérard explained, as best he could under the abbot’s inquiring gaze, what had happened. —Yes, yes, Kyril said impatiently. I’ve been informed of all this. And of the unfortunate departure of Brother Thibault. But one failure of the salt crop, and that likely due to a hailstorm….
—Brother Thibault had no such failures, Gérard said softly.
—Not of the salt, perhaps, Kyril said. But no man succeeds in everything. Our Lord sends mistakes that we might learn from them. Not to punish us.
Gérard was about to explain the facts of Brother Thibault’s divine favor, though reluctantly, since it might sound like special pleading, when the abbot said abruptly —Have you heard of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem? Whose name I took when I became a monk?
Gérard tried to remember the stories of saints from his parish boyhood, but drew a blank. Cyril, apparently, had done nothing memorable and failed to come to a gory end.
—He sold a robe of gold thread, given by the Emperor Constantine to the bishop, to keep his people from starving, Kyril said quietly. Because of that he was sent into exile. I have always found him a most admirable model.
Lacking any such robe, or anything else, to sell, Gérard looked puzzled. Kyril smiled. —I mention him because of his belief in forgiveness. He forgave those who exiled him. The Spirit comes gently and makes himself known by his fragrance, he wrote. The Spirit is not felt as a burden, for God is light, very light. Kyril looked intently at Gérard, as though listening to something. —Perhaps you have been seeking guidance in the wrong places. Through sight, for example, or hearing. But as Saint Cyril suggests, God may also be known through his fragrance, no? And where better to meet that fragrance but through the salt? Did not Jesus exhort us to be not only the light of the world but also the salt of the earth? You, Brother Gérard, have a special calling. You are to be the dispenser of salty radiance.
Brother Gérard laughed softly to himself that evening as he shoveled dung in the stables, and the next morning when he emptied the chamber pots in the dormitories. Dung and urine also had fragrance, though perhaps not radiance. Perhaps God had been speaking all along and he hadn’t noticed, so lowly were the materials he chose. Like the mud in the dikes and the algae in the salt pans. Perhaps he was guilty, not of wanting to honor his teacher, but of pride, of wanting his salt to be better than anyone else’s. He had forgotten, after all, that the body itself exuded salt, in its sweat and tears; from birth to death, humankind was bathed in the substance.
The following Sunday Abbot Kyril preached another sermon. —Abbot Isaac spoke to you of mercy, said Kyril, as Abbot Isaac, wrapped in his new blanket, nodded from the front row, and I speak to you of forgiveness. Be seasoned, then, with God’s salt, so that the mind that is drenched and weakened by the waves of this world is held steady.
Gérard would have sworn that Abbot Kyril was looking directly at him as he spoke, except that such a fancy smacked of pride again. Certainly he had been seasoned; certainly he had been drenched and held steady. Of such muddy and wayward journeys was life made. He would dig Brother Thibault’s souvron out of the salt pan. He would clean the mud off, reveling in the smell of earth and rain and rot, and begin again.
Author’s note: Abbot Kyril’s final prayer borrows from John the Deacon’s sixth-century Letter to Senarius.