Our Lady of the Sackcloth
(notes by Philip Holberton)
The MS. from which the subject is taken is no poetical invention; it really exists in the British Museum and is described as written on vellum in a fine character of the XVth Century, by two scribes. We are greatly indebted to a correspondent for this and some further information : in 1928 Messrs. George Routledge and Sons, Ltd., issued the "Miracles of the Blessed Virgin Mary" by Johannes Herolt, called Discipulus (1435-1440), translated from the Latin, with a preface and notes by C. C. Swinton Bland ; No. 93 of these legends is interesting in its resemblance to Kipling's poem, so we give it below in full:J M S Tompkins (p. 216) groups this poem with two others that use 'the language and figures of the Christian faith':There was a certain half-witted priest who knew no mass but that of the Blessed Lady Mary. Celebrating this mass every day and being accused of so doing, he was forbidden by the Bishop to celebrate any mass in future. Being in trouble and need, he called upon the Blessed Virgin and she appeared to him saying : ' Go to the Bishop and tell him from me to restore your office to you.' The priest replied : ‘Our Lady, I am a poor man and a person of no account. He will not listen to me, nor shall I be allowed to approach him.' Then the Blessed Virgin added : ‘Go, and I will prepare the way for you.' He said : 'O Lady Virgin Mary, he will not believe me.' And she replied : 'You shall say to him, as a sign, that at such an hour and in such a place, while he was mending his hair shirt, I held it on one side to help him, and he will at once believe you.'
In the morning entering without hindrance, the priest came to the Bishop carrying the message of the Blessed Mother of God. When he said : ' How am I to believe that you are sent by her,' he added that sign relating to the hair shirt. Hearing this the prelate in amazement and alarm replied : 'Behold I allow you again to celebrate and repeat the mass for Our Lady the Blessed Virgin and that alone ; and pray for me.'
Later in his life, when the compassion that is apparent at all stages in his work, though not in all he wrote, strengthened into a conception of absolving love and mercy, he turned sometimes to the language and figures of the Christian faith. He does this very seldom, and always at a remove. The ballads of “Cold Iron”, ”Eddi’s Service” and “Our Lady of the Sackcloth” have the reserve of their traditional form.