I should have told you, that beside the superior among the hermits, there are two sorts of them, neither of which can possess a hermitage till they have spent seven years in the monastery, and given proofs of their holy disposition, by acts of obedience, humility, and mortification; during, which they spend most of their time, night as well as day, in the church, but they never sing or chant. After the expiration of the seven years, the Abbot takes the advice of his brethren, and if they think the probationer’s manners and life entitle him to a solitary life above, he is sent,—but not, perhaps, without being enjoined to wait upon some old hermit, who is past doing the necessary offices of life for himself.—Their habit, as I said before, is brown, and they wear their long beards; but sometimes the hermits are admitted into holy orders, and then they wear black, and shave their beards: however, they are not actually fixed to the lonely habitations at first, but generally take seven or eight months trial. Many of the abbes, whose power, you may be sure, is very great, and who receive an homage from the inferiors, very flattering, have, nevertheless, often quitted their power for a retirement above. They observe religiously their abstinence from all sorts of flesh; nor are they permitted to eat but within their cells. When any of them are very ill, they are brought down to the convent; and all buried in one chapel, called St. Joseph.
The lay-brothers are about fourscore in number; they wear a brown habit, and are shaved; their duty is to distribute bread, wine, and other necessaries, to the poor and the pilgrims, and lodge them according to their condition: and many of them are sent into remote parts of the kingdom, as well as France and other Catholic countries, to collect charity; while those who continue at home assist in getting in their corn, and fetching provisions from the adjacent towns, for which purposes they keep a great number, upwards of fifty mules.—These men too have a superior among them, to whom they are all obedient.
There are also a number of children and young students, educated at the convent who are taken in at the age of seven or eight years, many of whom are of noble families; they all sleep in one apartment, but separate beds, where a lamp constantly burns, and their decent deportment is wonderful. Dom Jean de Cardonne, admiral of the galleys, who succoured Malta when it was besieged by the Turks, was bred at Montserrat, and when he wrote to the Abbe, “Recommend me,” he said, “to the prayers of my little brethren.”
As I have already told you of the miracle of a murdered and violated virgin coming to life, and of a child of three months old saying, Guerin, rise, thy sins are forgiven thee; perhaps you will not like to have further proofs of what miracles are wrought here, or I could give you a long list, and unanswerable arguments to prove them.
Frere Benoit d’Arragon was a hermit on this mountain, whose sanctity of life has made his name immortal in the hermitage of St. Croix. The following sketch of his life is engraven.