How far the monastic rules restricted social habits is a matter for antiquaries to settle if they can, and how far those rules were observed in the case of great secular princes; but the eleventh century was not very strict, and the rule of the Benedictines was always mild, until the Cistercians and Saint Bernard stiffened its discipline toward 1120. Even then the Church showed strong leanings toward secular poetry and popular tastes. The drama belonged to it almost exclusively, and the Mysteries and Miracle plays which were acted under its patronage often contained nothing of religion except the miracle. The greatest poem of the eleventh century was the “Chanson de Roland,” and of that the Church took a sort of possession. At Chartres we shall find Charlemagne and Roland dear to the Virgin, and at about the same time, as far away as at Assisi in the Perugian country, Saint Francis himself—the nearest approach the Western world ever made to an Oriental incarnation of the divine essence—loved the French romans, and typified himself in the “Chanson de Roland.” With Mont-Saint-Michel, the “Chanson de Roland” is almost one. The “Chanson” is in poetry what the Mount is in architecture. Without the “Chanson,” one cannot approach the feeling which the eleventh century built into the Archangel’s church. Probably there was never a day, certainly never a week, during several centuries, when portions of the “Chanson” were not sung, or recited, at the Mount, and if there was one room where it was most at home, this one, supposing it to be the old refectory, claims to be the place.
LA CHANSON DE ROLAND
Molz pelerins qui vunt al Munt
Enquierent molt e grant dreit unt
Comment l’igliese fut fundee
Premierement et estoree.
Cil qui lor dient de l’estoire
Que cil demandent en memoire
Ne l’unt pas bien ainz vunt faillant
En plusors leus e mespernant.
Por faire la apertement
Entendre a cels qui escient
N’unt de clerzie l’a tornee
De latin tote et ordenee
Pars veirs romieus novelement
Molt en segrei por son convent
Uns jovencels moine est del Munt
Deus en son reigne part li dunt.
Guillaume a non de Saint Paier
Cen vei escrit en cest quaier.
El tens Robeirt de Torignie
Fut cil romanz fait e trove.
Most pilgrims who come to the Mount
Enquire much and are quite right,
How the church was founded
At first, and established.
Those who tell them the story
That they ask, in memory
Have it not well, but fall in error
In many places, and misapprehension.
In order to make it clearly
Intelligible to those who have
No knowledge of letters, it has been turned
From the Latin, and wholly rendered
In Romanesque verses, newly,
Much in secret, for his convent,
By a youth; a monk he is of the Mount.
God in his kingdom grant him part!
William is his name, of Saint Pair
As is seen written in this book.
In the time of Robert of Torigny
Was this roman made and invented.