Upon their shoulders have their heads inclined,
Folded their hands, and sunken to their rest.
Many thousands of times these verses must have been sung at the Mount and echoed in every castle and on every battle-field from the Welsh Marches to the shores of the Dead Sea. No modern opera or play ever approached the popularity of the “Chanson.” None has ever expressed with anything like the same completeness the society that produced it. Chanted by every minstrel,—known by heart, from beginning to end, by every man and woman and child, lay or clerical,—translated into every tongue,—more intensely felt, if possible, in Italy and Spain than in Normandy and England,—perhaps most effective, as a work of art, when sung by the Templars in their great castles in the Holy Land,—it is now best felt at Mont-Saint-Michel, and from the first must have been there at home. The proof is the line, evidently inserted for the sake of its local effect, which invoked Saint Michael in Peril of the Sea at the climax of Roland’s death, and one needs no original documents or contemporary authorities to prove that, when Taillefer came to this invocation, not only Duke William and his barons, but still more Abbot Ranulf and his monks, broke into a frenzy of sympathy which expressed the masculine and military passions of the Archangel better than it accorded with the rules of Saint Benedict.
The nineteenth century moved fast and furious, so that one who moved in it felt sometimes giddy, watching it spin; but the eleventh moved faster and more furiously still. The Norman conquest of England was an immense effort, and its consequences were far-reaching, but the first crusade was altogether the most interesting event in European history. Never has the Western world shown anything like the energy and unity with which she then flung herself on the East, and for the moment made the East recoil. Barring her family quarrels, Europe was a unity then, in thought, will, and object. Christianity was the unit. Mont-Saint-Michel and Byzantium were near each other. The Emperor Constantine and the Emperor Charlemagne were figured as allies and friends in the popular legend. The East was the common enemy, always superior in wealth and numbers, frequently in energy, and sometimes in thought and art. The outburst of the first crusade was splendid even in a military sense, but it was great beyond comparison in its reflection in architecture, ornament, poetry, colour, religion, and philosophy. Its men were astonishing, and its women were worth all the rest.