The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book II Chapter 15

On the 15th of August, the great feast of Mary and of the blessing of herbs and roots, when filled with corn the hens are deaf to the bugle of the cock imploring love, a great stone crucifix was broken at one of the gates of Antwerp by an Italian in the pay of the Cardinal de Granvelle, and the procession of the Virgin, preceded by fools in green, in yellow, and in red, came forth out of the church of Notre Dame.

But the Virgin’s statue, having been insulted on the way by men whom no one knew, was hastily taken back into the choir of the church, the iron gates of which were shut.

Ulenspiegel and Lamme went into Notre Dame. Young beggars and ragamuffins, and some grown men among them, that nobody knew were in front of the choir, making certain signs and grimaces one to another. They were making a great din with feet and tongues. No one had seen them before in Antwerp, no one ever saw them again. One of them, with a face like a burned onion, asked if Mieke, that was Our Lady, had been afraid that she had gone back to the church in such a hurry.

“It is not of thee that she is afeared, ugly blackamoor,” replied Ulenspiegel.

The young man to whom he spoke went up to him, to beat him, but Ulenspiegel, gripping him by the collar:

“If you strike me,” said he, “I will make you spew out your tongue.”

Then turning towards certain men of Antwerp that were present:

“Signorkes and pagaders,” said he, pointing out the ragged young men, “be cautious, these are spurious Flemings, traitors paid to bring us to ill, to misery, and to ruin.”

Then speaking to the strangers:

“Hey,” said he, “donkey faces, withered with want, whence have ye the money that chinks to-day in your pouches? Have ye perchance sold your skins beforehand for drumheads?”

“Look at the sermonizer!” said the strangers.

Then they all began to shout together with one accord speaking of Our Lady:

“Mieke has a fine robe. Mieke has a fine crown! I will give them to my doxy.”

They went away, while one of them had got up into a pulpit to proclaim insulting and outrageous things from it, and they came back crying:

“Come down, Mieke, come down before we go and fetch you. Perform a miracle, that we may see if you can walk as well as you can have Mieke carried about, the lazy thing!”

But Ulenspiegel cried in vain: “Workers of ruin, have done with your vile talk; all pillage is a crime!” They ceased not at all from their talk; and some spoke even of breaking into the choir to force Mieke to come down.

Hearing this, an old woman, who sold candles in the church, flung in their faces the ashes of her foot warmer; but she was beaten and flung down on the floor, and then the riot began.

The markgrave came to the church with his sergeants. Seeing the populace assembled, he exhorted them to leave the church, but so feebly that only a few went away; the others said:

“First we want to hear the canons singing vespers in honour of Mieke.”

The markgrave replied:

“There shall be no singing.”

“We will sing ourselves,” answered the ragged strangers.

Which they did in the naves and near the porch of the church.

Some played at Krieke-steenen, at cherry-stones, and said: “Mieke, you never game in paradise and you are bored there; play with us.”
And insulting the statue without ceasing, they cried out, hooted and whistled.

The markgrave pretended to be afraid and departed. By his orders all the doors of the church were shut save one.

Without the populace having any hand in it, the ragtag and bobtail of the strangers became bolder and shouted more and more. And the roofs re?choed as though to the din of a hundred cannon.

One of them, he of the face like a burned onion, appearing to have some authority among them, got up into a pulpit, made a sign with his hand to them, and began to preach:

“In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” said he: “the three making but one, and the one making three, God keep us in paradise from arithmetic; this day the twenty-ninth of August, Mieke went forth in great pomp of array to show her wooden face to the signorkes and pagaders of Antwerp. But Mieke, in the procession met the devil Satanas. And Satanas said to her, mocking her: ‘There you are, high and mighty, prinked up like a queen, Mieke, and borne by four signorkes, and you will not look now at the poor pagader Satanas that makes his way on foot.’ And Mieke answered: ‘Begone, Satanas, or I bruise thy head still more than ever, foul serpent!’ ‘Mieke,’ said Satanas, ‘that is the task in which you have been spending your time for fifteen hundred years, but the Spirit of the Lord, your master, hath delivered me. I am stronger than you are; you shall not walk over my head any more, and I am going to make you dance now.’ Satanas took a great whip, sharp and cutting, and started to flog Mieke, who dared not cry out for fear of showing her terror, and then she began to run as hard as she could, forcing the signorkes that were carrying her to run, too, so as not to let her fall with her gold crown and her jewels among the poor common folk. And now Mieke stays as stiff and as still as a frightened mouse in her niche, watching Satan, who is seated up at the top of the pillar under the little dome, and who says to her, still grasping his whip and grinning, ‘I will make you pay for the blood and tears that flow in your name! Mieke, how goes your virgin birth? This is the time to flit. You shall be cut in twain, evil statue of wood, for all the statues of flesh and bone that were burned in your name, burned, hanged, buried alive without pity.’ So spake Satanas; and he spoke well. And thou must come down from thy niche, bloody Mieke, Mieke the cruel, that wast in no way like thy son Christus.”

And all the band of the strangers, hooting and crying out, shouted: “Mieke! Mieke! it is time to come out! Are you wetting your linen for fear in your niche? Up Brabant for the good Duke. Away with the wooden saints! Who will have a bath in the Scheldt! Wood swims better than fishes.”

The populace listened to them without saying a word.

But Ulenspiegel, getting up into the pulpit, threw down the stair by main force the one that was haranguing.

“Fools fit to tie,” he said, speaking to the populace; “lunatic fools, idiot fools, who see no further than the end of your dirty noses, do ye not see that all this is the work of traitors? They mean to make you commit sacrilege and pillage that they may declare you rebels, empty your coffers, cut off your heads, and burn you alive! And the king will inherit. Signorkes and pagaders, do not believe in the speeches of these artificers of woes: leave Notre Dame in her niche, live stoutly, working happily, spending your earnings and profits. The black devil of ruin has his eye upon you, and it is through sackings and destruction that he will call up the army of your foes to treat you as rebels and make Alba reign over you with dictatorship, inquisition, confiscation, and death.”

“And he will inherit!”

“Alas,” said Lamme, “do not pillage anything, signorkes and pagaders; the king is already very angry. The daughter of the embroideress told my friend Ulenspiegel so. Do not indulge in pillage, sirs!”

But the populace would not give ear to them.

The unknown kept shouting:

“Sack and turn out! Sack Brabant for the good Duke! To the river with wooden saints! They swim better than fishes!”

Ulenspiegel, still in the pulpit, cried in vain:

“Signorkes and pagaders do not suffer pillage! Do not call down ruin upon the town!”

He was plucked away from there all torn, face, doublet, and breeches, though he avenged himself with both feet and hands. And all bleeding he never ceased to cry out:

“Do not suffer pillage!”

But it was in vain.

The unknown and the ragtag and bobtail of the city flung themselves on the iron grille of the choir, which they broke through, crying:

“Long live the Beggar!”

They all set to work to break, sack, destroy. Before midnight this great church, in which there were seventy altars, every kind of noble paintings and precious things, was empty as a nut. The altars were broken, the images flung down, and all the locks smashed.

This being done, the same unknown set off to treat like Notre Dame, the Minor Brothers, the Franciscans, Saint Peter, Saint Andrew, Saint Michael, Saint Pierre-au-Pot, the Bourg, the Fawkens, the White Sisters, the Gray Sisters, the Third Order, the Preachers, and all the churches and chapels in the city. They took candles and torches out of them and ran around everywhere in this manner.

Among them there was no quarrel nor dispute; not one of them was hurt in that great demolishing of wood and other materials.

They betook themselves to The Hague to proceed there to the overthrow of statues and altars, without the reformed lending them any aid either there or elsewhere.

At The Hague, the magistrate asked them where was their commission.

“It is here,” said one of them, striking upon his heart.

“Their commission, hear you, signorkes and pagaders?” said Ulenspiegel, having been informed of this. “So then there is someone who deputes them to this work of sacrilege. Let some robber thief come into my cottage; I will do as did the magistrate of The Hague, I will say, taking off my bonnet: ‘Gentle robber, gracious rogue, worshipful rascal, show me your commission.’ He will reply that it is in his heart that is greedy for my goods. And I shall give him the keys of everything. Seek, seek out who it is that profits by this pillage. Beware of the Red Dog. The great stone crucifix is flung down. Beware of the Red Dog!”

The Great Sovereign Council of Malines having given orders through its president Viglius, not to put any obstacle in the way of image breaking: – “Alas!” said Ulenspiegel, “the harvest is ripe for the Spanish reapers. The Duke! the Duke is marching upon you. Flemings, the sea rises, the sea of vengeance. Poor women and girls, flee the living grave! Poor men, flee the gallows, the fire, and the sword! Philip means to finish the bloody work of Charles. The father sowed death and exile, the son hath sworn that he would rather rule over a cemetery than over a heretic folk. Flee; here be the executioner and the gravediggers.”

The populace hearkened to Ulenspiegel, and families left the cities by hundreds, and the roads were encumbered with carts laden with the household stuff of those that were going into exile.

And Ulenspiegel went everywhere, followed by Lamme grieving and looking for his beloved.

And at Damme Nele wept by the side of Katheline the madwife.