The Legend of Ulenspiegel by Charles de Coster Book I Chapter 54

In these days there came two Premonstratensian friars to Damme with indulgences for sale. They were attired, over their monkish array, in a fine shirt trimmed with lace.

Posting themselves at the church door when it was fair weather, and under the porch when it was foul and rainy, they put up their tariff, in which they marked down for six liards, for a patard, a half livre of Paris, for seven, for twelve florins carolus, a hundred, two hundred, four hundred years of indulgence, and according to the price, demiplenary or full plenary, and forgiveness for the most heinous crimes, even that of desiring to violate Madame the Virgin. But that one cost seventeen florins.

They delivered to buyers who paid them certain little bits of parchment on which was written the number of years of indulgence.

Above was found this inscription:

He that would not be
Stewed, roast, or fried
A thousand years in purgatory
Still in hell burning,
Let him buy indulgence,
Grace and compassion,
For a little silver,
God will repay him.

And there came buyers from ten leagues roundabout. One of the good friars often preached to the people; he had a face well blossomed and carried his three chins and his paunch with no false modesty.

“Miserable man!” he would say, fixing his eyes on one or another of his hearers; “miserable man! lo, there thou art, in hell! The fire burns thee cruelly: they are boiling thee in the cauldron of oil in which they cook Astarte’s olie koekjes; thou art but a black pudding on Lucifer’s frying pan, a leg of mutton on Guilguiroth’s, the great devil, for thou art first cut into joints. Look now on this great sinner, who contemned indulgences; see that dish of fricadelle; ’tis he, ’tis he, his impious body, his damned body boiled down to this. And what a sauce! sulphur, pitch, and tar! And all these poor sinners are thus eaten only to be reborn continually to anguish. And it is there that there is verily weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Have pity, God of compassion! Aye, there thou art in hell, poor damned one, suffering all these torments. Should one give a denier for thee, thou feelest all at once an easement in thy right hand; should another half denier be given, there are both thy hands out of the flame. But the rest of the body? A florin, and here falls the healing dew of the indulgence. O coolness delicious! And for ten days, a hundred days, a thousand years, according to what is paid: no more roast, no more olie koekje, nor fricassee! And if it be not for thee, sinner, are there not yonder in the hidden deeps of the fire poor souls thy parents, a beloved wife, some dear girl with whom thou once delightedst to sin?”

And so saying, the monk would give a nudge to the friar who stood beside him, with a silver basin. And the friar, lowering his eyes at this signal, would shake his basin impressively to call the money to it.

“Hast thou not,” the monk would continue, “hast thou not in this dreadful fire a son, a daughter, some darling babe? They cry, they weep, they call on thee. Canst thou remain deaf to those lamentable voices? Thou couldst not; thy heart of ice will melt, but that will cost thee a carolus. And see: at the chime of the carolus upon this common metal … (the other monk still shook his basin) a void is made within the fire, and the poor soul mounts up to the lip of some volcano. Lo, there it is in the cool air, in the free air! Where are the torments of the fire? The sea is near at hand, it plunges in, it swims on back, on front, above the waves and beneath the waves. Hearken how it crieth out for joy, look how it wallows in the water! The angels look on it and rejoice. They await it, but still it hath not enough, fain would it become a fish. It knoweth not that there on high are delicious baths full of perfumes in which float great lumps of sugar candy white and cold as ice. A shark cometh: the soul dreads him not. It climbs upon his back, but he feels it not; it would fain go with him into the depths of the sea. There it goeth to salute the angels of the waters, that eat waterzoey in coral kettles and fresh oysters on platters of mother of pearl. And how it is welcomed, feasted, made much of; the angels still call it from on high. At length, nobly refreshed, and happy, dost thou see it, how it flies up singing like a lark up to the highest heaven where God sitteth throned in glory? There it findeth all its earthly relatives and friends, save those that having slandered and missaid the indulgences of our Mother Holy Church, burn in the abyss of hell. And so for ever, ever, ever and always, even from age to age, throughout eternity of agony. But the other soul, that is close to God, refreshing itself in the delicious baths and eating the sugar candy. Buy indulgences, my brothers; they are to be had for crusadoes, for gold florins. Buy, buy, buy! this is the holy shop; there is here for the poor and for the rich, but unhappily there can be no credit, my brothers, for to buy and not pay ready money is a crime in the Lord’s eyes.”

The brother who was not preaching went on shaking his dish. Florins, crusadoes, ducats, patards, sols, and deniers fell into it thick as hail.

Claes, seeing himself a rich man, paid a florin for ten thousand years’ indulgence. The monks gave him a piece of parchment in exchange.

Soon, seeing that there was nobody left in Damme who had not bought indulgence except the very scum of poverty, they went away together to Heyst.