The Abbess

by Adam Acidophilus

An abbess, weary of the cloistered life, the boredom, the poverty, the lack of adventure – determined to make a tour of neighbouring religious communities, and to pick up a few ideas with which to enliven her own.

Setting off very early one morning upon her trusty ass she journeyed to the nearest abbey, which was inhabited by a fellowship of monks.

After a quick mass, a short prayer, and a reasonable spell of contemplation, the abbot of the fellowship showed the abbess around his abbey.

”But it is here – ” he told her, leading her down a winding stone stairway – “that we do our most important work … ”

They entered an gloomy cellar of high brick arches, inadequately lit by small lamps and candles, and bedecked with row after row of bottles, barrels and wooden vats.

“For nearly a thousand years now we have distilled our extraordinary liqueur – ” the abbot explained solemnly. “Its secret is known only to a handful of brothers. When one is taken, another is inducted, and so the mystery is maintained. The recipe is never written down …

“We stock over a million bottles, they mature for many years. I call it our spiritual treasure.

The abbess stared coldly at the cellar. “Appalling,” she replied. “To make a pun of our Holy Trinity. Know you not that liquor is profane? The taking of drink is a heresy! If the Lord should ever learn of this cellar, you shall burn – every one of you – in eternal hellfire. Do not doubt it!”

“So you don’t want a complementary bottle then?” sniffed the abbot.

“I do not!” she snorted – turning on her heels, scampering up the steps and returning hurriedly to her ass.

For some hours she journeyed through wood and dale, discomfited and distressed; but then she came to a second monastery and rapped upon the door.

After a respectful greeting, a brief communion, and an extremely minimal repast, the friar of this monastery decided to show her around the gardens.

“The brothers have kept bees since the time of our founding saint,” he began. “See the many depictions of bees in the stone carvings and stained glass windows. He was later decreed the patron saint of apiary: that is bees, beekeepers, and the purveyors of honey. See there, the many hives clustered upon the slopes, and the many specific flowers that we nurture to improve the flavour. We collect the honey, we filter the honey, we even print our own labels in our little print shop. We live for apiary – although we do manage to knock out a few flagons of cider from the orchard every harvest time.”

“Say no more! – ” quaked the abbess, offended to the core of her being. “For honey is another name for sugar!

“Sugar is passion! Sugar is sin! Sugar is damnation! I am too stunned by all this mention of sugar to properly focus my outrage on the additional cider-making.”

And she stormed from the monastery, forsaking the offer of a little drop of honey to see what it actually tasted like – jumped upon her ass and disappeared.

Passing an uncomfortable night in the forest, the abbess and her ass presented themselves the following morning at a nunnery where the nuns made soap.

“Soap!” spat the abbess. “Soap is for bathrooms! Soap is for washing! Soap is fragrant! Soap involves skin and nudity! Soap inspires the forming of white suds which slide deliriously upon the creamy skin of the younger nuns! Soap is disgusting! How dare you offend the Lord with all this soap!”

Refusing the offer of a hot bath and a bar of the nuns’ soap the abbess – who really could have done with one – cantered on to the next priory: wherein the monks practised chant.

Their chants – which generally lasted a few hours – consisted of cycles of chords, each composed of separate Latin syllables, sung in a contrapuntal derivation – in which the role of dux was itself mirrored and inverted according to a unique pattern known only to three of the brothers – and was never notated.

“Chant?” gasped the abbess – after a abridged five-hour introductory session – “Chant? Song? Contrapuntal derivation? But this is music! The Devil likes music! This is an abomination!”

And she rushed from the chapel: flustered and appalled, and forever tainted.

The last place she visited – a basilica of especially historic significance – was host to an ancient order of ikon painters.

“Ikons?” she shrieked – breaking a one-hundred-year silence in the scribes’ gallery. “Imagery!? Depiction!? Paints? Brushes? Gesso? Varnish? Picture framing?!”

And she seized a visiting monsignor, and wound his stole around his neck like a tourniquet. “Why don’t you just tattoo yourselves with scenes from the kama-sutra – ” she asked him – “perfume your naked bodies with soap, smear yourselves in honey and run drunk on cider and liquor through the streets of the nearest village – chanting!?!”

And with that she slapped him, smashing his spectacles, mounted her ass, and galloped from the basilica, screaming.

A few weeks later – once the dust had settled, and accounts of the abbess’s many visits had circulated in the corridors of church power – a cardinal representing the highest office in this particular church paid a surprise visit upon the abbess in her abbey.

“What do you want?” she snapped at him.

“Merely to see how you are all getting along,” he told her. “To walk your allotments and bid God’s blessing upon you.”

A novice showed him around.

“What a beautiful day,” said the cardinal. “And how expertly you have trained your flowers and vegetables in their beds. I think this may be the tidiest garden that I have ever seen … ”

“Isn’t it just?” agreed the novice. “Only they’re not flowers and vegetables. It’s marijuana all the way down to the river, and opium up on the hillside – we find the sandy soil there gives us a better yield. The greenhouses are mostly given over to coke, but that is still at the experimental stage. And if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to scrape the resin; if I leave it any longer the birds will snaffle the lot.”

“Reverend Mother!” boomed the cardinal. “What is the meaning of this?”

The abbess hurried from her cell. “Do you mind?” she said. ”We are trying to run a business here. Do you know what this stuff fetches on the street? And that belfry ain’t going to restore itself!”

Moral: I thought it might be something like that. Took a while to get there, didn’t it?

© Adam Acidophilus 2021