Pons, born to a noble family in the south of France in 1075, is given to the Saint Pons Monastery at the age of four by his father. His parents never visit him, and this embitters his feeling towards his family. As a Benedictine monk he thrives in the monastery as a devotee of the Order’s rules, working, praying, and studying.
Reaching adulthood, he falls in love with Primavera, a woman in the nearby village, but the Church’s renewed enforcement of celibacy endangers their relationship.
He excels in his role managing the library and supervising the scribes at the monastery and is promoted to the largest Benedictine abbey at Cluny, France. He must travel across France to reach his new role. It is a lawless time when people of the land are threatened with violence as they cultivate their fields or journey on pilgrimage. Traveling monks are compelled to become warriors, defending themselves with farm tools and walking staves.
Within several years, Pons is elected by the monks as Abbot of Cluny Monastery. As soon as he assumes the abbacy, he discovers the financial problems at Cluny and must travel to Spain to convince the king, their greatest benefactor, to resume their donations to the monastery. On his journey, he must fight brigands and thieves as well as cope with the intimate advances from the queen.
The local nobles are jealous of his power and spread lies about him to the Pope. Pons is leader of Cluny Abbey, which has over a thousand satellite monasteries with 10,000 monks. Thus, Pons rivals the Pope’s religious power and influence, and he frequently is in conflict with the Pope’s religious directives.
During these challenges, he must continue the construction of the new church at Cluny, planned to be the largest Christian church in Europe.
After repeated conflict with the Pope, he makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and joins the crusade to save Jerusalem. On the Venetian ship to the Holy Land, he meets an Irish monk, and they join a troop of Polish knights. When they reach the Levante, Pons must fight alongside Christian knights and soldiers and experiences firsthand the violence of the crusades.
His religious views have soured by what he saw in the Holy Land, and he returns to Europe. Pons visits his mother in France before returning to Cluny. Life changing surprises await him there.
Targeted Age Group:: over 16
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Since childhood, Mike Ponzio has read books about ancient history. He traded books and stories with his father, Joseph E. Ponzio, and they discussed the origins of the family surname. Mike traveled around the Mediterranean to Europe, Asia, and Africa, visiting many of the locations he would later write about. He continues to travel and write Ancestry Novels which he imagines may have taken place during the lives of ancient ancestors.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The main character is an actual person who lived in the 13th century-Pons of Melgueil was the abbot of the powerful and influential Benedictine monastery at Cluny, France, from 1109 to 1124. Historical sources reveal he was an excellent negotiator and his participation in major councils was beneficial to the Church. In contrast, other sources called him secular-minded, contentious, and short tempered.
Controversy began when Pons tried to return the lifestyle of the Cluniac monks to the austere ways advocated by Saint Benedict, the founder of their monastic order. The monks of Cluny had become lax and contested a return to a strong work ethic. In retaliation they alleged that Pons was wasting the monastery's resources. This was, in fact, the opposite of his initiatives. The local bishops and nobles were jealous of Cluny’s privileges and wealth and joined the conflict.
Did Pons maintain the leadership of Christendom in western Europe achieved by previous abbots of Cluny, or did he drag the monastery further into decline? Read Warriors and Monks: Pons, Abbot of Cluny and make your own judgment.
Pons had an almost uncontrollable urge to slap his superior in the face. He wasn’t angry, and he wasn’t being reprimanded. And it wasn’t as if he disliked the abbot—in fact he had great respect for him, the absolute ruler of the monastery. Brother Pons had dealt with this peculiar impulse before. Since the age of four he had lived in the Saint Pons de Thomieres monastery, isolated in the mountains of Provence. Now, in 1095, the twenty year old monk recalled how this odd notion had surfaced over the years when he’d had to control himself, despite wanting to be somewhere else.
He heard only the abbot’s last words. “And since you will work late tonight, consider making a new copy of the ‘Book of Hours’ for our services.” Pons was disappointed. No, I only want to finish reading the manuscript. His face reddened, and he felt beads of sweat on his hairless pate, but with self-control he bowed his head in acknowledgment. His crown was shaven leaving a strip of dark hair around his head, the tonsure of an eleventh century Benedictine monk. Pons had begun as an oblate at the monastery, when his father had entrusted him to the Church. His parents had never visited him at Saint Pons Abbey and his only contact with his family was an occasional visit by his godfather. Because of his remarkable aptitude for reading and writing and his organizational abilities, in addition to his faith and integrity, at just seventeen, he had been promoted to sacrist. His responsibilities included the safekeeping of books, vestments, and vessels, and the maintenance of the monastery's buildings. As an officer, an obedientiary, he reported directly to the abbot. Of the forty monks he had but two brothers he could call friends.
The abbot finished his instructions to Pons and joined the monks of Saint Pons monastery as they filed out of the church. Matins, the Liturgy of the Hours service recited two hours after midnight, had concluded with the lector reading Psalms 97 through 108. They crossed the cloister in silence with heads bowed, following one of Saint Benedict’s rules: Look downward when walking, sitting, or standing, so that you think about your own actions and mistakes, rather than looking around for things to criticize. Each held a candle to light the way back to the dormitory. Between Matins and the next service of Lauds held in three hours, the monks would find a little time to nap, except for Pons. He was going to the scriptorium, elated to continue reading about those whom he imagined were his ancient ancestors.
Pons had only vague memories of his parents. His father was the Count of Melgueil and his mother, Almodis, was the daughter of Guillaume Pons, the Count of Toulouse. Because he was the second oldest son, Pons was not destined to inherit his father’s land and title, and his family had given him to the monastery. This provided him a good life and excellent education, but more importantly, in their eyes, increased their influence in the Church. Perhaps if they had stayed in contact with Pons he might have considered himself privileged. But as it was, he felt abandoned and the mere thought of his family brought on his temper.
Pons left the queue of departing monks and glanced back. The brothers wore identical gray habits, their faces hidden in the shadow of their cowls. The monastery’s potentate, Abbot Richard, was taller than average height and his stocky body set him apart from the other monks. The abbot was tough but fair and led by example. A formidable leader, he attacked problems head on, solved them, and quickly went to the next issue. He ensured the monks followed the strict Benedictine rules of labor, study, and prayer. Behind him was his second-in-command, the prior, chosen by Richard himself, and firmly in step with his philosophy on overseeing the monastery.
Next followed Guilen, Pons’s somewhat mischievous friend. Pons continued to glance behind expecting one of Guilen’s roguish theatrics. He was about to turn away, feeling mild disappointment, but Guilen looked up and signaled “Drink wine.” The monks used monastic sign language for essential communication during Matins, Lauds, or any of the other six sacred offices, the cycle of daily prayer services. The Benedictine monks strictly followed their vow of silence during the services as well as during the meals. The other brothers continued to walk with faces lowered and did not notice. Pons, with a hand over his mouth, stifled a laugh as he pretended to cough.
He moved quietly toward the copy room. Why did Guilen jest about drinking wine? Now out of hearing, Pons laughed out loud. Yes! The Lector read Psalms 104, “Wine makes the heart glad.”
His mirth subsided as he neared the scriptorium. For several years I have been the sacrist of the copy room to oversee the library and the monks copying the old manuscripts and Bibles. No one would question why I work late hours, but dear Lord, forgive me for my curiosity. I am again drawn to a manuscript that may be a prohibited, unholy text! Parchments were expensive, and documents considered unworthy to copy were commonly scraped bare and reused for new books. So as Pons read, in case someone entered the scriptorium, he held a penknife, as if he was cleaning the unholy parchment. He pushed his sleeves up, which had always been too long. More than once he had thought of cutting them shorter, but then the winter would come, and he was glad of the extra length to warm his hands.
Pons sat at his desk and read the cover of the codex he had been poring over the last few nights after Matins: “The History of Rome” by Titus Livius. Last night I read how the Roman messenger Pontius Cominius stole pass the enemy lines to reach the besieged Roman Senate on Capitoline Hill. I am fascinated that the messenger’s name, Pontius, is identical to mine, as written in Latin. Pons read, murmuring the words aloud, knowing all his brothers were asleep in the dormitory.
“The Gauls silently ascended the cliff and did not even wake the dogs, animals sensitive to nocturnal sounds. But they did not escape the notice of the geese, which were sacred to Juno. The clamor and the noise of their wings roused Manlius, a distinguished Roman soldier, who ran to call the rest to arms and they repelled the Gauls.”
Pons whispered to himself, “Geese sounded the alarm?” That reminds me. My favorite quill pen is nearly spent. I will need new quills for copying, and the gander’s flight wings make the best ones. I wonder if it is time for Cicero to molt? Pons read on about the sacred geese of Juno, but soon his eyelids became heavy and his head sank onto the Roman manuscript. He slumped against the desktop, having fallen asleep.
Several minutes later, an uproar penetrated his dreams. Why are the geese honking this late at night? It cannot be a fox again. It’s the wrong time of year, there are no goslings, and the flock attacked the last raiding fox, who ran terrified, never to return. No, it’s the barbarians from Gaul! They are climbing over the wall! Brothers! Come to my aid, I will vanquish their leader with my sword!
Pons swung wildly with his penknife and fell, crashing onto the floor. He woke up and spoke to himself. “What? Oh, it was a dream!”
But the loud honking outside continued. The geese are in danger! Cicero!
Pons rushed to one of the tall windows that lined the scriptorium, blew out his candle, then cracked open a shutter and peered into the night. Nothing was visible in the pitch dark. He knew the layout of the scriptorium well enough to make it to the door at the stairs, where a tinderbox was stored in a wall niche. In the dark, he found the box which contained the p-shaped firesteel and a flint and then remembered, There is no charcloth! I meant to replace it several days ago. The ends of his sleeves were frayed, and he used the penknife hanging around his neck to cut off loose threads and rolled them into a small lump. He struck the steel and stone together lighting the threads, then tilted the candlewick into the tiny flames. Hurrying down the stairs his flight almost doused the candle. But he continued as fast as his woolen habit allowed to the bottom of the stairs, across the cloister, and around the back of the dormitory. There between the monks’ sleeping lodge and the city wall were vegetable gardens, pens of fowl raised for consumption, and the barn which housed several milk cows and a handful of mules. The flock of geese usually ranged throughout the yard and were kept solely for a supply of quills, not for food.
The honks of frenzied geese echoed amid the stone fortifications and marble-faced building. Pons blew out his candle. There was no moon and as he burst into the court he could hear the geese madly flapping their wings, and he could feel the down flying in all directions.
Then as his eyes became more accustomed to the dark, Pons could barely make out two figures hurrying about the courtyard chasing geese. He shouted, “Thieves! The geese are not yours. You are blazing a path to Hell with your actions.” Suddenly he became afraid for his own safety. He pulled up his hood, covering most of his face.
The two figures stopped. Pons stood motionless in his gray habit, almost invisible in the pitch dark. One of the robbers said, “Who said that? I don’t see nobody!”
“Nobody said it,” said a second voice.
“I mean —do-do you think God said it?”
“Don’t be stupid, there is no God. You’re makin’ me hear things, you cretin. Get the birds!”
Pons stepped toward the thieves and stumbled over the still body of a goose. I hope it’s not Cicero! Where is that gander? My grandfather, the Count of Toulouse, donated this flock to the abbey. The geese are very dear to me. With these thoughts, his temper began to rise. The grey Tolosa geese, the best for making the quills, they are sacred; sacred to the abbey, like the geese of Juno in the story of ancient Rome! Pons stumbled over another dead goose. The discovery fed his anger.
The thieves moved toward their prizes, still unaware of the monk. Pons, now only a few feet away, flung back his hood and exposed his beardless face, capped by a tonsure of dark hair. “Leave now and God will forgive you.”
“What?” The thief recovered and laughed. “You dolt! Get over here! See who you thought was God!”
“You do not have to steal!” said Pons. “Both of you may come by the monastery any day and have a meal.”
“Yeah, weak porridge. You’re no different than them nobles, saving all the good food for yourselves! And your kitchen don’t serve juicy goose!”
The monk placed his foot on a carcass. “Leave now!” Torchlight suddenly illuminated the courtyard. Pons saw a flash of metal in the thief’s hand, but he dared not look behind. The thief held a bloody knife, bold evidence he had used it to slaughter the geese. He slashed at Pons’s face, and the monk instinctively raised his hand, shrouded by the long woolen sleeve. The blade glanced off without harm and the thief escalated his attack, slicing back and forth at Pons’s face. The monk responded with a wild flurry of hands. It appeared as if he was swatting a swarm of mosquitoes as his loose sleeves flapped about and parried the knife attacks.
Suddenly the bandit grabbed Pons and spun him around to face a group of monks. In the forefront of the brethren was Abbott Richard. Pons was immobilized as the thief gripped his sleeve and held the knife at his throat. “Stay there or I’ll slit his throat like them gooses.”
In the light Pons saw before him another butchered goose. They killed my Cicero! He grew hot with rage.
Richard’s size alone blocked several of the monks, but he spread his arms wide to hold back the brothers. “We have no weapons. Monks will not shed blood! And you! Thou shall not kill a man!” He looked down and saw the dead birds. “Take the geese. You will be forgiven, but do not take a man’s life!”
Pons considered the scene. Richard is remarkably agile for a man his size. He could crush this thief in a blink. Why is he holding back?
The armed man started to back away and pressed the knife to Pons’s throat, forcing him to follow. “Pick up them birds!” he shouted to his partner.
“I’m leavin’ with your monk,” he yelled to the abbot. “Don’t follow! Don’t move or he’s dead!”
As the pair shuffled backwards, greed overcame the thief. He reached down for a slain goose, and the blade sliced across Pons’s neck. The monk threw up his left hand and pushed the blade away. The robber pulled the knife toward his neck again as the men struggled. Pons was strong, having worked long hours in the fields, the thief was tough and frantic with energy, and for a few moments, neither could overcome his foe. Then the monk weakened, and his vital spirit faded. I am lost! Sweet Jesus!
A moment later his mind cleared. But what? I am still alive? My neck was not slashed a second time? His sleeve of thick wool was wrapped around the knife. Pons realized that his penknife still hung on the cord around his neck. He brandished his small weapon and tried to stab his abductor.
The abbot lurched forward and bellowed, “Stop, do not shed blood!”
Pons ignored his superior. But that thief killed Cicero! He stabbed over his shoulder again and again, and then fell to the ground.
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