The Statue of Saint Nicholas

Adapted by Anne Malcolmson from LUDUS SUPER ICONIA SANCTI NICOLAI, by Hilarius

Cast of Characters

SAINT NICHOLAS, a statue
A band of robbers
BARBARUS, a heathen merchant

The scene opens upon a statue of Saint Nicholas in an open space, either a clearing in a woodland or a deserted village square. St. Nicholas is dressed as a bishop and carries a crosier. Barbarus, a heathen merchant, enters tugging at a heavy chest. He is dressed in a turban and full trousers, to show that he is an infidel. He tugs and pushes at the chest until he finally nudges it into position beside the pedestal of the statue. Then he sits down on his box, wipes his brow, and rests for a moment. While he is resting, robbers slip quietly on stage from either side and tiptoe into positions at the back, unseen by Barbarus. They hide themselves behind tree trunks, corners of buildings, folds of the back curtain, or wherever they may. Barbarus finally rises and addresses the statue.

BARBARUS
Nicholas, all my earthly goods,
Silver ducats, broidered hoods,
In this chest of heavy woods,
   I have brought to thee.
All the wealth that I have stored,
Jeweled scabbard, graven sword,
Pearls and gold, a goodly hoard,
   You must keep for me.

He struts about the stage, feeling his importance. He shakes his finger at St. Nicholas.

Listen well to what I say.
I must travel far away,
For a busy man am I,
   A man of great affairs.
While I travel o’er the land,
You, a saint, must keep your stand.
Therefore, to your guarding hand,
   I commend my cares.

While he is speaking, the robbers peep out from their hiding places and motion to each other, pointing to the treasure and mimicking him. He is unaware of their presence.

Custodian, sir, you now must be
Of all these riches that you see!

Barbarus opens the top of the chest and displays a few of his treasures to the statue, while the robbers try to peek over his shoulder without being noticed. He closes the chest, and speaks in a threatening voice.

When I return, restore to me
   All my possessions, Saint!

Allow no thieves and robbers here
To spoil me of my rightful gear,
Lest when I come, you suffer dear
   And proper punishment!

The robbers look amused and tiptoe off stage. Barbarus takes a whip from his belt and brandishes it before the statue.

Though you may be a saint, or higher,
When I return, you’ll feel the fire
Of all my worldly wrath and ire,
   If anything’s amiss!
He tucks the whip back into his belt, closes the lock of the chest and locks it with a large key which he wears on a ring at his belt. Then he starts toward the exit. He pauses.
Now that I have made known to you
What I propose that you shall do,
With a more carefree heart I go,
   Nicholas, I confess!

Barbarus leaves the stage. One by one the robbers come out of their hiding places and gather around the chest. They try to pick the lock, but cannot do so. At last the leader takes a heavy knife from his belt and pries open the lid. They reach into the chest and take out treasures, which they show to the audience with much delight. For example, one takes out a cloak with gold embroidery, drapes it over his shoulders and swaggers about the stage while the others applaud. Another pulls out a “jeweled scabbard” and flourishes the sword within it. Several pluck out bags of coins which they jingle. When the chest is empty, they close the lid, dance around it in glee, then run off stage in different directions.

After they have gone, Barbarus returns. He is swaggering more proudly than ever, and wears several new money-bags at his waist. He walks confidently to the chest, takes out his key, and prepares to open the lock, when he realizes that the lock is broken. He looks about in dismay, throws open the lid and sees that the chest is empty, then turns to the audience in anguish.

BARBARUS
Oh, Fortune, cruel and hard!
He points to the statue.
With this unworthy guard
I trusted all my hoard.
   Alas! Oh, Misery!
Who loses all, a sorry man is he!

He looks into his chest again, to make sure he isn’t dreaming.

A hundred coins and more
Were in this box before!
Now, not a penny’s here!
   Alas! Oh, Misery!
Who loses all, a sorry man is he!

He cries loudly.

My goods are gone! Oh, shame
And grief! I do proclaim
The statue is to blame!
   Alas! Oh, Misery!
Who loses all, a sorry man is he!

He turns to the statue.

I gave you here in trust
The wealth within this chest.
Oh, what a sorry jest!

He shakes his fist.

   Ha, Nicholas!
Give back my gold or suffer what you must!

He pulls out his whip.

I’ve paid to you much honor,
And now I am the mourner!
You’ll rue your misdemeanor.
   Ha, Nicholas!
Return my goods, or have a taste of this!

I swear it by thy Master!
If you would shun disaster,
Restore my gold the faster!
   Ha, Nicholas!
Refill my chest, or lose your happiness!

He starts to whip the statue, which slowly comes to life and climbs down from the pedestal. Barbarus puts away his whip, makes a threatening gesture to the Saint, who ignores him, and then Barbarus stomps off the stage.

St. Nicholas makes a search of the rear of the stage and discovers the robbers. One by one, he pulls them out from their hiding places, leads them by the ears into positions in a semicircle and makes them kneel. He addresses them sternly.

ST. NICHOLAS
Oh, wretched men, what have you done?
No longer shall the heavenly sun
   Shine on your evil joy.
For I was watching when you crept
Thieving, robbing here, and slipped
   Silently away.

Now I’ve had many a thump and whack,
Because I could not render back
   All that I should do.
Curses, bitter words, and more
I’ve borne, as well as whipping sore.
   Therefore I haste to you.

Give back into the merchant’s coffer
All that you have stolen, and offer
   Your prayers for grace.
Whatever Barbarus gave to me
In trust, restore immediately
   Into its place.

He raises his bishop’s crosier threateningly.

If you do not do this thing,
From a gibbet you shall swing
   Ere the night fall.
I shall proclaim to judge and city
Your sin and guilt. There’ll be no pity
   Upon you all.

The robbers plead silently with him, holding up their hands in various attitudes of begging. He nudges them to rise one by one and to take the treasures back to the chest. Each one does so in his turn, then goes back to his place in the semicircle and kneels again in prayer. When they have all completed their chores, St. Nicholas returns to his pedestal and resumes his original position.

Barbarus enters, sees the robbers kneeling, and runs to the chest. When he opens it, he shouts in wonder.

BABBARUS
Unless my eyes deceive,
   All is well!
My treasure I receive.
   Oh, what a miracle!
The lost is here again!
   All is well!
The effort was not mine!
   Oh, what a miracle!

He turns enthusiastically to the statue.

What a good guardian!
   All is well!
Thou hast returned my own!
   Oh, what a miracle!

He kneels before the statue.

Upon my knees to thee
   I come, St. Nicholas,
For thou hast kept for me
   The treasures I possess.

I’ve traveled far away,
   St. Nicholas, from thee,
But thou restorest today
   My earthly property!

The Saint stretches out his arm and speaks slowly to Barbarus, who bows his head.

ST. NICHOLAS
Do not, brother, pray to me.
   ‘Twas not I, but God above,
Maker of heaven and earth and sea,
   Who hath shown thee here His love.

Pray to Him, and praise His name.
   Only in that God believe
And in Christ, His only Son.
   Any other Gods deceive.

Mend thy ways, and turn to Him.
   Be no more an infidel.
God hath stretched His loving hand
   To thee in this miracle.

Barbarus rises from his knees. The robbers follow his example. He steps forward and addresses the audience.

BABBARUS
I shall hesitate no more,
   But acknowledge Him today.
Heathen I have been before.
   From my sins I draw away.

He turns to the statue.

Since my wealth He hath restored,
   I, too, restoration make
Of my soul unto my Lord,
   Honored Saint, for Jesus’ Sake.

Barbarus takes off his turban, his rich cloak, his belt with the moneybags, sword, etc., and lays them on the chest. The Saint smiles in blessing upon him, then resumes his position as a statue. Barbarus, his head bowed, walks slowly to the exit. As he moves off, the robbers follow him in a single line. Each pauses at the chest and places there his knives, moneybags, cloaks, etc.

Curtain


From Miracle Plays: Seven Medieval Plays for Modern Players by Anne Malcolmson, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, Houghton Mifflin, 1959. Used by permission.

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