The Forest Monk
Dear friends, there is a tale:
A monk took up residence in a forest hut to lead a quiet life of prayer. He rarely went hungry, for a hunter who lived nearby would bring him provisions. While the hunter admired the monk’s devotion, he thought that the man’s saintliness made him difficult to talk to, so the hunter rarely lingered in his presence.
One day, after some weeks away, the hunter came into the hut with a large sack of oats and some dried meats. The hermit was much relieved, not only for the food, but to have someone to share the strange news: “Perhaps because of my prayers,” the monk began, “the most extraordinary thing has happened. Each night as the moon rises, a stag visits this hut, dimly lit by a halo. It has awed me, so I kneel before it and pray a devotion. Won’t you stay the night to witness this glorious vision?”
The hunter did not understand the monk’s description of these encounters, but was curious enough to see for himself. That night as the moon rose, such a stag did indeed appear, crowned with its own mysterious light. It moved as if floating through the woods, and hushed the crickets with its presence. The monk was excited, and hurried out of the hut to kneel in front of this creature, almost weeping, and asked the hunter quietly if he saw it too. “Yes, it’s quite incredible.” replied the hunter softly.
The stag was beautiful, but its movements seemed unnatural and stiff to the hunter. He began to wonder why such a vision would appear to him also, who knew nothing about these things, and for that matter killed animals for a living. Quickly he made up his mind, raised his bow, and shot an arrow just above the kneeling monk, straight at the stag’s breast.
The light immediately went out, and something went crashing downhill through the forest brush. “What have you done!” cried the monk, who became very distressed.
“If it was divine”, said the hunter, “then a simple arrow couldn’t have harmed it. So it must have been some monster.”
They barred the hut, and in the morning they followed the hill down to a little stream, where a wild boar lay dead, with an arrow in its chest.
The painting is Forest view at Wolfheze, by Johannes Warnardus Bilders, 1860 - 1890