The Legend of the Patron Saint of Knitting and the Sheep Girl.
By David Milligan-Croft.
A long, long time ago, there was a young girl, about 14-ish, who was a shepherdess. She was a diligent girl who worked hard for her family and was thankful for the meagre things she had. If she had one tiny flaw, it was that she was slightly envious of other girls’ names. Ones who had names that meant things like ‘starlight’ or ‘princess of flowers’. Because pretty much everyone called her ‘sheep girl’. Apart from that, she was happy enough looking after her woolly friends.
After the sheep girl had tended her flock and safely rounded them up for the night she would spend the evening with her mother knitting in front of the hearth. She loved to knit with the fleece from her flock. She made clothes for all the family and for most of the villagers too.
Then, one day, a rider came galloping through the valley hailing that he had important news. Sheep girl hurried home as fast as she could, (with the sheep scampering behind her). All the people of the village were gathered around the fountain in the square, where the rider was breathlessly proclaiming the news that a vast army was approaching from the west. That it grew in size and wealth after each town and citadel that it sacked and plundered. No one knew why it was coming, or why it was gobbling up everything in its path, and either killing or enslaving everyone, but coming it was. And it was unstoppable.
The only good news the rider brought, was that the invading army was still many miles away and there were lots of towns, villages and citadels in the way of the behemoth before it reached their paltry village.
The sheep girl wanted to help her village, but she felt powerless, so she carried on the business of tending her sheep while wracking her brain for ideas until, one day, one of her flock went missing. She searched all over the valley but could not find the stray anywhere. Next, she tried the slopes of the valley, to no avail. She climbed higher up the mountain until the ground became so rocky and spartan that she needed her staff to gain purchase on the skittery rocks. Eventually, she came across the mouth of a cave with an eerie yellow glow emanating from within. Tentatively, she walked inside, and there was her missing sheep, Mathilda. But her fleece shone with the brilliance of gold. As she approached the nonchalant sheep, she realised that its fleece was, in fact, actual gold! So fine and delicate was the thread it felt like silk.
The sheep girl knew of a legend from her childhood that a great warrior would come down from the mountain one day to save the village from calamity. Was this a sign, she thought. That the hero was indeed about to appear before her? And was this sheep a portent to his impending arrival? Then, she was struck with the idea of how she could help the village and the great would-be saviour. She would knit him a suit of golden chainmail armour so strong that it would be impenetrable to arrow, axe or sword! She sheared, spun and knitted all day and all night until the gleaming suit of chainmail was complete.
Then she waited.
But the hero did not come.
And the billowing plumes of smoke from sacked cities on the horizon grew closer day by day.
She stared down at her village from the mouth of the cave as she absentmindedly ran her fingers through the shorn fleece of Mathilda. Then she felt the sheep’s head pull away. The sheep girl looked down at Mathilda who gently nudged her hand with her head. Then she turned and trundled back into the cave, stopping occasionally, to check whether the sheep girl was following her. Mathilda stopped before the golden mail neatly folded on the rock. When the sheep girl arrived next to her, Mathilda pushed the mail toward her with her nose. Sheep girl laughed, ‘I can’t wear it, Mathilda. It’s for the great warrior who’s coming to save us!’ But Mathilda trotted behind the sheep girl and butted her toward the suit.
‘Well, I guess there’s no harm in trying it on, little miss bossy britches,’ she said to Mathilda. The sheep girl lifted the hauberk over her head and found that it was surprisingly light for a shirt made of precious metal. Next, she pulled the coif over her head, neck and shoulders so that only her resplendent face was visible. She held out her arms and turned around. ‘What do you think, Tilda?’ she asked. ‘It fits pretty well, even if I do say so myself.’
Mathilda bowed her head and stroked the ground with her hoof.
‘Alas, I have no sword to smite my enemies,’ she joked. Then she noticed her staff leaning against the cave wall and another idea fell upon her. She took up her knitting needles and sharpened the points of them with her shears until they were sharp enough to pierce the mountain itself. Then she attached them to the head of the staff with golden thread.
Outside, the wheels of war grew ever louder as the mighty trebuchets of the invaders drew closer. Great columns of dust rose behind the cavalry as their hooves thundered across the plain. Drummers beat a rhythm for the massed ranks of infantry to march to. Buglers trumpeted the impending triumph of their mighty army. Heraldic banners fluttered in the wind. Sheep girl’s heart began to race as she paced the cave. Slate grey storm clouds gathered overhead and the tumultuous air was charged with electricity.
The sheep girl stepped out of the cave with her bident held aloft and beheld the vast invading hoard below, stretched out as far as the eye could see. What could she, a mere shepherdess, do against such a foe? Just then, the clouds began to part and a great beam of sunlight burst through and illuminated the sheep girl in her golden chainmail. The light refracted off the individual chinks and split into a myriad of shards of light, blinding the soldiers below and burning out their retinas. Those that were not blinded either fell prostrate before the angelic warrior from the heavens or turned and fled the battlefield in fear of the gods’ divine retribution. Then, a terrifying bolt of lightning cracked from the sky connecting to the sheep girl’s bident and the landscape turned a scintillating white. And, just like that, she disappeared.
Nothing was ever found of the shepherdess, except for her charred golden chainmail and scorched bident. In the years that followed, people from all over the land went on pilgrimages to the mountain to pay their respects to their saviour. Theologians and philosophers came from far and wide to beatify her in some form or another and bickered over how best to honour her name. Even though she was the golden warrior of light and had conquered the greatest army the world had ever seen, it was her dedication to her flock and her love of knitting that she would be remembered most, as La Cher, the Patron Saint of Knitting.