Giovanni Boccaccio: Ser Ciapelletto

   It is said, then, that Musciatto Franzesi, 1 having become a fine gentleman, the richest and greatest merchant in France, had to come to Tuscany with Carlo Senzaterra, 2 the brother of the French king, who had been asked to come by Pope Boniface; however, discovering that his affairs, as always happens with merchants, were messed up all over the place so badly that they could not be quickly straightened out, he decided to commit them to the hands of a few competent people; after arranging all this, the only thing that remained in doubt was the recovery of certain loans which he had made to various Burgundians. The reason this was a problem was that he had heard that the Burgundians were a riotous, evil and disloyal people; and he was quite unable to think of anyone just as villainous as the Burgundians whom he could trust at the same time. After thinking about this problem for a long time, he suddenly remembered a certain Ser Cepparello of Prato, who had many times visited his house in Paris: this man was a short person and a very sharp dresser, and since the French did not know the meaning of the word Cepparello, they all thought that it meant chapel, which means "garland" in their language, and because he was a small person, as we have said, they used to call him, not Ciappello, but Ciappelletto: and everyone knew him as Ciappelletto, because few people knew him as Ser Cepperello.

   This Ciappelletto lived the following sort of life: being a professional notary, he would have been greatly embarrassed if one of his legal deeds, of which he only drew up a few, were found to be anything other than manifestly false; he would have drawn up as many false documents as were requested of him without any fee, and done it more willingly than one who was paid enormous amounts of money. He took great delight in giving false testimony, whether someone asked him for it or not; in those times, great faith was placed on sworn testimony in France, and since he didn't care about swearing falsely, he used to win through these criminal means every case in which he had to swear on his Christian faith to tell the truth. He especially enjoyed, and worked real hard at, stirring up hatred, enmity and scandal between friends, relatives and just about anybody else; and the more calamity that followed on this, the greater would be his joy. If he were invited to witness a homicide or any other thing of this sort, he never refused, but willingly went, and he often found himself voluntarily assaulting or killing people with his own hands. He was one of the greatest blasphemers of God and His Saints, and blasphemed over the trivialest matters, as if he were the most hot-tempered human being alive. He never used to go to church, and he would spit out the most vile things in the most poisonous language about anything even remotely associated with the church; on the other hand, he would willingly visit and do business with taverns and other disreputable places. Of women he was as fond as dogs are of sticks; in their opposite, he took more delight than even the foulest man in existence. He stole and robbed with the same conscience as one making an offering in church. He was a great glutton and phenomenal drinker, so much so, in fact, that sometimes he suffered in a, well, less than polite way. He was a solemn gambler and cheat. But why do I waste so many words on him? He was perhaps the worst man that was ever born. This villainy had for a long time been protected by the power and position of Messer Musciatto, on whose account he was treated with respect by private individuals to whom he often did injury, and by the courts, which he was always abusing.

   So that when Musciatto remembered this Ser Ciappelletto, whose way of life he was well acquainted with, he knew him to be the perfect man who could match the villainy of the Burgundians; he sent for him immediately and said:

   "Ser Ciappelletto, as you know, I am about to go away from here, but I have affairs with the Burgundians, among others; these people are shifty and devious, and I can think of no person more suited than you to recover the debts they owe me. And so, if you have nothing to do at present, and will attend to this business, I intend, in recompense, to obtain favors for you at court and give to you a hefty portion of the money you recover."

   Ser Ciappelletto, who found himself unemployed and poorly supplied with worldly goods, and seeing that the man who had for a long time sustained and upheld him was about to depart, without any delay, because he was sorely constrained by necessity, made up his mind and said that he'd volunteer. So that, having decided on the terms, Ser Ciappelletto procured favorable letters of introduction from the King and powers of attorney from Musciatto and he went to Burgundy, where no-one knew him There, departing from his natural manner, he began to benignly and gently go about recovering the debts and doing that which he had gone there to do, as if holding back his anger as a reserve.

   And it happened that, while staying in the house of two Florentine brothers who made a living lending money for interest 3 and who showed him the greatest honor out of love for Messer Musciatto, he fell ill. Instantly the two brothers called doctors and servants to attend him, and requested everything that might be opportune for his health. But all their assistance was nothing, because the good man, who was old and had lived a disordered life, as the doctors said, went day to day from bad to worse, like one who has a fatal illness; because of this, the two brothers began to worry hard.

   One day, when they were near the room of the poor, sick Ser Ciappelletto, they began to discuss immoderately among themselves: "What are we going to do," said the one to the other, "about this guy? We've come to a pretty bad pass at his hand, because if we cast him far away from our house in his illness, it would bring great shame and be a clear sign we have little sense. If people saw us first receiving him, and then solicitously trying to help him with doctors, and sparing no trouble to help him, what would they think if we suddenly threw him, almost sick to death and having given no offense, out of our house? On the other hand, he is such an evil man that he will never wish to make confession nor receive any sacraments of the Church; and if he dies without confession, no church will take his body, and he'll be tossed into the dung-heap like a dog. But if he does make his confession, his sins are so great and so horrifying, that the same thing will happen, because there will be no friar or priest who would wish or be able to grant him absolution; therefore, without absolution, he will be tossed in the dung heap just like before. And if this happens, the townspeople, because of our profession, will set up an inquisition and murmur evil things about us all the live-long day, because the bastards want to steal our money, and so they'll parade about murmuring and shrieking, 'These Lombard dogs that the Church refuses to accept, we will no longer tolerate in our midst!'; and they'll run up to our house and not only rob us but kill us! Either way, we're in deep shit when this guy dies."

   Ser Ciappelletto, who, as we have said, was lying near the place where they were arguing. Because he was particularly sharp of hearing, as sick people often are, he heard everything they said; after this discussion, he called them in and said to them, "I don't wish you to worry or to have any fear because of me. I heard you discussing me and I am absolutely certain that what you say will happen, if things happen as you anticipate; but they will, in fact, take an entirely different course. I have, while alive, done so many injuries to our good Lord, that to do Him one last injury at my death won't really matter; so, go now and bring me the holiest and ablest friar you can find, if such a one exists—and if not, any will do—and leave everything to me, for I shall so firmly set your affairs and my own in order, that all will be well and you'll be completely content."

   The two brothers, deriving little hope from all this, nonetheless went to a house of friars and asked for a holy and wise man who would have to hear the confession of a Lombard who was sick in their house, and they gave them an ancient friar of a good and holy life who was a great master of the Scriptures and a most venerable man, to whom all the townspeople showed a profound and special devotion, and they led him to their house. This friar, on entering the room where Ser Ciappelletto was lying, sat down at his bedside, and gently began to comfort him, and then immediately asked him how long it was since he had last confessed.

   To this, Ser Ciappelletto, who had never ever confessed even once in his life, replied, "My Father, it has always been my custom to confess at least once every week, except that there are many weeks in which I confess more than one time; but, indeed, since I became sick, now almost eight days ago, I have not confessed myself because my sickness has given me so much pain."

   To this the friar replied, "My son, you have done well, and you should keep it up; and I see that, since you go to confession so often, there will be little for me to hear or to ask."

   Ser Ciapelletto said, "Master friar, don't speak this way, for no matter how many times or how often I have confessed, I have always wished to confess generally all my sins which I remember from the time I was born to the time I give confession; for this reason, I beg you, my good father, that you as thoroughly question me as if I had never confessed in my entire life: and do not spare me because I'm sick, for I would love very much to mortify my flesh, rather than treat it leniently, to the perdition of my soul, which my Savior redeemed with his precious blood."

   These words greatly pleased the holy man, and seemed to argue a well-disposed mind; having commended over and over Ser Ciappelletto for his custom of confession, he began by questioning him about the sin of lust with any woman.

   To which, sighing, Ser Ciappelletto replied: "My Father, this question embarrasses me, for I fear in answering it that you'll accuse me of vainglory or pride."

   To which the holy friar replied, "Speak with confidence; no man telling the truth in confession or otherwise ever sinned."

   Ser Ciappelletto then said, "Since you assure me on this matter, I will tell you: I am a virgin just as I was on the day I came out of my mother's womb."

   "Oh, may you be blessed by God!" said the friar, "How well you have done! And how much more merit is there in this since, had you wished, you had the more freedom to do the opposite than those who, like ourselves, are constrained by rule!"

   Next he asked him about the sin of gluttony which displeases God; to which, sighing deeply, Ser Ciappelletto replied that he had committed this sin many times; for although he was accustomed, apart from the periods of fasting observed in the course of the year by the devout, to fasting three days per week on only bread and water, with great delight and profound appetite he would drink the water, and particularly when he was fatigued from praying or going on a pilgrimage, as do the greatest tipplers of wine; and many times he desired those herb salads that women eat when they go to their country villas; and sometimes it appeared better to eat, while he was fasting, in such a way that people, like himself, who were fasting shouldn't feel.

   To all this the friar said, "My son, these sins are natural and trivial, and therefore I don't want you to weigh down your conscience more than necessary. To every man it happens, even the holiest, to be attracted by the thought of eating after a long period of fasting, and by the thought of drink when he is fatigued."

   "Oh!" said Ser Ciappelletto, "my father, do not tell me this to comfort me. You know as well as I do that things done in the service of God must all be done honestly and without any grudging in the soul, and if anyone does otherwise, he sins."

   The friar said with great contentment, "I am contented that you understand this, and it pleases me greatly that you have such a good and pure conscience in this matter. But tell me, have you ever committed the sin of avarice, by desiring to have more than was proper, or keeping what you should not have?"

   To which Ser Ciappelletto replied, "My father, I would not wish you to judge me ill because I am in the house of these usurers. I have nothing to do with them, except that I had come here to admonish and reproach them and turn them from this abominable business; and I believe I would have succeeded, if God had not stricken me. However, you should know that my father left me a rich man, and I gave, when he was dead, the greater part of his fortune to God; and then, in order to sustain my life and enable me to help the Christian poor, I have done a small amount of trading, in the course of which I have desired to gain. And with the poor of God, whatever I have gained, I have parted in half, converting half to my use and half to theirs; and in this project the Creator has so helped me that I have done better and better."

   "You have done well," said the friar, "but tell me, how often have you lost your temper?"

   "Oh!" said Ser Ciappelletto, "I can certainly tell you that I have done that very often; but who could restrain himself, who sees all day men doing disgusting things, and not obeying to God's commandments, or fearing His wrath? It happens many times a day that I wish to be dead rather than alive, seeing young people wasting time, swearing falsely and lying, going to taverns, not visiting church, and following the ways of the world rather than those of God."

   The friar then said, "My son, this is a good anger, and I will impose no penance for it; but has your anger led you to commit murder or slander a person or do them any other injury?"

   To which Ser Ciappelletto replied: "Alas, master friar, you appear to be a man of God, how could you say such words? If I had had even the smallest thought of doing any of the things you mention, do you believe that I would believe that God would have sustained me? Those things are the business of cutthroats and evil men, and whenever I have seen one of these, I have always said 'Go! Convert to God!'"

   Then the friar said, "Now tell me, my son, you who are so blessed by God: have you ever given false testimony against anyone, or spoken ill about them, or taken what belonged to others without their permission?"

   "Never, master friar," replied Ser Ciappelletto, "except when I spoke ill of someone: for I once had a neighbor who, without the slightest injury or cause, always battered his wife, so that once I spoke ill of him to his wife's relatives, for I felt great pity for that unfortunate woman. Whenever he had had too much to drink, only God could tell you how he beat her."

   Then the friar said, "Well now, you tell me you were a merchant: did you ever deceive anyone, as merchants do?"

   "Faith," said Ser Ciappelletto, "master friar, yes, but all I know about him is this: he was a man who brought me some money that he owed me for a length of cloth I had sold him, and I put the money away in a box without counting it first, and better than a month had passed before I found there were four pennies more than there should have been; then, because I never saw him again and kept the pennies for a year with the intention of giving them back, l gave them away in charity for the love of God."

   The friar said, "That was a trivial matter, and you did well to do what you did."

   And, in this manner, the holy friar questioned him on several other matters, but he always answered in the same way: and hence the friar wished to proceed to the absolution. But Ser Ciappelletto said, "Master friar I still have some sins which I have not spoken to you about."

   The friar asked him what they were, and he said: "I remember making one of my servants, one Saturday after nones, 4 sweep the house and thus not showing the proper respect to the Sabbath."

   "Oh!" said the friar, "my son, this is a light matter."

   "No," said Ser Ciappelletto, "do not call this a light matter, for the Sabbath is to be greatly honored, because this was the day on which our Lord rose from the dead."

   Then the friar said, "Have you done anything else?"

   "Yes, master friar," replied Ser Ciappelletto, "for I, without thinking, spat once in the church of God."

   The friar began to smile, and said, "My son, this is not a thing to worry about: we, who have taken religious orders, spit there all the livelong day."

   Then Ser Ciappelletto said, "And you do a great villainy, because no place should be so clean as the sacred temple, in which is rendered sacrifice to God!"

   And in brief, he told the friar many things like this; finally he began to sigh, and then to weep loudly, as he was always able to do whenever he pleased.

   The holy friar said, "My son, what is the matter?"

   Ser Ciappelletto replied, "Alas, master friar, one sin still remains, which I have never confessed, because I am so greatly ashamed to speak it; and every time that I remember it I weep just as you see, and I am certain that God will not forgive me for this sin."

   Then the holy friar said, "Come now, son, what is it that you speak? If all the sins which were committed by all the human beings in the world, along with those that they will commit as long as this world lasts, were all piled onto a single man, and he was penitent and contrite over them as I see you are, so great is the kindness and mercy of God, that, having confessed these sins, He would freely pardon the man; of that you can be sure."

   Then Ser Ciappelletto said, still weeping loudly, "Alas, my father, my sin is so great, I can scarcely believe that, unless you pray for me, God will ever forgive me."

   To which the friar replied, "Tell me this sin with a secure mind, for I promise to pray to God for you."

   Ser Ciappelletto continued to weep and said nothing, and the friar continued to encourage him to speak; but after Ser Ciappelletto, weeping in this manner, had kept the friar in suspense for a long time, he let forth a great sigh, and said, "Father, since you promise that you will pray to God for me, I will tell you: You should know then that once, when I was a little, I cursed my mamma." And having said this, he began to weep and wail with great force.

   The friar said, "Oh, my son, does this now seem to you so great a sin? People curse God all day, and He willingly forgives those who repent having cursed Him; why then do you believe He will not forgive you for this? Do not weep, be comforted, remain steadfast, for if you had been one of those who had placed God on the cross, I see that you show so much contrition, that there's no doubt He would forgive you."

   Then Ser Ciappelletto said, "Alas, father, what are you saying? My dear, sweet mamma, who carried me in her body day and night for nine months, and held me more than a hundred times in her lap! It was too evil of me to curse her, and so great is the sin! And if you do not pray to God for me, He will never forgive me!"

   When the friar saw that nothing remained for Ser Ciappelletto to say, he did his absolution and gave him his blessing, considering him to be a most holy man, and completely believing all that Ser Ciapelletto had said; and who would not have believed him, seeing that he was a man speaking at the point of death?

   And then, after all this, the friar said, "Ser Ciappelletto, with God's help you will soon be healthy again; but should God summon your blessed and well-disposed soul to Himself, would it please you if your body were buried in our convent?"

   To which Ser Ciappelletto replied, "Yes, father, I would not wish to be elsewhere, since you have promised to pray to God for me; besides, I have a special devotion to your Order. So I beg you, when you return to your convent, see that I am sent that true body of Christ which every morning on the altar you consecrate; for although I am not worthy of it, I intend with your permission to take it, and afterwards the holy and Extreme Unction, so that, having lived as a sinner, at least I shall die as a Christian."

   The holy man said that he was greatly pleased and that he had spoken well, and that he would see it was immediately brought to him; and so it was.

   The two brothers, who strongly suspected that Ser Ciappelletto was going to betray them, had posted themselves behind a partition which divided the room where Ser Ciappelletto was lying from another, and listening closely they could easily hear what Ser Ciappelletto said to the friar; and they broke out into gales of laughter when they heard the things he confessed to having done, so much so they felt they were going to burst. And they said to themselves, "What manner of man is this, whom neither old age nor illness nor fear of the death which he sees near at hand, nor even the fear of God, before whose judgement he knows he must shortly appear, has been able to turn him from his evil ways, or wish to die any differently from the way he has lived?" But seeing that he done as he promised and was to be received for burial in a church, they cared nothing for the remainder.

   Ser Ciappelletto made his communion shortly afterwards, and rapidly growing worse, he received Extreme Unction, and a little after vespers, on the same day that he had made his good confession, he died. After this two brothers made all necessary arrangements, using his own money, of course, to give him an honorable funeral, and sending news of his death to the friar house, they asked them to come to observe the vigil, following their custom, over the body until morning, and then dispose of the body.

   The holy friar who had confessed him, hearing that he had passed away, met with the prior of the chapter-house; he convinced him to ring the bell, and to the gathered friars he showed that Ser Ciappelletto had been a holy man, as his confession had proven; and he hoped that through him the Lord God would show forth many miracles, and persuaded them that his corpse should receive the greatest reverence and devotion. And the priors and the friars were completely gullible: that evening they all went to the place where Ser Ciappelletto's body lay, and performed a great and solemn vigil over it; and in the morning, dressed in all their finest vestments, with books in their hands and crosses in front of them, singing to the corpse as they went, with the greatest pomp and solemnity they carried the body back to the church, with the entire population of the city, men and women, following at their heels. And when it had been placed in the church, the holy friar who had confessed him scaled the pulpit and about Ser Ciappelletto's life, about his fasts, about his virginity, about his simplicity and innocence and his wondrous sanctitude, he began to preach, among other things narrating what this Ser Ciappelletto, wracked with tears, had confessed to him as his greatest sin, and how he had barely been able to convince him that God would forgive him, at which point, turning to reprimand the people who were listening, said, "And you, the cursed of God, need only to catch your feet in the smallest piece of straw to curse God and the Holy Mother and all the Saints in heaven!"

   And beyond this, he said much else about his loyalty and his purity. And in brief, with his words, which the people of the town believed faithfully, he fixed Ser Ciappelletto so firmly in the minds and devotion of all those present that when the service was finished, with the greatest fervor everyone came to kiss his feet and his hands, and all the clothes on his back were torn off, and anyone who grabbed a little bit believed themselves to be beatified. And it turned out that he had to lie there all day, so that everyone could see him and visit him. Then, night having come on, he was buried with great honor in a marble sepulchre in one of the chapels, and hand in hand people came and lit candles for him and adored him, and the next day they began to make votive offerings and make images of him from the wax about the chapel in fulfillment of their promises. And so great did the fame of his saintliness and of the devotion shown by him grow, that there was no-one who did not pray to him, rather than to another saint, in time of trouble, and they called him, and they still call him, Saint Ciappelletto; and it has been affirmed that God has shown forth many miracles through him and shown that he helps those who daily devote themselves to this Saint.

   It was thus, then, that Ser Cepperello of Prato lived and died and became a Saint the way you have heard. Now, I do not wish to deny that its possible that God blessed him and admitted him into His presence, for even though he led a sinful and wicked life, it is possible that at the very last moment of his life, he made such sincere contrition, that, by chance, God had mercy upon him and received him into His kingdom; but since this is hidden, following only what appears outwardly to the reason, I say that this one should rather be in the hands of the devil in Perdition than in Paradise. And if this is so, we may know how great is God's love towards us, in that it regards not our error, but of the purity of our faith, such that he listens to our prayers even when directed to one of His enemies to intercede for us, mistakenly thinking him to be one of His friends, as if we were taking recourse to a genuine saint to intercede for us. And therefore, so that through His grace, we, the members of this joyful company, through these present calamities may be guided safely and securely, praising His name, the name with which we began our storytelling, let us hold Him in reverence, and in our need let us commend ourselves to Him, secure that we shall be heard.

   And there the storyteller fell silent.

Translated from the Italian by Richard Hooker (1994)



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