Decameron: Dom Felice and Fra Puccio

This is the story of a wealthy man named Puccio who becomes a lay member of a Franciscan monastery, and thus was known as Fra Puccio, i.e. Brother Puccio. A lay member, or "tertiary" as he is called here, is someone who is not a monk or a nun, but who belongs to the "third order" of the monastery, meaning that they do not make religious vows, although they do join in the religious life of the monastery. You can find out more about monastic "third orders" at Wikipedia.

[Notes by LKG]

This story is part of the Decameron unit. Story source: The Decameron by Boccaccio, translated by J. M. Rigg (1903).

Dom Felice and Fra Puccio
(Pamfilo: Day 3, Story 4)
The queen glanced with a smile to Pamfilo, and said: "Now, Pamfilo, give us some pleasant trifle to speed our delight."

"That gladly will I," returned forthwith Pamfilo, and then, "Madam," he began:

Not a few there are that, while they use their best endeavours to get themselves places in Paradise, do, by inadvertence, send others thither: as did, not long ago, betide a fair neighbour of ours, as you shall hear.

Hard by San Pancrazio there used to live, as I have heard tell, a worthy man and wealthy, Puccio di Rinieri by name who, in later life under an overpowering sense of religion, became a tertiary of the order of St. Francis, and was thus known as Fra Puccio. In which spiritual life he was the better able to persevere that his household consisted but of a wife and a maid and, having no need to occupy himself with any craft, he spent no small part of his time at church, where, being a simple soul and slow of wit, he said his paternosters, heard sermons, assisted at the mass, never missed lauds when chanted by the seculars, fasted and mortified his flesh; nay — so 'twas whispered — he was of the Flagellants.

His wife, Monna Isabetta by name, a woman of from twenty-eight to thirty summers, still young for her age, lusty, comely and plump as an apple, had not unfrequently, by reason of her husband's devoutness, if not also of his age, more than she cared for of abstinence, and when she was sleepy, or, maybe, riggish, he would repeat to her the life of Christ, and the sermons of Fra Nastagio, or the lament of the Magdalen, or the like.

Now, while such was the tenor of her life, there returned from Paris a young monk by name Dom Felice, of the convent of San Pancrazio, a well-favoured man, and keen-witted, and profoundly learned, with whom Fra Puccio became very intimate, and as there was no question which he could put to him but Dom Felice could answer it, and moreover he made great shew of holiness, for well he knew Fra Puccio's bent, Fra Puccio took to bringing him home and entertaining him at breakfast and supper, as occasion served, and for love of her husband, the lady also grew familiar with Dom Felice and was zealous to do him honour.

So the monk, being a constant visitor at Fra Puccio's house and seeing the lady so lusty and plump, surmised that of which she must have most lack and made up his mind to afford, if he could, at once relief to Fra Puccio and contentment to the lady. So cautiously, now and again, he cast an admiring glance in her direction with such effect that he kindled in her the same desire with which he burned and, marking his success, took the first opportunity to declare his passion to her. He found her fully disposed to gratify it, but how this might be, he was at a loss to discover, for she would not trust herself with him in any place whatever except her own house, and there it could not be, because Fra Puccio never travelled, whereby the monk was greatly dejected.

Long he pondered the matter and at length thought of an expedient whereby he might be with the lady in her own house without incurring suspicion, notwithstanding that Fra Puccio was there. So, being with Fra Puccio one day, he said to him: "Reasons many have I to know, Fra Puccio, that all thy desire is to become a saint, but it seems to me that thou farest by a circuitous route, whereas there is one very direct, which the Pope and the greater prelates that are about him know and use, but will have it remain a secret because otherwise the clergy, who for the most part live by alms and could not then expect alms or aught else from the laity, would be speedily ruined. However, as thou art my friend and hast shewn me much honour, I would teach thee that way, if I were assured that thou wouldst follow it without letting another soul in the world hear of it."

Fra Puccio was now all agog to hear more of the matter and began most earnestly entreating Dom Felice to teach him the way, swearing that, without Dom Felice's leave, none should ever hear of it from him and averring that, if he found it practicable, he would certainly follow it.

"I am satisfied with thy promises," said the monk, "and I will shew thee the way. Know then that the holy doctors hold that whoso would achieve blessedness must do the penance of which I shall tell thee, but see thou take me judiciously. I do not say that after the penance thou wilt not be a sinner, as thou art, but the effect will be that the sins which thou hast committed up to the very hour of the penance will all be purged away and thereby remitted to thee, and the sins which thou shalt commit thereafter will not be written against thee to thy damnation, but will be quit by holy water, like venial sins.

(900 words)

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