The Legend of St. Sophia

WHEN the fierce Moslems stormed the town,
They sacked Byzantium up and down: Not even Saint Sophia stayed Their cruel, all-destroying raid. The sacred walls no shelter gave; They rode their chargers up the nave, Trampling down with iron hoof The people gathered under its roof. And yet, in spite of startled cry, The shout of angry foemen nigh, The ring of the consecrated stones ’Neath the horses’ feet, the dying moans, The priest, who at the altar there Had just begun to chant his prayer, His prayer, unbroken, chanted on, Unmoved in either look or tone; In voice so tranquil, solemn, clear,
With never a shade of haste or fear,
He said the holy Catholic mass.
When closer still the horde drew near,
He seemed neither to see nor hear,
Until they pressed at left and right
And quenched the candles in his sight;
And then he turned to where was spread
The sacrament. He took the bread,
He held the wine above his head,
And with a look sublime that said,
“ Christ’s servant never yet has fled,”
He walked with firm and equal tread
The only open way. It led
To the solid minster wall; and lo!
As once of old the sea did know
To ope a way for Israel’s host,
And close again when the people crossed,
So now the wall did part in twain,
Receive the priest, and close again;
While e’en the Moslems paused to hear,
From just behind the wall anear,
A voice so tranquil, solemn, clear,
With never a shade of haste or fear,
Repeat the holy Catholic mass.
Stern Islam now the minster ruled,
And all the conquered building schooled
To speak its mandates. Much they burned;
And when they marked the altar turned
To Christ’s Jerusalem its face,
They tore it rudely from its place,
And made it look to Mecca. Still,
Listening oft against their will,
The very workmen paused to hear,
From just behind the wall anear,
A voice so tranquil, solemn, clear,
With never a shade of haste or fear,
Repeat the holy Catholic mass.
And still behind the walls, they say,
The priest imprisoned waits the day
That brings the end of Moslem sway;
And now and then they hear the tone
Of his devotions through the stone.
The legend cries with prophet voice,
“ That day will come. Let man rejoice! ”
And then the wall will part in twain,
The faithful priest come out again;
Within his hand will he the bread,
He ’ll hold the wine above his head, And climb with firm and equal tread
The altar stairs, to finish there,
As he began, his chanted prayer.
In voice so tranquil, solemn, clear,
With never a shade of haste or fear,
He ’ll end the holy Catholic mass.