Alois-Friedrich von Dietmann, Duke-Abbot of Kempten
God’s Mysterious Way
It had, reflected Alois ruefully, been a very confusing three months.
There had been no sign that God was about to pluck him from obscurity and make him His instrument, but this was exactly what had happened. Alois did not know what to make of the turn of events, truly, but realised that he was merely an instrument in God’s design and he must accept His will.
It had begun in Pavia. Alois had been teaching in Pavia for over twenty years, preserved by the university’s rareified atmosphere of hot air and alcohol, and he had more-or-less resigned himself to be there for the rest of his life. This did not trouble Alois one bit, he was doing his part for God and the Benedictine order and was happy with his modest lot.
This peace was shattered by the arrival of a letter from the deputy Abbot at Kempten, his old Monastery. The letter informed him that he had been nominated for the election of the next Duke-Abbot, Abbot Ernst having recently been taken up to the bosom of God. Alois did not quite know what to make of this: he had not been at Kempten since he was a novice and was a little baffled by the choice, having originally thought it a joke. So he pondered about this for a good deal, but while he was pondering another letter arrived informing him that he had been elected and that the messenger would bring him further news.
The messenger turned out to be a character called Georg Lachen. With him were twenty rather scruffy horsemen in bearskins that Lachen described as ‘Father-Abbot’s own loyal Lifeguard’ and two bewildered novices who were to be at his call for the journey. Lachen told him that he was to go directly to Rome, with Lachen and his men as escort, so that he could be installed by the Holy Father. Then the party were to return to Kempten where Alois would be installed.
So the party set off for Rome. Alois tried to talk to the two novices about things in Kempten, but they either seemed to know very little or were half-witted. Lachen said he was “…unable, in my humble position, to comment on the higher workings of the Abbey.” Hmm. Alois had more luck in getting to know Lachen generally. The man had an extraordinary appearance: the face was a mass of scar tissue and Lachen boasted to carry the marks of “22 great wounds” and had never once visited a surgeon, which he took to be the mainspring of his healthy constitution, although Alois suspected that the large quantities of alcohol he imbibed every night had proofed his body against all disease many years ago.
Lachen also claimed to have fought every war since Thermopylae, or so it seemed to Alois and it turned out that he was not a native of the Allgau district at all, but a soldier of fortune who saw his current little command as something of a retirement sinecure. The men, meanwhile, although they seemed polite enough on the surface were boorish and drank at night: Alois fancied he caught them laughing at him at times when they were drunk or off-guard, but dismissed it.
On reaching Rome Alois and his party had to wait a week for an audience with His Holiness. His growing nervousness had now reached fever pitch and as his audience day came he was wretchedly sick. The awe soon dissipated, however, when the audience took place. The shrunken and shrivelled figure mumbled some inaudible words in Latin whilst Alois strained to hear. Then he noticed that, under the Holy Father’s robes, his two feet were encased in two different coloured slippers and Alois drifted through the rest of the event pre-occupied with wondering who had got the Holy Father ready that morning.
For Alois the journey to Kempten was agony. The men were as boorish as ever, the novices as incompetent and Lachen continually regaled him with war stories and tales of his wounds. Things took an even stranger turn on reaching the patrimony of the Abbey. Instead of the expected crowds to wave and cheer he met a rather quizzical and vaguely disinterested reception on the road. One or two members of the older generation did greet him enthusiastically but other people were somewhat muted. It was not sullen, he reflected, but rather he was being treated as something of a curiosity.
The party spent the night at an Inn at Isny while the arrangements for his formal entry were made. The following day he dressed in his remaining clean robe and mounted his horse. Followed by Lachen and his men he made his entry through the streets of Kempten-in-Allgau to the gates of the Abbey. The townspeople here had turned out in greater numbers and showed a little more enthusiasm than their country bretheren, and dotted among the crowd he could see monks from his own order, plus the odd Franciscan, waving madly.
On reaching the Abbey he dismounted and with all due ceremony was installed as Duke-Prior of the Abbey and Patrimony of Kempten by his peers. Dazed by the ceremony, and dazzled by his new residence, he informed his novice-companions that he wished to see no-one for the rest of the day, but would hold an audience in the morning. In the meantime he prayed to God in his new Chapel for guidance and help so that His poor instrument, Alois, could do his will.
Whatever that turned out to be…