“It was the custom for all priests at Christ Church to give supper to the poor. But Kristin had heard that fewer beggars came to Gunnulf Nikulausson than to any of the other priests, and yet–or perhaps this was the very reason–he seated them on the benches next to him in the main hall and received every wanderer like an honored guest. They were served food from his own platter and ale from the priest’s own barrels. The poor would come whenever they felt in need of a supper of stew, but otherwise they preferred to go to the other priests, where they were given porridge and weak ale in the cookhouse.
As soon as the scribe had finished the prayers after the meal, the poor guests wanted to leave. Gunnulf spoke gently to each of them, asking whether they would like to spend the night or whether they needed anything else; but only the blind boy remained. The priest implored in particular the young woman with the child to stay and not take the little one out into the night, but she murmured an excuse and hurried off. Then Gunnulf asked a servant to make sure that Blind Arnstein was given ale and a good bed in the guest room. He put on a hooded cape.
“You must be tired, Orm and Kristin, and want to go to bed. Audhild will take care of you. You’ll probably be asleep when I return from the church.”
Then Kristin asked to go with him. “That’s why I’ve come here,” she said, fixing her despairing eyes on Gunnulf. Ingrid lent her a dry cloak, and she and Orm joined the small procession departing from the parsonage.
The bells were ringing as if they were right overhead in the black night sky–it wasn’t far to the church. They trudged through the deep, wet, new snow. The weather was calm now, with a few snowflakes still drifting down here and there shimmering faintly in the dark. ~Kristin Lavransdatter, Mistress of Husaby by Sigrid Undset, translated by Tina Nunnally.
Kristin Lavransdatter is one of my very favorite books, so realistic and yet encouraging. Kristin is a real person: warts, and passions, and good intentions, and stupid decisions, all wrapped up in the life of one fourteenth century woman.
The scene I quoted above takes place near Christmas-time when Kristin is visiting her brother-in-law, a priest, because she is having marriage and family conflicts. She goes to the church to think and pray about all her sins and her life. Orm is her step-son.
I would highly recommend Kristin Lavransdatter as a gift for the wife/mother/reader in your family.