The other day I was reading William Caxton’s preface to his printing of Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory. That’s not a sentence that I ever imagined myself writing, as it’s not a book that I would ever have imagined myself reading. Caxton – said to be the first English printer – edited and produced Malory’s epic work in 1485 and wrote his own introduction, the only part of the book that I read. In the course of his introduction Caxton listed people who had become known as ‘The Nine Worthies’. Divided into Pagan, Jewish and Christian, the Pagans were, Hector of Troy, Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, the Jews: Joshua, David and Judas Maccabaeus, and the Christians: King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon. I had heard of eight of these men – although my only memory of Hector is in the song The British Grenadiers – but the last had me scratching my head. Who was this Godfrey of Bouillon?
A little research revealed that Godfrey was a French nobleman who took up the Pope’s call for a Crusade to recapture Jerusalem from Muslim forces. Godfrey was one of this First Crusade’s leaders and after Jerusalem was taken in 1099, he became ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Godfrey has now largely been forgotten. Perhaps we English believe that Richard the Lionheart singlehandedly fought the Crusades. Perhaps Christian people simply prefer to forget this period in the history of the Church and those associated with it. It may also have something to do with the passage of time.
On any listing of top people, whether national figures, sportsman or musicians, the public memory tends to be short and while Godfrey was still big in the 15th century, he’s not such a hot property in the 21st. Perhaps this is a sobering reminder that it is given to an exceedingly small number of people to be remembered very long after their death and that lasting greatness is not something to be pursued. Perhaps it is also an encouragement to be one of the ‘saints of God’ whom one can meet ‘in trains, or in shops, or at tea’. To love God with all one’s heart means to love the people whom God has made. Loving God’s people in small ways may not be remembered by those who come long after us, but these small things are remembered by those we love and they are certainly remembered by God.