The heavy iron gate swung open and a German count and his wife stepped inside the walls of the monastery at Fulda. Between them walked a little boy, perhaps eight or nine years old, holding his mother’s hand. His eyes were wide as he stared at the simple garden and buildings. Men in brown hoods walked toward them. One man held his hands out to the visitors and spoke.
“Greetings in the name of our Savior. I am Rabanus, a priest here at the monastery of Fulda. We’ve been expecting you.”
Count Bruno nodded and looked down at his young son.
Rabanus continued, “Is this the child that is to be the oblata, your gift to the church?”
“He is,” answered the count solemnly. His wife clutched the boy’s hand a little tighter. “This is Gottschalk,” Bruno introduced his son.
“Gottschalk,” the priest repeated, “meaning ‘servant of God.’ How fitting is the name.” Rabanus smiled. He encouraged the father. “Gottschalk will receive a fine education here at the monastery.”
The count nodded. He had no doubt that would be true. Rabanus was a very learned man and an able teacher at Fulda. In several years, by 822, Rabanus would become the abbot of the monastery and would make Fulda one of the most important schools in the classics and in science. The library would be unsurpassed. The count looked down at the boy. A son of an important count could not be given to just any monastery.
After more introductions the family was led into the abbey just as a dong from the bell tower echoed within the hall. Other monks, young and old, were already gathering there. Besides the bell, nothing was heard but the shuffle of feet on the hard, stone floor. The monks entered in silence with their tonsured hair cut like rings around their heads and their identical rough, brown habits. They all looked alike to young Gottschalk.
A row of them began to sing in low, even rhythm in front of the hall near the altar. Gottschalk could not understand what they were saying. They chanted in Latin. Other ceremonies were performed, and a priest raised his hands in blessing. There were candles, wafers of bread, wine, and incense. The smell made Gottschalk want to cough.
Then one of the monks stepped to where Gottschalk sat between his mother and father and held out his hand to the boy. Gottschalk glanced back at his parents as the monk led him up to the altar. Gottschalk’s mother bowed her head to hide her tears.
The priest said each word for young Gottschalk to repeat, words that caused him to vow to become a Benedictine monk. From this moment on he must live in strictest poverty and schedule. He must wear certain clothes, eat certain foods, and pray and work all in a certain way. There would be no meat, unless he was sick and needed to eat some to get better. There would be no wife for him when he got older, and no children or grandchildren would gather around his table. He must eat his meals in silence. Except for the company of other clergymen, he must live alone. The monastery would be his home now, for the rest of his life. That is what young Gottschalk promised by the altar.
The chanting, the ceremony, and the vows were complete, though Gottschalk understood little of what just happened.
“Servant of God” was his name, and servant of God he would remain. But no one could have known how faithful—and alone—this little servant of God would prove to be. Indeed, the teacher Rabanus would not have smiled had he known.