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An Execution and a Miracle

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Do you believe in miracles? Do you know anyone who has ever witnessed one? Although a rare event, long ago, in the 13th century, most people would have accepted the idea of a miracle. In fact, local stories and legends were often based on them.

Many years ago, in Westoning there lived a farmer called Ailward and this is the story of his miracle.

Ailward was an extremely bad-tempered and malicious man. He was not a fair man either. He employed a labourer, called Fulke, to plough his land for the sum of two pennies. However, when Fulke went to claim his money, Ailward made excuse after excuse and did not pay him.

One day, Fulke came across Ailward drinking in a pub. It was December 29th, St. Thomas of Canterbury's Day, and the start of three days of feasting in Westoning. Ailward, throwing his weight around, and slopping his beer, gestured to his friends.

"Pay you for what?" he said, "I don't remember you doing any work for me!"

The surprised Fulke then looked for support from Ailward's friends. He even said he would accept one penny in payment and use the other penny for drinks all round, to celebrate St. Thomas' festival. Roars and cheers of approval were heard.

So everyone, even Ailward's friends, thought this was a fair solution - everyone, that is, except Ailward. He was hopping mad. He swung a fist at Fulke, stormed out in a drunken rage and headed straight for poor Fulke's hovel.

Ailward banged on the door and battered it down!

He shoved Fulke's frightened children out of the way. Then, he started smashing up the place. The malicious Ailward also tried to destroy Fulke's livelihood too, by stealing Fulke's hedging gloves and whetstone. They were precious tools in those days.

Luckily, all the beer finally got the better of him. His legs gave way and he collapsed in a corner with the tools still in his hand.

The local beadle was called and Ailward was arrested. He was thrown into Bedford Prison and came before the Assizes at Leighton Buzzard, still arguing his innocence on the charge of cheating Fulke of two pennies.

Ailward was tried by water. His arms were tied to his sides and he was thrown into the pond. If he drowned, he would be judged to be telling the truth and would go to heaven. If he floated, he was guilty!

Ailward floated and was pronounced 'guilty' and that's when the really nasty punishments began. His eyes were gouged out and his hands and feet were sawn off. His body was thrown by the wayside as a warning to others.

However, the story does not end here, for a miracle was about to happen.

It took the shape of a stranger called Eilbrecht, who was passing by and took great pity on Ailward. Eilbrecht took Ailward to his house near Bedford and began to pray.

For many days Ailward hovered between life and death. However, Eilbrecht carried on praying for him and, as he lay on the bed, blind and in pain, Ailward began to feel very sorry for cheating Fulke and for the way he had lived his life. Ailward himself then began to pray with Eilbrecht.

One night, Ailward had a dream, so clear he was sure it was a vision. He saw St. Thomas accompanied by angels. St. Thomas touched his empty eye sockets and the angels laid their hands on his severed arms and legs.

To the astonishment of everyone in the household, over the next few weeks, new eyes began to grow in Ailward's empty eye sockets and new feet and hands grew to replace those that had been sawn off. A miracle had happened!

The story caused a great sensation and in Canterbury was heard with great joy. St. Thomas, the people said, had answered Ailward's prayers and the once mean and malicious Ailward was a changed man, who spent his final years worshipping the saint.

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