THE BELLS of Pfarrkirche Sankt Peter rang out the morning after the storm. The people of Munich said that they were being punished for their beer-brought debauchery. The Church’s cross had fallen in the night, and tumbled from eave to street after a crack from the heavens.
“This,” said Father Meyer, “is a sign from God.”
The drunks were roused from where they too had fallen in the night. The pious town matrons pinched them, kicked them, and brought them to the Church. The women remarked there were only three birds in the sky; two ravens, side by side on a spire, and a lark that gracefully circled upwards among doleful dark clouds.
“The Lord calls out to us!” said Father Meyer. “Repent of your sins, your excesses and misdeeds. He has sent us a warning, now he will send us a miracle!”
So they fell on their knees, out of prayer or stupor, and asked for forgiveness in a church with no rooftop cross. Drunks next to virgins, the married with adulterers. Children were not exempted, and neither were the old. Everyone’s prayers were needed. For in the town there might be no one fool or holy enough to scale the steep copper slopes of Sankt Peter and return the cross to its spire, and for its downfall they were all to blame.
The town despaired as the day wore on and their prayers went unanswered. The lark had deserted them, and they were left with only clouds in the sky.
Finally it was the innkeeper who spoke with the priest. In the confession booth they argued, their words echoing through the chapel as the town listened. The priest emerged and smoothed down his robes, as if this refined his composure and doused his flaming cheeks. The innkeeper, red in the face from spirits, not from passion, followed.
“The Lord speaks when he keeps silent,” said Father Meyer. “It has become obvious that we must prove ourselves to him before the miracle is revealed. I ask this congregation, who among you is ready to prove their faith? Who among you trusts the Lord as your Shepherd? You may have wandered, but now it is time to return to the flock.”
Silence reigned. The matrons eyed the group of young men keeping silent by the relic. The married men eyed each other and then the drunks. The children, openly tired of this farce, eyed everyone.
The innkeeper now stepped forward.
“I see there is not one among you motivated simply by the Spirit. And so, I put forward a reward. The man in Munich who climbs the uppermost spire and replaces the cross shall be given ample from my stores, for as long as he should reside in this town and speak his prayers in this Church. No one shall accuse him of drunkenness or licentious behaviour, as we will all remember what he has done. I ask, is there any among you prepared to perform such a selfless deed?”
There were murmurs in the Church that thundered louder than the last night’s storm. Men were now animated like no sermon from Meyer. Perhaps he thought this also, because the priest’s nostrils flared and he cast a glowering look indicative of his congregation’s submission but not their reverence.
Then one man met his eye and stepped forward with little reservation. It was Peter Hoffbergen. He was never found in a city gutter, as he held his drink like no other. He also fought like no other when there was the occasion. For his reputation as a fearless wanton he was admired by men and coveted by women, both whores in the street and virgins in surreptitious thought.
A wry smile riddled his face as he said, “I pledge myself to restoring the honour of the Church. I hope my ignobility might go unnoticed as I seek redemption through self-sacrifice.”
Father Meyer paused, clearly hoping someone equally unbalanced but less distasteful might volunteer.
“Herr Hoffbergen, I am glad to see that you have finally found God’s purpose in your otherwise degenerate existence. Perhaps the saintliness of your namesake drives your altruism. Let us hope you continue on this selfless path.”
“If God sees fit not to smite me from his rooftop, Father Meyer.”
So the town watched from the Church square as Peter prepared to climb Sankt Peter’s tallest bell tower. A rope was secured to his waist and then to the side of the spire. It would not stop him from falling, but he might just break his ribs on the eave instead of shattering his skull the cobblestone street. The cross, as long as his torso, was strapped to his back. The town whores wailed loudly, and next to them the town’s most pious, unmarried young women held their hands to their faces while their cries went unuttered.
Peter stood on the edge of the bell tower and bowed, flourishing his hat and tossing it to the crowd. Father Meyer remarked he should not have been wearing his hat in the Church to begin with.
The town blacksmith gave him a leg up, and then he was scaling the sides of the belfry. It was unclear to the crowd below how he was able to hold on. It was as if he had turned spider or clung to the tower top through sheer exertion of will.
Then he had reached the peak, and arranged the cross so that it was in symmetry with the foundation of the Church. The people cheered, applauded, and the whores, sensing a change in the town’s mood, began to strut and display their wares. In true Bavarian style, the innkeeper called for beer to be brought from his tavern.
Through all this it seemed that Peter, still at the top of the belfry, was forgotten. Yet the inn-keeper remembered his bargain, and several pints made their way to Peter, still sitting victoriously at the top of the tower.
Along with a now endless supply of beer, the town in their gratitude had awarded him with a tankard of the finest Swiss crystal. The symbol of Munich, a monk holding a red book, was engrained on a rather large crest. Upon the church top Peter held out a full glass and took a sip. This was the indication for the rest of the town to begin their drinking. Perhaps in a rare act of concession, Father Meyer was nowhere to be seen.
It was at this moment that the more devout among the waiting crowd, said they saw the lark return, circle the Church, then suddenly dive out of sight towards the ground. It was also at this moment, so the story goes, that Peter lost sure footing and in his clamber to regain balance dropped the crystal tankard. There were two large bangs: one that echoed ominously as the tankard hit the church’s copper roof, rolling down the sloping eave, and a slightly less resounding thud as it hit the ground.
The crowd below was silent, as if God himself had spoken. There had been no smash, and the people of Munich formed a circle round the crystal tankard. The monk still held onto his little red book, and the drinking vessel remained perfectly intact.
It was proclaimed the miracle of Pfarrkirche Sankt Peter.
Many years later, after the man-made storm the Germans had once proudly called blitzkrieg had forced Munich to its knees, the townspeople once again called upon their saviour for divine restoration. From the humbled rubble and ash that was the Pfarrkirche, a new church was built. The holy tankard was now purposefully broken, and its finite shards mixed with the new mortar. The relic of Peter the man now protected the walls of Sankt Peter’s church as the rooftop cross surveyed the city once more.