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From Alpine Goatherd to Teacher of Greek – Thomas Platter (1499-1582)

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When I was about three years old, the Cardinal Matthew Schinner travelled through the land, in order to hold a visitation and confirm, as is the custom in the Pope’s dominions. He also came to Grenchen. At that time, there was a priest at Grenchen, called Antony Platter. They brought me to him, that he might be my godfather. But when the Cardinal (perhaps he was still a bishop) had eaten his luncheon and had gone again into the church, in order to confirm, I know not what my uncle Antony had to do, it happened that I ran into the church, that I might be confirmed and that the godfather might give me a card, as it is the custom to give the children something. There sat the cardinal in a chair, waiting until they brought the children to him. I still remember very well that I ran up to him. He spoke to me because my godfather was not with me, saying, “What do you want, my child?” I replied, “I want to be confirmed.” He said to me, laughing, “What are you called?” I answered, “I am called Master Thomas.” Then he laughed, murmured something, with one hand on my head, and patted me on the cheek with the other hand. At this moment, Mr. Antony came up, and excused himself, saying that I had run away unbeknownst to him. The cardinal repeated what I had said, and said to him, “Certainly this child will become something wonderful, probably a priest.” And also because I came into this world just as they were summoned to mass, many people said that I would become a priest. Therefore, they also sent me to school earlier than usual.

Now, when I was six years old, they took me to Eisten, a valley near Stalden. There my deceased mother’s sister had a husband, called Thomas of Reidgin, who lived on a farm called “Am Boden.” There, for the first year, I was obliged to herd the little goats near the house. I can remember that I sometimes got stuck in the snow, so that I could scarcely get out; and often my little shoes remained behind, and I came home barefoot and shivering. This peasant had about eighty goats, which I was obliged to herd during my seventh and eighth years. And I was still so small, that when I opened the stable and did not immediately get out of the way, the goats knocked me down, ran over me, trod on my head, ears, and back, for I usually fell forward. When I drove the goats over the bridge over the Visp (it is a stream), the foremost ones ran into the green corn in the cornfield; when I drove them out, the others ran in. Then I wept and cried, for I knew well that in the evening I would be beaten. But when the other shepherds came to me from other peasants, they helped me, especially one of the largest, called Thomas “im Leidenbach”; he pitied me, and showed me much kindness. Then we all sat together, when we had driven the goats up the high and frightful mountains, and ate and drank together, for each had a little shepherd’s basket on his back, with cheese and rye-bread therein. One day when we had eaten we set about shooting for a trial of skill. On the top of a high rock there was a flat piece of ground. As one after the other now shot at the mark, one stood before me who was about to shoot. I endeavoured to get out of his way, so that he should not strike me on the head or in the face. In so doing, I fell backward over the cliff. The shepherds all cried, “Jesus! Jesus!” until they saw me no more. When I had fallen down under the rock so that they could not see me, they fully believed that I had fallen to my death. But soon I got up and climbed up the rock to them again. Then first they wept for joy. Some six weeks later, a goat belonging to one of them fell down just where I had fallen, and was killed. So carefully had God watched over me.

Perhaps a half-year later, I was driving my goats once more early in the morning, before the other shepherds, for I was the nearest, over a point of rock called the White Point. Then my goats went to the right, over a little rock, which was a good foot wide, but below which there was, in a frightful abyss more than a thousand fathoms deep, nothing but rock. From the ledge, one goat after another went up over a precipice, where they could scarcely place their hoofs on the little tufts of grass, which grew on the rock. As soon as they were up, I also wanted to follow after them. But when I had drawn myself up by the grass not more than a small stride, I could go no farther; neither was it possible to step back again on the little precipice, and much less did I dare to spring backward. For I feared, if I sprang back, I would jump too far and would fall over the terrible precipice. I remained in this position for a good while, waiting for the help of God; for I could help myself no more, except that I held on with both little hands to a tuft of grass and supported myself by my great toe on a little tuft of grass; and when I was tired, I drew myself up by the tuft and placed the other toe thereon. In this predicament I suffered great anxiety because I feared the great vultures, which flew about in the air below me; indeed, I feared that they would carry me away, as sometimes does happen in the Alps, where the vultures carry away children or lambs. While I remained thus and the wind blew my coat about me, for I had on no trousers, my comrade Thomas espied me from afar, but knew not, however, what it was. As he saw my little coat fluttering, he thought it was a bird. When, however, he recognised me he was so terrified that he became quite pale, and said to me, “Now, Tommy, stand still.” Then he hurried to the ledge of rock, took me in his arms and carried me down again to where we could get to the goats another way. Some years thereafter, when I came home once from the schools in distant lands, when my former companion had found it out, he came to me and reminded me how he had rescued me from death (for it is, indeed, true, and yet I give God the glory). He said, when I became a priest I should remember him in the mass and pray to God for him.

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