Middling Ages

Mark J. Janssen
5 min readAug 10

Part 1 Other Places, Other Names

Some people go to the Grand Canyon. Others go to the local root beer stand. While others travel around the world. Who knows where you’ll go next for vacation?

One friend flew around the world this summer. Eventually the person landed back home in France for a couple of weeks. They reconnected with friends and family before returning to their current home in America.

Another friend fulfilled a longtime dream of her’s and mine. She had lived and studied in France when she was younger. She went back to see places she’d known and some new places. Thus, she fulfilled a dream I’ve long had.

Upon the latter’s return we discussed how wonderful it would be to return to southern France together. I told her of staying at a two-star hotel in Avignon. The cost included breakfast which, as it turns out, is not what I expected. I expected a continental breakfast, something light. The French are so used to American tourists that they put out what they call an American breakfast. It puts American hotels to shame.

The day I checked into the hotel the manager was on duty. She told me she came early in the morning to start the coffee. Having gone to an American university, she was used to the weak taste of American coffee. I was used to strong European-style coffee. She wanted me to taste her American coffee when I came down in the morning. I did. She laughed when I gagged at how weak it was and reached for a cup of regular French coffee. She said most Americans can’t handle European coffees.

In the course of our discussion I told my friend that besides seeing all of the beauties of Avignon and the surrounding countryside, I would love to just sit at one of the outdoor cafes drinking coffee and watching the crowds.

It’s one of my favorite sports. Whatever the city. Whatever the country.

In Toulouse I had been in the museum that was the Augustinian monastery in the old city. The best part of the museum was the building in spite of the many beautiful statues. The statues did not hold memories for me. The building, the souls I saw of men who had lived there since the early fourteenth century, all made me cold. I cut short my visit there. In spite of the kindness of some of the spirits I saw there, even in death some of the former Augustinian monks were best left to their own.

I went out into the beautiful brightness of the summer sun. There I escaped around a group of loud, rude American businessmen in my successful search for a café where I could warm up and calm down.

Later on, I went to a place I had been avoiding for reasons my conscious mind could not grasp.

Several winding blocks away is the Couvent des Jacobins, the former Dominican monastery. Like the Augustinians the property was seized during the French Revolution and the men disbanded. One might think that since both the Augustinians and Dominicans follow the Rule of St. Augustine and live in many similar ways that they might have gotten along.

Au contraire.

The times I went back to the old Dominican monastery during my last visit were some of the best times I had in Toulouse. As I entered the Jacobin church a familiar voice called my name. But I was not called by the name I have now. It was a name I had centuries ago which, honestly, I have only heard myself called in that church and the surrounding monastery. Nowhere else in Toulouse or, for that matter, the world. I can no longer remember what I was called back then.

I walked all the way around the walls of the church. Examining them as if for evidence that I should not recognize the place while with each step I was ever more convinced that I had been here, lived here in earlier times. The voice became louder as I came closer to a small modern chapel area within the larger church. There was a huge gold box under the altar. I read the sign that it held the bones of Thomas Aquinas. Laughter came from the box. I started laughing silently. I suddenly recognized the voice. Thomas is an old friend. We worked together at the universities in Toulouse, Paris and other cities. The difference between us was that Thomas was a good man who followed the rules. I was not.

Thomas and I telepathically talked on and on. We chatted about the places we’d been together. The work we’d done. Our confreres and others we had known. When we finished catching up, I continued the tour around what was left of the church. Then out a different door into the cloister. There I ran into the souls of many brother monks I had known and worked with centuries earlier. One of them was the soul of a young man who had been my scribe in an earlier time and with whom I have worked in this life.

As I continued visiting that city and the whole South of France I kept running into men and women whom I had known over the course of many centuries. Some places were jarringly wrong like Cannes and Monaco. Those two cities lost much of their souls in the course of revolutionary destruction and then becoming tourist traps of the twentieth century.

A few years later and thousands of miles away I met up with my soul twin again. We hadn’t seen each other in over one hundred years. Eventually I told him about my trip back to where we used in southern France to live hundreds of years ago. I told him about going to the former Dominican monastery and the old Augustinian monastery in Toulouse. He instantly recalled it. Memories of the Augustinians gave him the terrors as they had me. However, he had a more visceral reaction. He asked me why mere mention of the Augustinians should shake him so badly. I reminded him that it was because he had once mouthed off again, as usual, to a bunch of the Augustinians outside of their house. They grabbed him and threw him into their secret prison. With the consent and approval of their superior, a particularly unsavory creature, they tortured him. Some of us Dominicans popped him out. He had been whipped, thrown on the rack and left half dead. We hid Bill in the Dominican monastery where we gradually got him back to health. When he was well again we sneaked him out of town in the dead of night. Successfully outside the city walls, we sent him into hiding in a remote place for what was supposed to be a very long time. He quickly grew bored — my brother always gets bored — and returned to Paris to raise some Cain.

Ah, good times!



Mark J. Janssen

Mark Janssen is a spiritual warrior, mystic and author. His writes a weekly blog. His memoir “Reach for the Stars” is available online and in bookstores.