They came to a richly-furnished hall that was wonderfully built, where the walls seemed to be of solid gold set with precious stones, and the roof was of solid crystal. There were no doors or windows, but there were wide entrances on every side so that none who wanted to enter would ever find themselves unable to do so. Inside, the light seemed as bright as that of a summer’s day. The walls were large and circular and the floor was paved with precious stones. There was no central pillar and the building seemed to have been built without any regard to cost. The sun shone inside as well as out.
Tundale looked around and his eye chanced upon a throne of gold and enamel. Silk and cloth-of-gold was spread upon it and sitting upon this throne was King Cormac MacCarthy, brother of Donogh MacCarthy and the king of South Munster for most of the fifteen years before his brother’s second period of kingship. Tundale could plainly see that it was King Cormac and he was dressed in all his finery. Many people were seeking an audience and carrying fine gifts to give to him. They all seemed very happy to be there and very pleased to be in the king’s presence. Tundale stood nearby and watched closely, noting the worshipful attention that King Cormac received, the man who had once been his own renowned lord, for Tundale had served King Cormac, and for this reason he was puzzled and began to frame a question to the angel. There were many deacons and other clergymen, priests and clerics all around him preparing to sing Mass in all their finery. The king seemed pleased to receive them all and around him were cups and chalices, sensors of silver and gold, gold basins and ornately decorated tables. Tundale thought that if he could only share in the joy and happiness that he could see in this hall, he would have all the bliss he could ask for. Everybody was kneeling before the king and saying: ‘May happiness surround you and do so forever, and the fruits of your own generosity we now present to you here.’
Tundale turned to the angel and said incredulously: ‘All these people I see, I do not recognise any of them! None of them were ever at court while I was there!’
The angel answered politely: ‘I know that none of the people you can see here were ever part of King Cormac’s retinue. But some are renowned pilgrims who received charity from King Cormac, and others were men of Holy Church whom he was never unwilling to support and therefore Almighty God deems it appropriate that his gifts should be received through their hands.’
‘Has he received no punishment since leaving the world?’ asked Tundale.
‘He has suffered a great deal,’ replied the angel, ‘and will suffer still more, as you shall see.’
Suddenly, the light in the building dimmed until it was as black as night and all the people melted away into the darkness. The king rose from his throne and moaned, then cried out loudly in anguish. Tundale followed him and came to where many men where kneeling upon the floor, their hands clasped in prayer, saying: ‘Good Lord, if it is your will, have mercy upon this man.’
Then Tundale saw the king thrust up to his waist into a great fire and over his back a coarse hair shirt was fitted.
‘This is the punishment ordained for him,’ explained the angel. ‘It happens once a day, every day, for having relationships with other women after he was married, and for breaking his marriage vows. Justice decrees that he should have his genitals burnt every night in a fire up to his waist for this. And for the murder of an earl beside the church of Saint Patrick he shall wear a hair shirt that is coarse and tangled and hurts him where the knots are. For everything else he did, he has already paid his penance.’
‘How long shall he suffer this for?’ asked Tundale.
‘For three hours every day,’ replied the angel, obtusely. ‘And for the remaining twenty-one hours he shall have the enjoyment and the company of his friends.’
And with this, the angel led Tundale quickly onwards.
Soon they came to a high wall built of solid silver. Tundale looked but could see no doorways or entrances into it. Nevertheless, he soon found himself inside, although how the angel had managed to gain entry for them both he had no idea. But they found themselves in a delightful place, full of happiness and comfort. All around them were men and women singing merrily, extolling the praises of God Almighty without end: ‘May Father and Son and Holy Ghost exist in eternal bliss,’ they sang. Their clothes were new and finely made, and as white as freshly fallen snow. They were full of joy and joked and laughed and sang together, never tiring of praising the Holy Trinity and singing in such perfect harmony together that it was beautiful to hear. Such honesty and beauty could last, it seemed, forever; and there did, indeed, seem to be no sickness here, and all of them lived in a perfect desire to exist together in love and charity.
The smell of this place surpassed all the sweetest perfumes of the world!
‘This joy,’ explained the angel, ‘is reserved for married men who have honoured their marriage vows and for those who have supported the poor with almsgiving and for those rulers who have instilled into their subjects a love of God, and punished to the fullest extent of their power those who did wrong and who lived wicked lives. And this place is ordained also to those who help to support Holy Church. And those who have lived well shall hear at Doomsday the voice of Jesus saying: ‘Come near to my Father, blessed children, and receive my kingdom as I shall receive it, reserved for mankind since the beginning of the world.’
Tundale begged the angel to let him stay; the angel gave no answer but prepared to continue the journey.
They travelled still further, though with little effort, until they came to a man who bowed to Tundale as though he knew him and called him by his name, and they embraced each other. All those around were very happy to see Tundale and thanked Almighty God that he had been brought to them and cried: “May love and honour go to the Lord of pity and happiness who would prefer to see, not the death of sinful men but that they turn from their wicked ways and live again. Through His mercy He has ordained that this soul shall be taken from hell’s torment and delivered to this joyful place.
The angel led Tundale further onwards. Tundale looked attentively about him and saw that they were approaching another wall, and one that was considerably higher than the others had been. It seemed to be made of solid gold, a brighter gold than is ever seen here on Earth. Tundale could only gaze upon it in wonderment. Its beauty held him in awe and submerged all his other thoughts.
Soon, as before, they found themselves, somehow, on the other side of this wall, and Tundale found pleasure in looking at the most beautiful place he had ever seen. It was more beautiful than any earthly man can describe. There were golden thrones set with precious stones and draped in silk and cloth-of-gold. Holy men and women sat upon them in fine regalia. There were rich ornaments everywhere and the great brightness of the face of God illuminated them. It was brighter than the sun. Rays of light played upon the crowns of holy men and women like threads of gold wire and the crowns themselves were so encrusted with precious jewels that the men and women looked like kings and emperors, finer than kings and emperors! Before them lay books upon golden lecterns and from all of them the sound of ‘Alleluia’ was sweetly sung. Tundale thought the singing so beautiful that it displaced and surpassed everything he had seen so far. ‘These men,’ explained the angel, ‘are holy men whom God loved and who were willing to live a chaste life and to accept martyrdom and to wash their clothes in the blood of the Lamb. They did not drink wine and were always truthful and are therefore dear to God and have been brought to this joy.’
Tundale found a place where there were shining pavilions made out of purple cloth and expensive furs and silver coins. The ropes were of gold and silver and silk all entwined together, and from them hung musical chimes and instruments of all description that emitted a sweet sound in every register, from treble to bass, and filled the air with such a beautiful music that no man can ever have heard its like, not by a hundred-thousandth part!
Many people were singing in perfect harmony within the shining white pavilions and the happiness they generated with their voices no Earthly imagination can fully conceive. Tundale had never experienced such bliss! Then the angel spoke to the soul of Tundale.
‘These people,’ he said mildly, ‘were all religious folk who lived their lives well. Friars, monks, priests, nuns, they all sustained their professions with integrity and were diligent in their attendance to God, serving Him day and night, eagerly and energetically fulfilling his commandments and keeping a clear conscience through strict obedience and living a chaste life. They spoke only when it was necessary to speak and preferred silence to idle chatter, loving God above all else.’
‘Sir,’ said Tundale, ‘can we go in so that I can hear the music and experience this joy close at hand?’
‘You may stand here and listen,’ replied the angel, ‘for entry into this pavilion is not granted to you. You may not see the Trinity in all its glory, but you may witness it from here. For all the people in this place have lived a chaste life on Earth and remained virgins until they died and lived a good life, through God’s grace, and have now been given the reward of remaining forever with the saints and the angels and having a clear view of God upon his throne.
They went along a lovely path surrounded by men and women who seemed to Tundale to be like angels. The aroma was pleasant beyond description and sweet ethereal music filled the air to such an extent that Tundale forgot everything he had seen before and could only immerse his soul in the beauty around him. Voices sounded from lips that did not move and instruments harmonised without any hands to play them. All the music that can be imagined was audible, and from above, the light played down in beams of gold, as though chains of golden thread and enamelled silver were threaded through the air. No earthly light was like it. Around these golden beams hung priceless objects, jewels and bells and cups of gold, and among the objects and the beams of light flew angels with shining golden wings. No earthly man has ever witnessed such a sight. There was such joyous music and melodious singing and such glorious wealth that no one on Earth could guess at it, nor be able to describe it even if they could.
Tundale was so enchanted that he could have stayed there forever. But the angel turned and said: ‘Now you must come with me!’
Tundale followed the angel and came to where a huge tree stood; it was higher than any he had ever seen before, very broad at its base and within its leaves and branches hung every sort of fruit than a man might care to pick. There were flowers of every kind to be seen up in the foliage and of every sort of colour, white, red, yellow and blue, herbs of every description and all the costly spices known to man, sweetly-smelling and flourishing there amongst the leaves. Many colourful birds were sitting there amongst the fruits and the flowers, perched upon branches and singing merrily, each with its own distinctive voice. It was a beautiful sound. Tundale listened attentively and laughed for sheer joy!
Underneath the branches, at the base of this tree, were small solitary dwellings in which sat men and women shining with a natural radiance. They were clothed in gold, wore crowns of precious jewels upon their heads and gave thanks to God for the gifts that they had received. In their hands they held sceptres, as though they were kings and queens. No king or emperor on Earth has ever been so richly adorned.
‘This tree could be likened to Holy Church,’ said the angel turning to Tundale, ‘and the people who live at its base are those who, through their devotion to God, have built monasteries and convents and caused men to be diligent in the service of God and who founded churches and maintained the high virtues of the clergy and caused Holy Church to be supported, both in lands and in income, and who forsook the world in order to live a life of virtue and contemplation. They are, as you can see, reigning as one brotherhood and sisterhood, and shall have rest and peace for evermore, and joy that shall last forever.’
The angel urged Tundale onwards and soon they came to yet another high, shining wall. It was more beautiful than any that Tundale had seen so far and, pausing to try to determine what it was made of, he saw that it was composed entirely of rare gemstones and minerals and the interlocking crystals seemed to burn with a fire. There were crystals of beryl, sapphire, emerald, topaz, garnet, ruby and diamond, in such a blaze of sparkling light that Tundale had never imagined that such a thing could possibly exist.
‘Tundale,’ said the angel, ‘come and see what lies within.’ And they climbed to the top of this wall and looked down over everything. And the great joy that they could see was greater by far, a thousand times greater, than any joy that they had seen so far. For no words from any mouth, however intelligent and informed, even if it distilled the sum total of the world’s wisdom, could tell – and no ear could hear and no eye see and no intellect comprehend – the joy that was there and the bliss that God had ordained for his own. They looked down upon the nine orders of angels, shining as brightly as the sun and living among holy spirits. They could hear secrets that no man has ever heard.
‘Open your ears,’ urged the angel. ‘Listen and commit to memory everything that you hear. God, who lives forever and shall have no end, will turn to you and be your friend. Look here at the joy and the happiness that will last for eternity for those whom you see.’
Tundale found still more to be seen amongst these angels; he glimpsed the Holy Trinity and saw God himself sitting in all his majesty! He gazed upon the sweet face that shone over everything and saw the angels basking in the glory and the radiance and the beauty of a face that shone more brightly than seven suns. This sight of God was food to the angels and was all the sustenance they required, as it was to all the spirits who lived there.
And from where they were standing the angel and Tundale could see every place they had visited, every place of joy and every place of torture and torment – in fact they could see the whole of creation, the whole cosmos and every creature that God had made, every region of the Earth that basks in the bright beams of the sun. There is nothing of this world that can be concealed from someone who has seen Almighty God.
Standing on the top of this wall, Tundale and the angel had such powers of comprehension that nothing was hidden from them, however far away. Everything around them was visible, for three hundred and sixty degrees, all was shown to them at once when they looked. There are things that Tundale saw which I shall not speak of. He needed no book now to tell him the truth.
Suddenly, Saint Ruadan approached them. He welcomed Tundale happily, took him into his arms and hugged him.
‘My son, your arrival here is blessed indeed,’ he said, and they stood together. ‘From now onwards, while you live in the world you can look forward to a good end to your life. I was once your patron saint and in your worldly life you should be willing to show me some generosity and to kneel, as you well know, in my presence.’
When Saint Ruadan had fallen silent, Tundale looked happily about him and saw Saint Patrick of Ireland, dressed in shining robes alongside many bishops decked out in their finest regalia. They were all joyful and there was no sound of any sighing! Among that blessed company Tundale could see four bishops whom he recognised. They were all good men; one of them was Saint Cellach, a former archbishop of Armagh, who did much good for the sake of Our Lord. Another was Malachias O’Moore, who had become archbishop of Armagh after him and gave everything that he had to the poor. He founded a large number of churches and collages, as many as forty-four in all, endowed them with land and rents and so allowed many men of religion to serve God devotedly, although he hardly retained enough for himself to live on.
The third bishop that Tundale recognised was Malachias O’Moore’s brother, the former bishop of Clogher, a wealthy but a retiring man. The forth whom he recognised was Nehemiah O’Morietach, bishop of Cloyne and Ross, a just man while he lived and by far the most intellectual of the four. Beside them was a brightly shining seat which nobody was sitting upon. Tundale asked whom the seat was for. Malachias O’Moore replied:
‘This seat has been prepared for one of our dearest brothers. He shall sit upon it when he arrives, but he is still living in the world and it shall remain unused until he comes.’
Tundale was delighted with the seat and as he gazed at it joyfully the angel approached him and said excitedly:
‘Do you like it here, then? You have certainly seen many a beautiful sight!’
‘That I have!’ said Tundale, and laughed. ‘I have seen joy enough! Dear lord, I ask you, have the grace to let me stay! I would like never to have to leave this place but to remain here forever!’
‘Your request,’ replied the angel, ‘cannot be granted. I’m afraid you must return to your body. Hold in your memory what you have seen, though, and remember well what you have heard.’
Tundale was crestfallen and began to weep.
‘Lord, what have I done,’ he begged, ‘that I must return again so soon to my wretched body and leave all the joy that is here?’
‘None may dwell here,’ replied the angel, ‘except for those who have practiced holy celibacy and kept their bodies clean and lived as virgins and for the love of God Almighty have wholly forsaken the world and given themselves to God with all their mind and all their will. Such a state could not in any way describe you, when you were living in your earthly body. You would not bow to God’s will in the least bit, and you would not listen to me either. You are not worthy to dwell here. In no way are you worthy! Go again into your body and clean out the filth from your heart! Abstain from sin. You shall have my council and my help at all times, should you wish to receive it, and if you do so, you shall not fail to achieve everlasting bliss.’
When the angel had said this, they turned away and left all that joy and happiness behind them.
Tundale suddenly felt very heavy and perceived the presence of his body around him, a weight that he could not throw off. He opened his eyes and could see through them, found that he could draw his arms up to his face and move his legs. Before saying a word he let out a great sigh. Those around him were astonished; they were filled with wonder and perplexity and those who loved him felt great happiness that he had come back to life when they had thought that he was dead. He lifted himself up into a sitting position, sighed and then wept as he cried out: ‘Lord Jesus Christ! Mercy! None worse than me has ever been born of woman! But now, while I still have time, I shall amend my life, with the help and the grace of God, who suffered pain and died upon the cross for me. May it please Him not to condemn my soul to eternal torment!’
Then he muttered to himself, things that sounded like: ‘Wretch! Why have I lived such a wicked life? Why have I been such a wicked man!’
He admonished himself in a fit of regret and anger, remembering everything that the angel had shown to him, and it looked for all the world as though he was showing repentance. All those beside Tundale were astonished to see such a change in him, for they knew his fierce and unyielding character.
One of those who was standing beside him asked if he would like a priest to hear his confession and give him the Eucharist.
‘Oh yes,’ he answered. ‘I would like a priest to come and speak with me in private and to give me the safety of absolution. Please find me one so that I may take the Eucharist, for I renounce all my evil ways.’
A priest soon arrived with his wafers and when Tundale had confessed, he meekly received the Host.
‘Oh Lord,’ said Tundale then, ‘may You receive the highest love, as you deserve, for Your mercy and Your goodness surpasses all of men’s wickedness. Although sins may be great, Your mercy and Your forgiveness is greater still.’
By now a large number of men and women had gathered about him. And he told them all where he had been and what he had heard and what he had seen. Everything that he had experienced was safely stored in his memory; he was able to recall it all. And Tundale warned everybody who feared torture to improve their lives here on Earth before they died. He advised them all to lead a holy life and to abandon their wicked ways, urged them to embrace Almighty God and to serve Him devotedly, preached words of God that had never been heard before. And he comforted the good by recalling the joy and happiness that he had seen.
And while he lived, from thenceforth he led a virtuous life. He paid no regard to this world but lived in penance, giving away all his wealth to the poor so that they might pray for him. He desired only poverty. And when the time came for him to pass on, as God’s will decreed, his soul departed from his body and went to heaven to dwell with Almighty God. More joy is there than any tongue can tell. He who made heaven, Earth and all things, brought Tundale at last into eternal happiness.
All of you who have heard my story, say’ Amen’ for charity!
‘Here ends the story of Tundale,’ writes Richard Heeg.
‘Be it true or be it false,
I wrote it as the copy was.’

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