Belles Lettres

(or….the Writing Challenge)

Four Houses, One Community
Four Houses, One Community

Issued by Athanasius House

The Belles Lettres Challenge seeks written works by students that bring honor to the namesake of their house. In this challenge, Belles Lettres means “fine writing”. Athanasius House seek for the mighty power of the pen to be employed toward the glorification of God through wonderful writing.


This year’s challenge calls for a work of Creative Non-fiction…with a twist. Creative Non-fiction is a genre of prose that is based on real facts, events, and people, that employs the same literary devices as fiction such as setting, voice/tone, character development, etc. For this year’s challenge, you will write a commentary based on your namesake. A commentary is defined as “a descriptive spoken account of an event or performance as it happens”. Your commentary must be based on an event that actually took place during the life of your namesake, and must be written in first person. Because of the limitations (below) placed on the writer, word choices must be judicious. In describing the event, you should draw the reader into the scene by employing all of the senses. For example, what did you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel (touch) as you witnessed the scene? You may make yourself either an observant bystander, or a more interactive part of the story. For example, you might make yourself one of the congregants who witnessed the murder of Thomas Becket or perhaps you were one of the knights who had a hand in his death.  Accompanying your commentary must be a short (no more than 200 words) description that includes a brief description of your namesake and the event about which you have written. Include the dates of his life and death.

The rules:

  1. Must have exactly 26 sentences
  2. Must have each sentence start with a different letter of the alphabet, in order, from A-Z
  3. Must include at least one question mark, one exclamation mark, and one set of quotation marks
  4. Must have a setting
  5. Must have a conflict
  6. Must have a resolution
  7. Must have a title (the title does not count as one of the 26 sentences).

The submissions:

4th Place, Julianne Jorgensen, Boniface

Born for Destiny, Died for Glory

IMG_1766A man was born.
Born for a vocation that would impact those around him and those ahead of him, he came into this world destined to become a great influence but to die a humble death.
Comfort abandoned, he deserted his home, journeying from all that was known to all that was unknown.
Determination was his companion on this epic voyage, pushing him ever onward.
“Everlasting glory awaits you in your final home of heaven,” it whispers quietly in his ear, continually encouraging and reminding him of the eternal companion always on his side.
For this fortitude is not the greatest of friends, but there is a greater friend that he knows, one who is the greatest of all encouragers.
Graced with this omnipotent supporter, he arrived.
Here on the shore, wind blew and whirled, whistling in his ears, rustling his hair, and smelling of salt from the sea.
In this spot he and his men stood, waiting and watching.
Just then, eyes, soon accompanied by painted bodies, appeared around the dark tree trunks, the first sight of the natives.
Knifes gleamed and glinted in their hands igniting the embers of fear in the hearts of the faithful missionaries.
Length of time seemed to increase, but in reality only seconds passed before their fear dissipated in the breeze as the natives approached and abandoned their weapons.
Much to the delight of him and his companions, the foreign men came to them, peering and peeking at the new sights, tastes, and sounds that were brought to their land.
Night soon approached this pleasant scene bringing with it the blackest sky soon broken by the piercing persistent rays of the sunrise.
On such a day as this, no unpleasant or malicious deeds seemed to be imaginable, yet heinous crimes may still occur in the brightest days.
Perhaps it was the beauty of the vivid sky that distracted and persuaded him and his men or was it the festivity of the Pentecost?
Queer though it was, this change unbeknownst to the poor missionaries transformed the natives into enemies.
Right at that time of magnificence in the sky and celebration in their hearts, how could they have foreseen the terrible future that awaited them?
Suddenly, the whole sky seemed to crack and splinter as the screams and roars plummeted down, hitting the evangelists with a jolt of confusion.
Tumults of savage natives flooded down the hill and crowded around the unsuspecting missionaries.
Until this point, their faith had never been tested to this extent, until they were at the point of death.
Viciously, the heathens encircled the seemingly helpless men.
When all was darkest and bleakest, the Lord, their ever-present friend and helper, sent a wave of serenity to envelop their hearts and to abate their fears.
Xerxes himself could not have possessed their peace or bravery in the face of hostile death!
Yielding to God’s plan, they submitted to death, each and every one of them, including the leader himself.
Zeroing in on the hope and blessings of his future home, St. Boniface raised his beloved Bible that was soon pierced, ending his beautiful life.

Explanation: Born in 675, Boniface began his life that ended in 754. As a devoted and dedicated Christian, he left his home to spread the gospel to those who had never heard it. He lived a humble life and died a humble death, but still, his life had spectacular results and huge importance. My story depicts the end of Boniface’s life at the time of his last missionary journey to Friesland. There, with a group of fellow missionaries, they gathered to celebrate Pentecost but were startled by an attack made on them by vicious heathens. All of Boniface’s companions were killed as well as Boniface himself. He died bravely defending himself with the Word of Truth. The sword pierced through the Bible which Boniface used to try to protect himself and killed this beloved saint, ending his life of good.

3rd Place, Houston Newsome, Becket

“Case #1229: the Knight’s Account”

IMG_1764“Absolve and restore to communion those whom you have excommunicated, and restore their powers to those you have suspended!” we cried. Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, refused our demands, thus accepting his imminent death. Compelled by King Henry’s orders to assassinate the “meddlesome priest”, we seized Becket to drag him from his sanctuary. Despite our ferocity, that archbishop mightily clung to the column of Canterbury Cathedral. Extracting the tenacious cleric required more force. Fitzurse, our leading knight, seized Becket more firmly. Grappling for his freedom, Becket repulsed him and exclaimed, “Touch me not, Reginald; you owe me fealty and subjection; you and your accomplices act like madmen!” However, the knight, raging and brandishing his sword, proclaimed, “No faith nor subjection do I owe you against my fealty to my lord the King!” I perceived in that moment the archbishop preparing his soul as Jesus had. Just then, Fitzurse sprang upon him and struck the crown of his skull. Keeping his balance and composure, Becket received another clout. Le Breton dealt a third blow, prostrating the lion-hearted hero. Meekly he embraced his fate. Now another knight struck him, shattering his own sword. On the cold ground lay Becket’s bloody, separated crown. Putting my hand out, I interrupted the violence, attempting to arrest him instead. “Quit this murder so we may present him alive!” I shouted. Relentlessly Fitzurse dealt one more blow. Stomping Becket’s unguarded neck, he scattered gore and brains on that once-pure marble floor. The Archbishop of Canterbury lay lifeless, bloody, and mangled in his own cathedral. Uttered the villainous knight, “Let us away, knights; he will rise no more.” Vile was the putrid smell of the scene that the monks attempted to cleanse as we departed for the channel. Were we now truly pursuing our own earthly crowns of honor only to eternally condemn our souls? Xanthous was Fitzurse’s shield before the heinous injustice. Yet his insignia bore the blood of the martyr. Zealous as I was before, I now regret my crime.

Explanation: Thomas Becket (Dec. 21, 1118- Dec. 29, 1170) presided as chancellor to King Henry II of England until he was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury so Henry might control the church as well. Despite his early friendship with Henry, Becket politically combated him after his shift of allegiance to the church. When the exiled archbishop excommunicated the Archbishop of York and the bishops of London and Salisbury for breaching his right to coronate the heir apparent, King Henry reportedly exclaimed, “What miserable drones and traitors have I nourished and brought up in my household, who let their lord be treated with such shameful contempt by a low-born cleric?” Four knights [ Reginald Fitzurse (whose emblem was likely yellowish) , Hugh de Morville, William de Tracy, and Richard le Breton] acted on what they believed to be a command to assassinate Becket. The four killed him in Canterbury Cathedral, only weeks after his return from exile. Becket was canonized 26 months later while the knights fled to Scotland and Henry did public penance. The majority of details and quotes of this piece were from Edward Grim’s eyewitness account, although some accounts differ. The usage of such quotes was meant to establish the setting and historicity.

2nd Place, Lucy Jones, Boniface

The Felling of Thor

IMG_1762All of us gathered could feel it: the winds changing, the oak lifting its gnarled branches and foliage, long dead, in a black and crackling canopy above us. Before even I had been born into this funereal German village, surely Thor’s oak had been there still, colossal and looming as the god’s own fierce and fiery presence among us. Crooks of nagging fear had always accompanied it as well, and we below seemed to tremble with every tremor of its leaves in anticipation of the wrath that could descend momentarily from its terrible heights. Darkness was falling early that day, and silence rested shroudlike among my gathered village as we waited. Each of us had heard the ravings of the Englishman Boniface; his exhortations and insisting of a new, higher god had followed us for weeks. For all of us, the lunatic missionary had merely been considered a nuisance until recently, when he had renounced Thor, and all of our gods, with the vehemence of insanity that had surely secured his doom. Gods do not stand for such trifling, we knew, and as we waited for Boniface to arrive at the Oak that evening, we all were sure that we truly waited for his eradication. How Thor would silence his ravings was uncertain, but we had no doubt that it would be mighty and terrible as the oak itself. In the air around, the very atmosphere seemed to press quivering upon us, bowing us like saplings to the god whose wrath we awaited. Just as I began to suspect that the madman had surely fled his fate at the oak, the sound of footfalls, frantic and in grave crescendo, penetrated the silence, driving fissures in our shattering tension. Kin and comrades clustered nearer together in the knowledge that the dispatch of Boniface was at hand. Leaves flew and twigs splintered as a figure erupted from the surrounding forest, his feet thundering and voice raised in an unearthly cry; the last light of the sun glinting scarlet on the cusp of the ax-blade he brandished. Moving in furious turmoil, with one motion unhindered and unhesitant, Boniface pendulated, and his blade sank into the tree in a gaping laceration. Not a moment did he waver, but as we stood transfixed in consternation he brought down the ax again, cleaving directly into the gaping maw of his previous blow. On he persisted, and yet no action came from Thor, even as his sanctuary was mutilated before our very eyes! Perilous winds suddenly swelled around us, but above the buffeting and whistling of the gale, a long and low creaking was exuded from the wounded oak. Querulously, ponderously, and moaning, the oak fell. Reaching the earth, its trunk splintered and burst like carrion, revealing inside a waste of rot and decay. Silence traipsed in yet again as we gazed at the oak of Thor, dead and destroyed at our feet. The miraculous missionary shed his axe and lifted his hands, and his eyes seemed full of a softer light than I had yet seen as he murmured a prayer. Unbidden, my knees buckled, and I knelt, those around me following. Vast and strange senses of marveling and awe permeated my interior as I comprehended that the God of whom Boniface had spoken had emerged over Thor himself. What was this Being that could accomplish such things? Xenodochially and almost in answer, Boniface began to speak of one God, “Yahweh…” Yearning, fascinated, and with some inexpressible sensibility undeniably altered within our company, we listened. Zeniths of power had come and gone, and Thor’s had been felled that day.

Explanation: St. Boniface has been considered one of the most influential European missionaries in church history, especially in the Frankish Empire, and is often credited with bringing the Gospel to Germany. In his lifetime (c. 675-754 A.D.), Boniface, born Winfryth in early Anglo-Saxon England, was known as a scholar, a missionary, and an archbishop, and is now a patron saint of Germany. However, perhaps the most famous event in his illustrious lifetime was the felling of “Thor’s Oak.” According to legend, when Boniface began to chop down the pagan symbol, a miraculous gust of wind knocked it to the ground, whereupon the assembled German villagers were so shocked that he was not struck down that they renounced Thor and their other pagan gods at once. Later, the wood from the fallen oak was used to construct a church over the same spot where the tree once stood. In this event alone, one can see plainly the admirable characteristics of Boniface- his bravery, persistence, and his faith, all of which remain inspirations to those representing him today.

1st Place, Ginny Bratton, Athanasius

“The Great Escape”

IMG_1650Athanasius stood on the bow of our small and lean little boat as we rowed furiously in the dead of the night. Being newly exiled, he had to escape his would-be killers quickly. Catching up to us were ruthless men intent on killing us to end our righteous defiance to the Arian heresy. Directed by Arius, they were determined to silence us once and for all and had taken a boat and rowed after Athanasius. Egypt was once a home for Athanasius but was now a dangerous place. Frantically, each set of rowers tried to catch or evade the others as they rowed with the current towards the Mediterranean Sea. Gradually, the Arians seemed to be catching up with us. Heretics in the Arian cult believe that Christ was not part of the Trinity. Instead they believe that Christ was created by God and was not eternally existent with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Just as we rounded a bend, our sharp-eyed friend saw through the darkness that the Arians’ boat was slowly gaining on us. Keeping up our tired but steady pace, we listened closely as Athanasius instructed us with a crafty plan to flee to safety. Leaping up, many of us cried indignantly as he told us the scheme. Many of did not understand how it could work to our favor. Nonetheless, Athanasius insisted that God was on our side and would help us through. Obediently, we fell back to our benches and rowed even harder than before. Paddling quietly, what do you think we did? Quickly working as if our lives depended on it, we turned the boat around and began to row smoothly an unhurriedly back up the Nile River. Rowing up the river knowing that I would soon encounter men intent on killing me, my hands began to shake, and my body suddenly became cold. Standing on the bow, Athanasius boldly greeted the Arians in the night. The Arians asked us if we had seen the man for whom they were searching. Undeterred, Athanasius replied, “You are closer than you know!” Very excited by the hope that their goal was near, the Arians passed us off as just another boat and sailed right past us! We all sighed with relief and continued sailing up the Nile. Xerophyte flowers that lined the river banks never looked so beautiful as we navigated the course of the river out of Egypt and into safety. Yawning from relief as well as exhaustion, I thought of how faithful God is in times of need. Zealous for God, Athanasius had trusted in Him, and we had escaped the Arians yet again.

Explanation: Athanasius of Alexandria lived from 298 A.D. until May 2, 373 A.D. in Egypt. He was the 20th Bishop of Alexandria and was exiled five times for his defiance against Arius and his heresy. The narrative above is based upon his third exile which lasted six years in the Egyptian desert under Emperor Constantius. A prolific writer and thinker, Athanasius wrote many books in Greek and was present at the Council of Nicaea. He not only struggled against Arius but also many emperors of that time such as Constantine, Constantius, Julian, and Valens. His motto was “Athanasius Contra Mundum” which means “Athanasius against the world.” In honor of his bravery and steadfast faith, Saint Gregory often called Athanasius the “Pillar of the Church.” He was also referred to as Athanasius the Great, Athanasius the Confessor, or Athanasius the Apostolic. Artist renderings of him usually depict him as a bishop arguing with a pagan, a bishop holding an open book or a bishop standing over a defeated heretic.

One comment

  1. […] This year, I participated in the Belles Lettres competition, representing Becket House in this annual challenge issued by Athanasius House.  The competition involved writing a 26-sentence of  “a descriptive spoken account of an event or performance as it happens” (in my case, about Thomas Becket).  Each sentence had to start with sequential letters of the alphabet, in order, A to Z.  It also had to be composed in first person.  Several entrants from each house competed, by composing then reciting the paper before the Upper School, guests, and the judges.  You can read more about the competition, including my submission, on the Westminster website. […]


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