The Italian writer Boccaccio set the background of his Decameron in Florence during the Black Death. Seven ladies and three gentlemen went outside Florence to escape the death and disease and told stories to each other while living on an abandoned estate. They told stories to each other to pass the time, each one telling a story a day for ten days. His Decameron is named after these 100 stories told by these people.
The first storyteller began his tale by invoking God as the creator and judge of mankind and the entire world. But, although he officially set his story under the grace of God, he made it clear that he thought that spiritual intent, not obedience or prayer to the saints, was the thing that God honored most.
In his story, a merchant was owed money by Burgundians, whom he knew were dishonest and forceful men. He wanted to collect his money from them, but wanted to send a messenger who could cope with their deception. He chose a crook who was known for his deception and evil ways, and hired him to go collect the money, thinking that he would be able to deal with them best.
The crook traveled to Burgundy and stayed in the house of two Florentine brothers, who lent money to people for a living. The crook became very sick, and the two brothers hired many physicians to help him get better. Nothing helped, however, and he got steadily worse. This worried the brothers, who were now faced with a dilemma if he died.
The crook, the brothers thought, would probably not want to receive the sacrament of last rites, since he hated the church. Because of that, he would be thrown in a ditch and would not be given a Christian burial. That would be bad for their reputation, since they had received him to their house with enthusiasm as a guest. If they kicked him out, they would also be in trouble with the people. They feared that they would lose their business, their possessions, and possibly even their lives.
The crook heard them, and decided to do them a favor by receiving last rites and confessing to a friar. He completely deceived the friar, making himself seem like a very holy man by confessing only minor faults and by weeping for his sins. The crook died, and at his funeral the friar preached about his holiness and told them about his unique life and righteous deeds. The people were quite impressed, and he was named a saint and people prayed to him for miracles and other necessities.
The storyteller used his story to challenge the established religion and to spread the idea that spiritual intent was what really mattered, not obedience or prayer to the saints. He said that the sinfulness of the crook was irrelevant when people prayed to him in the story, and that God would recognize their prayers all the same, even though the crook never repented. He finished his tale by invoking God a second time, and said that they could have confidence that God would hear their prayers.