Saturday, 4 July 2015

Dissolution and disillusion

I have actually been doing some research this last couple of weeks-in between my new job at Furness Abbey, winding up the TA training business and grandma duties! The only trouble is-it does distract me from the actual task of writing. Procrastination is the thief of time as they say-but when is dressed up in dusty tomes and interesting historical research it almost feels justified. I have been itching to write for weeks but just can't get on with it. I wrote 30 lines the other night and thought I had done well.

However, back to the research... I have been looking into monastic issues-partly because I was putting together a mini project for a school. I was uncovering the usual stuff and confirming; my image of the "monk" is mixed-I want to think that "our" Furness Abbey monks were a devout, caring and sincere lot... well they would be wouldn't they? Yes, I know about the abuses of the church, sale of indulgences and pardons-after all I did do Chaucer at uni... But not our lot! Not in Furness?
This Guest house has sheep in it!

So, it has been illuminating reading about what they actually DID get up to! When I take folk on a tour of the abbey, we start in the Outer Court, near to the Guest house and post monastic stables. "Here," I always say, "Is a safe haven for travellers. Travel was hard and dangerous in the middle ages and in monastic and religious houses people could be assured a safe bed, food and prayer-sort of a medieval Travelodge." So I was stunned to discover the record (first seen on Rievalux abbey Facebook page) of a fight which broke out at Furness between the monks and travellers. This resulted in three travellers being stabbed! So not quite a Travelodge then?

Of course I knew all about the "murder" at the abbey-I even included it in my last book, "The Cistercian Conspiracy". Three discontented monks decided to oust poor Abbot "L" or "T" depending on which interpretation you read. They bumped him off with deadly nightshade in the communion wine-and then disappeared! In the church, with the nightshade... sort of a Monastic Cluedo.
Courtesy of English Heritage

Then there was Abbot Alexander Banke! A truly nasty piece of work. He evicted the villagers of Sellergarth, destroyed their homes so that he could extend the Parkland-for more sheep and hunting! His monks voted him out at one point but he managed to force his way back in again. I sincerely hope he does not turn out to be the abbot who was found avec crosier in the presbytery. He would be arrogant enough to want to be buried so close to the altar-but I'm hoping it isn't him! 

Then, reading about the dissolution in terms of the abbey, I discover that Roger Pele the final abbot-turns out to have given in pretty quickly and handed over the keys after a little persuasion from Thomas Holcroft -the King's officer. He also managed to gain a pension and the living at Dalton church!

So maybe old Henry was right to turf them all out? Maybe life in the cloister was as corrupt as outside? 
Looking towards the presbytery

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