« PrécédentContinuer »
The annals of Waverley Abbey would be far more interesting were they, like the history of the Abbot Ingulphus, or the Chronicles of Evesham, the record mainly or entirely of the life and growth of the abbey and of the order in England. But this they are not. They profess to give a complete course of history from the Christian era to the time of the writer, and consequently they have not very much space to devote to the Cistercians. Of the internal history of the abbey we learn but little. Facts connected with its outward condition we glean here and there, records of the foundation of new Cistercian houses, and notices of any general topics connected with the history of the order in England; but with individual monks and abbots we are not made acquainted, as the history of Croyland makes us acquainted with Turketyl, or that of Evesham with Thomas of Marlborough. Nevertheless the annals of Waverley, though not specially full on the subject of their own abbey, are by no means barren of interesting facts and notices, with some of which we will make the reader acquainted when we have first performed the main object of the present article, viz. the tracing out of the history of the Cistercians in England.
It would seem that the first entrance of the order into England by the foundation of Waverley in 1128, was the signal for a sudden outburst of zeal for the Cistercians in the land. Rievaulx, Tintern, Fountains, and many abbeys of less note, date their existence to a time very little later than this. What was it that determined the devout nobles and princes of any particular period as to the choice of the order which they should enrich with their donations, and the prayers of which they should desire for their souls' health? There was, doubtless, much of fashion in these things. At one time one order of religious, at another time another, would carry off the spoils. But we may easily see what gave the Cistercians so great a popularity in the earlier half of the twelfth century. If it is needful that one's soul should be prayed for, one would naturally select the pale, mortified ascetic, who, with stooping gait and downcast eyes, goes to his daily toil in the fields, telling his beads as he walks, rather than the stout, jovial monk, who lounges in his refectory or cloister, and does not recognise the call to labour either with the brains or the hands. When the Cistercians came with their meagre diet and self-denying lives to establish themselves in the land, they were gladly welcomed as the very ideal of a monastic order. The glory of the great S. Bernard, his miracles, his eloquence, his asceticism, gave still further prestige to the order. That nobleman would have been a personage of exceptionally strong mind, who,
desiring to make all things comfortable for the future by a gift of his manors to the church, would venture at that period to select any but a Cistercian brotherhood to receive them. The first foundation mentioned in the Waverley Chronicle is that of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. There is something of touching pathos in the circumstances which led to the foundation of this house of religion in that wild spot of the Yorkshire Wolds. The famous Norman baron, Walter Espec, a knight, 'active and fair to behold,' had married in early manhood a beauteous wife, named Adelina. This lady bore him one son, a boy like his father in beauty of person, and devotion to active and manly sports. The youth's especial delight was to ride the swiftest horses at the most headlong speed. One day, when he was rushing along at a mad pace, his horse fell with him near the little stone cross towards Frithby,' and he broke his neck. The father, overwhelmed with grief, and left without an heir for his numerous manors, determined, at the advice of William, Rector of Garton, to dedicate his lands to religious uses. Accordingly, he founded three monasteries, Kirkham, Rievaulx, and Wardon, -the two latter for monks of the Cistercian Order. Doubtless Kirkham would have been also given to the same Order, but the foundation of this was before the date of the appearance of the Cistercians in England. It is recorded that after this munificent dedication, Walter Espec lived long and flourished mightily. Another son was born to him, to whom he was able, after thirty years of renowned warfare, to leave a large inheritance, as well as handsomely to endow his three sisters, all married to famous knights. When he had settled his affairs, the old baron retired to Rievaulx, where, laying aside the secular dress, and donning the white habit of the Cistercian, he spent the remaining two years of his life among his grateful monks. The situation of Rievaulx, at the junction of three valleys, among the bleak hills of Yorkshire, supplied a model Cistercian site. The Order desired to be located in the most solitary, inaccessible, and uncultured spots, that the labour which they religiously expended on the cultivation of the soil might not be too easy or remunerative, but hard, disappointing, and repulsive. To this heroical or Quixotic determination, we owe at once the picturesque beauty of the Cistercian ruins, and no small debt of gratitude for the good work done in cultivating the waste lands. And upon this principle, that the
1 Rievaulx was first founded with monks from S. Bernard's Monastery of Clairvaux. Disputes had arisen between Citeaux and Clairvaux, and the Bernardines were on the point of forming a distinct Order, but they afterwards lapsed into Cistercians again. The same was the case with the Savigniacs, or Grey Monks. They, too, sank their differences, and became pure Cistercian. 2 Carta fundationis Rievallensis Cænobii. Dugdale.
labour of the Cistercian availed to bring barren and previously useless land into cultivation, there is something to be said in favour of these exemptions from ecclesiastical and state burdens, which the Popes were so zealous to confer upon him. It seems that the parson, who was unable to levy dues upon the original possessions of an exempt abbey, sometimes endeavoured to establish a claim for tithes, when the uncultivated land had been broken up, and had assumed the character of a novale, or newly tilled field. But the Popes met him here, and extended their protection over novalia, present and future, as well as over the other property of the abbey. We have heard,' writes Pope Alexander IV., and hearing, have been astonished, that though 'it has been conceded by our predecessors to the brethren of Rievaulx, and all others of the Cistercian Order, and confirmed by us, that they should not pay any tithes of that which they work with their own hands; nevertheless, some presume to ' extort tithes from them. We therefore command you, and all who are under your authority, that you do not presume to demand tithes from the said brethren of Rievaulx, or from any others of the Cistercian Order in your dioceses, 'neither for the newly cultivated lands, nor for any other lands 'which they work with their own toil, nor from the animals 'which they nourish.' Powerful and zealous protectors, indeed, were the Popes to these their favoured children. Another rescript given to Rievaulx exempted them from the force of Interdicts, and allowed them, when an Interdict was upon the land, to celebrate the divine offices with closed gates; protected from external interference, not only the monks, but also all their servants and dependents in distant granges, so that the laws of the land became powerless in the case of any who could plead employment by a Cistercian; and even the greatest crimes could be committed with impunity if done under the ægis of this puissant name.1 The next year, after the foundation of Rievaulx, witnessed the commencement of the magnificent Abbey of Fountains. The circumstances under which this abbey, so glorious even in its decay, first took its rise, are extremely interesting, and introduce us to a curious chapter of monastic history in the twelfth century. Among the monasteries of the north none was more famous than the great Benedictine Abbey of S. Mary's, at York. Enriched by numerous benefactors, and reposing under the shadow of the metropolitan church, the members of this house might well be objects of envy to their less favoured brethren in other places. But prosperity and affluence had produced their usual effects on the brethren of
1 Dugdale, vol. v. pp. 283, 284.
S. Mary's. They had become negligent and careless. They passed their time in amusement and recreation, gossiping together, instead of religiously carrying out the requirements of their rule, and addicted themselves to luxurious dishes, a great variety of pleasing drinks, and a costly fineness of apparel.' This state, however, which well satisfied the majority, did not approve itself to all in the monastery as the most perfect carrying out of the rule of S. Benedict. When the monks of the new Order came to Rievaulx, and accounts reached York of their austere interpretation of the same obligations, the consciences of some at S. Mary's were touched. Thirteen monks, with the prior at their head, agreed to endeavour to imitate the good example set them by the Cistercians, and not seeing how they could carry out their proposed austerities at S. Mary's, they decided upon quitting their pleasant abode, and seeking out a retired spot to commence a Cistercian house. The abbot, however, an aged man, and not very learned,' could not see the force of their scruples. When he heard of their intention he violently opposed it. The reforming monks applied to Archbishop Thurstan, and he at once espoused their cause. He came to the monastery with his train of secular dignitaries, to remonstrate with the abbot, but was met in a way he did not expect. The abbot violently opposed his entrance, and with his monks behind him did not scruple to apply actual force to the Archbishop's train. In fact there was a regular battle within the gates of the abbey, and the Archbishop was obliged to retreat, carrying with him, however, the thirteen malcontents whom their brethren were trying to seize, and incarcerate in the dungeons of the abbey. These monks were now thrown upon the Archbishop's hands, and he was obliged to provide for their maintenance. At length he bethought him of a suitable spot for the zealous brethren to commence their new life, and conferred upon them a place never inhabited in former times,-a 'place overgrown with thorns, among steep mountains and 'jutting rocks, more fitted for the lairs of beasts than for the use 'of man.' Some might find a difficulty in reconciling this description with the fair meadows which surround Fountains, but here, at any rate, the monks were placed, without a building to shelter them, or any of the conveniences of life. They lodged under a spreading elm tree, until they had erected their first rude dwellings, and at once solemnly joined the Cistercian Order, sending messengers to S. Bernard at Clairvaux, to ask him to receive them as his children. Their request was gladly granted by the saint, who directed to their abbot, Richard, his letters of encouragement, while he also praised the Archbishop for his efficient protection of the brethren, and censured the
abbot of York for his carnal opposition to the zeal of his children. A monk, named Walter, was despatched from Clairvaux to Fountains, to teach the brethren how to live according to the Cistercian use. But great were the difficulties of the new monastery. The brethren almost perished from famine, and were obliged to cook herbs and the leaves of trees for their support. But they persevered heroically, and soon gifts began to be heaped upon them by the faithful. In five years time the Abbey of Fountains was sending forth its off-shoots, of which it soon was able to count up a goodly number.
But how long did this Cistercian house, begun in so much zeal, preserve its character for self-denial and asceticism? In the time of King John, we find that Fountains could contribute (unwillingly enough, no doubt), 1,200 marks to the king's Exchequer; and towards the end of the thirteenth century, we find the Archbishop of York writing to the visitors of the Čistercian Order, to denounce the misconduct and extravagance of the monks of Fountains, who, it seems, were in difficulties from over building, a result which we can hardly wonder at when we gaze upon the majestic ruins of the abbey. At the dissolution, the estates of Fountains were valued only at £1173 of yearly value, but when we glance over the lists of their hundreds of manors, the catalogue of their plate, valued even at that day at £708; the account of their animals, which exhibits 2,356 horned cattle, 1,326 sheep, 86 horses, their vast stores of corn and hay; or think of their buildings, extending over no less than twelve acres of ground, we may well imagine that the original poverty of the Cistercian was not long persevered in by the dwellers in this noble establishment.1
Among the earliest off-shoots from Fountains was the Abbey of Melsa, or Meaux, the chronicles of which have been edited by Mr. Bond. From the Waverley Annals we find that the date of the foundation of Meaux was 1136.2 So that the date given in Dugdale is erroneous. The account of the foundation of this abbey introduces us to yet another cause of origin of those great religious houses which once covered our land in such rich abundance. Rievaulx was due to the grief and penitence of a bereaved father. Fountains sprang from the goodly zeal and earnestness of certain monks, who could not reconcile their lax practice with the strict requirements of their rule. Meaux was one of those instances of composition or bargaining for salvation, which are among the most grotesque features of mediæval religionism.
William the Fat, Count of Albemarle and Lord of Holderness, 1 Dugdale, Monasticon, vol. v. pp. 286-314. 2 Annales de Waverleiâ, p. 225.