Friday, 11 September 2015
This week Mr GBT and I have recently discovered the wonders of the local history society scene. For a whopping three hundred pennies each we were able to attend a brilliant talk earlier this week on the life of the Benedictine monks at Battle Abbey before Henry VIII's bully boys went in and dismantled the whole operation. [the photo is actually of Tintern Abbey which was Cisterician but it's the most appropriate one I have]
The whole talk was very cleverly done with the speaker dressed in the habit of 1538 and given from the perspective of the monk facing the frightening prospect of the unknown following the visit of the notorious commissioner Richard Clayton and the imminent closure of the abbey. Cut in throughout were recordings of some of the rules by which the order lived contrasted with snatches of Gregorian chant.
Originally set up in the aftermath of William's successful invasion in 1070 it was planned to house 150 monks from the age of 10 upwards but by the time of its demise there were only 18 remaining. The order was very insular and the monks took a vow of silence so had little contact with the outside world. Their daily lives were rigidly ordered around prayer with punishment of varying degrees for those who did not adhere to the rules. Although a life without possessions and lacking many comforts, they were secure, well fed [a mere 1 pint of wine a day and meat three times a week with fish on the other days] and were educated - an opportunity afforded only to the most privileged in society beyond their walls.
Eventually the abbey surrendered to the king in May 1538. Staggeringly the last abbot Hammond was pensioned off with £100pa- an enormous amount for the time and it seems few mourned its passing for they didn't support the local community in the way some of the other orders did. They were extraordinarily wealthy assets for the Crown to plunder with a staggering level of corruption to match! One abbey had tunnels out to the local brothel- just maybe the old vow of chastity had slipped their minds! Some monks adapted well to their new lives- finding wives and going on to have families whilst others failed to adjust and suffered terribly.