Monastic Ireland.

Letter from Stephen of Lexington to the Bishop of Chichester (Letter 69)

Extract from Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229 (translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer), Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1982

Letter 69

To the Bishop of Chichester, greetings.

Wasted away with tribulations, burdened with dangers and sorrows beyond number so that we despair of life itself, we offer thanksgiving every day for Your Holy Paternity and we shall continue to do so as long as we live in all the ways we can in the sight of God and the angels because Your Distinguished Compassion, burdened in various ways with such difficult and important matters and so many unavoidable anxieties, was still willing to call to mind with gracious concern the preservation of peace and indemnity of our house of Stanley, in this way bearing with us the burden of our tribulations and sending from far away some grace of benediction, some oil of refreshment, some honey-comb of consolation, lest perchance we be overwhelmed by excessive grief while affliction does not cease to be piled on affliction to the extent that, blessed God, wound does not leave place for wound. For, not to mention other things, some of our people at a short distance from us in the visitation of Suir were captured, thrown down, wounded and beaten with sharpest scourges until almost their last gasp. Each blow and each wound, God knows, transfixed our soul as well, in addition to the daily anxieties we have for all the monasteries of the Order in Ireland.
Further, certain evil men, God knows who they are, procured some robbers who stealthily pursued us every day from behind in so far as they could and dared; there were twenty on horse as well as those on foot, and every day they lay in ambush for our blood and that of our company. But by the grace of God we have already journeyed through all the Irish monasteries, creating new abbots everywhere from the other people and language, who certainly want to observe the proper form of religious life and to give attention to the peace of the realm, for they would not at all accept becoming harborers or dispatchers of robbers and murderers. We have so far escaped from the power of the same, and we are safe and sound in so far as the uncertainties of the times and harsh malice permit.
If therefore, Venerable Father, when we are surrounded by so many anxieties, pierced by the thorns of so many afflictions, we are also torn in our innermost being over our spiritual sons at Stanley whom we left sad and desolate on our departure, we believe that the weakness of our spirit, having been burdened with such an accumulation of labours and reasons for distress, will be unable to bear it. May we be allowed to speak our mind to our Lord and Father: we would prefer to retire and remain hidden during the brevity of these days which will be concluded shortly; for there are anxieties everywhere for us and we do not know what we ought to do, seeing there the anxiety of our own sons in Christ, here giving our attention to the ruin of religious life in Ireland, for on the departure of the bearers of this letter, the monks of Maigue, hearing that we were preparing to set sail, joined together in an evil spirit of conspiracy; they violently expelled their abbot together with the English monks, and having brought in their own bullocks and cows and fortifying their church and dormitory, they presumed in their pride and frenzy to turn their monastery into a fortress. This place is not more than seven leagues away from the city of Limerick, and is situated completely in a land of peace which is far removed on all sides from forest or wasteland.
The prudent judgement of your well-tested discretion will know whether indeed it is becoming to the royal dignity or whether it is compatible with the honour of the Crown and the Church to endure such things. Indeed, throughout the whole lordship of Count Marshall or of the Lords de Lacy and Count H., his brother, there is no one who resists or dares to make any move to rebel in any way against God and the commands of the Order. Whatever mishap and rebellion we have sustained has befallen us wholly in Munster where the King principally and solely holds the lordship. But we pass over in silence the salvation of souls and the restoration of religious life, and the advantage, honour and peace which will accrue to the kingdom as the results of our efforts through all those men who fear God and have the peace of the aforesaid country at heart, as well as in other ways of which the Council of the aforesaid Lord King can be fully instructed through the judges sent to that region. Therefore, lamenting the very shameful expulsion of our brothers and exposed to various dangers, we look forward day and night in tribulation of spirit to seeing the end of this, so that the wicked may restrain the audacity of their malice at least to some degree as long as they dread our presence. Consequently, prostrate at the feet of Your Holy Serenity and with as much insistence of affection as we can, we humbly supplicate that in respect of Jesus Christ and fraternal charity you deign to be the special defender of our cause with our Lord King until its conclusion. For Your Reverend Highness will keep in mind with what truth our cause is supported and with how many investigations and lengthy labours it has been carried out. What indeed we had remitted to the lord King for so small a concession in regard to the wood, so that in this way we would at least have a small portion assigned to us without the impediment of the foresters. What can be said of those people, who, creating disagreement, strove to sow dischord between the council of the Lord King and our house. Therefore, with an effusion of tears we pray to Truth who says: What to one of the least of mine etc., so that repaying Your Piety as you deserve at the Last Judgement, he will not take up the defense of our cause and the enemy will not prevail against it. May Your Holy Paternity be well in the Lord for ever, and my the Most High preserve your well-being, and may it increase from day to day and accumulate glory and honour before God and men.

Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229, translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer (Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan) pp. 136 - 139
These extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Liturgical Press:

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