Monastic Ireland.








Section of an official report drawn up at Stanley after Abbot Stephen’s return to England, November – December 1228, describing the visitation of Suir which Abbot Stephen carried out from the 27th – 29th August. (Letter 88)

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


…Which could not be acquired in town either by gift or purchase. The aforesaid prior with some others approached the before-mentioned lay-brother and taxed him with insults and very menacing threats. Then [the prior] jumped over a little hedge and entered the house of nuns completely conjoined to the monastery of the brothers where he commanded some scoundrels hiding there to attack the aforesaid lay-brother and serving-boys, and beat them up as they knew how. Which was what they did; for they threw the lay-brother from his horse and flung him to the ground; with both hands they completely stripped him of his shoes, socks and all clothes except for the lay-brother’s little hood which he barely kept, and they struck him and beat him with fists, knees, and clubs from all sides, we speak the truth, almost to the point of death. The most serious assault, we are ashamed to say, was that they pulled and twisted his genitals in such a way that living itself became burdensome to him. They severely beat-up one of the serving boys; the other one alone escaped and brought the news to the town with his shouting. Therefore, a great commotion was made; the aforesaid prior and his accomplices were terrified and allowed the serving-boy to depart, and they sent the lay-brother, scarcely stuck on a horse, back to the town. He immediately took to his bed and was in no condition to walk or to ride. Consequently, the aforesaid abbots secured a small boat and caused him to be transported by water to a monastery twenty leagues away, convinced that he would never recover.
Therefore, having given consideration with other prudent men as to what could be done, the aforesaid visitor sent ahead obedient members of the Irish people to forewarn the aforesaid prior and his community concerning the obedience of the Order and to recall them kindly to the humility of penitence, but without success. Therefore, the aforesaid monks and certain abbots with them returned from the monastery and went to join the visitor; they reported that the prior had thrown off his cowl and stood in his scapular, with a lance in one hand, a sword in the other, and the scabbard hung around his neck. All the monks and lay-brothers, apart from the old and the ill, were his accomplices, and were armed in a similar manner. The aforesaid prior swore under oath that he would first stab with his lance any of the monks and lay-brothers who sided with the visitor, and he added that if the visitor came, he himself would take the direct revenge upon him for the corrections made in the other houses throughout Ireland by doing to him what had been done to the lay-brother.
Therefore, as the visitor prepared to go to the monastery, the other abbots restrained him against his will, saying that although they were prepared to face danger with him neither they nor their other companions were prepared at that time to die. Since a good number of nobles and others had gathered in the parish church to hear a sermon by the same visitor, which he had promised to give on the previous Saturday when they devoutly requested it, they were told that death lurked within the gates for the aforesaid visitor at the hands of the above-mentioned malevolent men. Rushing from all sides to the abbots who were already approaching the monastery, they threw themselves into the middle as mediators between the visitor and his companions and the battle-line of the prior which was drawn up in his own way. Finally, after expending great effort the prior was scarcely brought to agree that the visitor might speak with him on condition that, if he were not satisfied with what he had to say, he would be returned to his own battle-formation without impediment or delay. Therefore, the frequently-mentioned visitor then began to entreat him kindly and humbly, asking him to recall to mind that he was a Christian man, a priest and monk, and especially a member of the Cistercian Order, which ought to have so much purity and humility. But in reply, choked with pride and abuse, he poured out threats and invectives until finally, after a torrent of this, he lost the support of his followers, who now fully supported the visitor.
And so the before-mentioned visitor was introduced into the monastery by a community humbly seeking mercy and absolved in the usual manner; then having first delivered a devout sermon to the nominated electors, he gathered them into the church, and with their unanimous consent, God knows, he elected as abbot a suitable man, lettered and of good character, who was a monk of their mother-house (1). He deposed the prior as in justice he was obliged to do; he remained there for three days, and, to the glory and honour of God, restored the discipline of the house and the Order as far as possible. All prudent and God-fearing men completely agreed that no-one from the rebellious Irish houses, for whose sake the Order had toiled so hard and had exposed its own to so many mortal dangers for fifteen years and more, should be appointed abbot until a set period of time had passed, so that in this way their devotion and obedience towards the Order would be proven in time, and they would first learn to be disciples according to the rules of the Order before becoming abbots, just as Joseph was first a good and faithful servant, and afterwards a lord.
In witness of the truth of all this, the undersigned abbots have placed their seals; the abbots of Mellifont, Bective, Grey Abbey, and Tracton, together with the visitor. (2)

1 – Note in text – Furness was the new mother-house of Suir by a decision the council abbots called by Abbot Stephen to meet in Dublin on 25 June.
2 – Note in text – The four abbots either accompanied Abbot Stephen on his departure from Ireland or else met him at Stanley; the abbots of Mellifont and Grey Abbey were not present in November 1228 at the council at Tintern Minor which concluded the visitation.

Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229, translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer (Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan) pp. 185 - 187
These extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Liturgical Press: www.cistercianpublications.org

Monastic sites related to this article

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