4. Report of Stephen of Lexington of the rebellion at Maigue. (Letter 89)
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
The visitations of Ireland being duly carried out according to the rules of the Order with the authority of the General Chapter by Brother Stephen, Abbot of Stanley and his companions at great expense and in repeated danger, some monks and lay-brothers of Maigue heard that they were on the point of departure to their own country, and they planned an unheard-of conspiracy and attempted to carry out some horrible deeds. For they violently expelled and completely drove away from the monastery their abbot and the monks and lay-brothers who had been sent there with the authority of the Order to teach the rule, which was completely reduced to nothing there, and to reform discipline. In addition, turning the monastery, the cloister as well as the church, into a fortress against God, they stored thirty head of cattle, slaughtered and salted down, under the dormitory; they strongly fortified the dormitories of the monks and lay-brothers with great stones, palings and weapons according to the custom of their people. They stored large amounts of grain, hay, flour and other necessities in the church, and they placed vessels and containers adequate to hold water in the cloister; in addition, they strongly fortified a shelter above the altar with provisions and weapons so that they could live in it as if it were their keep. Finally, they brought thirty head of cattle on the hoof into the cloister, grazing them on the grass there and on hay stored in the church.
In addition, and we say this with shame and horror, each one of the monks and lay-brothers equipped himself as best he could with weapons prepared especially for him, excepting the old monks and some of the more prudent who left the monastery lest they become involved in such crimes. They joined with themselves under arms about two-hundred house-servants and lay-abouts of the district, partly by money, partly by other mean. Therefore, with crimes of such a kind and such a degree having been perpetuated against God, the Church and the Order, the abbot and aforesaid monks tearfully and most urgently requested held from the visitor in the midst of such great danger and scandal, lest in the same way other houses and people, especially the very remote, perpetrate similar things. He received the counsel of prudent and God-fearing men, and applied himself modestly, humbly, devoutly, through letters and suitable persons, that is the abbot of Owney and the cantor of Duiske, to admonish the aforesaid monks once, a second time, a third, fourth, many times, to cease from their inchoate malice and not to persevere in so great a disgrace to God, the Church and the Order.
Disrespectfully spurning everything as if it were worthless, they ejected them with very serious threats. Finally, after suffering many such rebuffs, the sentence of lesser excommunication and then of greater excommunication for such unheard-of, obdurate rebellion were gradually and successively brought against them, and at last they were threatened that unless they withdrew themselves very deliberately and quickly from such a crime, the secular power would be invoked against them to seize and imprison them, in the way that the Church has been accustomed to act in such matters. But they considered everything - warnings, threats, condemnations, to be of no account, and they rang the bells and rashly presumed to celebrate a solemn mass; they stripped the cloths from all the altars in the northern section [of the church], and, we speak the truth, they piled up heaps of stones; in addition, they ate flesh-meat publicly with their followers and accomplices in the closter and the lay-brother’s dormitory. Finally, the visitor, who was utterly astounded and also perplexed about what ought to be done in this kind of situation, on the mature counsel of worthy and prudent men wrote to the lord bishop of Limerick, at that time in attendance on the lord archbishop of Cashel, asking him to bring the before-mentioned excommunicates to the spirit of a saner council, or otherwise, out of zeal for the Church and love of religious life, to seize them and bind them with chains until through contrition and penance induced by punishment they deserved to be freed by the decree of the Order.
The aforesaid bishop kindly consented to do this out of zeal for justice and the honour of the Church, and he sent warnings with all diligence in person and through men of religion, and also his own and various secular persons of authority, but in vain. When, therefore, the bishop himself and his company were barred by force of arms from entering the monastery and the aforesaid excommunicates were being heinously harangued to launch an attack on the members of the council who had entered the monastery, so that they scarcely escaped, after five warnings had been given, he called together an assembly of clergy and noble laity; all that was left now to do was to seize the aforesaid rebels following the customary procedure of the Church. Therefore, the before-mentioned bishop prohibited everyone on pain of excommunication from plundering the possessions of the house or killing or maiming anyone, and he decreed that the aforesaid rebels were to be seized and brought to him, and the tower they had built in the western part of the church was to be pulled down. He then took a position with his clerics outside the monastery and awaited the outcome.
Therefore, a large number of people broke in, and others from the opposing side battled fiercely, striking with the above-mentioned weapons, and two of the evil accomplices perished in the course of battle and of their wickedness, as was reported by the bishop’s official and many others. The aforesaid excommunicates were brought before the bishop, but they were not prepared to give their consent to the judgement of the Order on any condition and they were sent away as fugitives on the decision of the bishop. The oft-mentioned visitor was engaged at that time in a far-distant region, and when he learnt what had happened he went in haste in three days to the aforesaid house with other abbots of the Order. Together with a dean of the district sent there on behalf of the bishop, they renewed the consecration of the church and demolished the altar on which the said excommunicates had celebrated mass. Finally, having recalled some of the monks and lay-brothers seeking mercy and absolution, and having brought back into the monastery the abbot with the monks not involved in the aforesaid crime, the aforesaid visitor remained for some time in the before-mentioned monastery. When the disturbance had been quelled and the observance of religious life had been commenced there to the honour of God and the Order, the often-mentioned visitor together with his companions set out on his journey to the region lying on this side of the sea [England], and he committed representation of the General Chapter to the abbot of Owney so that he might absolve and reconcile to the Order the above-mentioned excommunicates, excepting the four ring-leaders whose reconciliation he reserved to the General Chapter or to the visitor acting on behalf of the same as a threat and caution in the future. In witness of which matter the abbots of Mellifont, Bective, Grey Abbey and Tracton, together with the abbot of Stanley, place their seals.
(this official report was drawn up at Stanley around November to December 1228, after Abbot Stephen’s return.)
Stephen of Lexington, Letters from Ireland 1228 - 1229, translated and with an introduction by Barry W. O'Dwyer (Cistercian Publications Inc., Kalamazoo, Michigan) pp. 188 - 191
These extracts are reproduced with the kind permission of Liturgical Press: www.cistercianpublications.org
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