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Hugh Bishop Of Lincoln by Charles L. Marson

CHAPTER II BROTHER HUGH

|Ye might write th' doin's iv all th' convents iv th' wurruld on the back of a postage stamp, an' have room to spare,| says Mr. Dooley; and we rather expect some hiatus in our history here. Goodbye to beef, butter, and good red wheat; white corn, sad vegetables, cold water, sackcloth take their place, with fasts on bread and water, and festivals mitigated by fish. Goodbye to pillows and bolsters and linen shirts. Welcome horse-hair vests, sacking sheets, and the |bitter bite of the flea,| -- sad entertainment for gentlemen! Instead of wise and merry talk, wherein he excelled, solitary confinement in a wooden cell (the brethren now foist off a stone one upon credulous tourists) with willing slavery to stern Prior Basil. The long days of prayer and meditation, the nights short with psalmody, every spare five minutes filled with reading, copying, gardening and the recitation of offices. All these the novice took with gusto, safe hidden from the flash of emerald eyes and the witchery of hypergeometrical noses. But temptation is not to be kept out by the diet of Adam and of Esau, by locked doors, spades, and inkpots. The key had hardly turned upon the poor refugee when he found he had locked in his enemies with him. His austerities redoubled, but as he says he |only beat the air| until He who watches over Israel without slumber or sleep laid His hand upon him and fed him with a hidden manna, so fine and so plentiful that the pleasures of life seemed paltry after the first taste of it. After this experience our Hugh used to be conscious always of a Voice and a Hand, giving him cheer and strength, although the strong appetites of his large nature troubled him to the last. Here Hugh devoured books, too, until the time floated by him all too fleetly.

His great affectionate heart poured itself out upon wild birds and squirrels which came in from the beech and pine woods, and learned to feed from his platter and his fingers. It is difficult to read with patience that his prior, fearing lest he should enjoy these innocent loves too much, and they would |hinder his devotion,| banished these pretty dears from the dreary cell. But in charity let us suppose that the prior more than supplied their place, for Hugh was told off to tend a weak old monk, to sing him the offices, and to nurse the invalid. This godly old man, at once his schoolmaster and his patient, sounded him whether he wished to be ordained priest. When he learned that, as far as lay in Hugh he desired nothing more, he was greatly shocked, and reduced his nurse-pupil to tears by scolding him for presumption; but he presently raised him from his knees and prophesied that he would soon be a priest and some day a bishop. Hugh was soon after this ordained priest, and was distinguished for the great fervour of his behaviour in celebrating the Mass |as if he handled a visible Lord Saviour| -- a touching devoutness which never left him, and which contrasted strikingly with the perfunctory, careless or bored ways of other priests. He injured his health by over-abstinence, one effect of which was to cause him to grow fat, Nature thus revenging herself by fortifying his frame against such ill-treatment.

In the talk time after Nones, the brothers had much to hear about the storms which raged outside their walls. It is rather hard for us nowadays to see things through Charterhouse spectacles. There is our lord the Pope, Alexander III., slow and yet persistent, wrestling hard with the terrible Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who is often marching away to seiges of Milan, reducing strong rogues and deeply wronging the church (whose forged documents are all purely genuine). Then what a hubbub there is in the church! Monstrous anti-popes, one of whom, Victor, dies, and a satanic bishop Henry of Liege consecrates another, Pascal, and the dismal schism continues. Then our lord Alexander returns to Rome, and the Emperor slaughters the Romans and beseiges their city and enthrones Pascal. There are big imperial plans afoot, unions of East and West, which end in talk: but Sennacherib Frederick is defeated by a divine and opportune pestilence. Then Pascal dies, and the schism flickers, the Emperor crawls to kiss the foot of St. Peter, and finally, in 1179, Alexander reigns again in Rome for a space. Meantime, Louis VII., a pious Crusader, and dutiful son of the Regulars, plays a long, and mostly a losing, game of buffets with Henry of Anjou, lord of Normandy, Maine, Touraine, Poitou, Aquitaine and Gascony, and leader of much else besides, King also of England, and conqueror of Ireland -- a terrible man, who had dared to aspire to hang priestly murderers. He has forced some awful Constitutions of Clarendon upon a groaning church, or a church which ought to groan and does not much, but rather talks of the laws and usage of England being with the king. But the noble Thomas has withstood him, and is banished and beggared and his kith and kin with him. The holy man is harboured by our good Cistercian brothers of Pontigny, where he makes hay and reaps and see visions. He is hounded thence. These things ignite wars, and thereout come conferences. Thomas will not compromise, and even Louis fretfully docks his alimony and sends him dish in hand to beg; but he, great soul, is instant in excommunication, whereafter come renewed brawls, fresh (depraved) articles. Even the king's son is crowned by Roger of York, |an execration, not a consecration.| At last (woeful day!) Thomas goes home still cursing, and gets his sacred head split open, and thus wins the day, and has immense glory and sympathy, which tames the fierce anti-anarchist king. He, too, kneels to our lord Alexander, and swears to go crusading in three years' time, meanwhile paying Templars to do it for him. All this comes out in driblets after Nones, and brings us to 1171 A.D., brother Hugh being aged about one and thirty. When the old monk died Hugh was given another old man to wait upon -- Peter, the Archbishop of Tarentaise, who came there often for retreat and study. This renowned old man had been a friend of St. Bernard, and was a great stickler and miracle worker for Alexander III., and he was a delegate to make peace between Henry and Louis, when he died in 1174. Hugh found his quotations, compiled any catena he wished to make, retrieved saintly instances, washed his feet, walked with him, and sat with him on a seat between two large fir trees, which seat |miraculously grew no higher, as the trees grew.| In this manner Hugh knew and was known of the outside world, for Archbishop Peter was a man of large following and acquaintance.

And now Hugh is made, wincingly, the procurator or bursar of the Grande Chartreuse, after he has spent eight years there, and is plunged in a sea of worldly business. The prior makes good use of his tact, business capacity, and honourable nature. He had thought and read to some purpose, for he ruled the lay brothers with diligence, and instructed the monks with great care, stirring up the sluggish and bitting the heady into restfulness. He did his worldly work vigorously, and turned it swiftly to spiritual gain. He had strong wine of doctrine for the chapter-house, milk for the auditorium. The secular people, if they were rich, he taught not to trust in riches; if they were poor, he refreshed them with such rations as the Order allowed. If he had nothing else, he always had a kind and cheery word to give. Among the travellers must have been many noble postmen, who carried letters in their hands and messages in their heads from Henry to Humbert of Maurienne, who held the keys of all the Alpine roads to Italy and Germany and whose infant daughter was betrothed to the boy John Lackland with dowries disputable, whereat Henry junior rebels, and makes uncommon mischief. The procurator was keen and accurate in his work. He never mislaid the books, forgot, fumbled, or made a |loiter,| morantia, as they called it, when the office halted or was unpunctual. The lay brethren did not have to cough at any trips in his reading, which was their quaint way of rebuking mistakes.

Henry II. was reconciled in 1172 and his crusade was to begin in 1175; but during these years his dominions were in constant flame. Scotland and France harried him. His sons leagued against him. His nobles rose. He fought hard battles, did humble penances at St. Thomas' tomb, and came out victorious, over his political and ecclesiastical opponents too, and began again the ordering of his unruly realms. What a rough and tumble world the Chronicles reveal as we turn them over! There is a crusade in Asia Minor in 1176. Manuel Commenus relates his success and failure. There are heretics in Toulouse who are Puritans, half Quaker and half Arian, condemned by a Council of Lombers, 1176. Next year Henry seems to have begun his penance, which was commuted from a crusade into three religious foundations, and rather shabbily he did it. Some people try to put Newstead in Selwood in the list, but this was founded in 1174; and Le Liget has been mentioned, a Charterhouse in Touraine founded in 1178. The most probable explanation is this. Henry tried to do the penance (a) by buying out the Secular Canons of Waltham at a price determined by Archbishop Richard. He replaced these by Canons Regular under Walter de Cant. He then endowed them handsomely and had papal authority for this. (b) He found this so expensive that he tried to do the other two more cheaply. A scandal had arisen in Amesbury. He expelled the incontinent nuns, and brought over from Font Evroult a colony of more devout ladies in their room. The chroniclers show that this evasion was severely commented upon, and we may conclude that Le Liget was a tardy substitute -- a cheap strip of forest land granted to an order which was celebrated for its dislike of covetousness, and whose rules required manual labour and a desert (and so valueless) land. Le Liget, be it noticed, is founded after the peace of Venice has given more power to the Papal elbow. The Lateran Council is also a little threatening towards King Henry in March, 1179, particularly on the question of the ferocity of mercenaries. Young Philip Augustus is also evidently succeeding his waning father, and generally speaking it is better to be conciliatory and to admit that the Amesbury plan was perhaps insufficient. At any rate, it is well to found another house: Carthusians of course, for they are holy, popular, and inexpensive. Henry, who was generous enough for lepers, hospitals, and active workers, did not usually care very much for contemplative orders, though his mother, the Empress Matilda, affected the Cistercians and founded the De Voto Monastery near Calais, and he inherited something from her. These considerations may have first prompted and then fortified Henry's very slow and reluctant steps in the work of founding Witham, in substance and not in shadow. It is also quite possible that he had not entirely given up the notion of going on a crusade after all.

The first attempt was little more than a sketch.5,497 acres were marked off for the new house, in a wet corner of Selwood forest. But the land was not transferred from William FitzJohn and the villeins were not evicted or otherwise disposed of. The place was worse than a desert, for it contained possessors not dispossessed. The poor monks, few and unprepared, who came over at their own expense, probably expecting a roof and a welcome, found their mud flat was inhabited by indignant Somersetae, whose ways, manners, language, and food were unknown to them. The welcome still customarily given in these parts to strangers was warmer than usual. The foreign English, even if their lands were not pegged out for Charterhouses, were persuaded that the brethren were landsharks of the most omnivorous type. The poor prior quailed, despaired, and hastily bolted, leaving an old and an angry monkish comrade to face the situation with a small company of lay brothers. Another prior arrived, and to the vexation of the king shuffled off his maltreated coil in a very short time. After spending Christmas (1179-80) in Nottingham, the king crossed into Normandy with young Henry before Easter, meaning to avenge the wrongs Philip Augustus did to his relatives. Here most probably it was that a noble of the region of Maurienne (come no doubt upon business of the impending war), chatted with him about the Charterhouse. He paid a warm tribute to Hugh in words of this kind, |My lord king, there is only one sure way of getting free from these straits. There is in the Charterhouse a certain monk, of high birth but far higher moral vigour. His name is Hugh of Avalon. He carries on him all the grace of the virtues; but besides, every one who knows him takes to him and likes him, so that all who see him find their hearts fairly caught. Those who are privileged to hear him talk are delighted to find his speech divinely or angelically inspired. If the new plantation of this most holy order in your lands should deserve to have this man to dress and rule it, you will see it go joyfully forward straight away towards fruiting in every grace. Moreover, as I am certain, the whole English Church will be very greatly beautified by the radiance of his most pure religion and most religious purity. But his people will not easily let him go from their house, and he will never go to live elsewhere unless it be under compulsion and against his will, so your legation must be strong and strenuous: you must struggle to compass the matter even with urgent prayers until you get this man and him only. Then for the future your mind will be released from the anxieties of this care, and this lofty religion will make a noble growth to your excellency's renown. You will discover in this one man, with the whole circle of the other virtues, whatever mortal yet has shown of longsuffering, sweetness, magnanimity, and meekness. No one will dislike him for a neighbour or house-mate; no one will avoid him as a foreigner. No one will hold him other than a fellow politically, socially, and by blood, for he regards the whole race of men as part and parcel of himself, and he takes all men and comforts them in the arms and lap of his unique charity.| The king was delighted with this sketch, and sent off post haste Reginald, Bishop of Bath (in whose diocese Witham lay), and an influential embassage to secure the treasure, if it could be done.

But the man who was being sought had just about then been finding the burden of this flesh so extremely heavy that he was more inclined to run riot in the things that do not belong to our peace than to settle comfortably upon a saint's pedestal or to take up a new and disagreeably dull work. The fatal temptations of forty, being usually unexpected, are apt to upset the innocent more surely than are the storms of youth; and poor Hugh was now so badly tried that the long life of discipline must have seemed fruitless. He just escaped, as he told his too-little reticent biographer, from one nearly fatal bout by crying out, |By Thy passion, cross, and life-giving death, deliver me.| But neither frequent confession, nor floggings, nor orisons, seemed to bring the clean and quiet heart. He was much comforted by a vision of his old prior Basil, who had some days before migrated to God. This dear old friend and father stood by him radiant in face and robe, and said with a gentle voice, |Dearest son, how is it with thee? Why this face down on the ground? Rise, and please tell thy friend the exact matter.| Hugh answered, |Good father, and my most kind nurser, the law of sin and death in my members troubles me even to the death, and except I have thy wonted help, thy lad will even die.| |Yes, I will help thee.| The visitor took a razor in his hand and cut out an internal inflamed tumour, flung it far away, blessed his patient, and disappeared, leaving no trace of his surgery in heart or flesh. Hugh told this story in his last illness to Adam, his chaplain, and added that though after this the flesh troubled him, its assaults were easy to scorn and to repress, though always obliging him to walk humbly.

The king's messengers took with them the Bishop of Grenoble and unfolded their errand. The Charterhouse was horrified, and the prior most of all. He delayed a reply. The first prior refused the request. The votes varied. Bovo, a monk who afterwards succeeded to Witham, declared strongly that it was a divine call, that the holiness of the order might be advertised to the ends of the earth. Hugh was too large a light to keep under their bushel. He seems better fitted to be a bishop than a monk, he said. Hugh was then bidden to speak. He told them that with all the holy advice and examples about him he had never managed to keep his own soul for one day, so how could any wise person think him fit to rule other folk? Could he set up a new house, if he could not even keep the rules of the old one? This is childishness and waste of time. |Let us for the future leave such matters alone, and since the business is hard and urgent do you only occupy yourselves to see that this king's undertaking be frittered no longer away half done, to the peril of souls and the dishonour of the holy order, and so from among you or from your other houses choose a man fit for this work and send him with these men. Since these are wise, do you too answer them wisely. Grant their desire, not their request. Give them a man not such as they seek under a mistake, but such as they devoutly and discreetly demand. It is not right that men should be heard unadvisedly who mistake the man of their request and who do not really want to be mistaken in the man's qualifications. So, in a word, do not grant their request, but cheer them by bettering it.| The prior and Hugh were of one decision. The former declared point blank that he would not say go, and finally he turned to the Carthusian Bishop of Grenoble, |our bishop, father, and brother in one,| and bade him decide. The bishop accepted the responsibility, reminded them of the grief which arose when St. Benedict sent forth St. Maur to Western Gaul, and exhorted Hugh that the Son of God had left the deepest recess of His Deity to be manifest for the salvation of many. |You too must pilgrimage for a little time from your dearest, breaking for a while the silence of the quiet you have loved.| After much interruption from Hugh, the sentence was given. They all kissed him and sent him away forthwith. The king received him with much graciousness and ordered him to be carried honourably to Witham, and the wretched remnant in the mud flat received him as an angel of God. Well they might do so, for they seemed to have passed a melancholy winter in twig huts, now called |weeps,| in a little paled enclosure, not only without the requisites of their order, but with barely bread to their teeth. There was no monastery, not even a plan of one. William FitzJohn and his clayey serfs scowled upon the shivering interlopers, uncertain what injustice might be done to them and to their fathers' homes, in sacrifices to the ghost of St. Thomas.

Witham is a sort of glorified soup-plate, still bearing traces of its old Selwood Forest origin, for the woodlands ring round it. The infant river Avon creeps through its clayey bottom, and there are remains of the old dams which pent it into fish-ponds. Of the convent nothing remains except a few stumps in a field called |Buildings,| unless the stout foundations of a room, S.E. of the church, called the reading-room, mark the guest house, as tradition asserts. Much of the superstructure of this cannot go back beyond the early sixteenth century, but the solid walls, the small size (two cottage area), allow of the fancy that here was the site of many colloquies between our Hugh and Henry Fitz-Empress.{1}

The church itself is one of the two erected by St. Hugh, partly with his own hands. It is the lay brothers' church (called since pre-Franciscan days, the Friary). The conventual church has left no wrack behind. The style is entirely Burgundian, a single nave, with Romanesque windows, ending in an apse. The |tortoise| roof, of vaulted stone, is as lovely as it is severe. In 1760 the Tudor oaken bell-turret survived. The horrid story of how a jerry-built tower was added and the old post-Hugonian font built into it, how a new font was after long interval added, does not concern us. The tower was happily removed, the old font found and remounted (as if the text ran, |One faith, two baptisms|), and a stone nozzle built to uphold three bells. The buttresses are copied from St. Hugh's Lincoln work.

FOOTNOTES:

{1} The present Vicar is anxious to turn this place, which has been alternately cottages, a lock-up, and a reading-room, into a lecture hall and parish room; but the inhabitants, unworthy of their historical glories, seem rather disposed to let the old building tumble into road metal, to their great shame and reproach.

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