Liberal Arts Blog — Monasteries (III): England — Westminster, Lindisfarne, Tintern
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Today’s Topic: Monasteries (III): England — Westminster, Lindisfarne, Tintern
The wife-slaughtering founder of the Anglican Church dissolved the monasteries of England, Wales, and Ireland between 1538 and 1541. This involved about 900 physical structures and 12,000 people. At the time, perhaps one adult male out of fifty was in a religious order. The King did this to squelch the power of Rome from which he had broken in 1535 as well as to raise income to fund his wars. Today, you can visit the ruins of many of once great monasteries such as Whitby, Rievaulx, Lindesfarne, Tintern. But one former Benedictine monastery is very much intact — Westminster Abbey, the place of the burial and coronation of British monarchs ever since William the Conqueror in 1066. Experts — please chime in. Correct. elaborate, elucidate.
WESTMINSTER ABBEY (960)
1. The original abbey on the site was called St. Peter’s and dates back to about 960. The current structure was built between 1245 and 1266 in the time of Henry III.
2. Britain’s “Valhalla” — the burial ground for not only 30 kings and queens and 8 prime ministers, but also Chaucer, Newton, Darwin, and Purcell, and many other icons.
3. Sixteen royal weddings have been held here. The gardens have been tended for over 900 years. The treasures of Westminster include paintings, sculpture, stained glass, textiles, furniture, and so much more.
NB: A house of worship today, it is famous for its choral tradition and has both a choir school and a public school attached. The Westminster School has the highest Oxbridge acceptance rate of any in the UK with about half the students going to Oxford or Cambridge.
LINDISFARNE PRIORY — on a small tidal island, donated to an Irish monk, Aidan, in 635 by the King of Northumbria
1. The greatest monk-bishop of Lindisfarne was St. Cuthbert (634–687) whose shrine became the principal pilgrimage destination in Northumbria (a medieval kingdom in northeastern England and southeastern Scotland).
2. In 793 the monastery was devastated by a Viking raid — the first of its kind in Western Europe.
3. The Lindisfarne Gospels (715–720) are considered to be one of the most spectacular manuscripts from Anglo-Saxon England. Unfortunately, the jeweled cover was lost during the Viking raid. The manuscript is now in the British Library in London. (Another great illuminated manuscript in the United Kingdom is the Book of Kells to be found in Trinity College Library in Dublin.)
NB: Today the largest city in the northeast of England is Newcastle with a metropolitan area population of 1.7 million and a city population of 300,000. The greatest cathedral of the region is Durham Cathedral (1093), designed originally as the resting place for the relics of Saint Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede (672–735), the author of the Ecclesiastical History of England ( the “father of English history.” The head of King (later “Saint”) Oswald (604–641) is also there for those who like that sort of thing.
TINTERN ABBEY — located on the Welsh bank of the River Wye on the border with Gloucestershire
1. The first Cistercian monastery in Wales and the second in Great Britain. The Cistercians were a break-off from the Benedictines who felt that the latter had strayed from the strict discipline of the Benedictine rule.
2. The Abbey was immortalized by many artists including JMW Turner (above). And that goes for poets too including William Wordsworth, “Lines Composed a Few Miles from Tintern Abbey” (1798)
3. Wordsworth: “ Five years have past; five summers, with the length of five long winters! and again I hear these waters, rolling from their mountain-springs with a soft inland murmur.”
NB: Here are some remarkable lines from the Reverend Duncomb Davis written “about 1790”: “…now no bell calls monks to morning prayer, Daws only chant their early matins there, Black forges smoke, and noisy hammers beat Where sooty Cyclops puffing, drink and sweat, ….Fix deep the bright exemplar in thy heart, To friendship’s sacred call with joy attend, Cling, like the ivy, round a falling friend.” For me, there are echoes here of Shakespeare’s Sonnet LXXIII: “Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang….”
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