Part the Third
from July 1869 to
the same Month 1879
by Brother Kieran Mullany
Giving the Events of Importance which took place from July 16th 1869, to the same date of 1879 with some Particulars concerning the Enormous Debts into which our Community was plunged during this Decade of our History.
This part of our history is of far more importance than the two parts which preceded it. The two wings of our new building begun in March 1868 were completed on the 1st of November, 1870. The whole expense of the building was ninety-seven thousand dollars. What is wonderful, and much to the credit of our Abbot, his officers and all concerned, is that on the same day, namely Nov. 1, 1870 the community was not one cent in debt.
The average daily attendance of Mechanics and Laborers at the building was about thirty men. At one time there were fourteen Stone-cutters employed. Now that the house was so far finished, there was question if it was fit to go and live in it. Our housekeeper Br. Bernard was of the opinion that it was, while the Abbot insisted that it was not.
While it was warmly disputed, that is, the propriety of going at once to live in the new Monastery, the Abbot of Mount Melleray arrived as Visitor in November, 1870. Those most anxious to occupy the building directly spoke to the Visitor on the subject; they asserted that the edifice would go to ruin unless we went to live in it directly. This assertion was verified as will be seen further on. Our Abbot and those of the community who were for remaining in the old house spoke also to the Visitor on the same subject and convinced him that the building was anything but fit to go live in it. They said the new Monastery should be heated by steam, and that cement floor in the basement was not proper for our refectory. These and many other suggestions made the Visitor use these words when addressing the community in Chapter, “Festina lente.” (Make haste slowly). It was in Latin that he spoke, and so his advice was adopted.
Four years and nine months afterwards on the 14th of August, 1875, we entered the new building. Brother M. Bernard made one effort more to have the community occupy the new Monastery. He bought in Dubuque four large sheet-iron stoves, seventy-five dollars each. He had them put up in the building in the most convenient places for heating it, but all to no purpose, as they proved inadequate to do so. The reason why no stove could heat this new house was partly on account of the bad work done by the mechanics, perhaps the architects, when putting in the stained glass windows. The parts could not be fitted together. This was sheer carelessness by those who bought the windows in Chicago. Some were so open that a person may pass his finger between sash and frame. The sad result of this bungling was witnessed during the severe winter of 1870 and 1871, when one morning in January, the whole floor of the large room now used as our Church was covered over with snow nearly an inch deep. It drifted through the stain glass windows. But this was not all or even half the harm done to our new Monastery. The frost of four severe winters such as is known in Iowa, went well nigh leavelling to the ground our 97,000 dollar building. It would certainly have done so were not the foundations beyond its reach.
Some of the results of these severe winter freezings were the heavings of the cement floor and stone flags laid over the many sewers in the basement. These were raised so high by frost that a person could not walk on them with any degree of safety. The stairs leading from the hall door to the kitchens and refectory in the basement were upheaved some eight inches by frost. So it was difficult to go either down or up, then the windows and other openings all through the building had to be stuffed with rags each of these dreary winters, namely from Nov., 1870 to the end of March, 1875.
It was wonderful truly that the untenanted house did not tumble to the ground. Moreover, and what was worse than all above stated, the swarms of rats that made their way through the sewers and broken floors, even through the foundation walls five feet thick, were a terror. They even got into the dormitory. Father Bernard had pots full of poison scattered in every direction through the house. The result was frightful. The stench became intolerable that it went well nigh causing a pestilence. This certainly was a deplorable condition for our new Monastery, after the vast amount of money it cost.
So the “make haste slowly” worked sadly for our new building, but as this state of affairs could not continue always, a compromise was arrived at. It was this: the house was to be heated by steam, the basement walls of the refectory were to be wainscoted and the cement floor overlaid by a boarded one. When this was done, the Abbot would no longer keep the community from going to live in the new monastery. There was evidently a great deal of bad management from the commencement of the building to its very end. The housekeeper assured the architect, and Master Mason, Patrick O’Connor, that the building should be heated by a furnace placed in the basement, that neither steam or stoves should be ever made use of, and he directed them to have furnace flues made in all the walls of the monastery, with openings for cast iron grating or as they were called radiators. These flues and openings never had a furnace flame go through them. They acted as rat holes, and were finally closed up with square boards which can be seen today in all parts of the building.
As the furnace affair was a failure, because the flues made through the walls were anything but calculated to give out heat, and so miserably were they plastered, that whatever heat passed through them from a furnace would soon scatter through the walls of the building. So all the grating or radiators were useless and are now evidenced of money wasted.
The next step was to procure a steam engine. It was intended in the fall of 1874 to build a frame house with a stone basement, 60 feet in length by 22 feet wide. This was to be erected north of where the guest rooms are at present located, and to extend as far north as the cistern which was expressly built for the steam-house. To prevent the main building from danger of boiler explosion, this engine-house was to have a loft as a drying room for clothes in winter, but the house was specially intended to save the main building from all danger of boiler explosion.
Yet it was never built, and so the risk was run of placing the engine in the basement of the new Monastery where there is eminent danger every day in winter of having the house and all in it, blown to atoms any moment by day or by night.
The main cause of neglecting to put up the steam-house was the continual absence of Bro. M. Bernard. He was so much taken up at this period with speculating in land and cattle that it was very rare he made his appearance at the Monastery. He came however one morning in January, 1875. He had at this time a companion named Mr. Hay, agent of the Crane Bros. Mfg. Co., Chicago. This gentleman was sent by the company to see the best location for the boilers. The housekeeper and Mr. Hay went through all the basements of our new building. Br. M. Bernard suggested to Mr. Hay the room where now is located our community kitchen as a proper place for the boilers. No, Mr. Hay would not agree to it, he said the roof was by far too low. In a word, he said no part of the cellar was a fit place for the large boilers of a steam engine, and that he would suggest to the company to wait until a proper house was built. On no account would the housekeeper wait. They should be put up by all means anywhere sooner than build a house for them.
The boilers, steam engine pipes and all fixings belonging to them got here early in April 1875. With them came four men from Chicago sent by the Crane Bros. Company of whom all the heating apparatus was bought at a cost of about eight thousand dollars. For full three months, there was bustle and noise enough in the new building. Masons and workmen perforated the walls in all parts for the pipes, then put the coils together and cased them in grand gilt brass-colored fenders, which were soon put aside as too gorgeous, fitter by far for a hotel than a Trappist monastery. But money was wasted here as elsewhere, and so debts were increased. At this period, we were on the down grade as regards debts. Before entering this sad subject, we better bring the boiler business to an end. There were two frightful risks of an explosion which would blow the west end of the building into fragments and perhaps serious loss of human lives. The case was want of attention on the part of the persons having charge of the fires, and by letting the water in the boiler sink beneath the pipe flues which become red hot, then indeed the danger is imminent.
But on these two occasions, thanks to our good God, the danger was averted almost in a miraculous manner. All this is to prove the urgent need of an out building for the boilers.
On the 4th of July, 1874, the Rt. Rev. James M. O’Gorman, first Vicar Apostolic of Nebraska died. He departed this life in Omaha, his Episcopal city. The day being a national festival, men of all parties and creeds at once suspended their festivities out of respect to their beloved Bishop. As our Superior for a number of years, and as Bishop for more than fifteen years, he was loved and venerated by all who knew him. His eloquence, amiability of manners and kindness to all made him many endearing friends both in life and death. Born near Hillworth or Ninagh Co. Cork in the year 1809, he entered Mount Melleray in the fall of 1837, and was professed on the 1st of Nov., 1849. He was ordained Priest on the 2nd of Dec., 1843, and celebrated his first Mass on New Year’s Day, 1844. He was ordained by the Right Rev. Nicholas Foran, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore in Saint John’s Cathedral, City of Waterford.
Very soon after Father James was ordained, he was appointed housekeeper by the Venerable Abbot Vincent Ryan, first Mitered Abbot of Mount Melleray, and also the first Consecrated Abbot in Ireland, since the dissolution of monasteries by Henry the Eighth in the year 1535.
This highly gifted Priest and Prelate was almost twenty years a Cistercian monk. He was the son of a convert, and his mother Mary Myles was once a Protestant. She was the daughter of Major Myles, of Suier-Side, near Ardfinnan Co. Tipperary. One of her Brothers, Major General Sir Edward Myles of the British Army, was of much renown as an officer. After retiring from the service, he went to live in Bologna, Italy, but did not forget the education of his nephew James Myles O’Gorman. He obtained for him admission to Trinity College in Dublin. It was here that our future Prelate acquired his extraordinary talent as an orator of renown. He was so eminent for preaching that on one occasion in our little prairie church when delivering a sermon, a gentleman from Saint Louis who heard him, on coming out of the small church, said to those near him, “I have been in St. Louis City many years, but a sermon such as I have heard today was never yet preached there.” Then he added, “It was a master-piece of unction and eloquence which no man could surpass.”
On the 8th of May, 1859, Father O’Gorman was consecrated Bishop of Raphanca, and first Vicar Apostolic of Nebraska, by the Venerable Archbishop Kenrick of St. Louis. At that period his jurisdiction was very extensive, being over 500,000 square miles, embracing the territories of Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and Idaho. This vast region of wild country has then but very few Priests, though more than eighteen times the size of Ireland. Indeed the only Priests then in that country were the Jesuit missionaries among the Indians, who were at that time over ten to one of the white population. Leer was an extensive field for a Cistercian monk and Bishop.
In ages long gone by, many Cistercian monks were made Bishops, did the diocese of any exceed the limits of Bishop O’Gorman’s? Yes, one and only one had a wider field, he was a Monk of Clairvaux, Saint Bernard’s abbey. His name was Bernard of Pisa, being a native of Italy, Saint Bernard sent him to the vicinity of Rome to found a Cistercian abbey, and he was its first abbot. He was elected Pope in 1146, and presided at the General Chapter in Citeaux 1148.
Here was a wider jurisdiction, much more extensive than that of Bishop O’Gorman’s, because it embraced the whole Catholic world. This good Cistercian Pope took the name of Eugenius III. He conferred many favors on Saint Malachy, Archbishop of Armagh, who was the special friend of Saint Bernard. He died in the Abbey of Clairvaux on Nov. 3rd, 1148.
Before returning to Bishop O’Gorman’s biography, it is right to state that another Cistercian monk of Mellifont Abbey Co. Louth, Ireland, was made Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of all Ireland in the year 1664. This was the Most Rev. Patrick Plunket, who in 1667 consecrated John le Bouthiller de Rance Abbot and reformer of La Trappe. This consecration took place in the City of Seez, France, where the Archbishop was then visiting.
But it may be asked here what reference has the above to an historical sketch of the foundation of New Melleray Abbey. This is the answer. When a person writes a concise history of a new foundation of the Cistercian Order, it is necessary to relate the incidents of importance which have taken place in other countries, and specially so in countries where the Order was not only in great renown, but widely extended, such as France and Ireland. Besides as New Melleray has given two eminent Bishops to the Catholic Church, it is possible more—nay an Archbishop, or higher still, may yet be required of her. From what has occurred in the past, the above will not in the least derogate from future hopes, because today men may be found within the enclosure of our monastery as wise, learned and judicious as there are in the Cistercian Order.
In 1863 when the war was raging furiously, and specially so in Missouri, Bishop O’Gorman had occasion to go to Saint Louis, on matters of importance concerning his diocese, and to consult the Archbishop. He found more danger in this journey than he anticipated. It was by steamboat down the Missouri River that the journey was made and so going through the enemy’s camp. The trip was made in safety, not so the return, when near Lexington, some thirty miles east of Kansas City the boat was ordered to stop. Generals Van Dorn and Price then commanding two brigades, of the Southern confederates, had given orders that all on board the boat be made prisoners of war. As the Bishop was the most prominent man among the passengers, General Van Dorn asked him what were his sentiments concerning the Confederates, the Bishop told him that he was no politician, that he prayed for peace and union, and further that as he was a citizen of the Untied States he had nothing to say regarding the Southern Confederacy. The officers then held a council, the result was after being detained prisoners 24 hours, all were told to go aboard their boat and proceed on their journey. This narrative was related by the Bishop, when visiting here after the war was over. He came twice, as he longed and sighed for the retirement of the cloister. More than once did he make the request of the Abbot to permit him to return to this monastery, saying he was sick and tired of his mission in Nebraska, and would willingly resign his charge if admitted once more to the religious retirement he so long enjoyed in former years.
The Abbot and Father Bernard wrote to him and advised him by all means not to forsake his diocese, that he would give far more glory to God and edification to his people by remaining with them than by returning to New Melleray Abbey. The good Bishop took the advice given, and persevered until death in his Diocese. This ends the memoirs of Bishop O’Gorman.
Our next subject is in truth a sad one. It is this—in the short space of eight years, namely from 1872 to 1880, to plunge our community into the enormous debt of two hundred and thirty thousand dollars, This sad state of affairs did not long lie hid. Early in 1878, it was noised far and wide, and the creditors came in crowds. Yes, our monastery resembled a broken savings bank, the only difference being that our doors remained open and all were admitted. It was observed on that occasion those creditors who had most money deposited, and who were receiving the largest amount paid in interest, were by far the most clamorous claiming their money. Up to this period the interest paid to creditors varied. Some received eight percent, others 10, and a few 12 Â½ percent.
This was a trying time. Yes, a period of death or disaster, if not a total destruction of our poor community. To devise a means of warding off this dire calamity, Father Alberic and Br. M. Bernard did their utmost to save our land and farm stock from being auctioned off at less than half value by the clamouring creditors. They also called to their aid our best friends in Dubuque, namely, William J. Knight, William Ryan and Patrick Clarke. These generous gentlemen volunteered to become Trustees of all our property. They assembled all the creditors in the guest rooms of the monastery, had Bonds issued to each of them for the amounts claimed, and finally succeeded in reducing the interest to a uniformity of six (6) percent on the whole amount of our indebtedness.
This settlement was not made without much turmoil, loud talk and many complaints. Those most difficult to please were the persons who were receiving the highest interest. To them the reduction made was but a little short of robbery. One Irishman from Holy Cross was very turbulent in his denunciation, using such words as “swindlers”, “robbery” and such like expressions. No sooner had he subsided and got quiet, when a Protestant Englishman (who had a few thousand dollars deposited here) stood up and in violent language abused our poor community. But he was very soon made to shut up by the Holy Cross Irishman who in a menacing attitude told him that it ill became him, or any of his creed and country to speak bad of a religious body of men devoted to the service of God. He then added, “If you don’t stop that tirade of yours, I know how to do it.”
Harmony and peace being soon restored, all mutually agreed to adopt the plan proposed by the Trustees. Good will and confidence in the community was soon manifest on all sides. This confidence had since been proved by clearing off about half of the original debt, and punctually paying the interest to all the others who still has a claim on us.
Thus was averted through God’s goodness the dread of being thrown out of house and home our beloved New Melleray Abbey.
It was during this year 1878, our Father and founder, the Abbot of Mount Melleray made his fifth visit to Iowa. This time he was accompanied by his Subprior, the Rev. Father Lewis. He found our affairs much changed, not for the better, since his last visit in 1870. As usual, he with his secretary Father Lewis made the regular visitation. It was a very different affair from former visitations. There was an atmosphere of dejection and gloom on all sides. The effects of the “Traffic” was felt, it was more than felt; it took the sorrowful shape of a dark impenetrable cloud hanging over our monastery, and meant to remain.
But our good Visitor told us that the dark impenetrable cloud over our monastery must be penetrated by humble incessant prayers. He prescribed special prayers to be said in our community every evening for this purpose, and to continue them until the next visitation be made. When it was made the prayers were continued, yes and the visitation that followed it. These constant humble prayers were rewarded, and the impenetrable dark cloud was evidently reduced to smaller dimensions by a reduction in the load of our debts.
God is good, and confidence in Him will ultimately clear away all our debts and difficulties. When that is accomplished our Church will be built. As on the plans already drawn, the Church will be 235 feet in length, 45 feet from floor to ceiling, and 35 feet wide. Then the front of the Abbey will be built, with these two wings which make the whole building a quadrangle. The south and west part of the cloisters will be put up then. Indeed our monastery will be truly known as New Melleray Abbey.
This year 1878 was not remarkable for any other important events, excepting that it was an unusual early spring, as we had most of our grain crop down about the 17th of March, and some of our corn planted the 12th of April. Truly this was a rare occurrence on our northern latitude, as sometimes we are sowing one grain crop late in May, while the planting of our corn often runs into the month of June.
The Abbot on this occasion made a journey out to Nebraska. Fr. Lewis and Br. M. Bernard went out there with him. They remained some time with the Rt. Rev. James O’Gorman, Bishop of Omaha. Father Lewis went from Omaha to Nebraska City to see a relative of his. Soon after their return the Abbot and Fr. Lewis set out on their homeward journey to Mount Melleray.
As no event of importance occurred during the remainder of this third decade, that is, from the close of 1878 to the 16th of July 1879, at least no event deserving to be mentioned in this short history, so we will bring this part to a conclusion by giving some very remarkable quotations from history concerning the illustrious Cistercian Order. The history from which these narratives are taken was written by a Cistercian monk of Mount St. Bernard’s Abbey in England. It is called “a concise history of the Cistercian Order.” It relates in a special manner to the many venerable ruins of Cistercian Abbeys in England, where over one hundred abbeys existed up to the year 1534, when the cruel King Henry VIII began their destruction. The same history refers to the seventy Cistercian monasteries of Ireland which met the same sad fate as those in England.
The Cistercian Order became so powerful that it governed for more than a century almost the whole of Europe, both in spiritual and temporal affairs. Besides four Popes—(namely Alexander III, Eugenius III, Benedict XII, and Urban IV)â€”it has given to the Church, it enrolls amongst its children many Cardinals and Bishops, and a very great number of spiritual writers.
Saint Bernard saw from his own monastery of Clairvaux one of his religious seated in the Chair of Saint Peter, six others Cardinals, and more than thirty bishops. Henry, the Son and brother of a King of France, preferred the poor and humble life of Clairvaux to the grandeur of the world. Boson and Peter, princes of the same royal house became Cistercian monks, the one at Clairvaux and the other at Igny. William of Montpellier, from whom have descended almost all the Kings in Christendom, retired to Grandselve, a Cistercian house, that he might live as a simple religious. The Abbey of Vaux de Cernal saw amongst its inmates, Thibaud, of the house of Montmorenci, and Morimund Abbey beheld Evard, Count of Mons in Hainault, as Lay Brothers watching the flocks.
Three sons of a King in the east entered the Abbey of Pontigni, and became religious. In Germany, Otho and Conrad, the grandsons of Emperors and the cousins of Emperors, embraced the Cistercian life, the one at Morimond, and the other at Holy Cross in Austria. The two Amadeus’s, father and son, princes of the empire, withdrew from the world to become Cistercian monks, the one at Bonnevaux, the other at Clairvaux. The two German princes, Conrad and Charles, consecrated themselves to the service of God, the first at Villas, the second at Hemmerod, both Cistercian Abbeys. In Italy, we behold Grumar, King of Sardinia, leaving his kingdom, to become a monk at Clairvaux. In Spain, Peter, brother of Alphonsus, King of Portugal, became a Cistercian in the monastery of Alcobacia in Portugal. Ferdinand, son of the King of Arragon, Bernard, a Prince of the Saracens, and Arnold, son of the Duke of Narbonne, became Cistercians in the abbey of Popoletum. In Scotland, we behold Alexander, son and heir of the King, renouncing all things, to become a Cistercian monk in the Abbey of Foligni. Aelred and Walthem, connected with the royal families of England and Scotland, both Cistercian monks, the one in Rievaux as Abbot, the other Abbot of Melrose. In Denmark, Eschilus, Primate of Denmark, Legate of the Holy See, and Regent of Sweden and Denmark, became a religious in Clairvaux. To this list is added Eric, King of Denmark, who became a Cistercian in a Monastery founded by him in his own Kingdom.
The historian adds, many Cardinals, three Kings, four Queens, ten sons of Kings, eight daughters of Kings, sixteen Princes, Counts and Barons etc., etc.
Now, what wonder after the above enumeration, that the Mother house of the Cistercian Order, the Abbey of Citeaux during the first fifty years of her existence, would send forth five hundred Filiations.
And Clairvaux, Saint Bernard’s Abbey, during the thirty eight years he was abbot of it, sent out no less than one hundred and sixty colonies, that is, from the year 1115 to 1153. One of these was sent to Ireland in the year 1148. Saint Malachy placed them in the Abbey of Mellifont Co. South. From that Monastery, Cistercian Abbeys spread all over the “Island of Saints.” Tipperary had two—Holy Cross, near Thurbes, and Killcooly Abbey.
Before giving a description of the famous ruins of the following Cistercian Abbeys, namely, Tinteran, Kirkstall, Melrose and Fountains, it is but just to say what is written of them is in every sense applicable to the ruins of Cistercian Abbeys all over Ireland, especially so of Holy Cross in Tipperary.
Tinteran Abbey, in Mounmondshire, Wales
“Yet still thy turrets drink the light—of summer evening’s softest hay,”
“And garlands green and bright, Still mantle thy decay,”
“And calm and bounteous as of Old, Thy wandering river glides in gold.”
In the center of a Sylvan valley, surrounded by solemn woods, stands Tinteran Abbey, the glory of monastic ruins. What an air of peace does the valley bear! How sequestered from worldly turmoil! Surely this is the spot of all others for a structure dedicated to the worship of the Most High. This Abbey, as a Protestant author remarks, exceeds every ruin that I have seen in England and Wales. Tinteran by moonlight is solemnly grand, and the effect of the silvery beams of that planet, casting a mild radiance over the “wild secluded scene” maybe imagined but not described. The great tree or vegetable rock, or emperor of the oaks (if you please) before which I bowed with a sort of reverence in the fields of Tinteran, and which for so many ages had borne all the blasts and bolts of Heaven, I should deem it a gratification of a superior kind, to approach again with “unsandalled foot” to pay the same homage, and to kindle with the same devotion. I must be alone. My mind must be calm and pensive. It must be midnight. The moon half veiled in clouds must be just emerging from behind the neighboring hills. All must be silent, except the wind gently rushing among the ivy of the ruins. I should then invoke the ghosts of the abbey, and fancy, with one stroke of her magic wand, would rouse them from their dusty beds, and lead them into the centre of the ruin. I should approach their shadowy existences with reverence and make enquiries which would be too sacred, and even dangerous to communicate.
As the Abbey of Tinteran is the most beautiful of all our Gothic monuments, so is the situation one of the most sequestered and delightful. One more abounding in that peculiar kind of scenery which excites the mingled sensations of content, religion, and enthusiasm, it is impossible to behold.
There every arch infuses solemn energy, as it were, into inanimate nature, a sublime antiquity breathes mildly in the heart, and the soul, pure and passionless, appears susceptible of that state of tranquility which is the perfection of every earthly wish.
Kirkstall Abbey in Yorkshire
“A place once so famous”, says another Protestant historian, that it excited my curiosity to ride thither early one morning in order to view it. No sooner it appeared to my eyes, at a distance from the neighbouring hill, but it really produced in me an inward veneration.
Well might the chief of the anchorites leave the southern part for this pleasant abode, and the abbots also desire so delightful a situation. I left my horse at a style, and passing over it, came down by a gentle descent towards its awful ruins, which, good God, were enough to strike the most hardened heart into the softest and most serious reflections. To think where once the humble knees were bent to seek Omnipotence in ancient forms, it should have a worse fate than other like venerable buildings. Kirsktall Abbey is a monument of the Skill, the taste, and the perseverance of one man. There is in the original fabric no appearances of after-thought, no deviations from the first plan. Not only the arrangements, proportions, and relations of the different apartments are rigidly conformed to that peculiar principal, which prevailed in the construction of religious houses, but every moulding and ornament appears to have been wrought from models previously studied and adapted to the general plan. So far, Kirkstall Abbey.
Melrose Abbey (Honey of roses)
This famous Cistercian Abbey in the county of Roburgshire, Scotland, was founded in 1136. Whether from Citeaux or Clairvaux this filiation came is not stated. Historians say of it—”In this fabric are the finest lessons in, and the greatest variety of gothic ornaments that the island affords”. Melrose, says another Chronicler, I shall take it upon me to say, has been the most exquisite structure of the kind in either kingdom.
Thus the Poet Sir Walter Scott, writes of it
“If those wouldst view fair Melrose aright,
Go visit it by the pale moonlight,
For the gay beams of lightsome day
Gild, but to flout the ruins gray.
When the broken arches are black in night,
And each shafted oriel glimmers white,
Then go—but go alone the while,
then view the St. David’s ruined pile;
And, home returning, smoothly swear
Was never scene so sad and fair.”
In 1136 it was founded, and in 1545 the maddened followers of John Knox rushed on and ruined it. Notwithstanding, it is now after a lapse of five centuries the best specimen of Gothic architecture in England or elsewhere. This church was in the form of a Latin cross 285 x 130 feet, with a square tower eighty four feet high in the center. “So sad and fair” Melrose Abbey.
Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, England
Next and last, but greatest, comes Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, England. Fountains, its very name is suggestive of a world of pleasant associations, green ruins, with many a legend or story hanging about them, picturesque and attractive as themselves, quiet woods and delightfully unquiet waters, a place for deep emotion and elevated thought, when one seems to stand between the Past and the Future, unaffected by all the disturbing influences of the Present. It is no wonder that Fountains Abbey should have obtained so high or extensive a reputation. It is situated in a beautiful and romantic valley, through which runs the river Skell. On the whole, the Abbey ruins form the most perfect architectural time—the age of Henry the Third, and of Westminster Abbey. All the walls of both Church (358 feet, transepts 136 feet) and Monastery yet stand though roofless, and with dilapidated windows. The majestic tower from its unusual position at the north end of the transepts still rises upward in serene grandeur. The Chapter House yet tells us of the Abbots who sat there in due course of spiritual government, and some of whose tombs now lie beneath our feet, with half legible inscriptions, we can still perceive, over the Chapter room, where the library was situated in which the monks read, and the adjoining scriptorium wherein they wrote. It is as long a walk as ever to pace from end to end of the cloisters (300 feet in length) and almost as picturesque, with those curious arches overhead, formed by the mazy intersections of the groinings of the roof.
“No herb no flowers glistened there
But was carved in the cloister arches fair.”
Alas! They are gone, never again in any age or country to be what they once were, Citeaux, Clairvaux, Pontigni, Melrose, Fountains, and all the other grand structures of the Cistercian order are no more. And yet they did not disappear without cause, and that cause was in one word—relaxation. At the time of the dissolution of religious houses, England had a hundred, Ireland seventy Cistercian Abbeys. There were no doubt good and holy monks, even in those times, but most of them, were monks only in name.
Clairvaux, Saint Bernard’s abbey had in his time over 800 monks within its walls, but in 1791 when it was suppressed, there were but 36 monks found in it. Fountains had about 30 members, and the Abbey of New Minster in Northumberland had but 15. This last named abbey is laid flat on the ground, and the body of Saint Robert—its founder is buried under the ruins. Clairvaux is still in being. It is not now, as Saint Bernard jestingly called it “an open prison” but it is a prison of the State, a monastery it is true, but one in which all the inmates are detained against their will.
This was God’s judgment on their infidelity though it was a wicked hand which struck the blow. Their fate is a terrible example of the vengeance of God on all who are unfaithful to the Rules of their Order.